Zeal is something that is sadly often looked down on. The term zealot is often used in a derogatory way, more than it is in a positive way. The zealous individual is thought to be a little crazy. Zeal translates as enthusiasm. This was the accusation laid against the early Methodists, they were “enthusiasts”. They were passionately devoted to the cause of our Lord Jesus Christ, and they were mocked for this. The incredible thing though, is that while the world opposed George Whitefield and John Wesley, some of their most severe opposition came from the church. Religious people were accusing these early Methodists of being too zealous about their faith. As if that is even possible!
Zeal is an absolute necessity for the Christian. William Macdonald summed it up well in his wonderful little book, True Discipleship, he says, “A disciple can be forgiven if he does not have great mental ability. He can be forgiven also if he does not display outstanding physical prowess. But no disciple can be excused if he does not have zeal. If his heart is not aflame with a red-hot passion for the Savior, he stands condemned.”(True Discipleship pg.29)
We are not called to be smart. We are not called to be impressive. We are not called to be famous. We are not called to be liked. But we have been called to follow after Him. We should be filled with abundant passion for our Lord. We should be zealous for His cause. We should be on fire for His Kingdom.
When Christ was on this earth He lived a passionate life for His Father. When Christ saw the circus that was taking place in His Father’s house, he grew angry. He began to drive these men out of the temple, as you would cattle. He flipped their tables over and scattered all of their goods. He took their full pouches of money and poured their contents on the ground. After He did this, John says they remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house has eaten me up.”(John 2:17) Brother Yun comments on Christ’s zeal and passion as an example to us, “There are many timid Christians today, but the two words “timid” and “Christian do not belong together. To be a Christian means to be like Christ, and He is full of God’s fire and passion. Jesus was not timid when he confronted the Pharisees, tackled sin and denounced the rulers of His day. He was not timid when He overturned the tables of the moneychangers in the temple courts. Nothing about Jesus is timid.” (Living Water pg.101)
The Apostle Paul too was a man of zeal. He was fanatically passionate about the Gospel. His one purpose in life was to know Christ. He would not stop, he would not sit, and he would not take a break. He was reaching ahead, and pressing forward, and fighting the good fight of faith. He lived his life with one supreme goal, and that goal was the Lord Jesus Christ. As Oswald Chambers said, “No attraction was ever allowed to hold the mind and soul of Paul save the face of Jesus Christ.” (My Utmost for His Highest April 1) If ever a man was an enthusiast or a fanatic it was the Apostle Paul.
This is how a zealot lives. Unconcerned with the status quo he lives with fervency for one goal. For a Christian that goal is Jesus and the advancement of His Kingdom, on a personal level and a corporate level. J.C. Ryle, a 19th century British preacher, quite ably described what zeal in Christianity was like,
“A zealous man in religion is pre-eminently a man of one thing. It is not enough to say that he is earnest, hearty, un-compromising, thorough-going, wholehearted, fervent in spirit. He only sees one thing, he cares for one thing, he lives for one thing, he is swallowed up in one thing; and that one thing is to please God. Whether he lives, or whether he dies, - whether he has health, or he has sickness, - whether he pleases man, or whether he gives offence, - whether he is thought wise, or whether he is thought foolish, - whether he gets blame, or whether he gets shame, - for all this the zealous man cares nothing at all. He burns for one thing; and that one thing is to please God, and to advance God’s glory. If he is consumed in the very burning, he cares not for it, - he is content. He feels that lie a lamp, he is made to burn; and if consumed in burning he has but done the work for which God appointed Him.”