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Grace Notes

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A GODLY PERSON IS ZEALOUS
by Philip Owen

 

            It would be very strange if God were to save us and make us His children yet provide no blueprint for what was expected of us as members of His family. Many people seem to be under the impression that children of God can pretty much determine what the ramifications of that relationship are. But the Word of God gives clear and faithful testimony to the privileges, blessings, obligations, and duties of being a believer. The fact that believers are called to godliness is an example of such testimony. One of the characteristics of godliness is that of zeal.
 
            Zeal may be defined as “ardor” or “warmth.” And to be zealous is “to seek or to desire eagerly.” Godly zeal is different from mere passion in that it is energized not by human desire, but by the Holy Spirit of God; it is exercised in obedience to the Word of God; and it has as its objective the glory of God alone.
 
            Zeal is first mentioned in the New Testament in a description of an action performed by the Lord Jesus. John tells us that the Lord discovered moneychangers in the temple. “And when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers’ money, and overthrew the tables” (2:15). John comments: “And his disciples remembered that it was written, The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up” (2:17). This account sets the biblical pattern concerning godly zeal. First, its objective is the righteousness of God as manifested in God’s house (i.e., today, the church). And second, its force consumes the saint’s will and actions. But zeal is neither mindless rage nor uncontrolled emotion. Though it may sometimes motivate the believer to actions or stands that seem extreme both to the world and to worldly saints, godly zeal manifests the very character of Christ.
 
            Holy zeal is not optional, nor is it merely a secondary or tertiary trait of believers. God has redeemed believers to the end that, among other things, we be zealous for Him and zealous for righteousness. Paul explains that we have been saved in order to manifest zeal. He reminded Titus that “our Saviour Jesus Christ . . . gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works” (2:13, 14).
 
            We live in an age that finds zeal to be acceptable in realms such as athletic competition, the following of rock music idols, and saving the natural environment. But zeal for God and for holiness is scorned and derided. Believers (if we would be godly) must not succumb to the pressure to be indifferent concerning righteousness. Our character is to reflect God’s zealous hatred of that which dishonors Him and damns men’s souls.
 
            The New Testament concept of zeal is closely associated with dealing with personal sin. Writing to the Corinthians, Paul tells of his thankfulness that a letter he had written them had provoked a godly sorrow in them and had brought many to repentance for their sins. Part of the seven-fold evidence of that repentance was zeal (II Cor. 7:11). There came to be an ardor for doing what was right, a fervent hatred and rejection of personal sin, an eager desire to do what pleased God. The same theme recurs in the Revelation. Christ urges the Laodicean church, filled with apostates, to “be zealous therefore, and repent” because “as many as I love, I rebuke and chasten” (3:19). Zeal for God’s vindication and zeal to eradicate sin in our personal lives is not an option for saints: we are to be godlike; we are to be zealous for Him. As Paul encouraged one church: “your zeal hath provoked very many” (II Cor. 9:2).

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