Zeal is defined as “passionate ardor in the pursuit of any thing…an eagerness of desire to accomplish or obtain some object” (Webster 1828). Several years ago, a conductor by the name of Eugene Ormandy dislocated his shoulder while passionately conducting the Philadelphia orchestra. Ormandy displayed zeal in his pursuit of musical excellence. Although there is a “zeal of God…not according to knowledge” (Rom. 10:2) that is to be avoided, there is a kind of zeal for God that should be manifest in the life of every Christian. Our aim in being zealous for God should be a desire to have our focus so much on pleasing God and advancing His glory that it becomes the one thing we live for.
In Numbers 25, we see the sinister plan of Balaam in action. Since he could not curse the Israelites openly, he cursed them secretly by introducing immorality and idolatry into the camp. The Bible says that “the people began to commit whoredoms with the daughters of Moab…and bowed down to their gods” (v. 1-2). The people descended into the moral compromise of fornication and idolatry. The sin of the people brought God’s judgment upon them. God commanded the rebel leaders to be hung and for the followers of Baal to be slain. In verse 6, the sin of the people culminated in a brazen and open act of sin by one of the men and a Midianitish woman. This so stirred a priest by the name of Phinehas to action that he slew the offenders. Because of the zeal of Phinehas, the people were saved from further judgment. The Lord praised Phinehas because “he was zealous for my sake among them, and I consumed not the children of Israel in my jealousy” (v. 11). Verse 13 says that Phinehas “made an atonement for the people” and was rewarded with an everlasting priesthood.
When dealing with sin and error in the lives of others, one usually responds in one of two wrong ways. Either they are “over-condemning” like the Pharisees or they are “over-tolerant” like the Corinthians. Phinehas was a man of zeal who knew when and how to take a stand for God. Phinehas stood for holiness and separation amid moral compromise and open sin. Phinehas was not taking on the role of a vigilante but was in sync with the will of God and was motivated by a sense of zeal for God’s name. Titus 2:5 makes it clear that the purpose that God has redeemed us is to “purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.” It takes the courage of a man like Phinehas to stand for God amid moral compromise. God has called us to “come out from among them, and be…separate…and touch not the unclean thing” (2 Cor. 6:17). “…Let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Cor. 7:1).
Privacy. Generally speaking when we say that word it conjures up a positive emotion. Though all of us, to different degrees, enjoy the company of others we all can appreciate and enjoy our privacy. As Americans we treasure that right. We balk at the idea of “big brother”, aka, the government or any other governing agency having much, if anything, to do with our private lives. Interestingly, our friends across the pond in Europe are much more open to the idea of less privacy. I was at a conference this past week in which one of the speakers talked about the future of telemedicine and referenced some countries who are already experimenting with implanting chips into people’s bodies that would transmit back medical information, as well one’s financial purchases and physical activity levels, to a physician or other health agency. I’m sure most Americans would echo my thoughts of “keep that chip away from me!”
However, our reading today reminds us of the fact that we are already being observed and that truly nothing we do is hidden. Hebrews 4:13 says, “Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do.” Of course here the reference is to God and the author of Hebrews reminds us that He sees every aspect of our lives. Not only does he see our outward actions but He sees the reason behind our actions down to our most intimate thoughts. For one who is living in sin or living a hypocritical life this verse should serve as a stark rebuttal that we cannot get away with sin. God knows. The end of the verse which says, “with whom we have to do” is a reference to us having to give an account to God for our lives.
Of course this truth can also be viewed in a very positive light. The last verse of the chapter reminds us that because He is intimately acquainted with our lives, we can “come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Our times of temptation and testing do not come as surprises to God. He knows what challenges we are facing each day and is encouraging us to come to our omniscient Father to find the grace and help we need.
The word praise is used eight times in these three Psalms this morning (Ps. 111-113). The question-who does this praise belong to? The answer-to Holy God. It is He that hath made us and not we ourselves (Ps. 100:3). Every second of our lives is owed Him. We breath the air He made and drink His water. He made our planet habitable. He designed our bodies as unique organisms that fit perfectly in a world He created. Just the mention of these few things gives us enough to praise God for a lifetime; yet, praise is lacking in God’s people.
We would be wise to develop a system of praise. Certainly nothing mechanical and belaboring; but more spontaneous, sincere and from a heart of gratitude. Oft times, we sit under good preaching and hear something that strikes a chord. We think about praising God audibly, but we defer because we “feel” funny. In our private lives we need to be aware of our circumstances and surroundings and praise God more for all that He has done (Ps. 69:3). Starting at salvation is a good place to begin.
