Dribble From The Pen: Zeal for God

Rom. 12:10-13

“Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor;

not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.”

By Rev Ray

“Zeal is like fire: in the chimney it is one of the best servants, but out of the chimney it is one of the worst masters. Zeal kept by knowledge and wisdom, in its proper place, is a choice servant to Christ and saints, but zeal not bounded by wisdom and knowledge is the high way to undo all and to make a hell for many at once.1”

As Thomas Brooks reminds us in the comment above, religious zeal and enthusiasm are a great quality where it is channeled properly. In fact, the Apostle Paul exhorts the saints in the Churches at Rome to not be lagging behind in zeal, as to be idle or shrinking from the responsibilities that are cited in the context. On the other hand, an unbridled fanaticism that has no sense or consideration for others, often only serves to leave a blemish upon the church.

It is important then, to see how the Apostle Paul frames the exhortation to diligence and fervency in serving the Lord. Our zeal for serving the Lord should first be tempered by a devotion to one another in brotherly love. Christianity has never been about the one player mentality or the celebrity mentality that has seemed to steal the stage of much of contemporary Christianity. Diligence in serving Jesus Christ, where it is authentic, is characterized by an attitude of otherness, and specifically, love for the brethren. This distinctive was first given to the Disciples by the Lord as He addressed them in the upper room, saying; “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” (Jn. 13:34) Paul, in effect, re-asserts our Lord’s command as a parameter against unbridled zeal.

Paul then goes further by charging them to give preference to one another in honor. The Greek word – προηγούμενοι -(proegoumenoi) has the sense of one that goes ahead of another to announce their arrival.

We see this illustrated in the honoring of Mordecai in Esther 6:9 as Haman, suggests how he should be honored by the king saying; “…let them array the man whom the king desires to honor and lead him on horseback through the city square, and proclaim before him, ‘Thus it shall be done to the man whom the king desires to honor.” This would hardly fit the picture in the minds of most so-called prosperity gospel preachers of our day. Paul is saying this is not just a unique one-time expression towards our brethren, but a constant attitude that characterizes our zeal in serving the Lord.

On the other side of the picture Paul is painting of the genuine saint, that is diligent in serving the Lord, is to find a commonality in the needs of the brethren. This same idea was recorded as a characteristic of the early church in Acts 2:44; “And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common.” Again here, the sense is that of entering into the concerns, emotions and fears of those who are in need within the community of believers, not just an insensitive toss of a piece of bread in the direction of the one in need. Paul had likely written the letter to the churches at Rome while in Corinth in route to Jerusalem to deliver a gift to those saints who had suffered from persecution and famine. So, true zeal in service is sensitive to the needs of the body of Christ in an authentic, wholesome manner.

Finally, Paul fits the final piece of the framing around the charge to be zealous with the exhortation to practice hospitality. This is where zeal stretches beyond the boundaries of the body of Christ to include my neighbor. The Greek word – διώκοντες -(deokontes) has the meaning of; to pursue as to hunt. For the Apostle Paul, to pursue hospitality was a continual or ongoing endeavor that brings temperance to a reckless form of zeal, which feeds more on self than the benefit and honor of others. There is a lot of fabricated zeal for Jesus on the landscape, but the test of quality is; is it framed by these four principles?

Dribble from the pen

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