Become Zealous for Jehovah
“Come with me, and see my zeal for Jehovah.”—2 Ki. 10:16, AS.
1. (a) In the Scriptures, Jehovah is often spoken of as what kind of a God? (b) What phrase frequently follows the declarations of his prophets, and why?
THROUGHOUT the Bible Jehovah, who made the universe, is spoken of as a zealous God, a God whose very zeal has worked marvelous wonders. Therefore, when his prophet Isaiah made important declarations concerning the purposes of the Great Jehovah, he punctuated these declarations with this sentence: “The very zeal of Jehovah of armies will do this.” (2 Ki. 19:31; Isa. 9:7; 37:32) This declaration assured the people that fulfillment of these promises was beyond all doubt, since they were from the Almighty, the zealous God.
2, 3. (a) Why is the phrase “the very zeal of Jehovah of armies will do this” of interest to God’s people? (b) Why is Jehovah’s zeal a cause of joy for mankind?
2 The expression “the very zeal of Jehovah of armies will do this” is valuable and noteworthy indeed in that it emphasizes and insists upon God’s active interest and deliberate effectiveness in the salvation of mankind. By this expression we are made to know that salvation from sin and death, and the renewed life of the people of God, will not be due to any automatic working out of history, or due to any natural or economic causes. It will be the effective work of a zealous God, for we are told: “The very zeal of Jehovah of armies will do this.”
3 Jehovah’s zeal is, therefore, a cause of joy for humankind, because it gives promise of freedom from forces that oppress man physically and spiritually, which forces are frequently beyond the reach of the humble servants of God, even as Edom was. Concerning oppressor Edom, Jehovah’s prophet declared: “This is what the Lord Jehovah has said, ‘Certainly in the fire of my zeal I will speak against the remaining ones of the nations and against Edom, all of it, those who have given my land to themselves as a possession with the rejoicing of all the heart.’” (Ezek. 36:5, 6) All Edom-like oppressors, including Satan the Devil, his demons and his entire organization, will feel the fire of Jehovah’s zeal at Armageddon. “Distress will not rise up a second time.”—Nah. 1:9; Ps. 72:14.
EXAMPLES OF ZEAL
4. What lesson does the zeal of Jehovah teach, and how has this lesson been exemplified in the lives of Jehovah’s servants?
4 This zeal of Jehovah is a lesson to the people of God. It teaches that if a work is worthwhile doing, then it deserves our wholehearted support, our enthusiasm, our zeal, even as God gives of himself to his activities. This quality of God was exemplified in the lives of warriors, priests and prophets of God. Jehovah’s only-begotten Son Jesus Christ exemplified this quality, and so did the apostles and disciples of Christ. The Levites, for example, zealously supported Moses at Mount Sinai at the time of the making of the golden calf. They slew some 3,000 men who practiced idolatry on that occasion. Phinehas, the son of Eleazar the son of Aaron the priest of Jehovah, out of his zeal for God’s righteousness, killed a fellow Israelite and a Midianite woman with a lance because of their wanton practice of sexual immorality. (Ex. 32:15-29; Num. 25:6-13) The psalmist David wrote that ‘sheer zeal for Jehovah’s house had eaten him up, and the very reproaches of those reproaching Jehovah had fallen upon him.’ (Ps. 69:9) Jehu, king of Israel, called on others to witness his zeal for Jehovah. He is described in Scripture as riding furiously, fulfilling his role as Jehovah’s executioner. (2 Ki. 10:16) Faithful zealous men have reaped the reward of praise from God, with the hope of a “better resurrection” awaiting them.—Heb. 11:35.
5, 6. (a) In the Christian Greek Scriptures, what words are used to express the English word “zeal”? (b) What examples in the Christian Greek Scriptures do we have of men of zeal?
5 In the Christian Greek Scriptures some thirty-three times such Greek words appear as zelos, zeloun, zelotes, and are used exclusively of men. As Jehovah, in the Hebrew Scriptures, had been zealous for his holiness, and as his prophets expressed zeal, so now his holy ones show the same zeal, Jesus Christ above all. Twice in his career as a minister of God, his zeal for Jehovah moved him to cleanse the temple of Jehovah. The house of Jehovah must not resemble a house of merchandise, he declared. The apostle John describes one occasion in these words: “Now the passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. And he found in the temple those selling cattle and sheep and doves and the money brokers in their seats. So, after making a whip of ropes, he drove all those with the sheep and cattle out of the temple, and he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he said to those selling the doves: ‘Take these things away from here! Stop making the house of my Father a house of merchandise!’ His disciples called to mind that it is written: ‘The zeal for your house will eat me up.’”—John 2:13-17.
