Reflections – 2021.12

Glorifying God: Zealous for His Name

The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.

– Westminster Shorter Catechism

We glorify God, by being zealous for his name…. Zeal is a mixed affection, a compound of love and anger; it carries forth our love to God, and our anger against sin in an intense degree.

– Thomas Watson, from A Body of Divinity

In science class at some point, we learn about chemical compounds – two elements that when brought together, form something else.  An example would be salt.  Sodium and chlorine, which are very different elements, when joined under the right conditions come together and we get a seasoning, sodium chloride, or salt.    

Zeal is a word we don’t use very much.  In fact, it usually has a negative meaning attached to it – a person might be described as overzealous for something … basically he or she cares too much about it.  I have never heard anyone talk about people being under-zealous or properly zealous for something.  Basically, we are all much more comfortable if people just chill out.  

In John 2, Jesus was in the temple courts when he “found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there.”  There was a need for these businesses, as people had travelled from far away for Passover and wanted to make appropriate sacrifices according to Jewish law.   Jesus’ response to their presence wasn’t an indictment on what they were selling, it was an indictment on where.   The court was to be a place of prayer for the Gentiles.  But these sellers and money-changers in their greed and national pride decided that having this place of prayer was not that important, even if the LORD had declared otherwise.  So what did Jesus do?  He made a whip of cords and overturned their tables and drove them out!  Now there had been plenty of religious people who had encountered all of this before and had done nothing.  Was Jesus being overzealous?  Or was he demonstrating a proper zeal.  If the latter, then we are taught what we need to be zealous FOR.  His disciples in this case remembered this phrase from the Old Testament,  “Zeal for thy house will consume me.”  It was a zeal for God, a zeal for His Father, and thus His Father’s house, that drove Jesus to act.

The Greek word for zealous means literally “to bubble over because it is so hot (boiling)”.  Sometimes this word is translated “jealous.” Zeal for God and His Name, Watson says, is one of the many ways we glorify God.   Zeal is a compound according to Watson, a mixture of love to God and anger against sin.  Under the right conditions (such as Jesus seeing the moneychangers), the two elements of love for God and anger against sin, come together as zeal, an intense compound, a compound that boils over.  

Are you zealous for the LORD and His Name?  Do you hate your own sin and all sin?  At the same time do you love the LORD and His Name, and the people whom He has made?  In other words, is our love for God and hatred of sin so intense that it boils over, impacts everything?  In our culture, zeal is usually confined to sports fans and people who are really in to politics.  In both cases, this zeal always assigns too much honor to something or someone that is simply not worth our zeal.  Zeal for God, however, assigns to the LORD a worthiness that is appropriate, considering the greatness of His Name. So may we glorify God and enjoy Him forever by being zealous for that Name.