James and the elders in Jerusalem were concerned about the reception Jewish Christians would give Paul. The Jewish converts in Jerusalem were zealous for the Law of Moses, and they had heard Paul was not teaching according to their customs. Thus, the leadership of the church devised a plan to prove Paul's obedience to the Law to convince the Jewish believers what they heard about him was false.
When I read this event, Proverbs 16:9 comes to mind, "The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps." The church leaders had a particular purpose for their plan, but God had another. Their effort to display Paul's obedience to the Law proved to be God's first step in bringing Paul to Rome.
Reading of the zeal these believers had for the Law of Moses and the concern for their customs caused me to question my priorities. Where should the zeal of a follower of Jesus Christ be directed? Am I zealous about the right things? Is my zeal appropriate for a believer or do I allow what is customary to detract from it?
My first thought was, "What was the focus of Jesus' zeal?" John 2:16 says "His disciples remembered that it is written, "Zeal for your house will consume me." The custom of the temple at that time was people buying and selling animals for the sacrifice. In Mark 11:17 Jesus confronts this tradition by quoting Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11, "Is it not written: 'My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations'? But you have made it a den of robbers."
Obviously, Jesus was zealous for His Father's house. The description of Jesus as zealous is found only here in the Gospels. But we know he was passionate, another word for zeal, for His Father's glory, His Word, and His people. He proves that constantly by both His word and deed. In John 12:28, Jesus' prayer is "Father, glorify your name." In Luke 11:27 Jesus says, "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it." Jesus exhibited the fullness of passion and zeal for His people on the cross. Since the zeal of a follower of Jesus Christ should match His, it seems I would love my Father's house, His glory, His Word, and His people.
The Epistles add significant insight into the zeal of believers. In Romans 10:2-3, Paul said the Jews have a zeal for God but without knowledge. They were ignorant of the righteousness God provided through His Son and determined to establish their own by keeping the law of Moses. If salvation were possible for anyone through their pursuit of the Law, the Jews would have accomplished that objective. They failed to understand their inability to keep the Law, so they saw no benefit in the fact that Jesus had. In Galatians 1:14 and Philippians 3:6, Paul admits to a similar zeal before Jesus revealed Himself on the road to Damascus. So my zeal must be based upon the truth of God's Word, not the custom of the day.
Titus 2:14 says through the cross Jesus redeemed for Himself a people who are zealous for good works. Therefore, as a follower of Jesus, I am to view my obedience to the Law not as my righteousness but as God's instruction of how to live zealously for His house, His glory, His Word and His people.
Abba Father, I confess a zeal for things of this world. Please forgive me and strengthen my longing to be zealous of those things for which You are passionate. May I reflect the zeal of Your Son in all I pursue. I desire to know Your instruction so that my life may reflect His zeal and His glory. Please redirect my foolish plans to Your glory and my good.