As with meekness, many people labor under an inaccurate or insufficient concept of zeal. A lot of Christians tend to equate zeal with enthusiasm. Though these two are related, they are different in many respects. Enthusiasm involves a keenness or excitement that generally contains a large emotional element. As a result, it usually comes and goes in spurts. It is difficult to sustain a continual high level of enthusiasm without a lot of undue strain and weariness. Unfortunately, those who make the mistake of equating enthusiasm with zeal can feel bound to live at an unreasonable level of emotional intensity. Or else they can feel guilty and less than zealous for failing to maintain such a level.
I’ve known other Christians who have succeeded in making themselves somewhat obnoxious and difficult to relate to through their misguided efforts to be “zealous.” In order to be a strong and zealous Christian, it is not necessary to wear a perpetual, “joyful,” toothy grin, to speak in pious-sounding Christian jargon, or to unleash a heavy blast of high intensity enthusiasm at everyone we encounter. In fact, it is not only unnecessary, but inadvisable and wearisome for everyone involved.
In essence, true zeal consists of a determined, aggressive dedication to something or someone. It should not come and go in a Christian’s life, because it is not subject to the vagaries of the more emotion-based enthusiasm. Christian zeal is a constant feature of a strong Christian life, because it is a dedication to God founded on a fundamental decision. It’s not affected by how we’re feeling, what day it is, how we slept last night, or whether things are going our way. It is certainly true that enthusiasm supports our zeal for God and his kingdom, making our determined, aggressive actions easier to sustain. But our zeal should last through thick and thin, long after enthusiasm has waxed and waned, and waxed and waned again.
I believe having this zeal is a gift and an important blessing for Christians. A steady zeal that keeps the faith. Zeal should characterize us, also. As Peter says: “Always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15). This defense of the faith, zealous as it is, must also be blended with meekness, if we are to act in the spirit of the Lord. Whatever the cost, it is a price worth paying for so great a treasure as the truth of Christ. Zeal should epitomize the character of a Christian servant as does meekness and humility, and it is vital to the full expression of servanthood in the Christian life.