On the Words Zealot and Zealous

When I first started this blog, I knew what I wanted the blog name to be, but I was a little afraid* of the word Zealot having a negative connotation because of “a fanatically patriotic Jewish group in Palestine who wanted to be independent of Rome”. However, the proper noun used for these people only occurs twice. Various words for zealous are spread throughout the Bible, including as an attribute of God. I found a great page that contains a lot of information, including many of about these this subject matter.

Here are some selections from Titus 2:14-15 Commentary

Zealous – Totally committed. Sold out. Abandoned. Dedicated. “Possessed”. “On fire”. Burning. Ablaze, Afire. Impassioned. Fanatical. Ardent. Fervent. Fervently devoted. Passionate. Passionate ardor in pursuit of something. Single heart. Single minded allegiance. Enthusiastically devoted. Eager desire to accomplish some goal or end.

Dear reader, would our Father label you as one who is on fire for good (God) deeds?

Samuel Chadwick was right when he said that…

Men ablaze are invincible. Hell trembles when men kindle.

Zealous (2207) (zelotes from zeo = to boil, be hot or glow) describes one zealous (fervent and enthusiastically devoted) for or eagerly desirous of something. A zelotes is one who is earnestly committed to a side or cause and thus could be described as an enthusiast, an adherent, or a loyalist.

Zelotes – 8 times in the NT – Lk. 6:15; Acts 1:13; 21:20; 22:3; 1 Co. 14:12; Gal. 1:14; Tit. 2:14; 1 Pet. 3:13

Some have accused their brethren of being too zealous, and there may be some truth in their accusations [see Calvin’s quote below] but as Brother Andrew said:

It’s easier to cool down a fanatic than warm up a corpse.

Zelotes in other New Testament (not counting the two uses as a proper noun “Zealot” [*which was my original fear]) is used to describe those who are “zealous for the Law” (Acts 21:20), “zealous for God” (a Jew with great concern for the Mosaic law) (Acts 22:3), “zealous of spiritual gifts” (1 Cor 14:12), “zealous for… ancestral traditions” (Gal 1:14) and “zealous for what is good” (1 Peter 3:13 -note) From these uses you can observe that one can be zealous in a negative or in a positive sense. As Thomas Brooks explains “Zeal is like fire; in the chimney it is one of the best servants, but out of the chimney it is one of the worst masters.” John Calvin adds that “Zeal without doctrine is like a sword in the hand of a lunatic.”

William MacDonald who spoke passionately about what defines a true disciple of Christ put it well when he said…

A disciple can be forgiven if he does not have great mental ability. He can be forgiven also if he does not display outstanding physical prowess. But no disciple can be excused if he does not have zeal. If his heart is not aflame with a red-hot passion for the Saviour, he stands condemned…

The disgrace of the church in the twentieth century is that more zeal is evident among Communists and cultists than among Christians.

The fiery bishop from yesteryear J C Ryle gives a similar challenge…

A zealous man in religion is a man of one thing. He only sees one thing, he cares for one thing, he is swallowed up in one thing; and that one thing is to please God…A zealous Saviour ought to have zealous disciples.

Lord give us men like Count Nicolas von Zinzendorf who lived what he said when he declared…

I have one passion only: It is he! It is he!

A few comments:

As you can see, within the definition of zealous is burning. Many people, including myself, have poked fun at the phrase ‘being on fire for God.’ However, people like John Wesley used this term:

Get on fire for God and men will come and see you burn.

Maybe he was the one who started that phrase.

Also, on the page that these came from, it talks about zealousness being for good works. I think this comes out of a love for and knowledge of God which comes from knowledge of His living word (Heb 4:12). That’s my starting point and what much of the focus is on this blog.

The most important thing is that it is through chronic suffering that God has overwhelmed me with his grace and sovereignty. As has been mentioned so many times before, even more than my enjoyment of and ability to do many things has waned, God has increased my zeal to know him. It’s hard to describe and difficult to put into words what happens when I worship God and learn something new about him that changes me forever. I don’t write or talk about it enough. I hate that there is suffering but so thankful that God uses it for those who believe him.

Again, the link is Titus 2:14-15 Commentary and is quite a collection of material.

I’m reminded of how sincere your faith is. That faith first lived in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice. I’m convinced that it also lives in you. 6 You received a gift from God when I placed my hands on you to ordain you. Now I’m reminding you to fan that gift into flames.
2 Timothy 1:5-6

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