Tag Archives: zeal



“Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they might be saved. For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since they did not know the righteousness of God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.” Romans 10:1-4.

How dangerous is zeal without knowledge and sincerity without truth!

Look what those who are zealous for their religious beliefs are doing to those who do not believe as they do. Look what the apostle Paul did to believers in Jesus before he came face to face with Jesus and learned the truth about Him. Look at what Hitler did to the Jews because of his zeal and the zeal of those he brainwashed into believing that they were vermin and needed to be exterminated.

According to Paul, the Jews themselves believed they could achieve righteousness by observing the law. In their zeal, they tried to bulldoze out of existence everyone who believed that Jesus was the way and followed Him as the way to God. In their sincere conviction that they were right, they became guilty of breaking the very law they were trying to uphold.

How could they justify hatred and murder as God’s way of dealing with those who did not believe as they did? Just as Jesus said, they were manifesting the very characteristics of their father the devil, who was a murderer from the beginning.

Whatever the outward circumstances might be, behind every national and international conflict lies the battle between religion and truth. People will kill and people will die for what they believe, whether it be lies or truth. Take the ongoing conflict between Muslim and Jew in the Middle East, or the battle between moderate and radical factions of this religion or that religion. Take the laws that are passed in parliament to wrest the freedom from people to practise their faith according to their conscience. Who or what is the source of all this animosity; this hatred; this belief that you are my enemy if you do not believe as I do?

If we watch Jesus for a moment, we will notice that, in all His dealings with people, be they religious fanatic or weeping sinner, He spoke the truth and honoured their freedom to make their own decision regarding what He had said. Never did He put pressure on anyone to believe His word by force or emotion. Again and again, He brought people back to God’s word as the foundation for what He told them.

“It is written,” was His “slogan”. He used it to silence the devil in the wilderness when he tried to lure Him into acting independently of His Father. He used it to pull the religious opposition back to the true foundation of their beliefs and behaviour. He dismissed their accusations with contempt because they were based on prejudice, not on truth. The words He spoke were an echo of His Father’s words, faithfully spoken in obedience to Him.

This was His way of dealing with unbelievers: “If anyone hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge that person. For I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; the very words I have spoken will condemn him at the last day.” John 12:47, 48.

On every occasion He spoke the truth and gave His hearers the opportunity to believe or reject what He said. Upon them rested the responsibility and consequences of their choices.

How important is the knowledge of the truth as the foundation for what we believe! For the Jews, zeal without knowledge led them away from God and into condemnation instead of the righteousness they worked so hard to achieve. For those who trust in Jesus for His gift of righteousness as God has promised, they are fully accepted, declared not guilty and restored to the family as dearly loved sons and daughters of God.

This is God’s way; it is the truth upon which we can base our lives with all the zeal in the world and, with a good conscience, we can invite others into His family as well.


THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.



“‘And that’s when I met Ananias, a man with a sterling reputation in observing our laws — the Jewish community in Damascus is unanimous on that score. He came and put his arm on my shoulder. ‘Look up,’ he said. I looked, and found myself looking right into his eyes — I could see again!

“Then he said, ‘The God of our ancestors has hand-picked you to be briefed on His plan of action. You’ve actually seen the Righteous Innocent and heard Him speak. You are to be a key witness to everyone you meet of what you’ve seen and heard. So what are you waiting for? Get up and get yourself baptised, scrubbed clean of those sins and personally acquainted with God.'” Acts 22:12-16 (The Message).

Paul was very careful to emphasize Ananias’ credentials, a Jew from Damascus who had good standing in the Jewish community there; but that did not take away from the fact that he was also one of those who followed Jesus in the “sect” they called “the Way”.

Just as Paul was looking for every way to defuse the situation, the crowd was waiting for him to indict himself by his own words. Up to this point there was nothing in his story to condemn him, so they allowed him to continue.

“‘Well, it happened as Ananias said. After I was back in Jerusalem and praying one day in the Temple, lost in the presence of God, I saw Him, saw God’s Righteous Innocent, and heard Him say to me, ‘Hurry up! Get out of here as quickly as you can. None of the Jews here in Jerusalem are going to accept what you say about me.’

“‘At first I objected: ‘Who has better credentials? They all know how obsessed I was with hunting out those who believed in you, beating them up in the meeting places and throwing them in jail. And when your witness, Stephen, was murdered, I was right there, holding the clothes of the murderers and cheering them on. And now they see me totally converted. What better qualifications could I have?’

“But He said, ‘Don’t argue. Go. I’m sending you on a long journey to outsider Gentiles.'” Acts 22:17-21 (The Message).

Paul’s credentials in his old, pre-Christ life were also impeccable. He was so zealous for the law that he was willing to kill those whom he considered traitors to Moses. Strange, isn’t it, that he was murderously defending the law that said, “Do not commit murder”! He was oppressing those whom the law defended against oppression! He was making decisions for those to whom God had given the right to make their own decisions! Isn’t this how religion works?

