Hello Church Devotion Sept. 26, 2013


 

“Z” is for “Zeal”

 

3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 4 For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, 5 so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 6 Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7 if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 8 the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. 9 Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.  Romans 12:3-13
 
Biblical scholars note that the study and focus on zeal and zealots happened from 167BC to 74AD.  Scholars focus on the possible answers to the question:  What was the concept of zeal?
The concept of Zealot became  a technical term for a model of piety rooted in zeal for God and the Law.  Zeal is behavior motivated by the jealous desire to protect one’s self, group, space, or time against violations.
 
In the biblical tradition, human acts of zeal punished idolatrous violations of God’s right to exclusive allegiance from Israel.  As expressed in the First Commandment, God is a jealous/zealous God, who requires the allegiance of the people.  Because God’s holiness will not tolerate idolatry or other violations against the covenant, God will punish the whole nation for such offenses unless someone acts on behalf of God – zealous with God’s jealous anger – to kill or root out the offenders. 
 
If you read Numbers 25:1-15, you will hear about Phineas, the grandson of Aaron the priest.  When God put the Israelites under a plague for their idolatrous relations with the Moabites, Phineas discovered Zimri in an act of sexual intercourse with a Moabite woman and being “zealous for his God,” stepped in on behalf of God and kill them both with a single spear thrust.  God then removed the plague from the land and reward Phineas with a covenant promise.
 
Other biblical figures expressed similar zeal.  Simeon and Levi took zealous vengenance by killing the men of Shechem for the rape of their sister Dinah in Genesis 34:1-31.  Elijah was zealous for the Lord in killing the prophets of Baal as recounted in 1 kings 18:36-40 and19:10-18.  In fact, throughout the Old Testament you find people motivated with zeal to act for God.  Even God gets in on it and has great zeal towards His people. 
 
Probably the most memorable use of zeal is when Jesus turns over the money changer tables in the temple as the “Zeal of the Lord” consumes Him.  By the way, one of the Psalms predicts this many many years before it was fulfilled in Jesus.   
 


In zeal for the Lord, King Jehu slaughtered all who worshipped Baal and later on King Josiah rooted out idolatry from the land.  Apocryphal books of Sirach and 1 Maccabees depict Phineas, Elijah and Mattathias as showing zeal. 
 
This model of piety shown by zeal includes a spontaneous unofficial action taken with the courage of one acting alone, expressing the jealous anger of God against an act of idolatry committed by a fellow Israelite, which “made atonement for the people” by ridding the land of an uncleanness and which turned back God’s wrath so that God “did not consume the people of Israel.” 

With this background, it is good to see that our English dictionaries do not move far from this definition.  Webster’s dictionary states that zeal is a strong feeling of interest and enthusiasm that makes someone very eager or determined to do something. 
 
St. Paul had much zeal in proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  In the book of Romans, St. Paul writes:

3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 4 For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, 5 so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 6 Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7 if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 8 the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal;
 
St. Paul commends those who lead, to do so with zeal.  We are to do so with the strong convictions provided by God’s Word.  Do all have such zeal?  The answer is no.  But that doesn’t mean that zeal isn’t an important quality that God purposes in those who lead.  We might call a leader passionate about their stands and programs.  We also use the word purposeful in this way.   Our text from Romans 12 continues: 
 
the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. 9 Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.  
 
Do not be slothful in zeal is a caution St. Paul brings us.  On the positive side, he also commends us to be fervent in spirit.  Among God’s apostles, there is one who is also a Zealot.
 
12 In these days Jesus went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God.13 And when day came, he called his disciples and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles: 14 Simon, whom he named Peter, and Andrew his brother, and James and John, and Philip, and Bartholomew, 15 and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon who was called the Zealot, 16 and Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor. Luke 6:12-16
 


I love how the Message bible paraphrases the understanding from our Romans text:
 
3 I'm speaking to you out of deep gratitude for all that God has given me, and especially as I have responsibilities in relation to you. Living then, as every one of you does, in pure grace, it's important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God. No, God brings it all to you. The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him. 4 In this way we are like the various parts of a human body. Each part gets its meaning from the body as a whole, not the other way around. 5 The body we're talking about is Christ's body of chosen people. Each of us finds our meaning and function as a part of his body. But as a chopped-off finger or cut-off toe we wouldn't amount to much, would we? So since we find ourselves fashioned into all these excellently formed and marvelously functioning parts in Christ's body, 6 let's just go ahead and be what we were made to be, without enviously or pridefully comparing ourselves with each other, or trying to be something we aren't. If you preach, just preach God's Message, nothing else; 7 if you help, just help, don't take over; if you teach, stick to your teaching; 8 if you give encouraging guidance, be careful that you don't get bossy; if you're put in charge, don't manipulate; if you're called to give aid to people in distress, keep your eyes open and be quick to respond; if you work with the disadvantaged, don't let yourself get irritated with them or depressed by them. Keep a smile on your face. 9 Love from the center of who you are; don't fake it. Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good. 10 Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle. 11 Don't burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. Be alert servants of the Master, 12 cheerfully expectant. Don't quit in hard times; pray all the harder. 13 Help needy Christians; be inventive in hospitality.
 
Prayer:  Lord, fuel and make me ablaze with your love and grace.  Help me to so love You and Your Word, that I will stand firm against those who denigrate and try to abolish it.  Grant me courage to do what Your Word says and to abhor those things which Your Word rightly calls sins and abominations.  Assist me in not making myself first in all things, but rather make me a servant of Your Word.  In Your Son, Jesus, You have made the full payment for my sinfulness and for the iniquity of the whole world.  By Your Spirit, help me to trust in that truth above all else.  Purpose me for Your service.  Take residence in my heart of stone and make it passionate for You and Your goals.  In all these things, I trust You to accomplish in and through me.  In the name of Jesus, I pray.  Amen.