If zeal is true, it will be a zeal generated from true motives.
Such is the subtlety of the heart that men will often do right things from wrong motives. Amaziah and Joash, kings of Judah, are striking proofs of this. In the same way a man may have zeal about things that are good and right but from second-rate motives, and not from a desire to please God. And such zeal is worth nothing. It is impure silver. It is utterly inadequate when placed in the balance of God.
Man looks only at the action: God looks at the motive.
Man only thinks of the quantity of work done: God considers the doer’s heart.
There is such a thing as zeal from party Spirit. It is quite possible for a man to be tireless in promoting the interest of his own Church or denomination, and yet to have no grace in his own heart; to be ready to die for the distinctive opinions of his brand of Christianity, and yet have no real love to Christ. Such was the zeal of the Pharisees. They “travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, they make him twice as much a son of hell as they are” (Matthew 23:15).
This zeal is not true.
There is such a thing as zeal from mere selfishness. There are times when it is in men’s interest to be zealous in their Christianity. Power and influence are sometimes given to godly men. The good things of the world are sometimes attained by wearing a cloak of religion. And whenever this is the case there is no lack of false zeal. Such was the zeal of Joab, when he served David.
There is such a thing as zeal from the love of praise. Such was the zeal of Jehu, when he was putting down the worship of Baal. Remember how he met Jonadab the son of Rechab, and said, “Come with me and see my zeal for the LORD” (2 Kings 10:16). Such is the zeal that John Bunyan refers to in “Pilgrims Progress,” when he speaks of some who went “for praise” to mount Zion. Some people feed on the praise of their fellow-creatures. They would rather have it from Christians than have none at all.
It is a sad and humbling proof of man’s corruption that there is no degree of self-denial and self-sacrifice to which men may not go from false motives. It does not follow that a man’s religion is true because he “gives his body to be burned,” or because he “gives his goods to feed the poor.”
The Apostle Paul tells us that a man may do this and yet not have true love. (1 Corinthians 13:1, etc.) It does not follow because men go into a wilderness and become hermits, that therefore they know what true self-denial is. It does not follow because people enclose themselves in monasteries and nunneries, or become “sisters of charity” and “sisters of mercy,” that therefore they know what true crucifixion of the flesh and self-sacrifice is in the sight of God.
All these things people may do on wrong principle. They may do them from wrong motives-to satisfy a secret pride and love of notoriety-but not from the true motive of zeal for the glory of God. All such zeal, let us understand, is false.
It is of the earth, and not of heaven.
If zeal is true it will be a zeal about things according to God’s mind, and sanctioned by clear examples in God’s Word.
I mean zeal for our own growth and personal holiness.
Such zeal will make a man continually feel that sin is the mightiest of all evils, and conformity to Christ the greatest of all blessings.
It will make him feel that there is nothing which ought not to be done, in order to keep up a close walk with God.
It will make him willing to cut off his right hand, or pluck out his right eye, or make any sacrifice, if only he can attain a closer communion with Jesus. Isn’t this just what you see in the Apostle Paul? He says,
“I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”
1 Corinthians 9:27
“I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead. I press on toward the goal”
True zeal is zeal for the salvation of souls.
Such zeal will make a man burn with desire to remove the darkness which covers the souls of multitudes, and to bring every man, woman, and child he sees to the knowledge of the Gospel. Isn’t this what you see in the Lord Jesus? It is said that He neither gave Himself nor His disciples much spare time and at times they didn’t even have a chance to eat (Mark 6:31). Isn’t this what you see in the Apostle Paul? He says,
“I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some”
1 Corinthians 9:22
True zeal is zeal against evil practices.
Such zeal will make a man hate everything which God hates, such as drunkenness, slavery, or infanticide, and long to sweep it from the face of the earth. It will make him jealous of God’s honor and glory, and look on everything which robs Him of it as an offense. Isn’t this what you see in Phinehas, the son of Eleazar? Or in Hezekiah and Josiah, when they eliminated idolatry in the land?
True zeal is zeal for maintaining the doctrines of the Gospel.
Such zeal will make a man hate unscriptural teaching, just as he hates sin. It will make him regard religious error as a pestilence which must be stopped, whatever the cost may be. It will make him scrupulously careful about every word in the counsel of God, lest by some omission the whole Gospel would be spoiled. Isn’t this what you see in Paul at Antioch, when he withstood Peter to his face and said he was clearly in the wrong? (Galatians 2:11) These are the kind of things that true zeal is made of. Such zeal, let us understand, is honorable before God.
Furthermore, if zeal is true, it will be a zeal tempered with love.
It will not be a bitter zeal. It will not be a fierce hatred of people. It will not be a zeal that is ready to take up the sword and to lash out with the weapons of the world. The weapons of true zeal are not worldly, but spiritual. True zeal will hate sin, and yet love the sinner. True zeal will hate heresy, and yet love the heretic. True zeal will long to smash the idol, but deeply pity the idolater. True zeal will detest every kind of wickedness, but labor to do good even to the vilest of sinners.
True zeal will warn as Paul warned the Galatians and yet feel tenderly, as a nurse or a mother over erring children. It will expose false teachers, as Jesus did the Scribes and Pharisees, and yet weep tenderly as Jesus did over Jerusalem when He came near to it for the last time. True zeal will be decided, as a surgeon dealing with diseased limb; but true zeal will be gentle, as one that is dressing the wounds of a brother. True zeal will speak truth boldly, like Athanasius against the world, and not care who is offended; but true zeal will endeavor in its speaking, to “speak the truth in love.”
Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord