Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have zeal for God, but not according to knowledge” (Romans 10:1, 2).
A shepherd once strode into the palace of the most powerful man on earth and made a stunning demand: “Thus says the LORD the God of Israel, ‘Let my people go.'” Do you remember Pharaoh’s dubious response?
“Who is the LORD that I should obey his voice and let Israel go,” he wondered derisively, “I do not know the LORD, and moreover I will not let Israel go.”
Interestingly, the king of Egypt had a point: The more one knows of God, the more one obeys his voice. The less one knows of God, the less one obeys his voice. It could be argued that the story of the ten plagues was a case of Pharaoh and God getting better acquainted. As successive plagues fell on Egypt, Pharaoh might have been excused for declaring, “I’m sorry I asked who Yahweh was! Please, I do not care to learn any more about him!”
This brings us to the question asked in Paul’s passage: In the church, which characteristic do we need most? Zeal, or knowledge? Of course we should already recognize the false dilemma behind the question. The answer is that we need both!
You know, I heard it again just this week. A young person pointed to the “dead” worship and “uninvolved” manner of his older brethren, and used this as the reason for leaving the church. Though we might deplore his judgmental attitude, we need to ask if there is any truth in these charges. Could we do better?
I think of worship services I have witnessed in Zimbabwe: To hear the matchless harmony of Shona voices raised in song still brings tears to my eyes. Even those American congregations that sing very well could hardly be expected to compare. It breaks my heart to see row upon row of God’s people sitting like bumps on a log during a song service, consulting IPhones or balancing their checkbooks when they should be worshiping an incomparable God. This is not the way God envisioned it. The Psalmist calls on us to offer the praise that God deserves:
“Ascribe to the Lord, O families of peoples, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength! Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name, bring an offering and come into his courts!” (Psalm 96:7,8).
We might respect many people – magistrates and rulers – but we can only properly worship one individual. That is why the twenty-four elders fell before God’s throne and cried: “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created” (Revelation 4:11).
To praise anyone less would be “over the top,” mere flattery. For God it is right and proper, for he is indeed worthy.