Godly Zeal
Here is a look at the astonishing fruit that Godly zeal produces.

Early on in the history of the Philadelphia Church of God, some critics likened our work to a “peanut shell floating on an ocean, going nowhere.” And while the Work did begin small, it has grown into something more akin to a great oceangoing vessel.

The transformation of that peanut shell into a cruise ship is quite a testimony to what God can do. In just the last 14 years, God has blessed this work with a 170-acre, beautifully landscaped campus that is home to Herbert W. Armstrong College and Imperial Academy, which includes all primary grades. The Hall of Administration, a 22,825 square-foot building that houses the administrative offices for our globe-girdling work, opened in 2006. Our college facilities include a 27,000 square-foot multifunctional field house, spacious dormitories, classrooms, music rooms and a dance studio. The magnificently designed Armstrong Auditorium is the 44,775 square-foot crowning jewel of the campus. The Armstrong International Cultural Foundation concert series is in its 14th season. The Philadelphia Church of God is the ninth largest employer in Edmond, Oklahoma, with 178 full-time, part-time and student employees.

God has been accomplishing a lot with this “little” work! It’s astounding.

Isaiah 9 tells us why He is able to do so much.

“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace” (verse 6). When Adam chose to reject God’s revelation, God set in motion an awesome plan of salvation where Christ would eventually come in the flesh to qualify to replace Satan on the throne of this Earth and to die for the sins of mankind—that through Christ we might actually be born into the God Family, given the opportunity to administer God’s government with Christ for all eternity.

“Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this” (verse 7). Notice! There will be no end of increase and growth in God’s family government plan. It will just keep growing and growing, right out into the universe.

And all because of God’s tremendous zeal! That word zeal is used two different ways in the Bible. First, as in this verse, it means to be passionate or to have a burning, fiery devotion to some cause. Usually, however, the word means to be jealous or envious.

Both of these qualities encapsulate the full meaning of godly zeal. God is passionately devoted to His cause. He is also a jealous God (Exodus 34:14). That first aspect of zeal is what enables God to accomplish so much. The second aspect is what helps Him preserve, protect and maintain His creation. He simply will not allow His spiritual creation to deteriorate. In fact, if that creation does deteriorate because of human weakness, God gets angry! Furthermore, His zeal not only prevents deterioration, it produces further growth and development.

Knowing that about God’s zeal, how zealous are you?

Think about what God has already done for us. He’s given us the goal—to be on the bride level within that government of increase. He has, in Jesus, provided us with a perfect example to follow so we can obtain the goal. He has placed us within the ideal environment for that pursuit—His Church. And He has made available the awesome power—His Holy Spirit—we need to get there.

With all God has given us, we should be the most zealous people on Earth! Without zeal, however, the above benefits are of no significant value.

To take advantage of such awesome gifts, we must have a burning, fiery devotion to God’s way of life and then protect that truth with jealous envy. We must be zealous people.

Our Part in God’s Plan

Godly zeal has a lot to do with our role in God’s plan of salvation. Here is how Mr. Armstrong described this role: “We are, in truth, the work of [God’s] hands. Yet we ourselves must do our part in this spiritual development. If we lazily neglect Bible study and prayer—or if we let other material interests become more important and we neglect such great salvation, we lose out.

“But if we have the strength of character to yield, of our own will to put ourselves in God’s hands, He will instill within us His Spirit and by it His righteousness—His character—open our minds to His spiritual knowledge. We have to want it! We have to work at it! We have to put it first, above all else” (The Incredible Human Potential).

It’s all God’s work—but we must want it, work at it and put it first in our lives. That takes zeal!

Mr. Armstrong continued, “It must be God’s righteousness, for all of ours is like filthy rags to Him. He continually instills His knowledge, His righteousness, His character within us”—those are God’s many benefits, which we will receive, Mr. Armstrong again reiterates—“If we diligently seek it and want it. But we have our very important part in it. Then all credit goes to God.”

Zeal is important to God. It’s how He accomplishes and preserves His universal work. It’s how He accomplishes great and marvelous things through us.

Laodicean Neglect

Mark well the fact that Laodiceans are noted most for lacking godly zeal. Revelation 3:15 says they are neither cold nor hot. Malachi’s Message says God Himself is “warning the Laodiceans that they are losing their heat and zeal!”