6 The apostles of Jesus Christ followed his zealous example. At Acts 17:6, opposers accused the Christians of ‘overturning the inhabited earth’ with their teaching. About twenty-two years after the death of Christ, the apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “Now concerning the ministry that is for the holy ones, it is superfluous for me to write you, for I know your readiness of mind of which I am boasting to the Macedonians about you, that Achaia has stood ready now for a year, and your zeal has stirred up the majority of them.” (2 Cor. 9:1, 2) Yes, Christian zeal proved contagious. It was a characteristic of Christianity. It stirred others up to a godly ministry.
7. How is zeal variously defined?
7 What is zeal? Zeal is variously defined as a passionate ardor for a cause or, less often, for a person; or as an intense eagerness in promoting some end. It is also referred to as earnestness, enthusiasm, devotion and fervor. The word for zeal in Hebrew is kináh, from kaná, which means “to flush” with passion. The Greek word zelos implies a fiery consuming element analogous to the heat of zeal. And from this we get the expression “a fiery zeal.” In some areas of the world, active ministers are sometimes said to be “on fire for the Lord.” In the Bible, an active or enthusiastic minister of Jehovah is described as hot, while an inactive minister is said to be lukewarm.
8. How and why are Christians urged to be zealous?
8 Christians are urged to be zealous workers for Jehovah, for without zealous workers, a living religion is inconceivable. Without zeal, there can be no fiery triumph, no perfected Christian personalities, no lasting reward or deeds of Christian faith. Therefore, the apostle Paul writes: “Do not loiter at your business. Be aglow with the spirit. Slave for Jehovah. Rejoice in the hope ahead.” (Rom. 12:11, 12) “Whatever you are doing, work at it whole-souled as to Jehovah, and not to men, for you know that it is from Jehovah you will receive the due reward of the inheritance. Slave for the Master, Christ.” (Col. 3:23, 24) “Always having plenty to do in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in connection with the Lord.” (1 Cor. 15:58) Paul not only said these things but lived them. The Bible writer Luke tells us that “Paul began to be intensely occupied with the word, witnessing to the Jews to prove that Jesus is the Christ.” (Acts 18:5) It is to zealous activity in connection with the Lord that Christians have been called and it is this fiery service that wins the reward of everlasting life.
VARIOUS KINDS OF ZEAL
9, 10. What proves that there can be an honorable and a dishonorable zeal?
9 Are you zealous for the Lord? People have been mistaken, for not all zeal is good. Zeal when roused to a passionate degree often becomes wrath; when consuming itself in self-seeking, it becomes jealousy. Zeal without an accurate knowledge of God’s purposes can turn to fanaticism. So zeal may be honorable or dishonorable. There may be a guided zeal or a misguided zeal.
10 For example, the apostle Paul at Romans 10:2, 3 writes: “For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God; but not according to accurate knowledge; for, because of not knowing the righteousness of God but seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God.” Thus the apostle reveals that there are people who may be completely sincere in their religious convictions and zealously so, but without basis in fact, without an accurate knowledge of the truth of God. These people very often are more anxious to establish their own righteousness than God’s. As a lady told a minister of Jehovah’s witnesses: “I wouldn’t believe you even if I knew you had the truth!” And again, there are some who do change. The apostle Paul was one. At 1 Timothy 1:12, 13, he admits that he pursued his previous course in life as a Pharisee in ignorance. “Although formerly I was a blasphemer and a persecutor and an insolent man. Nevertheless, I was shown mercy, because I was ignorant and acted with a lack of faith.” No doubt today there are many, like Saul of Tarsus, acting out of ignorance and with a lack of faith. Are you one of these? Let God’s Word guide your zeal.
11, 12. (a) Show cases where an ignorant zeal turned to a persecuting zeal. (b) What proves that such zeal could not be of God or of Christ?
11 Frequently an ignorant zeal can turn to a persecuting zeal, as it did in the case of Saul of Tarsus. Saul, who became Paul, confesses: “You, of course, heard about my conduct formerly in Judaism, that to the point of excess I kept on persecuting the congregation of God and devastating it, and I was making greater progress in Judaism than many of my own age in my race, as I was far more zealous for the traditions of my fathers.” (Gal. 1:13, 14; Phil. 3:6) Even today professed Christians zealous for their religious beliefs go out of their way to persecute the Christian witnesses of Jehovah. A 1966 report from Indonesia tells of mob violence and of Christian ministers who in the course of their ministry were beaten up by Protestant clergymen. The account says: “Four of the town’s clergymen and approximately sixty elders of the various churches in town mobbed the house of an interested person where the first Watchtower study was being held. When the special pioneers and the house owner went out to ascertain the cause of the disturbance, the mob broke down the fence and attacked the three brothers. All were injured. One of the special pioneers was knocked unconscious and then savagely kicked by the presiding clergyman. . . . The clergyman who instigated this riot later visited another island where two families of Jehovah’s witnesses had recently moved and built homes. After preaching an inflammatory sermon against the brothers, he led the congregation out of the church to the homes of the two brothers and destroyed their homes, leaving twelve persons without a dwelling.” This, of course, was not a zeal for Jehovah that these clergymen were expressing, but a misguided zeal, which made them act contrary to the will of God. They behaved as did Saul of Tarsus, who later came to regret his dastardly acts. These clergymen may well do the same.
