Over the years I have met many believers who I would classify as being zealots, which is not necessarily a bad thing. We all need to possess zeal but what is that? Webster’s defines it as “a passion for a cause” or “a strong eagerness in favor of a person or a cause.” For believers, that would mean to be passionate about the things of God, whether that be in general or maybe something very specific, like returning to His commandments, or abstention from alcohol, etc. The Bible has many examples of those who were regarded as zealous.
One such example is a man by the name of Pinchas, who used a javelin to terminate a certain act being committed by a couple before the whole congregation of Israel. According to the Bible, his zeal for the LORD stopped a plague that, had he not acted, would have continued to sweep through the camp. Later in history, the prophet Elijah was considered to be zealous, along with many others in the Bible. In fact, one verse in Scripture even alludes to the Messiah as being zealous.
“I have become a stranger to my brothers, and an alien to my mother’s children; because zeal for Your house has eaten me up, and the reproaches of those who reproach You have fallen on me.” (Psalm 69:8-9)
Other Scriptures reveal that God considers Himself to be zealous for Jerusalem, and for Zion. And so the point is this: it is a good thing to be zealous for the things of God.
On the other hand, our zeal must be tempered with wisdom because untempered zeal has the potential to be destructive. Imagine handing a power drill to a young, energetic and zealous child. What would you expect to happen? Most likely, something is going to get broken and, maybe, someone will get hurt. So then, consider what Paul had to say about zeal;
“Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God.” (Romans 10:1-3)
According to Paul, it’s possible to be zealous for God and yet unresponsive to God’s righteousness. How can that be? In this particular case, it was because the people in question were too busy seeking to establish their own righteousness, under the guise of being zealous for God. Notice what Paul had to say about his own zeal.
“If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.” (Philippians 3:4-6)
Paul was so zealous for God that he ended up persecuting the ones who were truly following the Messiah, all the time thinking that he was doing God a favor. A power drill in the hands of the unwise means that, most likely, something’s going to be broken, and someone’s going to get hurt.
So, are we to be zealous for the law and commandments, as Paul was? Are we to be zealous for God in order be self righteous as some in Paul’s day were? Or, are we to be jealous for God’s house, as Messiah was? His zeal for His Father’s house required that He lay down His life, willingly, for those who were not in true fellowship with God.
So, what is zeal? Is it good? It can be. But it must be tempered with wisdom and must be used for a righteous and Godly purpose.