Our church was invited to Bible Baptist of Las Vegas for revival service. It was an evening I will never forget. We were toward the back. An altar call was given and folk were coming forward. As we stood with heads bowed and eyes closed, I was praying for those coming forward. All of a sudden, I was brought out of the spirit by a loud, howling man. I didn’t know what was taking place, but figured the pastor had it under control so I closed my eyes and started to pray again. The voice continued to boom, but his words were now understandable. He was yelling, “Praise the Lord, I got saved, I’m born-again….” I was happy knowing angels were rejoicing with us (Luke 15:10). There was only one problem. I did not realize I had drifted into the aisle. I could hear him running by the loud footsteps and it sounded like he was getting closer. I opened my eyes and saw what appeared to be a linebacker bearing down on me. I had to jump out of the way; otherwise, he would have hit me like a train. He continued this for about three more trips around the church. Like Saul, he was radically saved (Acts 9:3).
Turns out it was Pastor’s brother. He was a big and tough guy that just got arrested by the High Sheriff of Heaven! There was much praising that night. I remember after the service Pastor Pete seemed a little embarrassed. I assured him that that was one of the greatest manifestations of praise and worship I have ever witnessed. I only wished I could borrow him for a few Sundays!
There is a false teaching today that claims that “health, wealth, and prosperity” are a sign of God’s blessing upon a person. Those who twist the Scripture to promote this teaching reveal what their true motive is- “monetary gain.” Motivations, however, are not always displayed out in the open. Although our motivations may be hidden to others, they are always seen clearly by God.
In Numbers 22, we are introduced to a mysterious character named Balaam. In this chapter, the children of Israel are nearing the end of their 40 years of wandering and had come to a land called Moab. The king of Moab, Balak, had heard of the Israelites and was afraid. He knew he couldn’t defeat them by physical force, so he offered Balaam money to curse the people. At first, Balaam appeared to be a true and obedient prophet of God who obeyed His command and refused to see Balak. Balaam, however, was commanded to go upon the second request to God. On the surface, Balaam obeyed the voice of the Lord. In chapters 23 and 24, Balaam’s declarations are given. Every time he opened his mouth, he blessed the people of God, rather than cursing them. Balaam’s motivation seemed sincere, but other places in Scripture reveal otherwise. God would not permit Balaam to curse the people openly. Therefore, Balaam cursed them secretly. Revelation 2:14 says, “…Balaam…taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit fornication.” Balaam undermined the people of Israel by introducing immorality and idolatry among the people. 2 Peter 2:5 reveals his motivation- “Balaam…loved the wages of unrighteousness.” Balaam’s motivation was greed. Although God would not allow him to go beyond His word, Balaam lusted after the money offered to him by Balak. His real god was money.
Many false teachers are just like Balaam. They may appear to obey God and even speak some truth, but they are motivated by something other than obeying and bringing glory to God. Someone once said that “even a broken clock is correct twice a day.” False teachers are dangerous because they usually speak some truth while hiding their true motivations. Not only does the Bible warn us of false teachers who “through covetousness…with feigned words make merchandise of you” (2 Pet. 2:3), but it also warns Christians to not become enslaved by greed. The Bible warns us that those who “will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition” (1 Timothy 6:9). We are called to put off greediness which will only result in destruction and sorrow and to put on contentment. God is not only concerned with our actions and words. He who “search[es] the heart” (Jeremiah 17:10) looks beyond the external actions and see the true motivations behind all that a person does. It is important to check our motivations, because our motivations matter to God.
There are certain passages and even books in the Bible that, though they might tell an interesting story, might leave some wondering why they are in the canon of inspired Scripture. The book of Philemon very well might fall into that category. Here we have the story of the apostle Paul writing to a slave-owner named Philemon. At this point and time, Paul is under house-arrest in Rome and apparently had come into contact with a run-away slave named Onesimus. Onesimus had fled from his master Philemon in Colossae and had traveled around 1,000 miles to Rome, no doubt hoping to get lost in the bigger city. Little did he know that the sovereignty of God would lead him into contact with Paul, who led him to Christ. Interestingly enough, at some point in the past Paul had also led Philemon to the Lord (Philemon 19).
This puts Paul in a very unique position. Onesimus had wronged Philemon by running away and by possibly stealing money in the process. However, like Philemon, now Onesimus was also a believer and Paul wanted to do what he could to see that this situation was handled properly. Though it is uncertain if Onesimus had a legal obligation to return to Philemon, Paul (and no doubt Onesimus) knew this was the right thing to do. So Paul sends Onesimus back to Philemon with this letter asking him to forgive Onesimus for running away and to receive him as a brother in Christ. We don’t know the end of the story but we can certainly hope that Philemon received both Onesimus and this letter in the proper spirit.
So what can we learn from this story? Besides some truths about how to handle interpersonal problems, we also see some very neat parallels to our salvation in Christ. Onesimusrepresents us. We have “run away” in rebellion from God. (Isaiah 53:6) At some point in our lives, we have a personal encounter with Jesus Christ (represented by Paul) and because of this relationship with him we have direct access back to God (represented by Philemon). This story of redemption could not be better stated than by what Paul said in verse 18. “If he hath wronged thee, or oweth thee ought, put that on mine account.” Isn’t that essentially what Christ says to the Father about us? “Father, put any sin that that individual commits on my account!” What a perfect picture of atonement and redemption!