ELDER NEIL PHELAN JR.
ZEAL WITHOUT KNOWLEDGE
"THEY HAVE A ZEAL OF GOD, BUT NOT ACCORDING TO KNOWLEDGE."
Within the heart of this epistle to the Romans, the Apostle Paul reveals his heart's desire for God's people among the Jewish nation "my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved." Paul was very affectionate toward his Jewish kindred but bears record of their ignorance "they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge." Their stumbling block was their ignorance and rejection of Jesus Christ as the Messiah. These Jew's were especially ignorant concerning justification. They were expecting to be declared Holy and just by God for their own works rather than being declared just as a result of the righteousness of God in the person of Jesus Christ "For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God. For Christ is then end (conclusion) of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth" Rom 10:3-4. Obviously, Paul was bearing record of God's people among the Jews. These were people that Paul was personally acquainted with such as Gamaliel and possibly Nicodemus. Paul testifies that thy had a zeal of God. This zeal came forth from God as a result of the new birth.
Paul could identify with these misdirected Jews for at one time in his life, he was just as they were "For ye have heard of my conversation in time past in the Jews' religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it: and profited in the Jews' religion above many my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers." -Gal 1:13-14. Paul testified to the Galatians that he, before his conversion, had been ignorantly zealous in his life and that his ignorant zeal was fueled by the tradition of his "fathers" and not founded upon the word of God and recognition of Jesus Christ. This zeal without knowledge led the Apostle Paul to oppose God rather than please God "Beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it"......ZEAL WITHOUT KNOWLEDGE.
The Jews were not without excuse for their ignorance. God had committed unto them the first five books of the Bible "unto them were committed the oracles of God" Rom 3:2b. Unto the Jews first, Jesus Christ preached his own gospel! Knowledge was readily available to them, but they substituted the knowledge of God's word and the very gospel of Jesus Christ for the tradition of their fathers'. Tradition was placed above the word of God.
Their religion was zealous but likened to a social club. Jesus said "ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith". They didn't want to give even an ounce more than was required of the law so they measured down to the minute condiments of the pantry. These legal eagles were great at performing religion that could be seen with the eye but were inattentive to the spirit and the religion of the heart. They were looking at a set of rules rather than the Spirit of God abiding and moving in the hearts of people. There was rejoicing in Heaven for repenting sinners but not among their ranks. They would pray long pretentious prayer on the street corners, recite the law, cast their money into the treasury while all were looking, disfigure their faces as they fasted for God in vain. Their reward was immediate and that was the praise of men. The Apostle Paul, then Saul of Tarsus, was among their ranks. I am made to wonder how many times Jesus personally rebuked Saul prior to his Damascus road experience.
When Jesus came, they expected to impress Him with their religious show as they did the common people of their day but Jesus said ""But whereunto shall I liken this generation? It is like unto children sitting in the markets, and calling unto their fellows, and saying, we have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned unto you, and ye have not lamented" Mat 11:16-17. They were having their meetings, putting on a show, patting one another on the back but Jesus was not impressed for He looked upon the heart. They piped but there was no response. The Spirit was gone.
When John came baptizing repentant sinners these legalists claimed he had a devil "For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, he hath a devil" Mat 11:18. Then to top it all off, Jesus, the friend of sinners came along and they said "behold a man gluttonous, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners" Mat 11:19. Jesus was eating, John was not and they rejected them both. Why? Because they didn't fit their social club. John baptized sinners and they didn't like it! Jesus associated with sinners and they didn't like it! Ignorant zeal! The righteous show of the Jews never began to please God as did the publican who smote his breast and said "God be merciful to me a sinner". Paul said he was the chief of sinners. Many can say they are sinners because their tradition has taught them so, but when Jesus teaches one that they are a sinner they never seem to have a problem with other repentant sinners.
Their religion was for show and pretense. They were so picky and viewed themselves so far superior to other religious people that none were good enough for their ranks, not even Jesus "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves" Mat 23:15. They had to go to great lengths to find just one convert that measured up to their standards; then when they found one, they filled them with such tradition that they ruined the proselyte also. Rather than finding sheep and leading them out to pasture they shut them out "But woe unto you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men" Mat 23:13. The kingdom of Heaven is the extension of Heaven unto men. It is for the benefit of God's sheep and not the playhouse of the Pharisees. While they were compassing land and sea for one proselyte Jesus told the truth of the matter "Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest" John 4:35b.... IGNORANT ZEAL.
