On Sunday evening I quoted Rom 10:2, 3 in passing:
2 For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.3 For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness.
These verses came back to me in the last few days, as I thought about the relationship between enthusiasm and right doctrine. Frequently I seem to encounter zealous Christians (on the internet or in person) who are zealous “but not according to knowledge”. It seems Christians not only are frequently deceived but seem often to place their zeal on the most inane things possible.
In light of which, I have to admit that I am basically suspicious of zeal. If pride comes before a fall, zeal normally comes before being a loon. But if you look closely at Romans 10 there’s something that rebukes me (and perhaps you).
The zeal of Rom 10 is certainly a tragic zeal, a putting the Law ahead of Christ in the place of God, such that Jews of Paul’s day were unwilling to put their faith in Jesus. And yet there’s something qualificatory about Paul’s comment. He bears them witness they are zealous, just not in a knowledgeable way. It is as if Paul says, I can positively say they are zealous (which we agree is good) but not for what is right.
Paul seems to associate zeal in religion as a good thing though it can be misdirected. But the solution is not no zeal but rightly directed zeal. And this is not an isolated phenomena but something that runs through the Scriptures.
So in Galatians 4 Paul exhorts the Galatians:
“It is good to be zealous for what is good, and not only when I am with you.”
Phinehas was commended for his zeal:
11 “Phinehas the son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, has turned back my wrath from the people of Israel, in that he was zealous with my zeal among them, so that I did not consume the people of Israel in my zeal.”
Nor is it surprising that we are encouraged to be zealous when the Lord Jesus himself was characterised by zeal. The NT frequently quotes Ps 69 as being spoken by Jesus, including these verses:
“Zeal for your house consumes me. The reproaches of those who reproach you have fallen on me.”
Jesus was sufficiently zealous for God and his glory that those who opposed God, opposed him.
All of this is quite contrary to my way of thinking. I am suspicious of zeal, suspecting it falsely directed. I am happy with the calm teaching of right knowledge as opposed to empty zeal.
But this is a false dichotomy. We ought to be seeking to be zealous for God, rightly understood. Notice, not zealous simply for right understanding ie zealous about being right. But zeal for what is right. (And by zealous, it might be helpful to simply replace the word with passion or devotion.)
What on earth, in the end, does it mean to unzealously rehearse what God has done for us in Christ? Should I be matter of fact about being chosen before the foundations of the world? Or cooly interested in my sonship and guarantee of inheritance of a world to come? Or blithely attached to a God who became man and died in my place?
Ah, but some may say. But you are advocating a kind of worked up emotionality. No. I am simply saying we ought to be more passionate about the things of Christ than we are about anything else. If we are not as attached to the gospel as we are to our spouses (if we have them) and our hobbies then we are failing in this area.
Thankfully we do not stand before God on the basis of our passion or lack thereof, but on the finished work of Christ. This is not to disengage us from a passionate life, but to redirect our passions to God. We are being saved, though not on the basis of our own zeal or passions, but on the basis of Christ’s zealous work in which he is preparing a people zealous for God, and zealous for what is good (Titus 2:14).
In this light, zeal without knowledge is certainly terrible, misleading many. But knowledge without zeal – is the clever way of disengaging oneself from the service of God, by affirming the truth and passing quietly on to be passionate for other things. A way from which I (and perhaps you) need to repent.