Then, my father quotes Malachi 2:12: “The Lord will cut off the man that doeth this, the master and the scholar, out of the tabernacles of Jacob, and him that offereth an offering unto the Lord of hosts.” He comments, “The word master means ‘hot, ardent, to be alert, to waken.’ The Hebrew word literally means ‘one who arouses.’ They will be cut off because of their failure to arouse God’s people.”

God expects His ministers to stir and arouse His people to zealous works. (This is where most of the Laodicean ministry has failed.) Beyond the ministry, God expects each member of Christ’s body to work out his or her own salvation (Philippians 2:12).

Because the Laodiceans lack this vital quality, God says He will spew them out of His mouth (Revelation 3:16). That means we cannot serve in God’s Family without godly zeal.

What makes the Laodicean problem even worse is the fact that they are completely unaware of this fatal spiritual flaw. God says they are blind (verse 17).

God then utters this rebuke for those who have lazily neglected Him: “I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich …” (verse 18). Get hot, God says, or I will try you with the fiery Tribulation. He will do whatever it takes to motivate them to overcome their spiritual lethargy.

“As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent” (verse 19). As Malachi’s Message points out, that word zealous comes from the Greek word zeo, which means to boil.

The Laodicean story should constantly remind us of just how easy it is to lose our zeal for God.

Dramatic Turnaround

On the other hand, the Philadelphian story (the peanut shell that turned into a cruise ship) should constantly remind us of just how dramatically we can turn things around—even in a short period of time—if we will just motivate ourselves to put God first, above all else.

Look at what God tells those repentant Laodiceans—those spiritual zealots who answer Christ’s knock: “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne” (verse 21). That’s an astonishing turnaround! Many of us have experienced it. In going from the Laodicean to Philadelphian state, we went from being lukewarm to fiery hot. What a turnaround!

That’s not to say that we won’t reap what we have sown after many years of neglecting God. Many people have come into the pcg after hitting rock bottom spiritually. It may yet take many more years before those wounds ever heal completely. But at least, after re-acquiring that fiery devotion for God’s way, we can begin to make MUCH progress.

Misguided Zeal

You may have noticed thus far that, in referring to zeal, I have used the term godly zeal. That’s because the Bible reveals there to be two types of zeal—one of which is not of God at all.

In the book of Galatians, Paul marveled at how fast the brethren lost their godly zeal and turned to another gospel (Galatians 1:6-7; 4:9). Notice chapter 4, verse 15: “Where is then the blessedness ye spake of?” In other words, what happened to that ardent zeal you had at the beginning?

Verse 15 continues, “[F]or I bear you record, that, if it had been possible, ye would have plucked out your own eyes, and have given them to me.” Early on in their conversion, they would have done whatever necessary to further God’s Work. But something terrible happened.

“Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth?” (verse 16). This same Paul, preaching the same gospel message, had now become their enemy.

He attributes this sad chapter in the history of that church to false ministers. “They zealously affect you, but not well; yea, they would exclude you, that ye might affect them” (verse 17). These ministers of Satan had incredible zeal, but it was not of God.

Again, notice what it says in Malachi’s Message : “Mr. Tkach stated at the 1989 Feast of Tabernacles, ‘A Philadelphian spirit is one excited about the work … and filled with energy. The Laodicean is the opposite—no drive and no energy.’

“Sounds good. But is it biblical? … A Laodicean may have an abundance of zeal. Even Satan is filled with energy and drive! That doesn’t make Satan or a Laodicean righteous.

“The Laodiceans ‘have need of nothing’ (Revelation 3:17). This means they have a horrible self-righteousness problem. They have deep spiritual problems, but don’t see them. That’s because they are self-righteous. They think self is right. This is a lot more than lacking ‘drive and energy.’ A self-righteous person often has more ‘drive and energy’ than others. But it can be very deceptive—witness Job.

“Which one of us can measure up to the deeds of Job? Yet Job had to suffer horribly before he could see his problem of self-righteousness. People like Elihu couldn’t convince him of his sins. It took God personally to do it. And so it is with the Laodiceans. When they find themselves in the worst suffering ever on this planet, they will know God has made a judgment against them (verses 16-20). Christ is ‘knocking’ at their door now through this message.”