Their ignorant zeal helped none but themselves; they were disinterested in others; religion for those who deserved it; for those who were good enough; for them and them only "ye lade men with burdens grievous to be borne, and ye yourselves touch not the burdens with one of your fingers" Luke 11:46. Their zeal was for the promotion of self which destroys godliness and quenches the spirit "The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up" John 2:17. They had zeal, but misdirected zeal. Selfish zeal eats up the house, but outward zeal fills the house. They were looking upon the past; upon their heritage; upon their family; upon Moses and Abraham; and missed the present blessings and the unfolding kingdom before them. To them, God's mercy extended no further than themselves. Their yardstick for measuring righteousness was themselves. They looked for faults in others with a magnifying glass but saw not the beam in their own eye. Theirs was a selfish religion. They could have touched the lives and hearts of many people, but viewed themselves so highly they feared defiling their ranks. Pharisaism is a great sin. Of all the people Jesus detested, we find more language of condemnation directed to these people than any other people in the whole New Testament. They were not only ignorant of Christ but also of their own sin and depravity.
These keepers of the kingdom had a head knowledge of religion and religious exercises; they could recite and quote long lists of scriptures; they sat around and talked of God and the scriptures; but they were so hung up on Moses and Abraham they forgot about God. They thought they were in charge of it and were seeing to it that they remained in charge by keeping people out, even the coming Messiah. I wonder how people would react to Jesus today if He were unknown in our midst and befriended real sinners?
The knowledge of our sin, and hopeless condition without Christ will incite zeal and direct its path. The best servant is the one who feels they are not worthy to be a servant. For zeal to be profitable unto God and our own selves, it must be directed by knowledge. Zeal without knowledge is like a horse without a bridle or a jet without a pilot. It is a great force without direction. Zeal is a force and knowledge is for the direction of that force. One without the other will fall far short of the triumphs they both can obtain together.
Zeal without knowledge is dangerous and destructive as in the case of Paul and the Jews. Knowledge without zeal is a waste of a precious commodity. It is a slow deterioration. It is a wasting away in the sands of time; a molting without growth. We clearly have two scenarios here: zeal without knowledge; knowledge without zeal. "I do something but know nothing" ; "I know something but do nothing". Both are perilous.
Zeal means "heat, ardor, earnest, or fervent"; On fire for the Lord; a fire shut up in the bones; earnest and fervent in prayer. Now is this something that is beyond us. Is this going overboard. Is this the prodding stick of some preacher just to excite his members and friends. NO! This is a very sober, yet factual, description of a true Christian; at least that is what the Bible says "Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works." The word "peculiar" means "special". Zeal is and identifying mark of God's special people.
Zeal encourages and stimulates others "Your zeal hath provoked very many" II Cor 9:2c. When other churches and people heard of the zeal of the church at Corinth it provoked or stimulated them to action. According to the wording it didn't just stimulate a few but rather it stimulated "very many". Don't you like to get around a person who is full of the Lord's spirit. Not a loud boisterous person full of self, but a person who speaks of the Lord and loves to talk about the scriptures. It stimulates other churches. One church may begin meeting more frequently and before you know it others have done the same.
Zeal is also contagious. It is like a wildfire; it spreads. It can spread from member to member and from church to church. So be careful, if you get zealous others may catch it. Satan tries to undermine our zeal by telling us we are just trying to promote ourselves but Paul wrote to the Galatians "But it is good to be zealously affected always in a good thing" Gal 4:18a. If it is for a good cause don't worry about what others might say for Paul said it is always good to be zealous in a good thing. If you know a zealous person visit with them; get around them; pray for them; and most of all, help them. If you want to be zealous there is a very simple way to catch zeal; pray to the Lord asking the question "What will thou have me to do" and when the burden comes get to it.
Zeal doesn't require one to be righteous over much nor does it suggest that people make a big scene as did the Pharisees. It is a quiet and gentle force guided by love for the cause of Christ and the truth. It never places one person above another. It is a recognition that we all have responsibilities and jobs in the Lord's kingdom with a desire to do our own individual and special part. I can't do your job and you can't do mine but we can all direct our attention to our Heavenly Father for guidance.