He had turned his religion into an idol which he worshiped with such fanatical zeal that it had turned him into a heartless monster and as blind as a bat to the truth. He had long since lost the understanding of the true God — the God of his fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God who established a covenant of love with them and taught them, through the provisions of that covenant, to care about people and to protect them, not to destroy them because they had believed in their Messiah about whom his Scriptures had spoken.

It had taken nothing less than a face-to-face confrontation with Jesus to convince Paul that he was dead wrong about Him. Now Paul was trying to convince people who were as equally blind and stubborn as he had been that Jesus was their Messiah! His journeys through Asia and Europe had not yielded much fruit among the Jews. It was not likely that it would be any different here in Jerusalem.

Paul was standing next to a hornets’ nest and at any moment they would break loose and strike!

Zeal Without Knowledge


“Those people are zealous to win you over, but for no good. What they want is to alienate you from us, so that you may have zeal for them. It is fine to be zealous provided the purpose is good, and to be so always, not just when I am with you. My dear children, for whom I am again in travail in the pains of childbirth until Christ be formed in you, how I wish I could be with you now and change my tone because I am perplexed about you.” Galatians 4:17-20.

Bull’s eye! Paul hit the nail on the head.

Those who were going behind his back, teaching the new converts that they had to become Jews in order to be Christians had a hidden agenda. They were more concerned about being right so that people would follow them rather than following Jesus. Just like the Pharisees who were constantly in contention with Jesus over the interpretation of the Torah because they wanted to dominate people, so these men were trying to draw new believers to themselves by alienating them from Paul.

We have to ask the question: Was Paul doing what they were doing – attaching people to himself rather than to Jesus? No, a thousand times! It was always his passion to point people to Jesus – hence his fiery contention for the completeness of Jesus’ work on the cross for salvation. He could not bear for a moment to take anyone away from absolute loyalty to Jesus and absolute confidence in His finished work.

“When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” 1 Corinthians 2:1b-2.

Paul’s passion for Jesus was so strong that he felt as though he was in labour, travailing for these beloved spiritual babies like a mother about to give birth. He felt the pain in his heart like a woman feels labour pains in her body. What was his passion? That Christ be formed in them. What did that mean?

The gospel of Jesus Christ is ultimately about God’s plan to have a family of sons and daughters who resemble His Son. Jesus came to earth to reveal the Father and to reconcile us to the Father so that we can be restored to Him as His children. Living under rules and regulations defeats His purpose because those who do that are acting like slaves and not like God’s children. They are more concerned about trying to be perfect and win the Father’s approval (and never succeeding) than about relating to the Father in love because they are already His children.

It is a good thing to be zealous, “But,” said Paul, “zeal for the wrong reasons is worse than no zeal at all.” Religion makes people zealous for doing wrong things, even evil things, like murdering those who do not subscribe to their beliefs, even if they murder their own family members. How can ruthlessly killing someone who has the right to choose what to believe, ever be right, just because your god says you must?

Zeal, like sincerity, that is misplaced, is dangerous. Zeal for the one true God demands that we always do the right thing according to God’s nature.  He gave every person the right to choose, whether we choose to do right or wrong and He jealously guards and honours that right even if our choices destroy us. God never uses force or coercion. He tells us the truth and appeals to our minds to think and choose what is true and right.

Everything God does for us and to us is governed by His love for us. He is always nudging us towards Jesus because He is the model of a true and perfect son. When we are joined to Jesus by the Holy Spirit through faith and obedience, He is able to change us from the inside to become like His son so that we can be fashioned into a family of people who are one with Him and with Jesus.

The Holy Spirit in us replaces God’s demand that we obey the rules. He leads us from within if we listen to Him. He is Jesus’ personal representative, always guiding us towards Jesus and into the truth about Him and about ourselves. He is like a mother-figure who tenderly nurtures us, feeds us, teaches and corrects us in order to produce the family likeness in us so that we will wear the family name with honour and integrity.

We are not slaves; we are sons.


Scripture taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.


The Word’s Most Heinous Crime!


“‘I admit that I didn’t always hold to this position. For a time I thought it was my duty to oppose this Jesus of Nazareth with all my might. Backed with the full authority of the high priests, I threw the believers — I had no idea they were God’s people — into the Jerusalem jail right and left, and whenever it came to a vote, I voted for their execution. I stormed through their meeting places, bullying them into cursing Jesus, a one-man terror obsessed with obliterating these people. And then I started on the towns outside Jerusalem.'” Acts 9-11 (The Message).

What a list of accomplishments to put on your CV, Paul! What a confession! Religious extremist! Fanatic! Murderer! Terrorist! Talk about a religious war! Paul could have been fighting the cause of any one of the world’s most prominent religions today. They all have the same intention — get rid of believers in Jesus; 165,000 Christians murdered every year. Why? What have they done? Put their faith in the Son of God who was raised from the dead? What kind of a crime is that? Why did he do it?

