To have zeal is to have great energy or enthusiasm. That energy is usually directed toward a cause or area of interest in our life. Such was true of the Apostle Paul. “I am indeed a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, taught according to the strictness of our fathers’ law, and was zealous toward God as you all are today. I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women, as also the high priest bears me witness, and all the council of the elders, from whom I also received letters to the brethren, and went to Damascus to bring in chains even those who were there to Jerusalem to be punished.” (Acts 22:3-5 NKJV) “This I also did in Jerusalem, and many of the saints I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. And I punished them often in every synagogue and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly enraged against them, I persecuted them even to foreign cities.” (Acts 26:10-11 NKJV)

Paul’s zeal for God, rooted in the Mosaic Law, resulted in a concentrated effort to eradicate Christians. “For you have heard of my former conduct in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it. And I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries in my own nation, being more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers.” (Galatians 1:13-14 NKJV) “Though I also might have confidence in the flesh. 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 NKJV)

It was not until an encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus that Paul understood his zeal was misdirected. (Acts 9:1-31) After his conversion to Christ, Paul was able to empathize with and describe the state of his fellow countrymen. “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 NKJV)

Zeal must be directed in appropriate channels. Paul was fortunate to correct his course but unfortunately, many Jews willingly picked up the crusade Paul had abandoned. Paul told the Galatian brethren that “They zealously court you, but for no good; yes, they want to exclude you, that you may be zealous for them. But it is good to be zealous in a good thing always, and not only when I am present with you.” (Galatians 4:17-18 NKJV) Abandoning the gospel in favor of the Mosaic law may have gratified false teachers but it did nothing to ensure salvation. “I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain.” (Galatians 2:21 NKJV)

Christians in Corinth also had issues with misdirected zeal. Once the Corinthians recognized their need for repentance, they zealously pursued it. “For observe this very thing, that you sorrowed in a godly manner: What diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication! In all things you proved yourselves to be clear in this matter. (2 Corinthians 7:11 NKJV) Jesus expects the same of us. “Looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.” (Titus 2:13-14 NKJV)

Ken Fleeman (9/26/2021)

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