Zeal, the Lost Christian Grace

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Zeal was a common theme of Christian writers in the 1700’s. God commands believers to “be zealous,” and yet, what does that mean and how is it expressed in a godly way? Often the term zeal is used negatively to diminish the idea or belief behind the emotion. Zealots or “being zealous” brings up the image of one that is mentally unbalanced. Jesus (Mk 3:21), Paul (Acts 26:24), and the prophets of the Old Testament (2 Ki 9:11; Jer 29:26; Hos 9:7) were all accused by godless men of being mad or insane because of their zeal. In spite of God’s clear command, the concept of zeal is rarely taught, discussed, or understood in today’s church.

Few things show the corruption of human nature more clearly than people’s inability to understand (spiritual or righteous) zeal. Zeal about money, science, war, commerce, or business is integral to the world. But, (righteous) zeal is too often reckoned foolishness, fanaticism, and the sign of a weak mind.[1]

Merriam Webster Dictionary defines zeal as fervor, passion, intense driving feeling and conviction, deep desire or coveting, and intense heat. Jonathan Edwards, a pastor who played a pivotal role in the revival called the “First Great Awakening” in the 1740’s, stated: “Zeal for godliness is nothing less than zeal for the glory of God. It is the burning desire to please the Lord at all times, in all things, at all cost.” [2]

We are commanded to be zealous for good (Gal 4:18), and good works (Tit 2:14). Zeal is effective for ministry (2 Cor 9:2), and when our hearts are lukewarm as opposed to being hot, we are commanded to “be zealous” and repent from a state of compromise with the world (Rev 3:19).

Thesis of “Zeal, the Lost Christian Grace”

Zeal is an essential Christian grace in a heart that is spiritually sound and healthy.

A Definition of Zeal

Zeal in religion is a burning desire to please God, to do His will, and to advance His glory in the world in every possible way. It is a desire which no man feels by nature— which the Spirit puts in the heart of every believer when he is converted— but which some believers feel so much more strongly than others that they alone deserve to be called ‘zealous’ men…

A zealous man in religion is pre-eminently a man of one thing. It is not enough to say that he is earnest, hearty, uncompromising, thorough-going, whole-hearted, fervent in spirit. He only sees one thing, he cares for one thing, he lives for one thing, he is swallowed up in one thing; and that one thing is to please God.

Whether he lives, or whether he dies— whether he has health, or whether he has sickness— whether he is rich, or whether he is poor-whether he pleases man, or whether he gives offence— whether he is thought wise, or whether he is thought foolish— whether he gets blame, or whether he gets praise— whether he gets honor, or whether he gets shame-for all this the zealous man cares nothing at all.

He burns for one thing; and that one thing is to please God, and to advance God’s glory.

If he is consumed in the very burning, he cares not for it— he is content. He feels that, like a lamp, he is made to burn; and if consumed in burning, he has but done the work for which God appointed him. Such a one will always find a sphere for his zeal. If he cannot preach, work, and give money, he will cry, and sigh, and pray. . .

If he cannot fight in the valley with Joshua, he will do the work of Moses, Aaron, and Hur, on the hill (Exodus 17: 9-13). If he is cut off from working himself, he will give the Lord no rest till help is raised up from another quarter, and the work is done. This is what I mean when I speak of ‘zeal’ in religion.                     J.C. Ryle, Practical Religion, 1959 edition, p. 130.

Nehemiah – An Example of Faithful Zeal for God

Nehemiah is a model of personal zeal – zeal, that is, for the honor and glory of God. As he says in one of his prayers, he is one of those “who delight in revering your Name (Neh 1:11). Such zeal is more rare than it should be. Most of us are like the lukewarm Laodiceans, feeling confident that everything is all right, and thereby disgusting our Lord Jesus Christ, who sees that, spiritually speaking, nothing is right (Rev 3:14-22).

Are we clear what zeal is? It is not fanaticism; it is not wildness; it is not irresponsible enthusiasm; it is not any form of pushy egoism. It is, rather, a humble, reverential, … single-minded commitment to the hallowing of God’s name and the doing of His will.