12 This is not the only case of a misguided religious zeal manifesting itself in persecution of the innocent. History is filled with accounts of religious inquisitions, religious violence, religious riots and murders. Jesus Christ and, reportedly, most of his apostles were murdered at the hands of religious zealots, and so were the prophets of God before them. (Matt. 23:34, 35) Such misguided zeal could not be Christianity in action by any stretch of the imagination, for Christians have not the command to persecute, but to love, even their enemies.—Matt. 5:43-48.
13. What examples do we have showing that superstitious zeal can lead to base deeds?
13 Superstitious zeal can drive religionists out of their minds and into believing that they are actually doing God a favor by their base deeds. Baal worshipers in Elijah’s time worked themselves into a frenzy, “calling at the top of their voice and cutting themselves according to their custom with daggers and with lances, until they caused blood to flow out upon them” in hope that Baal would answer their petitions. But Baal was not the true God, but an impotent image of man’s making. Elijah proved Jehovah to be the true God and he beckoned to people to become zealous for Jehovah. (1 Ki. 18:21-40) Jesus Christ related a prophecy concerning our time and he showed that people would be as uninformed about the true God today as they were in Elijah’s time. Jesus said: “Then people will deliver you [the true Christian] up to tribulation and will kill you, and you will be objects of hatred by all the nations on account of my name.” “The hour is coming,” he said, “when everyone that kills you will imagine he has rendered a sacred service to God. But they will do these things because they have not come to know either the Father or me.” (Matt. 24:9; 23:34; John 16:2, 3) Jesus’ words prove conclusively that it is a superstitious zeal that motivates these people into acts of violence against the servants of God.
OTHER FORMS OF ZEAL
14. How can zeal be hypocritical, with perverse motives?
14 Zeal may bear a perverse motive. It can be hypocritical in its showiness. The Pharisee of Jesus’ illustration began to pray: “O God, I thank you I am not as the rest of men, extortioners, unrighteous, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week, I give the tenth of all things I acquire.” He was so concerned with himself that his selfish motive showed through. Not like the tax collector who beat his breast and said: “O God, be gracious to me a sinner.” (Luke 18:10-14) Jesus said that there would be many who would say: “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and expel demons in your name, and perform many powerful works in your name?” And he will confess to them: “I never knew you! Get away from me, you workers of lawlessness.” (Matt. 7:22, 23) This is the tragedy of a hypocritical zeal: it brings no lasting reward. Why not become zealous for Jehovah instead?
15. What is a quarrelsome zeal?
15 There is also a contentious or quarrelsome zeal, one that is argumentative over words, ways and customs. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 11:11-16, endeavors to settle the matter about a woman’s wearing a head covering in the congregation, after which he says: “If any man seems to dispute for some other custom, we have no other, neither do the congregations of God.” Earlier in this epistle, Paul shows there were disputes over whom they were following: “For when one says: ‘I belong to Paul,’ but another says: ‘I to Apollos,’ are you not simply men?” (1 Cor. 3:4) These need to become zealous for Jehovah and not waste vital energy over trivial matters.
16. (a) In what way can zeal be partial? Give an example. (b) What did the angel recommend to those lukewarm ones of Laodicea?
16 Zeal can be partial too. The Ephraimites were described as cakes baked only on one side, in other words, half-baked. (Hos. 7:8) They were halfhearted in their devotion and service to God. How many people do we know like that? People who straddle the fence—people who enjoy hearing about the kingdom of God but who like this world too. With their mouths they praise God’s people for doing a fine work, but they themselves will not join in it. Some may even attend meetings of God’s people, but never make this a regular custom. They consider themselves to be Christians, even quite spiritual-minded in fact. Like the Laodiceans, they are neither hot nor cold. They are lukewarm. They have deceived themselves into thinking that they are spiritually rich and that with their lukewarm efforts God is well pleased. But this is a deception, as the angel of the congregation in Laodicea was told to point out: “Because you are lukewarm and neither hot nor cold, I am going to vomit you out of my mouth. Because you say: ‘I am rich and have acquired riches and do not need anything at all,’ but you do not know you are miserable and pitiable and poor and blind and naked, I advise you to buy from me gold refined by fire that you may become rich, and white outer garments that you may become dressed and that the shame of your nakedness may not become manifested, and eyesalve to rub in your eyes that you may see. All those for whom I have affection I reprove and discipline. Therefore be zealous and repent.” (Rev. 3:14-19) It is not too late to awaken from this apathetic, lukewarm state. The angel recommends “be zealous for Jehovah.
