The Expository Files

Zeal Without Knowledge

Romans 10:1-3

I have known many people who have not obeyed the gospel. I've known many people who were involved in some denominational religious practice but they were not obeying the teaching of Christ. In some of these people there is a sincerity, a zeal and emotion for religion that is obvious. They are moved by religious ceremony. They have an obvious interest in some aspects of bible teaching. They give generously of their money and time. It simply cannot be denied there is a peculiar passion and zeal they have for and about their religious life. The problem is, they are not continuing steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine. In fact, they may be tied to a human creed, with the deadly allegiance to man creeds involve and promote.

Here's what the apostle Paul said about this in Romans 10:1-3...

Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.

For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God.

I would like for us to consider THE CONTEXT, THE CONCERN, THE CONDITION and THE CONDEMNATION as set forth in Rom. 10:1-3.

The tenth chapter of Romans is right in the middle of a section in this epistle that is made up of chapter nine, chapter ten and chapter eleven. These three chapters deal with a problem Jewish Christians grappled with that may seem foreign to us.

The converted Jew in the first century might still have some lingering questions about some things that had happened under the power and influence of the gospel:

The annulling of the Mosaic law.
The inclusion of Gentiles in God's family.
The end of the Jewish theocratic system.
These three chapters are concerned with these very real problems and questions entertained by Paul's Jewish readers.

The issue is stated by Paul in chapter eleven and verse one: "Has God cast away His people?" This was the issue. Certain circumstances and attitudes generated this inquiry. Christ came and the apostle Paul preached Him as the Messiah, the crucified Savior who is "the end of the law," (10:4). The Mosaic law was over; Gentiles who obeyed the gospel were considered God's children. With these realities and the variety of issues brought up by men, some Jews apparently entertained the idea that GOD HAD CAST AWAY HIS PEOPLE; that He had pushed the whole nation aside.

So their question was HAS GOD CAST AWAY HIS PEOPLE? In Romans chapter 9, 10 & 11 Paul deals with all of this. He shows that God had not totally rejected every single person with Jewish blood. And in this section we learn:

God doesn't confer salvation on nations, but on individuals who choose to obey Christ, Jew or Gentile. If there are individual Jews who are lost, they are lost because of their own unbelief and disobedience.

These three chapters in Romans were written to explain all this and deal with the disturbing concerns of Jewish converts. And also, I believe, to instruct Gentile Christians in these bothersome issues. This is the context of Romans 10:1-3.

Expressed by Paul in Romans 10:1 is a concern for the lost; specifically, his Jewish countrymen who had not obeyed the gospel. His desire and prayer was, "that they may be saved."

This is worthy of note: The tenth chapter of Romans begins the same way as chapter nine, with Paul expressing his personal pain and concern for his Jewish country-men. This was on his mind; this was a heavy weight on his heart: his people were lost!

In chapter 9 he said: "...I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart, for I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh...."

Then chapter 10 begins: "Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved." For the apostle Paul - this was not just a fact or statistic - this really bothered him; his people were lost! They were not lost because God had rejected every single Jew. They were not lost because God favored Gentiles over Jews. They were not lost because God had cast away His people !!

If you want to know why these Jews were lost - stay in chapter ten, and look at verse 16 --> they had not obeyed the gospel! Their problem was sin, just like the Gentiles. The solution was and is the gospel of Christ, but they had not obeyed the gospel. Many of Paul's own "kinsmen according to the flesh" were lost. This caused great sorrow and grief for Paul. It bothered him. Do you know people who have not obeyed the gospel? They may be good people in some ways; likeable people . . . In fact, they may even have a zeal for God! But they have never obeyed the gospel, and so - they are lost.

Does that bother you? All right - - What do you do when something bothers you? If you have a physical problem that bothers you - you see the doctor or take your medicine. If you have a financial problem that bothers you - you take whatever steps you are able to take to fix it. If there is something about your car or your house that bothers you - you probably react by taking some sort of remedial action. If something bothers me - I do whatever I can to deal with that problem.

I repeat my question: We know people who have not obeyed the gospel ... DOES THAT BOTHER US; and does it bother us enough to do anything about it? When is the last time you tried to set up a home Bible study class? When is the last time you invited someone to attend services here? When is the last time you spoke to anybody about the Lord, the gospel and the day of judgment? When is the last time you prayed for the lost?