Zealous folks are sensitive to situations in which God’s truth and honor are in one way or another being jeopardized… and rather than let the matter go by default they will force the issue on people’s attention in order to compel, if possible, a change of heart about it – even at personal risk (like Nehemiah). [3]

Zeal in our Walk of Faith

And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. Heb 11:6

The Complete Word Study Bible comments upon the word “seek” in Heb 11:6 by stating: “To seek diligently or earnestly after…God, with a sincere and earnest desire to obtain His favor (Parables: Luke 11:5- 10, 18:1- 8).” The words “diligently” or “earnestly” are synonyms for “zeal.” In the section of Scripture where faith is defined for believers, within Heb 11:6 the “faithful” are seekers of God with a desire to come near Him, know Him, and be obedient to His will. Believers draw near to God in prayer, sacrifice, worship, and devotion of heart and life. Faith includes zeal in the life and walk of one who is a lover of God. The zeal and desire of obedient faith, a seeker of God, is rewarded (John 4:34).

The epitome of zeal, the opposite of a lukewarm Laodicean heart (Rev 3:15-19), is exhibited by believers who hunger and thirst for His righteousness in their experiential walk (Matt 5:6). By contrast, Laodicean believers, content with being at peace with the world, are focused upon their own comfort and resources. Though their bellies are full, their lukewarm hearts are illiterate and empty of His truth and word.

So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. Because you say, “ I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked… Rev 3:16-17

“Blessed are those who (continually) hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” Matt 5:6

Hartman in his book, Letters to Laodicea, comments upon the zeal and desire a hungry heart has for His fruit of righteousness:

What then does it mean to hunger and thirst for righteousness that reflects the character of our Lord? Drawing from the physical comparison, it means to so desire righteousness that it compels and consumes us in a search to obtain it. Righteousness becomes so vital to us that we cannot live without it. Such righteousness is not a matter of rules, but of a pure heart filled with the Spirit and possessing His fruit (Gal 5:22-23). No one other than the Lord has ever had this kind of righteousness in perfection, but that does not remove the compelling need to seek it so that we may live as His presence in a hostile world.[4]

The Dual Nature of Zeal

Jonathan Edwards explains the dual nature of zeal in supporting all that brings glory to God while opposing and hating the sin, death, and misery of the world.

There is something in the vigor of the actings of true grace that is inimitable and inexpressible, that does properly show that there is an omnipotent agent at work in the soul of a godly man. This makes true Christians zealous in prosecuting (or doing) those things that tend to God’s glory and opposing what is against, whereas others, that have only the form of godliness without the power of it, are indifferent, lifeless and lukewarm with respect to these things. [5]

Many Scriptures support this dual nature of zeal, love, and light in our walk (For example Rom 12:9; Eph 5:8-12). We are to glorify God by exhibiting His light in our walk in the world while exposing and hating all sin, beginning with our own. Because of who we are and what we have “in Christ Jesus” (our position of light and righteousness), we are to walk in His goodness, righteousness, and truth.

…for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light (for the fruit of the Light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth), trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them; for it is disgraceful even to speak of the things which are done by them in secret. Eph 5:8-12

The Difference in Zeal Between Believers and Unbelievers

The “immaterial” anatomy of the hearts of believers and unbelievers are similar; we all have the capacity and function of love, hate, and fear in the inner man. It is the life (His or ours) that is lived through our hearts that determines its affections, motivations, and choice of deeds. Believers (following after and seeking God in devotion) love God, fear to displease Him, and hate sin. Unbelievers (following after and seeking their own desires and lusts in partnership with the world and remaining enslaved to Satan) hate God, fear death, and love sin.

Believers – Love God, Do Not Fear Death, Hate Sin, Fear His Displeasure

Unbelievers – Hate God, Fear Death, Love Sin, Seek Their Own Pleasure

John Calvin identifies the burning in a believer’s heart (Luke 24:32) with zeal. In contrast, the fire of an unbeliever’s heart identifies with hate. Christians are haters of sin, but unbelievers are haters of God and of those that follow Him.

