WELCOME TO THEOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVES

 

 NEVER LACK IN ZEAL

SERMON PRESENTED ON 04-17-10

 

       To date I have give three messages dealing with Paul’s list of instructions for Christian living as recorded in Romans, chapter twelve.  Paul’s list pertains to how we are to behave toward each other and in so doing present ourselves as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God which Paul defines as our spiritual act of worship.  We virtually worship God by how we behave toward each other. 

       In the first three sermons in this series on Romans 12, we looked at Paul’s instruction to love without hypocrisy, hate evil and cling to the good and be devoted to one another in brotherly love.  Paul sees these behaviors as required and necessary.  He sees them as spiritual worship. 

       Worship is two often thought of only in terms of what is done once a week in a church service where people come together to sing hymns and hear a message.  While this is certainly a way to worship God, Paul shows that the worship of God is a 24/7 activity.  We worship God by being an imitator of God.  Jesus was an imitator of God.  Jesus said if you have seen me you have seen the Father.  We need to be imitators of Jesus.  People should be able to say if they have seen us they have seen Jesus.  We should be Jesus with skin on.     

      There is an old saying that says imitation is the highest form of flattery.  While flattery is usually seen as the insincere complimenting of someone to gain some kind of advantage, flattery can be directed toward someone in sincere admiration for who they are and what they represent. When it is said that imitation is the highest form of flattery it is being said that someone is so highly thought of that that others want to be just like them.  Others want to imitate their behavior.  The whole force of the Gospel message is that we become imitators of Jesus Christ who in turn imitates God the Father.  When we behave in the fashion that God has prescribed for us we are virtually imitating His character and such behavior becomes virtual worship of God. 

       Ephesians 5:1: Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children

       We know that when Jesus walked the face of this earth, He fully reflected the character of God His Father. Jesus said that if you have seen me you have seen the Father.  This doesn’t mean Jesus was the Father as one theological system called “Oneness Theology” teaches.  What it means is Jesus reflected the nature and character of the Father so perfectly that when you saw how Jesus conducted Himself you were seeing how the Father conducts Himself.  The focus of scriptural teaching is that we so perfectly reflect the nature and character of Jesus that when people see us they are seeing Jesus. 

       It is interesting that Christian leadership throughout the centuries has spent so much energy developing complex theological systems while often ignoring the fundamental meaning of the very word Christian.  To be Christian is to be a follower of Christ Jesus.  Christ means anointed of God and Jesus means Savior.  Christ Jesus paid the penalty for sin and instructed us to pursue righteous living.  The ministry of Jesus was all about teaching a way of life.  In the early years of the church, Christianity was actually called “the way.”   It was called the way because to be Christian was to live the way of life taught by Christ Jesus.  When Paul lists various ways in which we are to behave, he is simply reiterating what Jesus taught during his ministry.

       Jesus began and finished his earthly ministry preaching the gospel of the Kingdom of God.  Apostle Paul continued preaching what Jesus preached.  Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans that the kingdom of God was righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.  In Romans chapter 12, we have been discussing a list of behaviors that constitute that righteousness that is the Kingdom of God.  Jesus taught the righteousness of the Kingdom throughout His ministry.  Paul continued to preach what Jesus preached.  Righteous behavior is at the core of the Gospel message and always has been.  It is the perfect righteous behavior of Christ Jesus that has facilitated our salvation.  If Jesus had not lived a perfectly righteous life, His crucifixion would not have been efficacious in providing for our salvation.  Being Christian is all about being righteous and being righteous is all about living in harmony with the principles of behavior that God has ordained for the human race. 

       Let’s now continue to examine and discuss the instruction Paul gave to the Roman Christians as to how they were to conduct themselves.  Let’s once again review Paul’s foundational statement which he then elaborates upon by providing specific examples of behavior that must be present if we are to be presenting our bodies as living sacrifices. 

       Romans 12:1-2: Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

        As explained in previous sermons in this series, we are to present our bodies as living sacrifices and seek transformation of our thinking in response to the mercy of God, a mercy that has provided for the forgiveness of our sins and the opportunity to live righteous lives in the here and now while we await our translation into the heavenly realm upon physical death.

       So let’s return to Paul’s list.  We began our examination of Paul’s list by studying his instruction to love without hypocrisy.  We next looked at what it means to hate evil and cling to what is good.  My last sermon in this series looked at what it means to be devoted to one another in brotherly love and honoring one another above ourselves. Let’s now continue with Paul’s list of righteous behaviors in verse eleven.

       Romans 12:11:  Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.

       "Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord."  To have zeal is to have unwavering commitment to a conviction or ideal.  It is having an uncompromising attitude and adamant spirit toward a goal or task at hand.  It is the concept of diligently doing whatever it takes to get the job at hand done in the face of whatever obstacles stand in ones way. The thing about zeal is that it can be a very positive force in our lives or it can be quite misdirected.  Suicide bombers have zeal, but such zeal is obviously misdirected.  People express zeal in association with numerous causes and beliefs but often such zeal is based on misinformation.  We had a zeal for our former doctrinal system which turned out to be a misplaced zeal.  We see such misplaced zeal spoken of in the scriptures.

