Religious Zeal: A Caveat 

 

The above studies have spoken of the need to be generous, to shun materialism, to serve God for nothing, to give our lives and hearts without reserve, to make His Truth the supreme, all consuming force in our lives. All this stands true, and follows logically from the fact that the Lord loved us to the end and gave Himself for us. But a warning has to be sounded. At judgment day, the rejected who have nothing will find that even what they have is taken from them (Lk. 19:26). This surely means that the spirituality they appeared to have, what they thought they had, actually they never had, and even the appearance of it will be taken away from them. We can appear to have spirituality, when in fact we have nothing, nothing at all. The man who built his house on the sand had the sensation of spiritual progress; he was building, he was getting somewhere, apparently. Likewise Israel were an empty [fruitless] vine, but they brought forth fruit- to themselves. In reality they had no fruit; but they went through the fruit-bearing process (Hos. 10:1). I write this because I have had all too many good friends in the Lord who at one time seemed so zealous and committed; but now they don't walk with us, and on their own admission, all their devotion and labour was somehow not really true spirituality. The Greek word zelos means both zeal in a good sense (2 Cor. 7:11,12; 9:2; 11:2)- and also it’s translated jealousy, strife, envying (Rom. 13:13; 1 Cor. 3:3; 2 Cor. 12:20). Likewise, thumos is used both about righteous anger, and also fits of anger which are sinful. It’s clear enough from these linguistic facts, quite apart from our practical experience, that zeal turns into strife far too often and far too easily. The problem is, we so easily defend the strife, the jealousy, the anger… as righteous zeal, Godly anger. The line seems to us very fine, although it isn’t in God’s eyes. I observe too often brethren who appear so full of anger, but never reveal it openly… until it comes to some matter connected with their religious life. And then, wow, they let it all rip on some poor person, feeling they are justified.

The very experience of the concept of spirituality over time can blunt the cutting edge of God’s Truth; we can no longer see things with the clarity of first conversion. It has been truly observed: “...we may cite the transfer of food from plate to mouth with the aid of a fork. When a very young child first assays this task, it is clumsily and inefficiently performed with the aid of intense concentration and full personal attention. A little later in life however, the mere desire that a particular morsel of food shall pass into the mouth produces a smooth harmonious series of motions of which we are not even conscious, often enough carrying on an involved conversation at the same time which is absorbing all our attention...it is a grave danger that even the deeper matters of our religion may become a series of stock phrases which have long since ceased to arouse any cognition in our mind, and which, like the routine motions of Divine worship, pass us by as unaffected as we are by the regular morning tasks of shaving or washing” (1). And so we want to sound a caveat about zeal and devotion. There is such a thing as zeal not according to the personal knowledge of Christ. The following examples indicate how we can appear to be spiritual, we can do all the right things from apparently good motives, but right down at the bottom line, we aren't very spiritual people at all.


Notes

(1) R.T. Lovelock, Salvation In Jesus p. 112.