by Richard Mansel
The Apostle Paul exemplifies zealousness. His boundless commitment to his task is inestimable. He embodies the words of Solomon, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might” (Ecclesiastes 9:10, NKJV). God saw his unyielding resolve and employed him for the mission to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15; 2 Timothy 1:11). The early church stood tall because of his tireless labors.
Paul’s self-motivation and untiring zeal for truth were indispensable when he suffered persecutions and dangers for the faith (2 Corinthians 11:22-28). His leadership and willingness to “die daily” were a signal motivation for the brethren to endure the sufferings facing them (1 Corinthians 15:31).
Paul’s ferocity was evident in Acts 8:1-3, when he was known as Saul. He was like a “war horse who sniffed the smell of battle” in his persecution of the saints./1 The word “havoc” means to “ravage, devastate and ruin,”/2 and “to annihilate.”/3 “Destroyed” refers to an “army sacking a city. Just as an invading army might tear a city stone from stone and murder and slaughter right and left with almost sadistic brutality, so Paul attacked the church.”/4
His willingness to drag men and women away to prison was “akin to catching fish in a trolling net.”/5 Saul would turn spouses against one another and children against parents in order to secure their confession of guilt. This brings a chilling context to his words in 1 Corinthians 7:25-27.
Saul’s zeal, while misguided, was impressive in its execution. He instilled fear in Christians. However, it turned them into warriors for the faith and facilitated the rapid spread of the gospel. His “Zeal was more than just a fervent commitment for the [Law of Moses]; it denoted a willingness to use violence against any who were contravening, opposing, or subverting the [Law of Moses].”/6 In his mind, he was protecting the cause of God (Leviticus 24:16).
Paul’s attentiveness and reverence to the Words of God were impressive. Couple this with his zeal and leadership ability and the groundwork for a warrior for Christ lies fertile. God’s call turned his vigor to the cause of Christ rather than to the destruction of the gospel mission (Acts 9). Paul turns from horror to hero by embracing the cause of Christ.
We must be zealous for righteousness. Giving Christ the whole of our abilities, time, and resources means we “walk in the light as he is in the light” (1 John 1:7). “We walk worthy of the calling with which [we] were called” (Ephesians 4:1). This calling is to bring glory to Christ, in every aspect of our lives (Ephesians 3:20,21). We have no purer calling than the transformation from darkness to light (Romans 12:1,2; Ephesians 5:8).
We must remember that, “Zeal without knowledge is fire without light.”/7 Once a man raced out of a house and into a hansom cab, shouting for the driver to hurry. A moment later, the man realized he had not given the driver the address. Inquiring as to where the driver was going, the driver said, “I don’t know, sir, but we are going there fast!”
Paul knew his mission and purpose because he knew Christ (Galatians 2:20). Our zeal must be just as earnest and educated in the Scriptures (Colossians 3:17).
Being zealous for truth and souls does not give license to beat people over the head with our teachings. Paul exemplified gentleness and loving kindness to the lost (Ephesians 4:15). He knew the grace and mercy of the Lord (Ephesians 2:8,9). However, he never backed down from error or from the truth of the condition of lost souls. Neither should we.
1/ A.T. Robertson, Epochs in the Life of Paul (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House), 105.
2/ Joseph H. Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Nashville: Broadman, 1977), 383.
3/ W. Michaelis, “lunainomai” in The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament edited by Gerhard Kittle and translated by Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1967), 4:312.
4/ William Barclay, Ambassador for Christ (Valley Forge: Judson Press, 1973), 39.
5/ Walter Bauer and F. Wilbur Gingrich, William F. Arndt and Frederick Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), 794.
6/ Terence L. Donaldson, Paul and the Gentiles: Remapping the Apostle’s Convictional World (Memphis: Fortress Press, 1997), 286.
by Richard Mansel