Christ “gave Himself for us, that he might redeem us from all lawlessness, and purify to himself a peculiar people, zealous for good works” (Tit. 2: 14). Yet despite this, the majority of God’s people are not zealous. Godly zeal is one of the greatest needs of the moment. Many would be ashamed to be thought “zealous”. Some would even be ready to say of zealous people what Festus said of Paul, “Paul, thou are beside thyself; much learning doth make thee mad” (Acts 26: 24 AV). There are many who are fruitful in objections, but barren in actions; rich in wet blankets, but poor in anything like Christian fire. Luke-warmness and lethargy are the order of the day.
Godly zeal is a burning desire to please the Lord, to do His will, and to advance His glory in the world in every possible way. This desire, when it really reigns in a man, is so strong that it will impel him to make any sacrifice, to go through any trouble, to deny himself to any amount, to suffer, to work, to labour, to toil, to spend himself and be spent, if only he can please God and honour Christ.
A man of godly zeal is pre–eminently a man of one thing. It is not enough to say that he is earnest, hearty, uncompromising, thoroughgoing, whole hearted and fervent in Spirit. He only sees one thing, he cares for one thing, and that one thing is to please God. Whether he lives or whether he dies (compare Phil. 1: 21), whether he has health, or whether he has sickness, whether he is rich, or whether he is poor, whether he pleases man, or whether he gives offence, whether he is thought wise, or whether he is thought foolish, whether he gets blame, or whether he gets praise, whether he gets honour, or whether he gets shame––for all this the zealous saint cares nothing at all. He burns for one thing, and that one thing is to please God, and to advance God’s glory. If he is consumed in the very burning, he cares not for it. He feels that, like a lamp, he is made to burn, and if consumed in burning, he has but done the work for which God appointed him (compare John 5: 35). Such a one will always find a sphere for his zeal. If he cannot preach, and work, and give money, he will cry, and sigh, and pray. Yes, if he is only a pauper on a perpetual bed of sickness, he will make the wheels of sin around him drive heavily by continually interceding against it. If he cannot fight in the valley with Joshua, he will do the work of Moses, Aaron and Hur on the hill. If he is cut off from working himself, he will give the Lord no rest till help is raised up from another quarter, and the work is done. This is what I mean by zeal in Christianity.
Now this zeal marked many of the early Christians. Take the example of the apostle Paul. Hear him when he speaks to the Ephesians elders for the last time: “But I make no account of [my] life [as] dear to myself, so that I finish my course, and the ministry which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the glad tidings of the grace of God” (Acts 20: 24). Hear him again when he writes to the Philippians: “but one thing––forgetting the things behind, and stretching out to the things before, I pursue, [looking] towards [the] goal, for the prize of the calling on high of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3: 13, 14). See him from the day of his conversion, giving up his brilliant prospects, forsaking all for Christ’s sake, and going forth to preach that very name he had once despised. See him going to and fro throughout the world from that time, through persecution, through oppression, through opposition, through prison, through bonds, through afflictions, through things next to death itself (see 2 Cor. 11: 23–28), up to the very day when he sealed his faith with his blood, and died a martyr for that Gospel which he had so long proclaimed. This was true zeal in the things of God.
Of course the record of even the greatest of Christians pales when compared to that of the Lord Himself: “My food is that I should do the will of him that has sent me, and that I should finish his work” (John 4: 34). Where shall we begin, if we try to give examples of His zeal? Where should we end, if we once began? Trace all the narratives of His life in the four Gospels. Read all the history of what He was from the beginning of His ministry to the end. Surely if there ever was one who was all zeal, it was Christ Himself. Alas, I fear there are many professing Christians who if they had lived in the days when our Lord and His apostles walked upon earth, would have called Him and all His followers enthusiasts and fanatics.
Let me speak to your conscience. Where is your zeal? Oh, I know that zeal may be badly directed and become a curse; but it may also be turned to the highest and best ends and so become a mighty blessing. There is blind zeal, and there is zeal according to knowledge (Compare Rom. 10: 2). What then, my friend, do you show in your life of zeal according to knowledge? With the Bible before me, I may well be bold in asking, but with your life before me, I may well tremble as to the answer. Where is your zeal for the glory of God? Where is your zeal for extending Christ’s Gospel in an evil world? It is not that you do not know what it is to be zealous. Yes, many a man has a zeal for the newspaper, but not for the Bible; many a man has zeal for the account book but no zeal about the Book of Life, and the last great account. Many a man has zeal about stocks and about shares, but no zeal about the unsearchable riches of Christ. Many a man has zeal about his family, his pleasures and his daily pursuits, but no zeal about God, and heaven and eternity.
Where, reader, do you stand? I beseech you to be zealous in the things of God. Fear not the reproach of men. Faint not because you are sometimes abused. Heed it not if you are sometimes called bigot, enthusiast, fanatic, madman, and fool. There is nothing disgraceful in these titles. They have often been given to the best and wisest of men. If you are only to be zealous when you are praised for it, if the wheels of your zeal must be oiled by the world’s commendation, your zeal will be but short-lived. Care not for the praise or frown of man. There is only one thing worth caring for, and that is the praise of God. There is only one question we should ask about our actions: “How will they look at the judgement seat of Christ?”