       Romans 10: 1-4: Brothers, my heart's desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge.  Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God's righteousness.  Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.

       Here we see Paul testifying to the fact the Israelites were zealous for God but their zeal was not based on knowledge.  There understanding was that it was by their righteousness they could accomplish a right standing before God and Paul was teaching them this was not possible and it was only through the righteousness of Christ Jesus that man can be placed in a righteous relationship with God and in that respect Christ is the end of the law as we cannot attain to the level of righteousness required by God by trying to keep the law.

       To this very day, multiple millions of people are zealous for the tenants of their particular belief system whether it be religious, political, social or whatever and such zeal is often based on misinformation which in turn leads to thinking and behavior based on invalid concepts.  Sometimes zeal for invalid concepts is relatively harmless and at other times it can result in great evil.  Zeal for specific religious, political and social concepts has led to much conflict between nations, and individuals throughout human history.  Communism, Nazism, fascism, the medieval religious crusades and multiple thousands of other bogus causes people have been zealous for are all examples of zeal based on lack of understanding, lack of knowledge of what the truth about a matter actually is.

       I believe there is widespread lack of critical thinking in the world which is a major dynamic associated with much of the world’s problems.  So many people simply parrot what others proclaim as truth and never stop to investigate and examine issues for themselves.  Our educational system is notorious for rote learning where students are not taught to question what is being taught but are simply graded on how well they can parrot back what they read in a book or what some instructor has told them.  While rote learning may be necessary in certain areas such as math, learning a language or studying chemistry or physics, I truly believe that in teaching political science, history, sociology, psychology, philosophy and certainly religion, there needs to be a much great emphasis on evidence based investigation and not just blind acceptance of what others have concluded to be the truth. 

        When zeal is misplaced it can and has led to all sorts of social ills.  Our goal as Christians is to have zeal based on evidence based concepts, concepts that have been proven to be valid by showing a track record of positive results.  We need to have zeal for the moral law that Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount.  We need to have zeal for the principles of the law of love as taught throughout the scriptures.  The law of love has demonstrated itself to be the pathway to quality of life and harmonious human relations. It has demonstrated its efficacy as a body of behavioral principles that lead to joy and peace.  There is no chance of our zeal being misplaced when we apply it to teaching, and above all, practicing the law of love.  Paul told the Galatians that zeal is good provided it is properly directed. Solomon wrote that zeal must be accompanied by knowledge.

       Galatians 4:10:  It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good.

       Proverbs 19:2: It is not good to have zeal without knowledge, nor to be hasty and miss the way.

        It is very important we direct out zeal toward good purpose.  We can only determine whether a purpose is good by critically examining it and seeking a preponderance of evidence that the purpose toward which we direct zeal is in harmony with God’s will.  We know it is God’s will that we live the law of love and practice the golden rule.  To be Christian is virtually synonymous with being zealous for doing good works.  In Paul’s letter to Titus, he made a very profound statement nearly 2000 years ago.   

       Titus 2:11-14: For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works (NKJ).

       Remember in the letter Paul wrote to the Romans, he spoke of responding to the grace of God by presenting our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God which was our reasonable act of worship.  Here in his letter to Titus, Paul again speaks of the grace of God and that because of the grace of God which has facilitated salvation; we are to live Godly lives based in righteous behavior.  He goes on to show this to be the appropriate response to what Jesus did and what Jesus did was to give Himself for us to redeem us from lawless deeds and purify for Himself a special people, zealous of good works.

       We have been redeemed and purified from our sinful past and passed from death unto life as a result.  But for what purpose, so we can continue to live as before?  Did Jesus go through the agony of the crucifixion and experience the resurrection so we can have eternal life and just go on living anyway we want for the duration of our physical lives?  That is not what we see in the scriptures.  Paul is teaching both the Roman Christians and his fellow minister Titus that it is because of what God, through Christ Jesus has done for us that we now have an obligation to live a righteous life.  Paul told Titus that because of the grace of God there was an obligation to live righteously in the here and now and to so in a zealous manner.  Paul writes that the very purpose for the death of Jesus was to not only redeem us from death but to become a special people zealous of good works.  Good works is a theme found throughout scripture.  God has redeemed us so we can be transformed in our thinking and be a witness to God’s grace by displaying that transformed thinking in our behavior toward God and man.

       So when Paul instructs to "Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord," he is essentially teaching that we are not to just go through the motions of serving God.  We are not to just pay lip service to the principles whereby God wants us to live.  We are to be diligent, enthusiastic and virtually excited about serving God.  God wants us to recognize and fully understand the efficacy of the way of life He has prescribed for us.  He wants us to experience it and thus provide witness to it so others will take note and want the same.

       When God called Israel out of Egypt, it was His express purpose that they be an example to the nations as to how to live as a people.

       Deuteronomy 4:5-6:  See, I have taught you decrees and laws as the LORD my God commanded me, so that you may follow them in the land you are entering to take possession of it.  Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, "Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people."

