What is Zeal?

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I was thinking today about the connection of zeal to hope. Hope is the ballast in the soul of the Christian that keeps him from being tossed about by the winds of uncertainty. It is also the basis for our zeal. When we say that we are hopeful we are saying that our faith is in God and all that he promises. Zeal then is the response to resting in God’s promise. You might say that resting produces a flurry (zeal) of activity. When our zeal is low we can be sure that we are not truly hoping in God (or at least wilting in it).

This brought me to the following quote from J.C. Ryle in Practical Religion on the subject of zeal. I find it instructive in line with the connection between hope and zeal. As you read it remember that Jesus was the most hopeful person of all time, little wonder he was also the most zealous (Jn. 2.13-17).

Zeal in Christianity is a burning desire to please God, to do His will, and to advance His glory in the world in every possible way. It is a desire, which is not natural to men or women. It is a desire which the Spirit puts in the heart of every believer when they are converted to Christ, however, a desire which some believers feel so much more strongly than others that they alone deserve to be called “zealous” men and women.

This desire is so strong, when it really reigns in a person, that it impels them to make any sacrifice-to go through any trouble-to deny themselves anything-to suffer, to work, to labor, to toil, to spend themselves and be spent, and even to die-if only they can please God and honor Christ.

A zealous person in Christianity is preeminently a person of one thing. It is not enough to say that they are earnest, strong, uncompromising, meticulous, wholehearted, and fervent in spirit. They only see one thing, they care for one thing, they live for one thing, they are swallowed up in one thing; and that one thing is to please God.

Whether they live, or whether they die-whether they are healthy, or whether they are sick-whether they are rich, or whether they are poor-whether they please man, or whether they give offense-whether the are thought wise, or whether they are thought foolish-whether they are accused, or whether they are praised-whether they get honor, or whether they get shame-for all this the zealous person cares nothing at all.

They have a passion for one thing, and that one thing is to please God and to advance God’s glory. If they are consumed in the very burning of their passion for God, they don’t care-they are content. They feel that, like a candle, they were made to burn; and if they are consumed in the burning, then they have only done the work for which God has appointed them. Such a person will always find a sphere for their zeal. If they cannot work, or give money, or a man cannot preach, then they will cry out and sigh, and pray.

Yes: if they are extremely poor, on a perpetual bed of sickness, they will make the activity of sin around him slow to a standstill, by continually interceding against it. If they cannot fight in the valley with Joshua, they will do the work of Moses, Aaron, and Hur, on the hill. (Exodus 17:9-13) If they are cut off from working themselves, they will give the Lord no rest until help is raised up from another quarter, and the work is done. This is what I mean when I speak of zeal in Christianity.

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