Thrust Statement: Every Christian is to be zealous for the things of God.
Scripture Reading: Luke 19:1-10; Romans 12:11
Are you thrilled about spiritual things? Are you zealous for the things of God? Do you have an intense yearning for the word of God? Do you hunger for the salvation of lost souls? How often do you meet with God’s people on Sunday morning? Do you make every effort to meet with the saints? Do you allow the least obstacle to hinder you in your walk with the Lord? How often do you attend Bible studies? Do you hunger and thirst after the righteousness of God? Are you lukewarm? Do you meditate upon God’s word day and night? How often do you read and reflect and study the Holy Scriptures? If your responses to the above questions are negative, then you need to reevaluate your spiritual standing.
Perhaps everyone here today recalls the story of Zacchaeus’ desire to see Jesus. This longing was so intense that he was willing to climb a “sycamore-fig tree” (Luke 19:4). How many of you have this same kind of craving? Has your faith degenerated into a kind of formality? Or has your faith reached the boiling point? Which? How do you compare with the zeal that Zacchaeus manifested in his determination to see Jesus? Even though Zacchaeus was a very wealthy man, nevertheless, he put forth exertion to see this man. And, as a result of this kind of determination, Jesus says to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today” (19:5). How did he react? Luke informs his readers: “he came down at once and welcomed him gladly” (19:6).
One cannot help but wonder how this wealthy tax collector responded in his mind when Jesus called him by name. Surely a commotion of thoughts and feelings must have surged through his heart—Jesus was coming to his house. Zacchaeus knew that Jesus had just read his heart even as Nathanael knew it and confessed it when Jesus uttered that one word to him about his being under the fig tree. Nathanael, too, was filled with bewilderment about how Jesus knew him; he asked Jesus, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you” (John 1:48). As a result of this revelation, Nathanael responded by saying, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel” (1:49).
As one wonders about these two men—one without guile and the other a notorious tax collector—one witnesses that Jesus is not a respecter of persons. He calls all into His service—the respectable and the unrespectable. When Jesus saw Nathanael under the fig tree, He detected his guileless character; on the other hand, when He saw Zacchaeus in the tree, He perceived his guilty character. Nevertheless, Jesus called him just as he called Nathanael into His service. One witnesses an act of divine grace. The people were astounded that Jesus would go the house of a sinner. Luke captures this interaction on the part of the people: “All the people saw this and began to mutter, ‘He has gone to be the guest of a sinner’” (Luke 19:7). Luke concludes this pericope (narrative) by saying: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost” (19:10).
Zacchaeus boiled with zeal as a result of his encounter with Jesus. He told the Lord: “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount” (19:8). Jesus acts in response by saying: “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost” (19:9-10). If you had lived in Jericho, would you have written Zacchaeus off? He made his money through dishonest dealings; he loved money; he was the cause of much injustice. Yet God saved him just as He saved you. Since God has saved you, do you boil with zeal for the Lord? Has God made a transformation in your life?
As stated earlier, Jesus knew him and called him by his name. This event must have caught his attention, especially when a stranger calls him by his name—Zacchaeus. When this happens, one’s ears perk up and one senses become more alert. From this story about Jesus and Zacchaeus, one surmises that there is one person that the Lord sees—the man or woman who is seeking Him. Are you looking for Jesus? Are you reaching out to Him who is King of kings and Lord of lords? Paul tells the Corinthians: “the man who loves God is known by God” (1 Corinthians 8:3). Zeal for God involves a conversion in one’s way of life. This change demands repentance. Jesus says, “I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish” (Luke 13:3). Listen to the words of Isaiah: Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near” (Isaiah 55:6). Jesus extended an invitation to Zacchaeus and He is also extending an appeal to you: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). Do you intensively yearn for the Lord?
Paul admonished the Christians at Rome to “Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord” (Romans 12:11). The word “lacking” (ojknhroi,v oknhroi) carries within its meaning the connotation of “slothful” or “lazy.” In the classical era it described one who was slow to act. The Book of Proverbs describes the man “lacking” as one who never moves on from the will to the deed: “The sluggard’s craving will be the death of him, because his hands refuse to work” (Proverbs 21:25). This word lazy can be further illustrated as Jesus tells the story of a servant who failed to obey and make good use of the opportunity presented to him by his master: “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy (ojknhrev, oknhre) servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest” (Matthew 25:26-27).
In the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30), Jesus speaks of two other servants that were “good and faithful” (25:21,23) because they made the most of their opportunity for their master’s sake. It is also in this vein that Paul urges the Christians at Rome to express their love of God through various actions. One should consider the following activities of Paul in measuring oneself in his or her zeal for God:
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:9-21).