When godliness upholds (sees, seeks, desires, is obedient to) God’s glory, it burns with a zeal directed by God’s Spirit. In the same way, unbelief is the mother of fury, and Satan stirs up the ungodly in such a way that they breathe nothing but slaughter.[6]

The Spiritual Limits of Zeal

Unlike the nine-fold grace of love (Gal 5:22-23) that is the fruit of the Spirit, zeal can be a force for either good or evil. It is similar in this respect to biblical terms like lust or desire, which can be of the Spirit or our immaterial flesh. A sincere zeal is a motivation of Spirit-enabled love for God and man that is purified from the self, its exaltation, and sin (1 Tim 1:5).

Lukewarmness is abominable. Zeal is an excellent grace. Yet, above all other Christian virtues, this needs to be strictly watched and searched, for corruption – particularly pride and human passion – is exceedingly prone to mix unobserved with zeal. [7]

A good indicator of righteous zeal may be found in Paul’s exhortation to Timothy, who as a young man, had a predilection for fearfulness of others and timidity (2 Tim 1:6-7).

In all cases of biblical zeal, we will see the spiritual energy or power exhibited is to operate between the limits of something else. For instance in Rom 10:2, the religious zeal of the Pharisees was unrighteous because it was not in accordance with knowledge and truth of God. In Philippians 1:9, our agape love is to abound and overflow from our hearts, but within the limits of knowledge and discernment. This means that there is a spiritual “tempering” or self-control (one aspect of His nine fold love – the fruit of the Spirit) of the zeal to ensure the effect of any deed will be for good according to the will of the Spirit.

For this reason I remind you to kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.   2 Tim 1:6-7

The word translated as “kindle afresh” means to inflame, stir up, or to be zealous. The expression of this zealousness is to be through a Spirit-enabled power, love, and self-control.

In Phil 1:9 our agape love, the ardent or zealous love of Christ, is to abound and overflow abundantly from our hearts to others. This love, like all other graces of the Spirit, is to be sincere, pure, and without hypocrisy (Rom 12:9).

For God is my witness, how I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge (Gk., epignosis) and all discernment (Gk., aisthesis), so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ… Phil 1:8-10

Agape love, as opposed to mere sentimentality, is to operate between the limits of experiential knowledge (epignosis), and discernment (moral perception and sensitivity [aesthesis] to the problems and circumstances of life). Agape love is not blind, always operating in truth. Love sees things as they are and seeks for the good of others.

Unrighteous Zeal, A Form of Godliness Without Spiritual Power

Zeal, like the heart and hands of believers, must be pure and not mixed with any other motives or sin. The Pharisees lorded it over others because of their superiority in following their manmade traditions. Instead of coming from glorifying God in obedience and truth, their power came from other men through position in society, reputation, and riches. This is also seen in the church from Paul’s time to now. If there is no spiritual fruit, then there is no spiritual power (2 Tim 3:1-4, 6-9).

… holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these.   2 Tim 3:5

Vine states regarding this passage:

the retention of a mere outward form of godliness, a sort of adherence to religious observance, is a sign of Satan’s craft in getting people professedly to acknowledge Christian doctrines while yet denying their true power, the power of the Spirit of God, who leads true believers to cleave to His word and to glorify Christ.[8]

Lack of Knowledge in Unrighteous Zeal

The Laodiceans thought they were spiritually advanced, and yet, they followed their own worldly standards, resources, and riches, not God’s. The issue between Jesus and the Pharisees, as well as Paul and the Judaizers, was the replacement of God’s revelation through His Word with man-made traditions. The fact that many in the church were not abiding in fellowship with Christ Jesus was evident in their character and deeds (2 Tim 3:1-9).

The Pharisees, turning their back to revealed Scripture and the teachings of John and Jesus, substituted a righteousness of their own through a legalism based on their own traditions. Their zeal for God was without knowledge and useless. Falsely believing they were serving God, this ignorant and fleshly zeal led them to kill the prophesied Messiah.

