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I have invented a new term this week - “zealousy.” It’s not a real word, but I want it to define how, with great zeal, we must share God’s jealousy for those people and things that are allowed to rival his love and glory.

I mean, “While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols” – Acts 17:16 As he entered Athens, Paul was “greatly distressed.”

The question is, what was he distressed about? There are many things that we could speculate about that would cause him to be distressed – the size of his task, compassion for the people who were caught in idolatrous relationships, etc. I read the following reasoning from the late theologian John Stott this week, and it has rocked my world and caused me to look to the magnificent majesty of Christ as the only purpose behind all that we do. Stott wrote (emphasis mine):

“But the clue to interpreting the nature of Paul’s emotion is that the Holy One of Israel regularly uses the verb–especially concerning idols and God’s jealousy towards them.  Scripture tells us that idol worship “provoked” the Lord to anger. So Paul was provoked by idolatry and provoked to anger, grief, and indignation, just as God is himself, and for the same reason, namely for the honor and glory of his name. God is a jealous God, and jealousy is a resentment of rivals; whether good or evil depends on whether the rival has any business to be there. To be jealous of someone who threatens to outshine us in beauty, brains, or sport is sinful because we cannot claim a monopoly of talent in those areas. If, on the other hand, a third party enters a marriage, the jealousy of the injured person, who is being displaced, is righteous because the intruder has no right to be there. It is the same with God, who says, “I am the Lord that is my name! I will not give my glory to another or my praise to idols” (Isaiah 42:10).  Our creator is jealous if we transfer our affection to anywhere other than Him. More than ever, the people of God who love God’s name should share in his jealousy for it.

So the pain or “paroxysm” which Paul felt in Athens was due neither to bad temper, not to pity for the Athenian's ignorance, nor even fear for their eternal salvation. Instead, It was due to his hatred of idolatry, which aroused deep stirrings of jealousy for the name of God, as he saw human beings so depraved as to give idols the honor and glory which were due to the one living and true God alone. His whole soul revolted at the sight of a city given to idolatry. Being rational human beings, we need to know what we should be doing and why we are doing it. And the motivation for mission is essential, not least in our day in which the comparative study of religions has led many to deny finality and uniqueness to Jesus Christ.

How can Christians justify the continuance of world evangelization in the face of growing opposition to it?  Obedience to the great commission provides a strong stimulus. Compassion is higher than obedience - namely, love for people who do not know Jesus Christ and who, on that account, are alienated, disorientated, or indeed lost. But the highest incentive of all is zeal or jealousy for the glory of Jesus Christ. God has promoted Him to the supreme place of honor, so every knee and tongue should acknowledge His Lordship. Whenever He is denied His rightful place in people’s lives, therefore, we should feel inwardly wounded and jealous for His name.” The bottom line is that we must deeply care, respond, act, and love based on the highest incentive of all, which is the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. Do you have any “zealousy” within you? Are you prepared to give your life to ensure that what is deeply loved by Jesus Christ is offered to Him?

Let’s become more lovingly zealous.

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