This quote sheds further light on the Laodicean passage in Revelation 3. As we have already noted, God rebukes the Laodiceans for lacking zeal. Of course, He means that they lack godly zeal. That God says they are blind suggests that most Laodiceans are probably very zealous—humanly speaking. And in their spiritual blindness, they have mistaken this human zeal to be godly zeal.

Notice Romans 10:1-2: “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved. For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge.” These people Paul described, like the Galatians, had a form of godliness (2 Timothy 3:5)—they were very zealous. But it wasn’t according to God’s knowledge.

“For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God” (Romans 10:3). Paul draws a distinction between God’s righteousness and human righteousness which, in fact, is self-righteousness. Godly zeal means seeking after and submitting to God’s righteousness. Matthew 6:33 says, “[S]eek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” This kind of righteousness is attributed to God alone. Yet, as these scriptures point out, we must seek after and submit to it.

That takes zeal!

Zealous for Good Works

The Apostle Paul also brought up the subject of zeal in his letter to Titus. The truth of God, Paul says, teaches us that “denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world” (Titus 2:12). To qualify for righteous positions in God’s Kingdom, we must submit to God’s righteousness in this present evil world (Galatians 1:4).

Paul further explains our part in that process: “Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works” (Titus 2:13-14). Jesus Christ was crucified and resurrected to spirit-life so that we might repent of sin and zealously perform good works!

Let’s return to Galatians 4, where we previously read of how “zealous” false ministers were in turning the brethren to another gospel. They had affected God’s people, “but not well,” Paul said (Galatians 4:17). He then admonished the brethren, in verse 18, “But it is good to be zealously affected always in a good thing, and not only when I am present with you.” That is zeal according to knowledge—zealously seeking after and submitting to good works.

Paul’s Own Example

When you look at Paul’s own life, you can see why he makes such a clear distinction between godly zeal and human zeal. In Galatians 1, he spoke of his conversion to God’s way of life. Prior to that, as the book of Acts confirms, Paul persecuted God’s people “beyond measure” (Galatians 1:13). He said in verse 14 that he was “more exceedingly zealous” than any of his fellow Pharisees.

In Philippians 3, again speaking of his life before conversion, Paul said, “Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ” (verses 6-7). As far as Judaism was concerned, no one could measure up to Paul’s zealous standard. But his zeal was not “according to knowledge.” He certainly had a lot of fiery passion, but it wasn’t for God and His Work.

After conversion, however, Paul transferred all of that drive he had for persecuting the Church to then zealously performing good works. He submitted to the righteousness of God with steadfast zeal and determination.

And just look at what God was able to do with that man!

“Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ” (verse 8). Everything Paul had fiercely fought for in his former life had been swept away. Upon conversion, just like a young Mr. Armstrong, Paul lost nearly everythinghumanly speaking.

But in the end, look at what he won! And look at what we will win if we endure to the end with godly zeal. No amount of worldly possessions or positions of stature could ever compare with the great victory each of us have in Christ!

“And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith” (verse 9). Here again Paul defines godly zeal—it is eagerly seeking after and submitting to God’s righteousness—not our own.

“That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead” (verses 10-11). Rising from the watery grave of baptism symbolizes our commitment to living a new life—a life in Christ. We then have access to God’s awesome power if, by any means necessary,we seek after and submit to it.

Paul goes on to explain his role in this plan of salvation: “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own” (verse 12; rsv). Because of these many benefits God has made available to us, we must, like Paul, press on! Our part in this calling is to exert a huge amount of zeal for performing godly works.

“Brethren, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but one thing I do [here again he reiterates his part in God’s plan], forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (verses 13-14; rsv). Our calling requires much straining and pressing. It requires diligent work and effort. We have to want it—to work at it—to put it first in our lives. That’s what godly zeal is all about.

Nothing else in life matters this much.

Chapter 3 concludes with this thrilling prospect: “For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself” (verses 20-21). As master potter, God wants to fashion our lives to be just like Christ’s. In the end, at the resurrection, as Mr. Armstrong explained in The Incredible Human Potential, “We shall be as God—in a position where we cannot sin, because we ourselves have set it so and have turned from sin and have struggled and struggled against sin and overcome sin.”

Even then, it will actually be God’s zeal in us that will accomplish that incredible purpose. But, as we have seen, we have our part in that purpose.

We have to be passionately devoted to that cause. We have to use any means necessary to fight for and defend that cause.

If we do, then God will fill us with His zeal and perform a mighty work and wonder in our lives.