Zeal that Bubbles Over | July 24th, 2023

Have you ever met someone who is extremely passionate about what they do? I remember a few teachers during my elementary and jr. high school days who poured themselves into their students, going the extra mile to make the class fun so we could easily learn. They often took time after class for those needing additional help on an assignment or studying for a test. I was usually one of them. You could tell they had such a passion with energy and enthusiasm for teaching and it ignited an excitement in the students to learn. 

Another word to describe this energy and enthusiasm is zeal. It is the opposite of apathy and laziness. A person lacking zeal is someone who has no spring in their step, no twinkle in their eye, and no excitement or passion for anything. They complain of being bored yet are completely unmotivated to be creative or productive with their time.

Many of us as believers in Christ can find ourselves in this place when it comes to having zeal for the Lord. We become completely apathetic. We are too busy with our own agenda, self-focused on how we can have more of life’s comforts, experience continuous pleasures, greater success, and more of what makes us look good and feel good. All of our energy is spent on ourselves and there is none left to have any passion or enthusiasm for God. 

Zeal is Our Response to the Gospel

When we give our life to Christ, He instills in us a strong, passionate desire to please Him and bring Him glory in the way we live. This is a zeal which originates from the gospel. It’s a response to learning that God’s love provided an escape from the wrath that we all deserve due to the consequences of our sin. Knowing Jesus died in our place prompts us to have deep gratitude, joy, and awe with a passion to serve Him when we know that He sacrificed His life for us so we could be made righteous to be able to be with Him forever in eternity. If we have zeal, we can’t help but tell others of the life-saving, powerful message of the gospel!

In Romans 12:11, the Apostle Paul encourages believers to not be apathetic but to serve one another enthusiastically…

Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.

The Greek word for “fervent in spirit” is zeo meaning “to bubble over as in hot enough to boil; boiling with interest or desire; to show great zeal.”

No matter what God calls us to do to serve others whether it is working in an office, cleaning houses, stocking shelves, raising children, teaching classes, or waiting tables, we must remember we are working for the Lord to bring Him glory with our zeal – our passion to serve Him, drawing others toward Christ and the hope we have in Him for eternal life. When we exhibit true zeal, other believers around us will be inspired and enthusiastic to serve the Lord wholeheartedly, too.

How Can We Lose Our Zeal?

We discontinue reading God’s Word. Regularly studying and meditating on God’s Word to grow in the knowledge of God and who He is boosts our zeal. When we stop taking in His Word, no longer maturing spiritually, we can easily lose our zeal. We can also end up confusing our spiritual fervor with emotionalism. Godly zeal must come from having a solid foundation in biblical truth.

How can we have zeal for the things of God if we are ignorant and undiscerning about His truth? Living as a believer in Christ means we intentionally draw near to Him through reading the Bible and spending time in prayer. We have a passion to know Him so we can represent Him well. There is no greater privilege! 

And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ; having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. Philippians 1:9-11

We look for our reward on earth. Some people see their zeal decline when they are working hard for the Lord but are not seeing many tangible results. It can be draining always being the encourager, the one serving everyone else, and standing up for God’s truth which often comes with backlash from others. Our human nature wants to give up and let someone else do the frustrating work. How can we have zeal if we are so focused on being rewarded for our efforts now? 

We must remember we are serving Christ and will one day be rewarded in heaven:

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. Colossians 3:23-24

We get comfortable in our sin. We can see our zeal go downhill quickly when we begin to get comfortable in our sin and ignore what God says in His Word about the choices we are making that go against His laws and protective guidelines. We continue to live an unrepentant life, yielding to our worldly passions thinking that is what will make us most happy and satisfied. Our pride shoves God aside as we choose to put our desires above His. How can we represent Christ with zeal if we are living rebelliously with no remorse for our sin? 

As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent. Revelation 3:19

Those with zeal are never content with being “lukewarm.” They listen to rebukes, repent, and press on toward a life of holiness allowing the Holy Spirit to work in them so they can be transformed to be more like Christ. They are bubbling over with a zeal that makes them detest everything that God hates and look on everything that robs God of His honor and glory as an offense. 

I think of what is shown on the television and in the movies today. It is so rare to find something to watch that does not blaspheme God’s holy name or glorify sin. If we have true zeal for Christ, we cannot sit there and be comfortably entertained by it, laughing at the same filthy things the world is laughing at knowing what’s being celebrated on the screen is the exact same sin Jesus had to bear in total agony on the cross. 

We love all that the world offers. Having our focus and a love for the enticing pleasures of the world will starve our zeal for Christ. How can we have zeal for God when we try to divide our love between Him and this world? Jesus said we can serve only one master:

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” Matthew 6:24

If we are completely filled up and bubbling over with zeal for Christ, there is no room for these temporary lusts of the world that feed our fleshly desires. Robert Murray M‘Cheyne (1813-’43) understood this as a young evangelist, grieved by the spiritual deadness and apathy of Christians:

“Let your soul be filled with a heart-ravishing sense of the sweetness and excellency of Christ and all that is in Him. Let the Holy Spirit fill every chamber of your heart; and so there will be no room for folly, or the world, or Satan, or the flesh.” 

Zeal and Humility

Zeal keeps the focus on Christ, not on ourselves. It is connected to humility. We don’t ever look to our own greatness. Rather, we are filled with a sense of our own weakness, amazed to think God would use us at all to accomplish His purposes! One cannot be full of arrogance and also full of godly zeal.

J.C. Ryle (1816-1900), prolific writer, vigorous preacher and expositor of God’s Word, describes the person who displays humility with great zeal for the Lord:

“Whether he lives — or whether he dies; 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 offense; whether he is thought wise — or whether he is thought foolish; whether he gets blame — or whether he gets praise; whether he gets honor, or whether he gets shame — for all this the zealous man cares nothing at all. He burns for one thing — and that one thing is to please God, and to advance God’s glory.”

Finishing Our Course Well

Finishing our course marked out for us by God with true zeal is not without a lot of dust – the worldly temptations that block our view from the finish line, heat felt by persecution from those with whom we share the truth of God’s Word and the Good News of the gospel, and weariness from being a faithful servant who continues to encourage others in their own race.

But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. Acts. 20:24

Paul, a humble servant of God, was fully focused on finishing his course graciously given to him to share the gospel. His life was not of any value to him – only in that God could use him for His glory. 

Let’s finish our course with joy, whether we have many miles ahead of us or just a few more paces, representing Christ to others well with an overflowing zeal. May it bubble over in response to the One who loves us so much He gave His life for us, making it possible to be forgiven from all of our sin and have everlasting life.  

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. John 3:16

Book Recommendation: Finishing Our Course with Joy: Guidance from God for Engaging with Our Aging by J.I. Packer

Kimberly Moore is a blogger, speaker, and author of Beauty in a Life Repurposed and Kingdom Sparkle. To learn more, visit her website at kingdomsparkle.com.

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