For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge. For not knowing about God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God. Rom 10:2-3

Zeal, like all aspects of the Christian way of life, must be in accordance with knowledge. The word for knowledge here is epignosis, which means knowledge that results from a living and practical spiritual relationship with God.

The Effects of Unrighteous Zeal in Church Revival

The zeal of the Pharisees was driven by an unrighteous emotional fervor for God. Paul showed this same zeal in His desire to serve God by breathing murder against the Christian “heresy” prior to his conversion. Impure zeal without knowledge of His righteousness will have disastrous effects.

A similar zeal of great emotional passion for God, yet, without knowledge, caused havoc in large-scale revivals in England and America.

  • John Edwards along with George Whitfield and the Wesleys were the central figures in the “First Great Awakening” in England and America during the 1740’s.
  • The Second Great Awakening, fifty years later, was led by Finney and Moody.
  • The Welsh Revival, from 1904-1905, was led by Evan Roberts.

Others have written about the characteristic weaknesses of these events:

Each of these revivals/awakenings in Christianity were accompanied by four things:

  • Prayer
  • Repentance from sin, turning away from entangling habits
  • Public proclamation of sin, repentance, and heavy emotional pressure
  • Turning to worship in Spirit and truth

The emphasis in all revivals has been redemption of souls. It made “the decision” the goal of Christianity as opposed to making disciples. The great emotional outpouring brought about by powerful preaching of Edwards, Wesley, Finney, and Moody, combined with heart-touching music, produced many conversions.

Much of the harvest of the past, as well as today, may be lost because of reliance upon methods and lack of sound teaching. An influx of large numbers with few sound teachers produces a smaller harvest. What was started in a highly charged emotional state will seek to find fulfillment there, with heretical practices resulting from a fleshly spirituality and weak instruction. (Source unknown)

Outcome of Unrighteous Zeal in Revivals

The unbridled emotional excesses, far from being the supreme spiritual achievement of the revival, were the very thing that killed it. It was fanaticism… that ended the Great Awakening.[9]

  • First Great Awakening (1740’s), lasted three years

They looked more like a company of Bacchanalians after a bad frolic than sober Christians who had been worshipping God.”       Davenport

MacArthur comments upon Edward’s view of the failure of the Great Awakening:

He (Edwards) came to believe that there was one principal cause of the reversal, namely, the unwatchfulness of the friends of the Awakening who allowed genuine and pure religion to become so mixed with “wildfire” and carnal “enthusiasm,” that the Spirit of God was grieved and advantage given to Satan. He saw runaway passions as the work of the devil, who tries to keep people apathetic as long as possible, then when he is no longer able to do that, “endeavours to drive them to extremes, and so to dishonour God.”

Soon after Edwards wrote those words, in the summer of 1741, the first recorded outbreaks of faintings, shakings, and outcries began. The phenomena grew more pronounced as people began to (wrongly) associate the Spirit’s work with the bizarre sensations.[10].

  • Second Great Awakening (1790’s) fifty years later, lasted four to six years

Be not alarmed that Satan sows tares among the wheat of Christ. [These tares include] false manifestations caused by believers seeking touches, blessings or (emotional) experiences rather than God for His own sake. God’s Spirit leads men by intelligence, not through mere impressions.   Charles Finney

  • The Welsh Revival (1904-1905) lasted only 18 months, ending with the nervous breakdown of its leader, Evan Roberts.

It was also stopped by similar forms of emotional excesses, reliance upon “visions,” and the “manifestations movement.”

“Behold days are coming,” declares the Lord God, “When I will send a famine on the land, not a famine for bread or a thirst for water, but rather for hearing the words of the Lord.”   Amos 8:11-13

Unrighteous Zeal in Today’s Church

Satan’s plan in the garden of Eden and in the desert during the temptations of Christ, demonstrate an argumentative trick of redefining truth, and manipulating the words and intent of God to accomplish his (Satan’s) plan and purpose. This redefining of truth is seen in the progression of the world-views of man throughout time.

