Are you zealous or jealous?

For those of us in ministry, it is easy to compare ourselves and our ministries with others, especially in the age of Facebook and Instagram. Many times we become jealous of those who seem to be having more success in their ministry than we are. But, we know this is wrong, so what do we do? We mask it with zeal. Let me explain.

The word zeal involves having an eagerness or enthusiasm “in pursuit of something.” This sounds good at face value, but it is important to note that not all zeal is good zeal. Only zeal that produces the fruit of the Spirit in our lives is good. Remember that the Apostle Paul, before he came to know Christ, was “zealous” about terrorizing Christians (Philippians 3:6)! Paul, addressing Israel’s unbelief, describes this type of zeal in Romans 10:1-3.

Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. 

It is clear that zeal, in the life of the believer, needs to be grounded in the knowledge of the righteousness of God. Christians are to be zealous for good works (Titus 2:14). We should be zealous in our desire to preach the Gospel and love our neighbors as ourselves. And we should be zealous in our daily pursuit of God (Psalm 42:1).

With that being said, I am afraid that sometimes we pretend to be zealous when we are, in fact, harboring jealousy towards our brothers and sisters in Christ. This manifests itself quite often on social media. I, myself, have been guilty many times of posting things that make me look good knowing that I was doing it only as a response to hearing about how God is blessing the work of a friend. In one-on-one conversations, I have even exaggerated about personal ministry experiences to “keep up” with others who are simply reporting the amazing work of God in their lives.  We may write or say “praise the Lord” or “glory be to God,” but in our hearts we are saying, “PRAISE ME! GIVE ME THE GLORY!” This isn’t biblical zeal; it is worldliness. Biblical zeal aims to give God every ounce of glory for the growth, success, and fruit in our ministries not just with our mouths, but with pure hearts and clear consciences (Psalm 24:3-4).

Zeal is beautiful when it is pure and rooted in knowledge. Jesus demonstrated zeal for His Father’s house when He overturned the money changer’s tables inside the temple (John 2:13-17). This should go without saying, but brothers and sisters in Christ, don’t start chasing people around with whips, figurative or literal ones. We are not Jesus. However, know that true zeal for God may mean we lose popularity and suffer persecution for Christ’s namesake.

So, where do you stand? Are you often jealous of those around? Do you get tired of waiting on the Lord to produce visible fruit, so you try to fabricate some of your own? Is your zeal for God sometimes just a facade for your jealousy? If you have answered yes to any of these questions, welcome to the club. Thankfully, the Gospel isn’t just for those we are trying to reach, it is for us, too. Remember fellow ministers of the Gospel, we serve a holy and righteously jealous God, meaning that He will not share His glory with another, not even us (Isaiah 42:8). And when we choose unrighteous jealousy over holy zeal, we rob Him of the praise due His name.

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