Author: Ron Graham


The Zeal of God
—Isaiah 59:17

Ephesians encourages us to "put on the whole armour of God" (Ephesians 6:13-18). Not every piece of armour is listed there however, and in this lesson I would like us to think about the zeal of God as another piece of the Christian soldier’s armour. We read of it in Isaiah...

And he put on righteousness like a breastplate,
And a helmet of salvation on His head,
And he put on garments of vengeance for clothing,
and wrapped himself with zeal as a mantle"

(Isaiah 59:17).

It is the mantle of zeal in that last line that I am interested in right now. A mantle is a great cloak that is wrapped around and envelops the wearer. The word mantle is sometimes used figuratively of concealment, but here in Isaiah the mantle's warmth is in mind to convey the idea of zeal.

Earlier in Isaiah we have the prophecy of the birth of Christ the King, and Isaiah says, "The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this" (Isaiah 9:6-7)

God is a zealous God and he wears zeal as his mantle. He expects us to do the same. This lesson outline is about making the zeal of the Lord our mantle too.

1 The Need for a Burning Zeal

A. Zeal is commanded

i. "Be zealous therefore and repent" (Revelation 3:14-19)

ii. "A special people zealous for good works" (Titus 2:14)

iii. "Keep fervent in your love for one another" (1Peter 4:8)

iv. "Contend earnestly for the faith" (Jude 1:3)

v. "Serve God acceptably with reverence and fear" (Hebrews 12:28)

B. Examples of zeal

i. Disciples on road to Emmaus —their hearts burned within them (Luke 24:32)

ii. The early Christians "devoted themselves" (Acts 2:41-47)

iii. Apollos was mighty in the scriptures, spoke boldly, and refuted vigorously (Acts 18:24-28)

iv. Paul "did not cease to warn night and day with tears" (Acts 20:31)

C. Zeal should not be squashed

The above passages show the unwitting error of some today who perceive zeal as emotionalism and something to be squashed.

2 Zeal Must Be Properly Directed

A. It's Good to be Zealous in Good

Paul said, "It is good to be zealous in a good thing always" (Galatians 4:18)

B. It's Bad to be Zealous in Evil

Of course the corollary is that it is not good to be zealous in an evil thing ever —even if we believe that the evil thing is good.

C. Example of Saul's Misdirected Zeal

Saul of Tarsus was an example of one who had "a zeal for God but not according to knowledge" (Philippians 3:6, Romans 10:2). Saul was a persecutor of the early church, later became the Paul the Apostle after his conversion in Damascus (Acts 9).

3 The Righteous Nature of Zeal

A. Zeal is Not Nasty or Spiteful

We are to fervently love one another with a pure heart (1Peter 1:22)

B. Zeal is Vindicatory but not Vindictive

i. Good zeal is a lot of things, but it is not vindictive or spiteful (2Corinthians 7:11)

ii. Good zeal opposes wrong, but does not seek revenge (Romans 12:19)

The Difference Between Zealous and Jealous

There are two words in English that are very alike, zealous and jealous. To be either zealous or jealous is to have a fire in the heart. But they are very different fires. Generally we think of being jealous as an evil kind of fire that destroys what is good; whereas generally we think of being zealous as burning with fire in a good way. Let's be zealous and not jealous. Let's burn with zeal and not with jeal.

(I hear you say, "Mr Graham, there's no such thing as jeal." Yes, that's right, and neither there should be).