"Christian Zeal"

by Kevin Almond, CCC Member

“’Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.”
-- God’s admonition to the church of the Laodiceans, Revelation 3:19

Zealous. The word and its derivations, zeal and zealously, are lacking in today’s Christian lexicon. The above verse in Revelation is the 26th and last time it’s used in the scriptures. Its first biblical use occurs in Numbers, when God commends Phinehas for taking immediate action to end gross acts of sin by the Israelites and stopping God’s plague at 24,000 deaths, noting, “he was zealous for my sake” and “he was zealous for his God” (Numbers 25:11, 13).

Where is zeal today, individually and in the church? Is our heart a furnace that constantly burns hot for God? Is zeal a feeling… an action… both? How do we get it? How do we keep it? How would I need to live for God to say, “he was zealous for my sake… for his God?” The Puritans, who wrote much about zeal, had answers.

Jonathan Edwards said, “Christian zeal [is] indeed a flame, but a sweet one; or rather it is the heat and fervor of a sweet flame.” William Fenner wrote, “Zeal is the fire of the soul”; John Reynolds, “an earnest desire and concern for all things pertaining to the glory of God” (i.e., the chief end of man); Samuel Ward, “zeal is nothing but heat…spiritual heat wrought in the heart of man…for the best service and furtherance of God’s glory.” And finally, Oliver Bowles: “a holy ardor kindled by the Holy Spirit of God in the affections, improving a man to the utmost for God’s glory.”

We ask for zeal in prayer. As with all graces and spiritual gifts, we need simply to ask. “You do not have, because you do not ask” (James 4:2). God desires to give us good things. He wants us to serve Him and glorify Him in His power and not our own. He wants us to be zealous for the good things of God and jealous for the things that diminish the greatness and holiness of God, so we must pray fervently.

We kindle zeal through God’s word, which feeds the Holy Spirit within us. Listening to sermons (Luke 11:28), reading scripture (Psalm 119:11-16), singing psalms (Ephesian 5:19), and meditating (Psalm 119:15) all keep the fire burning and all point us to fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ—in worship and in being accountable and edifying one another. Such fellowship lends itself to keeping us in constant confession and repentance before the Lord and turning away from those things that defy him and harm sweet communion with Him.

Psalm 1 is a general outline for a believer who is zealous for Christ. Don’t spend inordinate amounts of time with unbelievers (v. 1), bathe in God’s word (v. 2), and bear fruit where God leads (v. 3).

How do we live out our faith zealously? 1) work as unto the Lord (Colossians 3:23); 2) walk circumspectly, because the devil prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8); and 3) keep our hearts with all vigilance, for from them flow the springs of life (Proverbs 4:23).