“They are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge.” (Romans 10:2)
The most dangerous people you will meet on this journey are those who are zealous for God, but have no knowledge of the ways in which God works. They are the proverbial bulls in the china shop, demanding that people see things the way they do and bashing those who don’t in hopes that the added pressure will make them conform. So certain are they that their way is the only right way, the bully their way into people’s lives demanding that they conform to their interpretation of any number of proof texts. Paul understood them well. He was one. I do too; so was I.
And now I run into them frequently. One ‘elder’ told me he was going to forbid his mother-in-law to read my blog since I was espousing such great error on the body of Christ. I wonder how well that worked. When you decide it is your job to force others into truth, you prove by doing so that you think too highly of yourself and too lowly of the truth. I have found that the truth will win out in the end. It is stronger than every sin, doubt and lie. You don’t have to scream it in their ear or threaten them with punishment if they ignore you. You only need to whisper it gently and watch it grow in hearts that are receptive.
I was listening to a recording of one of the most profound New Testament scholars of our day, whose insight into the Scriptures is second to none. For an academic, I’m always surprised at the wisdom he brings to the Scriptures. At the end of this presentation, however, he offered this disclaimer: “At least two-thirds of what I’ve said today today isn’t true. The only problem is, I don’t know what two-thirds it is, or I wouldn’t have said it. And the two-thirds figure may even be generous to me.” Now there’s a man who is still growing on a journey and knows it. His humility invites others on the path to discovery, realizing our confidence can only rest in the Spirit who guides us, not the wisdom of any one human being.
The next time someone tries to bully you into their version of truth, just remember Paul’s words. There are many out there who have great zeal for what they perceive to be the truth of God. But it seems those most zealous, most miss the mark. In fact their passion seems to compensate for their insecurity that they can’t bear to admit. How do you recognize them? They are always trying to accomplish in God’s stead what they don’t consider he can do for himself. That’s what Paul went on to say, “Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to Godâ€™s righteousness.” (Romans 10:3)
People who are ignorantly zealous do an awful lot of damage, and never see it because they never question their own motives or tactics. They leave a wake of abused people behind them thinking they are doing God a favor. The next time you are tempted to do something for God, just remember the damage that misplaced zeal can do to one of the kids God loves. Remember, in this kingdom we’re not asked to do anything for God. We’re invited to go along with him.
Follow alongside him and you’ll never need to bully or berate anyone else to embrace what you think is true. And when you find someone trying to do it to you, smile gently, pray for him or her, and just keep on following Jesus down the road. You don’t need their permission or their agreement. Rather than arguing with them in hopes they’ll see the error of their ways, continuing to live free is the best response you can give.