The wonderful zeal

Do you have great energy or enthusiasm in pursuit of an objective – you should have!

Its something we aspire to for all ages of our church without exception, the only hesitation is that we must take care to heed the warnings of Proverbs 19:2. One translation speaks of it, “Desire without knowledge is not good, and whoever makes haste with his feet misses his way.” (ESV) another, but my favourite is the CEV “Willingness and stupidity don’t go well together. If you are too eager, you will miss the road.”

Either way, zeal without knowledge is the road to ruin!

Zeal in context

The word used for zeal (desire, passion, tenacity etc) has implications and they are something that concerns you. It is not the action itself, but what does, or doesn’t go with it.  Jesus is the prime example of zeal (John 2:17) but in stark contrast is Paul’s testimony (Phil 3:6). Paul himself begins to challenge our approach in Galatians 4:17-18, ‘It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good’.

Matthew Henry who can sometimes (to me at least) have much to say about everything, leaps zealously upon this verse; “It is good to be zealous always in a good thing; not for a time only, or now and then, like a heat of an ague fiti, but like the heat of the body, constant.” Zeal has its perfect place, based on knowledge.

Zeal without knowledge

To my embarrassment, I have much experience of zeal without a good understanding, wisdom or knowledge over the years. My early evangelistic endeavours were sometimes littered with tactics that seemed like an unwitting fulfilment of ‘by all means, save some’. (1 Corinthians 9:19-23) I invited people to pray the prayer of salvation and ‘give Jesus a go’, others I attempted to herd into the Kingdom by telling the stories of Revelation, and of scorpions that could sting man, but death had been taken away!

In my zeal, I had mixed up theology, scripture and imagination!  My justification? He who wins souls is wise! (Proverbs 11:30) The zeal was misplaced and didn’t last long!

Even for those who consider themselves apostles or prophets, the birthplace for authentic, sustainable, humble and non-judgmental zeal is Spirit-Inspired and Scripture-centred.

My mistake was that I didn’t understand that zeal without knowledge is not merely useless, but positively dangerous. Of itself, it doesn’t achieve the purposes of God and it just saps the life out of you.

Without asking yourself the questions of “why I am doing the things I am doing”, and “who I am doing them for?” and then probing and understanding the biblical answers, you can quickly find yourself running ahead of God, disillusioned, despairing and weary.

God can often appear slow to us, but it He is in charge, and it is His timetable we work to. There are no shortcuts. Zeal is good, but it needs to be accompanied by a good companion. Such a worthy companion would be the total commitment to obey God’s word and ensure it does not venture outside of the parameters of Biblical revelation.

The way forward

I sat for a while pondering about zeal, accompanied by godly vision, insight or commitment. As I did, I realised that actually, the birthplace for authentic, sustainable, humble and non-judgmental zeal is Spirit-Inspired and Scripture-centred. That is, a zeal that will continue, despite hardship, external pressures and prolonged periods of time and unfruitfulness comes from an intimate relationship with God, His Word and being rooted deeply in the local Church.

We need to let that intimacy be the thing that produces and sustains our zeal. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak, this is the only way to keep walking in due diligence, with zeal gripping our hearts. It doesn’t come easily, and can easily fade. That’s why we need to share our vision with each other, encourage one another, and remind each other of the good things that the Lord has shown us.

  1. ague – malaria or another illness involving fever and shivering.  (back)

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