Sound Teaching

This is the teaching site of the West Side church of Christ in Fort Worth, TX. Unless otherwise indicated, all materials were written and prepared by Stan Cox

Index by Subject

Paul’s Example: A Zealous Life

One of the most admirable qualities of the apostle Paul was his zeal. That zeal was present before he became a Christian, and in fact was partly responsible for his destructive work as a persecutor of God’s people. Paul said as much in Galatians 1:14, “And I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries in my own nation, being more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers.”

We readily accede to the fact that zeal alone is insufficient to ensure admirable action. In fact, Paul admonished the Jews despite their zeal. He said, “For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God” (Romans 10:2-3).

However, zeal is laudable, and important. In fact, it is required of all Christians. If accompanied by the knowledge referred to by the apostle, it makes for a Christian who is strong in faith, active in his expression of that faith, and happy and content with his place as a servant of the Lord.

The apostle Paul again serves as an example of such zeal accompanied by knowledge. When we look at his life, we see that zeal. “Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:12-14).

It seems that Paul was just naturally a zealous person. He had great conviction. This led him to zealously persecute Christians when his conviction was wrong, and to zealously serve God when his conviction changed. As he put it, “For I through the law died to the law that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:19-20).

Paul could not understand the lack of zeal shown by some. He was sharply critical of Demas and his divided loyalties, “for Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world, and has departed for Thessalonica” (2 Timothy 4:10). He equated the Christian life with running a race, but said, “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty” (1 Corinthians 9:24-26). He also equated the Christian life with boxing, but said, “Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:27-28).

Paul could not understand doing something half way. When it came to his faith, this highly motivated response is explained by the apostle himself. “I am a debtor both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to wise and to unwise. So, as much as is in me, I am ready to preach the gospel to you who are in Rome also” (Romans 1:14-15). Paul owed a debt. His debt was first to God. Though “chief among sinners”, God had extended His grace to Paul be sending Jesus to die on the cross. Because God desired him to share the gospel with others, that debt extended to his potential listeners, “both to Greeks and barbarians.” In response to that debt he proclaimed his willingness to preach, with “as much as is in me.”

There is one important thing to note here. Paul’s motivation is not unique. He is not the only one for whom Christ died. His response should be mirrored by every Christian. There is no room in the kingdom for the lukewarm Christian. The strongest of condemnations was reserved for the church in Laodicea, guilty of a lack of zeal. “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth” (Revelation 3:15-16). What did he call these apathetic Christians to do? “Therefore be zealous and repent” (vs. 19).

Are you truly zealous for the Lord? You had better be if you want to please Him!