When I went away to college someone slipped a card into my desk supplies. It said, "Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm", part of a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson. As a Transcendentalist Emerson held Unitarian beliefs and was steeped in intellectualism. Still, it was a boost to this knob at The Citadel.
Years later I learned that the word enthusiasm is rooted in the Greek enthus, from
entheos, meaning in God. An enthusiast is a person who is highly interested in a particular activity or subject. Because of it's original meaning there is also a religious twist, identifying an enthusiast as a person of intense and visionary Christian beliefs.
Can you imagine a world populated by genuine enthusiasts? Maybe not?
As cool as it is, the word enthusiasm isn't in the Bible. No the concept of enthusiasm in the New Testament is rooted in the Greek term zeo, meaning to boil, burn, or be fervent. From this root we find the terms translated zeal, and it derivative zealot. And, that's one of the more delicate contrasts for believers today. Somehow we've come to fear the fine line between zeal and zealotry. The fear of being called a zealot has led many contemporary Christians to ignore the zeal that should rightly characteristic this life of faith.
It's like fans and fanatics. I'm a football fan and of the professional ranks have enjoyed the Miami Dolphins over the years. But, kids, that's not me in the picture of Dolphin fanatics above. There's that line of reason and personal prudence that keeps me from crossing over to the dark side of team support. So, I'll go a little ways into being a fan. But, I won't go too far. I don't want anybody to call me a fanatic!
Hold that thought right there! Suddenly my personal faith may be hostage to that same kind of thinking. How often do I operate with my zeal turned down low because I don't want anybody to mistake me for a zealot. Sound familiar? Perhaps so. Today we've become sedate, dignified like fans with our arms and legs crossed at a cutthroat croquet match. Now, as the book indicates, we're not fans anyway but followers. Still, the wordplay works. Don't run from zeal because I'm afraid of being called a zealot.
Spiritual zeal should attend this life. It is a fervency and passion for things of the kingdom that move us to mission. Zeal infuses our faith with life and laces hope and the fruit of the Spirit into our package. It warms my heart and brightens my witness. Zeal is a good, strong, admirable Christian trait---
Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.
Romans 12:11, ESV
...for I know your readiness, of which I boast about you to the people of
Macedonia, saying that Achaia has been ready since last year. And your
zeal has stirred up most of them.
2 Corinthians 9:2, ESV
...who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to
purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous
for good works.
Titus 2:14, ESV
Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good?
1 Peter 3:13, ESV
Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.
Revelation 3:19, ESV
Three strong warnings mediate our prayers and quest for this spiritual zeal.
1. Spiritual zeal is genuine and authentic.
Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order
to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father
who is in heaven.
Matthew 6:1, ESV
2. Spiritual zeal honors God.
...whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
1 Corinthians 10:31, ESV
3. Spiritual zeal disregards the conventions of men.
For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying
to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a
servant of Christ.
Galatians 1:10, ESV
Significantly, God's people must not restrain genuine spiritual zeal because they fear the labels of culture. Jesus reminded his followers that they would face the persecution of words. He expected them to endure, persevere, and advance the gospel even in the face of verbal opposition.
Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all
kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
Matthew 5:11, ESV
What is more, God taught Peter a significant lesson about what is clean and holy and what is not. We must resist allowing a secular culture to define spiritual standards.
What God has made clean, do not call common.
Acts 10:15, ESV
Is there a case for boldness right now? You know it. How about some genuine spiritual zeal? Yes, it's time for a little fire in God's people. Over the top? Yes, right now.