  • Ethical Theism – Truth is revealed by the Creator. Humans are fallen creatures who are physical as well as spiritual beings (potentially). Reason, faith and revelation are all needed for truth. Right and wrong are absolutes determined by God through His Word.
  • Modernism – Truth can only be determined by reason alone. Man is a rational and material being and not a spiritual one. We should rely on the scientific method and reject belief in the supernatural. The Bible is set aside by science, Darwin, and German philosophy and “higher textual criticism.” 1300-1900’s.
  • Post- Modernism – Truth does not objectively exist. It is a product of culture. Man is a social being and is a product of the environment. 1960- 1990’s.[11]

This culturally based concept of truth lends itself to the fallacy that our standards, values, and ideals should be malleable. With no defined absolutes, society can now disregard orthodox truth, and reinterpret the Bible with cultural and progressive standards of today.

Modernism set aside the Bible as the revealer of truth, particularly since the advent of Darwinianism in the 1850’s. Since the late 1890’s, the tare of socialism has also produced much leaven worldwide through the “social gospel.” It is the foundation of the international ecumenical movements of the Fabians, National Council of Churches (NCC), World Council of Churches (WCC), and the UN.

This ecumenical spirit has also been assisted by the rise of Pentecostalism in the early 1900’s and its spiritual sister, Charismatic Christianity, in the 1960’s. The timing of the Charismatics coincide with the arrival of experiential Eastern practices of yoga, meditation, and, eventually, Chinese Qigong to the Western world. A “third wave” of charismatic excess has been assaulting the church, as well as its doctrines and practices since the 1990’s. It was bolstered in by the ecstatic events and resulting doctrinal heresies introduced by the Toronto Blessing.

The steps in this “emoting amnesia” can be summarized:

  • The removal of the absolute standards of God based upon His character and His truth as contained in the Bible. It is through rejection of a supernatural God by the power of human reason and science. Modernism
  • Once the Bible has been demoted to a system of ethics, a new power system must be found to infuse Christianity. This power system, once it was experienced in the form of emotional excesses, came to be erroneously associated with the miraculous, supernatural events of Acts 2 and the Holy Spirit.
  • Pentecostalism, following the tenets of pluralism and post-modernism, does not label experiences as good or evil. Post-modernism accepts the supernatural realm, whereas modernism rejected it. Post-modernism sees no need to differentiate experiences as either good/bad or of darkness/light. Everything is wrongly seen to be of and about God. The Biblical truth and warnings concerning spiritual warfare and deception are rejected in favor of a “god” that can be felt and experienced.
  • The goal now is not historical Biblical truth, but how to get more of this zeal, power, and energy. What is labeled the Holy Spirit is the object of their worship; it’s the outcome or goal. They focus on “supernatural experiences” and ecstatic emotions. The Bible, already demoted by the modernists, takes another hit from the emotional charismatics. Their “truth from the Spirit” delivered directly into their hearts, souls, and spirits overcomes the Bible itself. What should be the true object of worship- the life, light, and love of Jesus Christ- is demoted even further down the line. “We just need the ‘Spirit’ to fall on us and receive more power.” The emphasis is on feeling, not knowing.

John Wimber, a leader of the Vineyard Church movement, spoke at the 1989 international Lausanne II Evangelical Conference and testified regarding charismatic signs and wonders. [12] A member of the press panel from India refuted these claims that the miracles and signs seen in Charismatic Christianity are from God. He said the same charismatic style of tongues, healings, miracles, signs, and wonders are also found among the heathen religions of native India. [13]

But evil men and imposters will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. 2 Tim 3:13

For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect. Behold I have told you in advance.     Matt 24:24

Lack of Spiritual Zeal in Laodicea – Reliance Upon Worldly Resources

In the 3rd chapter of Revelation, the Laodicean church is admonished for its lack of zeal, and anger towards sin and compromise. Overall, the church of today is mirrored in the description of the Laodicean church. It is a church wealthy in resources, but without understanding. Most modern churches/ministries operate under the mistaken belief that ministry requires money. Today a rich church, showing our current likeness to the self-righteous Pharisees of old, is thought to be blessed by God and in His favor. Money has become the dynamic of ministry, and currency replaces the power of the Spirit to promote and manifest good works.

