Zeal may be defined as an ardent devotion to persons, principles, causes and things, expressing itself in enthusiastic activities on their behalf. Zeal is a compound grace, that is, it consists in a number of Christian graces as its elements. Chief among these are faith, hope, self-control, patience, piety, brotherly love and unselfish, disinterested love. Other graces include combativeness, aggressiveness, providence, generosity, industriousness, self-sacrificingness, bravery, humility, reverence, joy, obedience, meekness, magnanimity and faithfulness.
Abuses of Zeal
Zeal has been greatly abused. Perhaps its greatest abuse has been that of persecution. Saul of Tarsus, before his conversion to Christ, is a good example. Zeal without knowledge is another gross abuse of zeal. Paul tells us that it was through ignorance and unbelief that he so persecuted the Church. But zeal without knowledge operates in many other areas beside persecution. How often misguided and ignorant zeal marks parents in dealing with their children, teachers with their pupils, yes, and even consecrated Christians with their hearers and some features of their messages!
Another abuse of zeal is tactlessness. The zealous person who lacks a good amount of secretiveness is quite prone to couple his zeal with tactlessness. Again, when witnessing to others, offering too strong meat to outsiders, beginners and those not far advanced in an understanding of God’s Plan, is a fault in zeal that produces evil effects on these three classes of people. Frequently zeal is coupled with more or less of arrogance and insolence, which spoils efforts of zealous people. Zeal in a wrong cause is surely harmful to the one exercising zeal, and often to the objects of such zeal’s endeavors. Excessive zeal, such as over-study and over-effort contribute its evils to self and others. Sometimes zeal is abused by too much persistence. The fact that zeal is capable of so many abuses proves that it is a quality that requires a sound mind, a good heart and a firm will to make it a real servant of truth, righteousness and holiness.
Zeal has an important function in our characters. Through it, all progress in the steps of the Christian life – world-denial and self-denial, study, spread and practice of God’s Word, prayer and watchfulness and patient endurance amidst untoward experiences – is wrought and our development in grace, knowledge and service is advanced.
Repression of Zeal
But zeal once cultivated may be decreased and repressed. Examples of such decrease of zeal are apparent in the seven stages of the Church as recorded in the Bible and Church history. This included the forgetting of their first love, boasting, reliance on organization and self-sufficiency. Selfishness in any form will repress zeal. So will worldliness in any of its forms accomplish the same thing. Sin in its less willful forms and error in its less deadly forms also effect the diminishing of our zeal.
Some go even further and suppress their zeal altogether; and some proceed even further than this; for they allow their overweening love for selfishness and worldliness in their various forms to gain full dominance, and give themselves up to fully willful sin and fatal error in one form or another, and thus destroy their zeal. And in almost every case the start toward this fatal end of their Christian course was the forgetting of their first love and the slackening of their zeal.
Examples of Zeal
Let us consider some examples of zeal in specially zealous Bible characters as encouraging us to be zealous. Moses’ zeal on behalf of the oppressed Israelites, against Pharaoh on Israel’s behalf and on God’s behalf against Israel’s idolatry; David’s zeal for the ark and God’s house, and his fighting the Lord’s battles; Jesus’ zeal in all the affairs of His ministry is our chief example; Peter’s and John’s zeal before Jewish audiences and the Sanhedrin; and Paul as a herald of the Gospel, as an endurer for the Truth, righteousness and holiness, as a helper of the brethren and as a Truth writer. There are also numerous examples of non-Biblical characters all down through the Gospel Age who give us inspiring examples of zeal. And now it remains for us to imitate their zeal, to the glory of God and Christ and the edification of ourselves and others, that thus we may realize God’s purpose to make us zealous of good works (Titus 2: 14).