We Should Be Zealous

H. L. Bruce
Colorado Springs, Colorado

That is right! We should be zealous, but let's do it right and not let it get out of hand. There is a right kind of zeal and a wrong kind. The kind that we need is the right kind. We need to avoid the wrong kind. Concerning different kinds of zeal, the apostle Paul said, "They zealously affect you, but not well; yea, they would exclude you, that you might affect them. But it is good to be zealously affected always in a good thing"

(Gal. 4:17-18)

From the above quotation we learn that there is more than one side to zeal. One may be zealously affected in something that is either good or bad. The Jews had zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. (Rom. 10: 1-3) Their zeal was not productive of good because it was according to their own design rather than God's.


The word "zeal" comes from the Greek word "zelos" which is defined: "Strive, desire, exert oneself earnestly, to be deeply concerned" (Arndt and Gingrich). Thayer, in defining and commenting on the present infinitive of zelos said, "To burn with zeal, to be heated, to boil . . . to desire earnestly, pursue . . . to strive after, busy oneself about."

The Hebrews used a word, "hamadh" in communicating the idea of zeal. "The primary signification appears to me to be that of eager and desire by which one is led . . ." (Gesenius, page 293). Another word, "KANA," is translated zeal and means, "To be jealous - to excite jealousy and anger, to envy." (Gesenius, Page 734).

From these definitions we can conclude that zeal, like fire, is a good thing only if used properly and kept under control. The Lord intended that we guard, culture and properly orient our zeal, lest harm come from it rather than good.

The Lord wants us to be busy, earnest, and filled with the right kind of strong desires. But he wants these to be in the proper and duly authorized channels.

Scriptural Usage

With the idea of zeal before us, let's examine some scriptural terms which spell out the fact that God's people are to be zealous. (1) "Hunger and thirst" (Matt. 5:6). (2) "Fight" 0 Tim. 6:12; 2 Tim. 4:8). (3) "Contend"; "Defend" (Phil. 1:17; Jude 3). (4) "Run" (Gal. 5:7; Heb. 12:1-2). (5) "Endeavour" (Eph. 4:1-3). (6) "Always abounding in the work of the Lord" 0 Cor. 15:58). (7) "Diligently seek" (Heb. 11: 6). (8) "Endure hardness" (2 Tim. 2: 3). (9) "Labor"; "Work" (Heb. 4:11; Gal. 5:6; Jas. 2:24)

The above briefs spell out "zeal" all the way. God will bless us when we properly use zeal.

However, looking at the other side, the sluggard is not held in good light, but rather bad. (See Prov. 6:6-11: 24:30-34). The trouble with the church at Laodicea was a lack of zeal. They were admonished be zealous therefore, and repent."

Jesus said, "I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh when no man can work." (Jno. 9:4). This was another way of saying, "My opportunities will soon pass. I must take advantage - of them now. I must not procrastinate. I must be zealous." Being zealous, as he was, explains the full, busy life that Jesus lived. Never man spake like he did. And it is also true that never man accomplished what he did.

A lack of zeal keeps us from accomplishing what we should. It keeps us from restoring the erring, doing personal evangelism and discharging multiple responsibilities. A lack of zeal keeps people in a sloven, idle, sluggish and lazy frame of mind and will rob men of their salvation.

"By not delaying," was the answer given by Alexander the Great when asked how he conquered the world. He did not dally. He knew what to do and "got with it." "Let us go up at once and possess it," said Caleb, "For we are well able to overcome it." (Numbers 13:30) He knew what it would take to take the land of Canaan and was ready to execute the necessary zeal to accomplish this important task. That is the way it should be with us today. We should know what God wants us to do. We, then, should recognize what it takes to accomplish this. Getting to the task, and staying with it, and seeing it through, should then follow.

Hebrews the eleventh chapter is a chapter on faith. It is also a chapter on properly directed zeal. In it we see the zeal of Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham and others. People, who pleased God, in every dispensation and generation, were people who had a properly directed zeal.


But what motivates us to be zealous? Why all of this drive and concern? (1) The love of God constrains us. Both the love that we have for God and the love that he has for us should be a moving factor in our activities. (2) Fear is a consideration. We should know about hell and who is going there. We need to know that it is a fearful thing to meet God unprepared. (Heb. 10:31) (3) Reward motivates us. In just about any sense this is true, and especially in serving God. The 66 abundant entrance," the "right to the tree of life," the reward of "Them that diligently seek him" should all motivate us to be more zealous in his vineyard.

Properly directed zeal has many applications: study, worship, growth, family responsibilities, personal evangelism, benevolence, edification, and godly living to mention but a few. We must keep it clear, though, whatever may be the outlet for our zeal: We must be directed by God's Word. We are to respect divine authority. We are to be doers of the Word. Christ's teachings are to be honored.

TRUTH MAGAZINE, XV: 30, pp. 8-9
June 3, 1971