The Laodiceans are self-sufficient in that they have no needs; yet, they are spiritually blind. Seeking their fellowship, Jesus is knocking on the door of their hearts from outside this church. His desire for them is that in their hearts and deeds, instead of being lukewarm, they become zealous – showing fervent passion, deep desire, and intensity – and repent from their worldliness. Expositor’s states that, “The Laodiceans’ repentance would come from a rekindling of their loyalty to Christ.”

I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. Because you say, ‘I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,’ and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent. Rev 3:15-19

In the Christian life, there are three “spiritual temperatures”: a burning heart, on fire for God (Luke 24:32), a cold heart (Matt. 24:12), and a lukewarm heart (Rev. 3:16). The lukewarm Christian is comfortable, complacent, and does not realize his need… As believers in Jesus Christ, we have every reason to be “fervent in spirit” (Rom. 12:11). Fervent prayer is also vital (Col. 4:12). It was as the Emmaus disciples listened to the Word that their hearts were warmed. No wonder Paul commanded that his letter to Colossae be sent to the Laodicean church! (Col. 4:16)[14]

Righteous Zeal, A Grace of God

Zeal of Jesus

The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. And He found in the temple those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the moneychangers seated at their tables. And He made a scourge of cords, and drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen: and He poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables; and to those who were selling the doves He said, “Take these things away; stop making My Father’s house a place of business.” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for Your house will consume me.”

Vine’s comment on this Scripture regarding the zeal of Christ states that His emotional fervor was directed at upholding the honor of the Father and His hatred of sin.

Certainly the paramount significance of this cleansing process, this divine attack upon the vested interests of the evildoers, was the vindication of the Name of God and the honors of His house, His hatred and condemnation of sin.[15] The sheep, the oxen and the doves were sold for sacrificial purposes, but the motive and methods of the business were an abomination in the eyes of the Lord. Mere conformity to religious rites and ceremonies may make their appeal to the natural, the religious, the sentimental mind, but human motives and ambitions are doomed to meet the exposure and judgment of Him who searches the hearts.[16]

Zeal of the Psalmist 119:139

Expositor’s states regarding Ps 119:139-141, “Trust in the reliability of God’s word is directly proportionate to one’s trust in the Lord himself. The conviction that the Lord is righteous and faithful, as is his word, evokes a response of great devotion (and zeal).[17]

My zeal has consumed me, because my adversaries have forgotten Your words.

Your word is very pure, therefore Your servant loves it.

I am small and despised, yet I do not forget Your precepts. Ps 119:139-141

The adversaries of the psalmist “have forgotten Your words” and live in sin. They have forgotten Him and His laws, which the psalmist loves. This shows the nature of zeal and the directions of the heart. The righteous love God, His word, and will and hate the sin of “adversaries” who deny His honor and glory. One who does not possess zeal toward God does not have a sound or spiritually healthy heart.

Zeal of Jeremiah to Speak God’s Word – Jer 20:9

After such bitter experiences, the thought arose in his soul: I will remember Him (Jahveh) no more, i.e., make no more mention of the Lord, nor speak in His name, labour as a prophet; but it was within him as burning fire…The word of God dwells in the heart; but from there outwards it acts upon his whole organism, like a fire shut up in the hollow of his bones, burning the marrow of them (Job 21:24), so that he can no longer bear to keep silence. [18]

But if I say, “I will not remember Him or speak anymore in His name,”

Then in my heart it becomes like a burning fire shut up in my bones;

and I am weary of holding it in, and I cannot endure it.   Jer 20:9

Obedient Ministry Includes Zeal

The Father’s purpose in redemption is to purify for His own possession (and glory) those who will be zealous for good works.