       God established a Covenant with Israel that prescribed a particular way to live.  God intended that Israel be an example to the nations around them of the way of life that reflected the Covenant God made with them.  We know Israel failed miserably in giving witness to this covenant and the way of life God established for them.  Because of the consistent breach of this Covenant, it eventually became annulled.  God has established a new Covenant with changes as to the rules and regulations that make up this Covenant, However, God still desires that His Covenant be a showcase bringing honor and glory to His name.  God still desires we be a witness to others of his prescribed way of life.

       The question we must all ask ourselves is if we were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict us.  The answer to that question is directly related to out level of zeal in serving God.  Are we disturbed and appalled by the lawless behavior we see around us or do we find ourselves acquiescing to it and even accommodating such behavior?  Do we really get upset with behavior that runs contrary the law of love or do we simply tolerate it and experience little concern or dismay over such behavior?  Do we have a zeal for the law of God as it is presented under the New Covenant?

       Jesus had a great zeal for the things of God.  There is the recorded incident in John, chapter two of Jesus turning over the tables of the money changers in anger over the desecration of God’s House.

       John 2:13-17:  When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, "Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father's house into a market!" His disciples remembered that it is written: "Zeal for your house will consume me."

       Are we consumed with zeal for our Father’s house?  Scripture shows we are now the temple of God. As Christians, we have the Spirit of God dwelling in us.  Are we consumed with zeal to keep this temple of God’s Spirit clean from the contamination of the things of this world?  Remember what Paul wrote to the Romans."Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind."  Under the Old Covenant, David showed a tremendous zeal for the law of God. David became extremely upset over the lawlessness he saw around him and he longed for the law of God to be represented in his own life, as well as in the lives of others.

       Psalms 119:128-129:  I consider all your precepts right, I hate every wrong path.  Your statutes are wonderful; therefore I obey them.  The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.  I open my mouth and pant, longing for your commands.  Turn to me and have mercy on me, as you always do to those who love your name. Direct my footsteps according to your word; let no sin rule over me. Redeem me from the oppression of men, that I may obey your precepts. Make your face shine upon your servant and teach me your decrees. Streams of tears flow from my eyes, for your law is not obeyed. Righteous are you, O LORD, and your laws are right. The statutes you have laid down are righteous; they are fully trustworthy. My zeal wears me out, for my enemies ignore your words.

       David is considered a man after God’s own heart.  Why, because David loved God’s law.  David had zeal for God’s law. In our old World Wide Church of God days we often sang a hymn entitled, "O How Love I Thy Law".  It was taken for Psalm 119:97

       Psalm 119:9:  Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long. Your commands make me wiser than my enemies, for they are ever with me. I have more insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on your statutes. I have more understanding than the elders, for I obey your precepts. I have kept my feet from every evil path so that I might obey your word. I have not departed from your laws, for you yourself have taught me.

        We haven’t sung the hymn entitled, "O How Love I Thy Law" for many years.  It may be that we feel it reflects on our former Old Covenant theology.  Yes, David did live under the Old Covenant and when he wrote about loving the law of God he was including the entire body of law contained in the Old Covenant.  We understand the Old Covenant has been abrogated and replaced with a New Covenant.  We also understand the New Covenant is configured differently from the Old Covenant in that it doesn’t contain a multitude of written regulations but involves the overriding principle of doing no harm to your neighbor and therefore the law of love is fulfilled.  We also know the New Covenant does not prescribe specific days of worship or specific worship regulations as was true under the Old Covenant.  I have given a number of sermons demonstrating the Covenantal transition that took place in the first century. 

       What the New Covenant does mandate is that we respond to the grace of God by exercising the law of love in our relations with each other and in so doing worship and glorify our Father God and His Son Christ Jesus.  The law of love is based on the moral and ethical law found not only in the Old Covenant but extant since creation. With that being said, I see no reason to avoid singing, "O How Love I Thy Law."  As long as we understand that it is the principles of the New Covenant law of love we are singing about I find the words of this song quite apropos to our Christian life.

       Verse One:   "O how love I thy law.  It is ever with me.  It is my mediation all the day in my thoughts. I have held back my feet from the ways of this world.  Thou has given me wisdom by thy righteous commands."  The commands of God are righteous.  They do give us wisdom.  We should be meditating on them.  They should hold our feet back from the ways of this world.

       Verse Two:  "O how love I thy law.  It is ever with me.  I have more understanding than the ancients of old.  From thy precepts I learn every false to hate.  I have more understanding for I dwell on thy law."  Again, we certainly have more understanding by dwelling on the law of God because God’s law teaches us to hate the false and embrace the true. 

       Verse Three:  "O how love I thy law.  It is ever with me.  Thy commands make me wiser than my unfriendly foes. O how sweet are thy words more than honey is sweet. From thy judgements eternal let me never depart."  We certainly don’t want to depart from any judgements that pertain under the New Covenant. 

       The scriptural passage we focused on today was Romans 12:11: "Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.". Let’s do all we can to keep our spiritual fervor as we put into practice the behavioral laws that God has established for us. 

SERMON FIVE OF THIS SERIES