In JB Phillips' translation, Paul is saying: "My brothers, from the bottom of my heart I long and pray to God that Israel may be saved." Their condition bothered Paul. This was not just a historical fact or statistic - FOR PAUL, IT WAS VERY PERSONAL.

And until the condition of the lost becomes a personal burden to us - we will never have the evangelistic zeal of the early disciples.

Paul had no doubt about their sincerity, their emotion and enthusiasm about God. He knew what he was talking about. Because he himself, before obeying the gospel, was extremely zealous! In his career as a militant, Pharisee & persecutor of the church - he proved himself to have extraordinary zeal for what he believed was right.

Gal. 1:14 - he said he was "more exceedingly zealous." In Phil. 3:6 - "concerning zeal, persecuting the church." In Acts 22:3 - "zealous toward God." Paul expressed no doubt about their sincerity, emotion and enthusiasm -- he knew their condition, because he had been there.

They had zeal. There was a fervency and passion about their religious beliefs and behavior. Josephus said "They had a zeal for God ... over and above the requirements of the Law, ascetic religious exercises advocated by the teachers of the Law came into vogue ... Even the Hellenized and Alexandrian Jews under Caligula died on the cross and by fire, and the Palestinian prisoners...died by the claws of African lions in the amphitheater, rather than sin against their Law..." {Quoted in Coffman on Romans, 359}.

In the volumes and libraries of Jewish history, writers recount the heroic zeal of the Jews, which finally culminated in the bloody sorrow of Masada, where Eleazar Ben Yair made his courageous stand against the Tenth Legion of Rome ... and when all hope was cut off in that great battle - 960 men, women and children ended their own lives, rather than become slaves to their conquerors. Who could claim to teach the Jews anything about zeal.

They had zeal - BUT "NOT ACCORDING TO KNOWLEDGE!" They thought that zeal for God meant - following all manner of tradition and ritual WHICH GOD NEVER COMMANDED. Jesus said this about them. "Ye have made void the word of God because of your tradition ... but in vain do they worship me, teaching as their doctrines the precepts of men," (Matt. 15:6,9).

And they thought zeal for God - rejecting Jesus of Nazareth. Paul said - in Acts 26:9 - "I myself thought I must do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth." They had zeal - but that emotion and passion was not based on, and not directed by A KNOWLEDGE OF THE TRUTH OF THE GOSPEL! We are talking about people with such powerful zeal and passion - they would die rather than compromise their traditions.

Paul - in his life as a Pharisee - is an example of the zeal and passion of these people. Paul does not deny their zeal ... but he exposes their ignorance: "for I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge."



Strange how people think sometimes. Here are people who believe in God, say they want to obey God and they demonstrate sincerity, zeal and passion for God. But instead of submitting to God's plan, they come up with their own plan. Instead of obeying God, they obey men. Instead of respecting and obeying the Word of God, they respect and obey the doctrines and commandments of men.

This was their condemnation: Instead of submitting to God and participating in the righteousness He offers in Christ, they devised their own religion, with their own rituals and traditions.

Zeal did not justify disobedience; their sincerity and passion did not excuse their ignorance and disobedience. And I believe there is something very basic here, and this is something that crosses over all dispensational lines and applies to every one of us --> We cannot save ourselves by ourselves!! We cannot perform or work our way out of sin and into heaven - without submitting to God's plan!!

There are two things we must have to get out of sin and eventually into heaven: The blood of Christ to forgive us AND the instruction of God to guide us ... And both require trust, surrender, faith and obedience on our part! We cannot save ourselves by ourselves; we need the blood for forgiveness ... and we need God's instruction for guidance. Displays of emotion and zeal do not compensate for ignorance, or disobedience! Our zeal must be directed by the wisdom of God's law.

You see, it is possible to be sincere, zealous, even militant and passionate about God and religion, and yet be lost... because we are not submitting to the righteous plan and will of God.

Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.

For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God.

The order should be: Knowledge --> submitting to the righteousness of God, and then --> Zeal. Each of us should have zeal -- perhaps more than we presently have -- but it must always be based on the knowledge of God's will and our submission to Him.

By Warren E. Berkley
From Expository Files 5.9; September 1998