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.   Titus 2:11-14

Zeal May Advance Ministry in Other Areas

For it is superfluous for me to write to you about this ministry to the saints; for I know your readiness, of which I boast about you to the Macedonians, namely, that Achaia has been prepared since last year, and your zeal has stirred up most of them.  1 Cor 9:2

The Difference Between Zeal, Jealousy, and Envy

Zeal that drives us to be diligent regarding God’s will for our lives is godly. Its directive force is towards becoming more like Christ.

Both English words “zeal” and “jealousy” derive from Gk. zḗlos. The Hebrew and Greek vocabularies do not distinguish, as modern English does, between these two intense emotions. In the English versions, only the context determines whether Hebrew qin’ȃ and Gk. zḗlos are to be translated as “zeal” or “jealousy.”

In the Old Testament human jealousy may be either a positive or a sinful emotion, depending upon whether it represents a selfless concern for another’s due, or a selfish demand for exclusive possession of something to which one has no exclusive right. The analogy between divine and human jealousy lies in the demand for exclusive possession or devotion. It should therefore not be assumed that Yahweh’s jealousy is identical with the human emotion of jealousy. 

Thus zḗlos, like qin’ȃ, can refer to a “divine jealousy” (2 Cor. 11:2). More often, however, it refers to a sinful emotion that is linked with other sins such as éris (quarreling), thýmos (hostility, explosive anger), and phthónos (envy) (2 Cor. 12:20; Gal. 5:20f.). Love, the apex of Christian virtues, “is not jealous” (1 Cor. 13:4). Paul feared finding jealousy and other sinful attitudes when he returned to Corinth (2 Cor. 12:20), and he described his concern for the Corinthians (11:2) as a “divine jealousy…”[19]

When used in a good sense, zeal (Gk., zelos) signifies emulation with the consequent imitation of that which presents itself to the mind’s eye as excellent. According to Aristotle, zeal grieves not because another has the good, but that he himself does not have it and seeks to supply the deficiency in himself. However, zeal may degenerate into a jealousy which makes war upon the good it sees in another, this troubling the good and diminishing it. This is why we find zelos (jealousy) joined together with contention (or strife).[20]

The distinction (between envy and jealousy) lies in this, that “envy” desires to deprive another of what he has, “jealousy” desires to have the same or the same sort of thing for itself. [21]

Other Scriptures Regarding Zeal

Evil Zeal – Envy, Jealousy, Anger, Without Knowledge …

Acts 5:17-18 But the high priest rose up, along with all his associates (that is the sect of the Sadducees), and they were filled with jealousy (zelos). They laid hands on the apostles and put them in a public jail.

Acts 13:45 But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy (zelos) and began contradicting the things spoken by Paul, and were blaspheming.

Rom 10:2 For I testify about them that they have a zeal (zelos) for God, but not in accordance with knowledge.

Rom 13:13-14 Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy (zelos). But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.

1 Cor 3:3 …for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy (zelos) and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?

Gal 5:19-21a Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy (zelos), outbursts of anger (thumos), disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these…

Phil 3:6 as to zeal (zelos), a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless.

James 3:14-16 But if you have bitter jealousy (zelos) and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. For where jealousy (zelos) and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing.

Good and Godly Zeal – Hot, Fervent Desire, Godly Jealousy…

John 2:17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “ Zeal (zelos) for Your house will consume me

2 Cor 7:7 … and not only by his coming, but also by the comfort with which he was comforted in you, as he reported to us your longing, your mourning, your zeal (zelos) for me; so that I rejoiced even more.

It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good, and to be so always, not just when I am with you. Gal 4:18 NIV

(2 Cor 7:7) 2 Cor 11:2 For I am jealous (zelos) for you with a godly jealousy (zelos); for I betrothed you to one husband, so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin.

Paul desires the church, unlike Eve who was seduced by the serpent, to be diligent in not accepting the false teachers who will lead them into sin.

Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled…   1 Pet 3:13-14

He put on righteousness like a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on His head;

And He put on garments of vengeance for clothing and wrapped Himself with zeal as a mantle. Isaiah 59:17


The sound and healthy heart functions under the enabling power of the Spirit. The Spirit supplies the life of Christ. The heart that diligently seeks Him, draws near to God, and desires righteousness will draw upon His life and light in a walk that honors God. The life of Christ influences all aspects of the human heart; mind, emotions, and will. Zeal is a powerful emotion of love towards God and others. Spiritual balance that is healthy is exemplified by a soul that expresses zeal, yet, it is within the limits of knowledge and discernment. Self-control and gentleness (power under control), two facets of the nine-fold fruit of the Spirit that is love, ensure that the passion of zeal is appropriately and skillfully directed. Each virtue is spiritually balanced into a harmonious whole like the individual notes of a symphony. The music that results brings honor and glory to God.

The loss of zeal indicates a heart not operating to its emotive capacity. The explosion of unrighteous zeal produces disaster.

Edwards was very incisive when he declared that it is Satan’s plan “to keep people apathetic as long as possible, then when he is no longer able to do that, endeavours to drive them to extremes, and so to dishonour God.

Our heavenly Father, we pray that you will teach us how to have hearts that are, through the Spirit, alive and on fire for You, Your word, and will. We also pray that You will lead, guide and direct all aspects of our heart (mind, emotions, and will) through Your wisdom, knowledge, and understanding so that we will not fall prey to false teachers and their fleshly doctrine that leads to emotional excess outside Your will. We pray for healthy hearts that are spiritually balanced according to sound doctrine. Amen.


[1] Ryle, J.C., (1993), Crossway Classic Commentary (Mark), Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

[2] Trout, Harry, S., editor, (2003), The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Volume 22, Sermons and Discourses 1739-1742, New Have, CT: Yale University Press.

[3] Packer, J.I., (1995), A Passion for Faithfulness, Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

[4] John E. Hartman (2011-01-13). Letters to Laodicea: A Call to Repentance for Evangelical America (p. 3, 5). WestBow. Kindle Edition

[5] Trout, Harry, S., editor, (2003), The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Volume 22, Sermons and Discourses 1739-1742, New Have, CT: Yale University Press.

[6] Calvin, John, (1994), Crossway Classic Commentary (John), Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

[7] MacArthur, J., (1994), Reckless Faith: Why the Church Loses It’s Will to Discern, Wheaton,IL: Crossway Books.

[8] Vine, W. E. (1996). Collected Writings of W.E. Vine. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.

[9] MacArthur, J. (1994). Reckless faith: When the Church Loses Its Will to Discern. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, p 167.

[10] MacArthur, J. (1994). Reckless Faith: When the Church Loses Its Will to Discern, Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, p 165, 166.

[11] McDowell, Josh, Hosteler, Bob, (1998), The New Tolerance, Wheaton, IL: Tyndall House Publishers, page 38.

[12] This meeting was before the Toronto Blessing. As a result of the heretical practices and doctrines that followed the Toronto meeting, even Wimber disassociated himself from the “Third Wave” movement and banned the participating churches from the Vineyard Church fellowship. The zeal of the “Third Wave” movement follows power and supernatural influences regardless of a lack of spiritual authenticity according to the revealed truth of God’s word.

[13] Reynolds, M.H.,editor, (Mar/Apr 1997), Foundation Magazine, Fresno, CA: Fundamental Evangelistic Association, www.feasite.org

[14] Wiersbe Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible Exposition Commentary (Vol. 2, p. 580). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[15] Vine, W. E. (1996). Collected Writings of W.E. Vine. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Gaebelein, Frank, (General Editor), Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications.

[18] Keil, C. F., & Delitzsch, F. (1996). Commentary on the Old Testament (Vol. 8, p. 196). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson.

[19] Bromley, Geoffrey, (General Editor), (1989), International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (ISBE), 2nd Edition, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdman’s Publishing.

[20] Zodhiates, Spiros, (Editor), (1992), Complete Word Study Bible, Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.

[21] Vine, W. E., Unger, M. F., & White, W., Jr. (1996). Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (Vol. 2, p. 204). Nashville, TN: T. Nelson.