We have only two options — believe in the God who created us in His image or believe in a god we created in our image. How do we know the difference? By our fruit. We always become like the god we worship. If we worship a god we, or someone else, has created in our image, we reveal the nature of that god by our disposition and behaviour.

Paul thought that he was fighting for the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but this God revealed Himself as gracious, compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love and faitfulness, full of mercy and forgiving sin (Exodus34:6). Does that look like the God he was representing in his murderous hatred of believers?

What was Paul’s problem? He was deceived. “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ who is the image of God.” 2 Corinthians 4:4 (NIV). There was nothing wrong with his zeal but everything wrong with what he believed.

Why did God not take him out for his actions against His people? He deserved to die there and then, didn’t he? I suspect that God saw beyond his fanatical persecution of Christians to a passionate desire to serve and please the God he thought he knew. That he went about it the wrong way was not the issue. That could be corrected. That he had a heart for God was a characteristic that could be honed into a loyal and faithful son of God and worshipper of Jesus.

A story in the Old Testament clearly illustrates this principle. Isaac, Abraham’s son, had twin sons, Esau and Jacob. Esau, it seems, was the more pleasant character. He was an outdoor man, a good hunter and a daddy’s boy. His brother, Jacob, like his name meaning “deceiver”, was a scheming, lying, twisted namby-pamby mommy’s boy.

But Esau had an inborn fault — he had no interest in spiritual things. He gave away his right as the firstborn just to fill his belly on the spur of the moment. On the other hand, Jacob coveted his brother’s position as the firstborn and the privileges and advantages that came with it. Through lies and deception he stole his brother’s birthright and the father’s blessing. For a good part of his life he lived by deceiving and being deceived.

But, from God’s perspective, Jacob’s thirst for spiritual realities was a characteristic He could work with, even though he went about it the wrong way. God moved him, slowly but surely, into the place where he was cornered, wanting to go home, but desperately afraid of Esau and the repercussions of his deception. In an all-night struggle with the Angel of the Lord, Jacob surrendered and he was changed, from “deceiver” to “prince with God.” The same zeal that drove him to lie and steal, now drove him to love and obey God.

God is looking for those who yearn for Him, though they may not know it. He will make Himself known to anyone who seeks Him with all his heart.

A Hot Potato


“After that, he was accepted as one of them, going in and out of Jerusalem with no questions asked, uninhibited as he preached in the Master’s name. But then he ran afoul of a group called Hellenists — he had been engaged in a running argument with them — who plotted his murder. When his friends learned of the plot, they got him out of town, took him to Caesarea, and then shipped him off to Tarsus.” Acts 9:28-30 (The Message).

What does one make of this scenario?

Saul was emerging as a powerful leader of this new movement. His highly trained legal mind and Pharisaical upbringing wrestled with the implications of the life, death and resurrection of the Man he had met on the Damascus road. As he preached and taught, he was formulating his defence of the gospel and pitting his new understanding against the best brains of his day.

He was drawing a great deal of attention from fanatical Jews and particularly those who were Greek-speaking and had embraced a much more “broad-minded” religious outlook on life. His debates with them had become so one-sided and hot that they could not out-argue him so they decided that the best way to win the war of words was to eliminate him.

One wonders about the wisdom of Saul’s actions. Was there any value in stirring up the kind of opposition that drew too much attention to the followers of Jesus and put their lives in danger? Up to this point Peter and John had been the natural leaders of the church. They had fallen foul of the authorities by preaching the resurrection of Jesus, implicating them in His death.

The crippled beggar’s healing outside the Temple put the cherry on the top. The Jewish religious leaders thought they had safely disposed of Jesus and intimidated His followers into silence, but now His uneducated Galilean peasant disciples were publicly insisting that Jesus was alive and doing the same things as He had done. The movement had become unstoppable.

When Stephen had publicly accused them of being in league with their forefathers who silenced every prophet that indicted the people of God for their stubborn disobedience and rebellion against God, they were so incensed that they stoned him to death. The set off a wave or persecution so fierce that the believers had to flee Jerusalem.

Now Saul comes along and stirs up more trouble by his fiery debates with these Hellenists. It’s no wonder the believers in Jerusalem shipped him back to Tarsus where he was safely out of their way!

We have to admire Saul’s zeal and his courage but we must also remember that he was a young man and a new believer. Sometimes the fire of youth does not always match the wisdom of experience. Amazing how God uses everything for our good! Perhaps the time Saul spent back home in Tarsus gave him opportunity to think through his own understanding of the gospel.

When the right moment came, he was available to join Barnabas and accompany him to Jerusalem on a mission of mercy for the suffering believers. Perhaps a little tamer and a little wiser, he was ready to embark on his calling to take the message from Jerusalem to Rome.