The Matter of Zeal


      Introduction:   Some lexicographers list four different Greek words resident in the New Testament that are translated zeal.  In total, these words occur about 40 times in the Greek New Testament.   Zelos (zeal) is generally defined as, "excitement of mind, ardor, fever of spirit" (Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon, reference to LXX).   W. E. Vine comments thus on the common noun (zelotes):  "The word is, lit., 'a zealot,' i.e., 'an uncompromising partisan.' The 'Zealots' was a name applied to an extreme section of the Pharisees, bitterly antagonistic to the Romans. Josephus (Antiq. xviii. 1. 1, 6; B.J. ii. 8. 1) refers to them as the 'fourth sect of Jewish philosophy' (i.e., in addition to the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes), founded by Judas of Galilee (cp. Acts 5:37). After his rebellion in A.D. 6, the Zealots nursed the fires of revolt, which, bursting out afresh in A.D. 66, led to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70. To this sect Simon, one of the Apostles, had belonged, Luke 6:15; Acts 1:13" (Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words).

I.  Zeal is simply fervor that can be expressed in difference ways

  A.  Zeal is "desire to have" (Jas. 4: 2, zeloo, the verb form).

  B. When Peter and John refused to obey the sinful command of the Sanhedrin, the Sanhedrin experienced "indignation" (Acts 5: 17, zelos or zeal). The unbelieving Jews were filled with "envy" (Acts 13: 45, Greek zelos).

    a. We read of zeal for the Law of Moses and the traditions of the Jews (Acts 21: 20, Gal. 1: 14).

II.  Zeal without knowledge can be dangerous

  A. While it is good to have zeal in a justified endeavor (Gal. 4: 18), zeal without knowledge to guide can be worse than the absence of zeal.

    a. The Jews had a "zeal of God, but not according to knowledge" (Rom. 10: 2).

    b. As a result, they went about to "establish their own righteousness" and in so doing "have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God" (Rom. 10: 3).

    c. The happy combination is zeal and knowledge, zeal motivates and knowledge governs. The false teachers in Galatia had zeal, Paul said, but no knowledge. He wrote, "They zealously affect you, but not well; yea, they would exclude you, that ye might affect them" (Gal. 4: 17).  (See example of Saul, Acts Acts 9: 1, 2, 22: 3, 4.  Apply to Mormons, Witnesses, and cults in general today.)

III.  Zeal is a requisite for the Christian

  A. Zeal is needed to promote repentance (Rev. 3: 19).

  B. Paul penned, "Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works" (Tit. 2: 14).

  C. Just as knowledge guides zeal, the presence of love will not allow impure "zeal" (fervor) to be produced. The scriptures teach, "Love suffereth long, and is kind; love envieth not…" (I Cor. 13: 4, "envieth" is from zeloo).

  D. The required acts of the Christian need zeal or fervor to prompt both their execution and the manner of their implementation.   Acts such as:

    a. Growing in the virtues (2 Pet. 1: 5-11, see vs. 5, 10 "give diligence" initials and completes the act).

    b. Reception of the word (Acts 17: 11, "readiness" is from prothumia.  Prothumia is a compound word, pro, forward and thumos, mind; hence, eargerness and celerity of mind).

    c. The Child of God is to be "fervent in spirit," abound in the work of the Lord," and do what he does "heartily" (Rom. 12: 11; I Cor. 15: 58; Col. 3: 23).  All of these descriptive words and phrases are indicative and tantamount of zeal. 

     Conclusion:   Let us make sure we have zeal and that we expend our zeal in doing the will of God (Gal. 4: 18).