Zeal for God
One expresses his zeal to God by sincere love, by hating what is evil, by clinging to what is good, by exercising brotherly love, by living in harmony with one another, by energetic earnestness, by being on flame for God, and so on. How do you measure up in your zeal? Do you lag in zeal? Are you lazy, inactive, weary, self-satisfied, slow-moving, hesitating, or slowing down in your service to God? The believer cannot approach the Christian life with an easy-going attitude. Did not our Lord say, ‘“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40). Every believer must serve the Lord with attentiveness and zeal and seriousness. He or she must be enthusiastic in his/her service to the Lord.
The author of Hebrews encourages Christians to continue their work and labor of love for God’s people. In this exhortation, he reminds them that God will not forget this service toward His people. In this epistle he writes about laziness and diligence:
Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are confident of better things in your case—things that accompany salvation. God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, in order to make your hope sure. We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised (Hebrews 6:9-12).
Not only did Paul tell the Christians in Rome to never lack in zeal, but he also charged them to keep their spiritual fervor (Romans 12:11). To keep one’s spiritual fervor is to be hot, to be set aflame, or to boil for the service of God. Are you boiling and flaming for Christ? Every Christian must have a burning zeal for Christ. Every disciple of Jesus must be aflame for Christ. Christians should have an intense desire to share the good news of God to a dying and lost world. Whatever your spiritual gift is in the Lord, you must fan into flame this gift. Paul reminds Timothy: “For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:6-7). One should never be nervous about the proclamation of God’s way of redemption.
One’s zeal involves throwing off everything that hinders and every sin that so easily entangles you in your walk with God (Hebrews 12:1). It is in this vein that Peter also admonishes God’s people about their behavior: “So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him” (2 Peter 3:14). Earlier in this same epistle, Peter cautions: “Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (1:10-11). What were the things that they were to add to their faith? Listen to Peter as he enumerates behavior that every Christian should fan into a burning flame of obedience or zeal for Christ:
For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins (1:5-9).
As previously stated, the Christian cannot approach life in a lackadaisical easy-going, and slow-moving fashion. He/she must not give in to sluggishness and complacency. No, every child of God must serve the Lord with all care and zeal and seriousness. Everyone must be wholehearted in his service. A close reading of the entire twelfth chapter of Romans reveals the ethical standards Christians are to put into practice in their worship or service to God. All of the characteristics in Romans twelve are to be performed with zeal and spiritual fervor.
SERVE THE LORD WHOLEHEARTELY
In Romans 12:11, Paul instructs the Christians at Rome to “Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.” Zeal and spiritual fervor are to be exercised in one’s service to the Lord. The Idea is that Christians should focus upon the Lord in all they do. Believers live to serve Him. God’s objective for His elect in Christ is for His people to minister for Him and His kingdom on earth. Paul expresses this concept when he writes: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, 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).
Moses also calls attention to the necessity of serving the Lord with one’s whole heart:
And now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the LORD’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good? (Deuteronomy 10:12-13)
Jesus cites this passage from Moses in Matthew 22:27-30 in his response to a Pharisee who wanted to know about the greatest commandment in the Law. Whenever Christianity is taken up, it must be taken up with zeal. Today, there appears to be fewer and fewer people with a sense of service and responsibility for the Lord’s work. If Christians could ever grasp that service to God is worship, then this concept would revolutionize the current outlook of so many Christians. The author of Hebrews writes: “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our ‘God is a consuming fire’” (Hebrews 12:28-29).
How does one “worship God acceptably” with “reverence and awe”? How does one serve God with zeal and spiritual fervor? An answer may be found in Romans 12. This chapter begins with the following words about your “spiritual act of worship”:
Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will (Romans 12:1-2).
Paul seeks to bring to the attention of his readers that true worship deals with the horizontal as well as the vertical. God is concerned about how his children relate to one another.
Zeal is not frenzy excitement without purpose. It is not just emotional passion, but rather, it is zeal that issues in deeds performed to God’s glory. Biblical zeal is an intense desire to serve the God that sent His Son into the world to save those who believe in Him. Because of God’s grace, individuals should respond with zeal in behavior that is pleasing and acceptable to God. It is this kind of mind-set that Paul tells Titus to teach:
For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good. These, then, are the things you should teach. Encourage and rebuke with all authority. Do not let anyone despise you (Titus 2:11-15).
Are you zealous for God? Are you boiling with spiritual flames for Christ? Or are you lacking in zeal? Which? May God help each believer to recapture his/her first love. Are you like Zacchaeus? Are you really committed to Him who is the savior of the world? Do you read His word? Do you study His word? Do you meet with the saints on Sunday? Do you meet with the saints on Wednesday evenings for special studies? Are you like Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, who chose to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen? Are you denying ungodliness and worldly passions? Are you living self-controlled and upright and godly lives? Are you truly waiting for the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ? Are you on flame for God?
 All Scripture citations are from The New International Version, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House) 1984, unless stated otherwise.