Zealousness and Knowledge

By Larry R. Houchen

Our federal government is based upon a “checks and balance” system. The President, vetoing a bill of congress or congress not passing the President’s proposed legislation are examples of the “checks and balances” system on the executive and legislative levels. In other words, each branch of the government keeps the other branches in line. Likewise, there are certain words, which when applied to one’s character serve as a “checks and balance” system. “Zealousness” and “knowledge” are two such words.


Zealousness without knowledge is dangerous. Sometimes a congregation will consist of two or three members who are “babes in Christ” and who are overflowing with zeal. They are so enthusiastic about the work of the Lord that they want to push all kinds of programs. The motives and intentions of such individuals are not in question at all. But all too often the programs are pushed without any regard for feelings of others or possible unwanted consequences. In some cases, programs or ideas are pushed with or without the elders’ consent. The incident then becomes not only a bad situation but also an unscriptural one. We read of elders overseeing the flock (Acts 20:28), but I fail to find in my Bible where zealousness qualifies one to overstep the elders and take the oversight. The apostle Paul said of the Jews in Romans 10:2, “For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge.” Young men (and a few old ones) need to have experienced, well-grounded Christians to keep them in line. One of the causes of the division of the kingdom under the Old Covenant was because Rehoboam “forsook the counsel of the elders which they had given him, and consulted with the young men who grew up with him and served him” (I Kings 12:8). Zealousness is a must-but it must be accompanied by knowledge.


Just as dangerous as zealousness without knowledge is knowledge without zealousness. The Lord’s church is filled with too many lazy members who are content with “keeping house for the Lord.” This was never the Lord’s intent “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest” (Matt. 9:37, 38). A Christian is something somebody is, not just merely what someone is called. I will never forget the incident that I read in J. D. Tant-Texas Preacher. Brother Tant, while conducting a gospel meeting, was able to “size-up” the situation in the short time that he was with the brethren. He readily noted that the congregation had a few hard-working members and more than its share (one is too many) of lazy members. On Sunday morning he invited his audience back that evening with a few words that aroused their curiosity. That night he had a chart for all to see. The chart consisted of a cart with individuals sitting on cushions and fanning themselves. One or two were even putting sticks in the spokes. The cart was being pushed uphill by other individuals who with perspired brow strained to move it. Brother Tant had labeled each individual with the name of a member of the congregation which most closely was applicable. That was one gospel meeting that the little congregation did not soon forget! John records in Revelation 3:15 concerning the church in Laodicea, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot, I would that you were cold or hot.” Perhaps a few of the older members need to be prodded by the zealous workers. If the prod is justified and done in the proper spirit, the older ones should not despise the youthfulness of the younger. (1 Tim. 4:12)

Members, including elders, often have the mistaken idea that the preacher is being paid not only to do his work but theirs too. “Preacher, have you been out to see* Brother Weak Member-he hasn’t been here in several weeks?” The Bible instructs preachers to preach the word-reproving, rebuking, and exhorting. But would not the elders’ oversight include seeing delinquent members, too? Knowledge without zealousness is indeed sinful.

Zealousness without knowledge, perhaps, will affect more people, but knowledge without zealousness is just as sinful. The opposite of zealousness is “apathy.” The antonym of knowledge is “ignorance”-the church needs neither. Try being a Christian without knowledge or zealousness and there will always be a vast void. Would that all God’s people were zealous and knowledgeable!

Truth Magazine XVIII: 5, p. 70
December 5, 1974