17. (a) How can zeal be temporary? Cite an example. (b) How today can zeal show itself temporary?
17 There is also a zeal that is temporary, a zeal that gives up. When Jehoash, king of Israel, came to the prophet Elisha and wept over the apparent fate of Israel, Elisha told him to open the window to the east and shoot an arrow. This Jehoash did. Elisha then exclaimed: “Jehovah’s arrow of salvation, even the arrow of salvation against Syria! And you will certainly strike down Syria at Aphek to the finishing point.” (2 Ki. 13:14-17) Elisha’s declaration should have thrilled the king, but did it? When Elisha told him to take the arrows that he had and to strike the earth with them, what did Jehoash do? With the sound of victory ringing in his ears, he should have pulverized the earth with them. Instead, he feebly struck the earth three times and stopped. Elisha “grew indignant at him; hence he said: ‘It was meant to strike five or six times! In that case you would certainly be striking down Syria to the finishing point, but now it is three times that you will strike down Syria.’” (2 Ki. 13:18, 19) Jehoash revealed that his zeal was temporary. It gave out. He did not allow Jehovah’s promise to fire him, as it should have, had he fully believed. So today, many who hear the promises of God quickly counter them with doubt, skepticism and suspicion. The potential bonfire quickly turns into a fizzle and they wonder why they are not zealous for Jehovah. To the doubter, God’s Word says: “He who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven by the wind and blown about. In fact, let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from Jehovah; he is an indecisive man, unsteady in all his ways.” (Jas. 1:6-8) When serving Jehovah, there is no room for doubt. Jehovah demands exclusive devotion. The plunge into his service must be wholehearted, without reservations, and eternal. “We shall reap if we do not tire out.”—Gal. 6:9.
A GENUINE ZEAL FOR JEHOVAH
18. (a) What is genuine zeal? (b) How does genuine zeal manifest itself among mankind?
18 There is a genuine zeal, which is a sincere warm concern for the glory of God and the spiritual welfare of mankind. It is a zeal that stems from the divine command: “Be zealous!” (Rev. 3:19) It finds its example in Christ Jesus, who “went through the land doing good and healing all those oppressed by the Devil; because God was with him.” (Acts 10:38) Said the apostle Paul to Titus: Christ “gave himself for us that he might deliver us from every sort of lawlessness and cleanse for himself a people peculiarly his own, zealous for fine works.” (Titus 2:14) This zeal manifested itself throughout the centuries in the Christian’s attitude toward the importance of God’s service. Dedicated Christians have placed the worship of God first in their lives. (Matt. 6:33) They have become zealous for Jehovah. And this zeal can be seen in their Christian conduct and worship, in the desire and effort that they put forth to transform their minds and personalities to those of Christ. Their daily lives are permeated with zeal for Jehovah. In them, the words of the apostle Paul find fulfillment: “You no longer go on walking just as the nations also walk in the unprofitableness of their minds, while they are in darkness mentally, and alienated from the life that belongs to God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the insensibility of their hearts. Having come to be past all moral sense, they gave themselves over to loose conduct to work uncleanness of every sort with greediness. But you did not learn the Christ to be so, provided, indeed, that you heard him and were taught by means of him, just as truth is in Jesus, that you should put away the old personality which conforms to your former course of conduct and which is being corrupted according to his deceptive desires; but that you should be made new in the force actuating your mind, and should put on the new personality which was created according to God’s will in true righteousness and loyalty.”—Eph. 4:17-24.
19. What questions are we forced to ask, and where will answers to our questions be found?
19 But where today can you find such zeal in a world of religious ferment? Who today in this era of science wants to be zealous for Jehovah? What people are willing to set aside the old easy ways of loose living in a world of collapsing morality, crime and rebellion for a new personality? What proof is there that there is a genuine religious zeal for Jehovah in the earth? The following article will answer these and other timely questions.
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Zeal for Jehovah moved Jesus to cleanse the temple
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Jehoash demonstrated zeal for Jehovah but did not maintain it. Such temporary zeal must be avoided by Christians today