Recently, my children came down with a bout of flu, which resulted in them coughing, sneezing, and having a fever. It is always a challenge for parents to tend to their kids when the little ones are sick. At the end of it, I also came down with the illness myself. Having to endure the coughing is one thing; but having to endure the fever is another. Based on my personal experience, having fever is one of my worst symptoms to experience. An episode of fever will usually prevent me from accomplishing anything during the day, and forces me to do nothing but rest. With the children, fever becomes an even greater concern, because if their temperatures were to spike too high, it could result in febrile seizures.
Despite the discomfort of fever, we know from a biological standpoint that fever is the body’s natural response to infections. Apparently, an elevated body temperature helps in the body’s defense against viruses or bacteria, as such microorganisms do not survive well under hot conditions. Although we often take medication to quickly cool the fever, some scientists believe that letting the fever run its course may actually help the body fight the infection more effectively.
From a spiritual standpoint, it is good to have an elevated temperature too! I am not talking about the temperature of our physical bodies; I am talking about our inner spirits. Although it usually feels more comfortable to be cool and lukewarm, sometimes God wants us to burn hot! Is that burning heat missing from our spirits?
1. A Missing Zeal
To the church at Laodicea, Jesus had a stern rebuke, because they were “lukewarm” (Revelation 3:14-19). They were very comfortable with their lives, engrossed with their money, but they had lost their passion for Jesus. Jesus was not satisfied with their lukewarm temperature. Jesus commanded the Laodicean Christians to be “zealous” (Revelation 3:19). The Greek word for “zealous” is ζηλόω (zēloō), which can be translated as: “to burn with zeal,” and “to be heated or to boil…” