Christianity 201

November 20, 2018

Zeal Not Based on Knowledge

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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by Russell Young

It is easy to level accusations at the Pharisees of Jesus’ day. They certainly defied him, sought his death, and were instrumental in bringing it about. They had political and economic reasons for condemning the Lord. Had the gospel message been widely accepted their positions and their livelihoods would have been jeopardized. However, in their own minds they were defenders of the Law and of Jewish traditions as they understood them. According to Wikipedia, “The Pharisees were at various times a political party, a social movement, and a school of thought in the Holy Land during the time of Second Temple Judaism. After the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, Pharisaic beliefs became the foundational, liturgical and ritualistic basis for Rabbinic Judaism.” They had become the scholarly class. In their own minds they had legitimate reasons for opposing the proclamations of Christ that God was his Father and that he could forgive sins; after all, he was a man who walked among them.

In hindsight it is easy to condemn the Pharisees, but do their attitudes prevail even today? Paul spoke of their zeal for God. “For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge.” (Rom 10:2) The Lord said that the Pharisees would travel over land and sea to win a single convert. (Mt 23:15) Their zeal was commendable, but they did not know the truth about God. Despite their training they did not appreciate him or his purposes. The Pharisees were the “wise” concerning adherence to God’s requirements; however, they were in error.

The teachers of the law and the Pharisees were undoubtedly trying to protect the system of worship and the legitimacy of the Jews, God’s chosen people. The traditions and spiritual practices of Israel had existed for thousands of years and the ordained task of the priests was to maintain all that had been revealed to Moses and to the Prophets. Their system of honouring God was placed on laws, sacrifice, and ceremonies. The problem was that over the course of time and through improper guidance the purpose of the law and the Prophets had become lost and the law itself had become their focus. The teaching of the “wise” had missed the greater truth. Their zeal was not based on knowledge; the Lord called them “blind guides” (Mt 23:16) and “blind fools.” (Mt 25:17) He also revealed that “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.” (1 Cor 1:27 NIV) To them Jesus was just a man intent on destroying the nation of Israel but despite their knowledge they were blind.

The gathering of truth does not need to be relegated to those who are deemed “wise” by worldly standards. The Spirit gifts as he sees fit and God will not give his glory to another. The truth is not necessarily held by the scholarly class, as was found with the Pharisees; the Spirit is to be our teacher. In their zeal to interpret and to define the law, the Pharisees had missed relationship, love, justice, and righteousness. Institutions had replaced God. Although their intent may have been noble, they had simply become lost.

Has reliance on institutions, philosophical thought, and abandonment of the Spirit as teacher led to the distortion of truth as embodied in the Word? Would God be pleased with the multitude of “truths” as revealed in modern “knowledge” and practices? Has the key to understanding become so corroded that it can no longer function according to the Lord’s intentions? After all there is only one God and one truth, not many. Care needs to be exercised before responding since truth will have been lost before the Lord’s return. Isaiah has recorded that destruction will come to the earth because, “its people [will] have twisted God’s instructions, violated his laws, and broken his everlasting covenant.” (Isa 24:5 NLT) To what extent are false teachings being promoted today for the sake of preserving misguided “truth”?

Teachers do not intend to “twist” his instructions; that is not the motivations of their hearts, but it will happen. Jude has challenged believers to “contend for the faith.” (Jude 1:3) According to him contending for the faith is necessary because “godless men, who change the grace of our God into license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only sovereign and Lord,” will have slipped in among his people. (Jude 1:4 Italics added) They are teachers who deny the need to practice the sovereignty of Christ, who do not accept his lordship, and by their proclamations are giving license for immorality. They do not recognize the truth of God’s instructions, they dismiss the righteous requirements of his laws, and break his everlasting covenant. A philosophical emphasis on love—that which people’s itching ears want to hear (2 Tim 4:3 NIV)—often displaces recognition of the holiness of God and his requirement of a holy nation. The teaching of those who have denied the sovereignty of Christ for practical purposes will also have taken away the key to knowledge since only he, through the Spirit, can conform people to his own likeness. Stubborn adherence should not be given to denominational perspectives; prayer, the Word, and the Spirit’s leading must become the believer’s teacher. Christ is the Word (Jn 1:1; Rev 19:13). and he is also the Spirit. (2 Cor 3:17, 18)

Christ reported, “The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it. It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the law.” (Lk 16:1617) The only way to find the kingdom of God is by entrance through satisfying the righteous requirements of the law which is accomplished through obedience to the Spirit. (Rom 8:4)

Zeal must be based on knowledge. Caution has been given to contend for the faith because its truths will be lost. They will not be intentionally distorted, but they will be. In many cases focus has been taken from God, the Holy Spirit, as teacher, and has been allowed to rest on the philosophies of men, the same practices that brought about the weakening of truth and purpose, and enabled the abandonment of God’s glory for Israel. The zeal of the church must be based on knowledge and truth.


Russell Young’s column appears here on alternate Tuesdays. His book, Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” Really? is available in print and eBook in the U.S. through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.

To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link. There is also a feature-length article at this link.

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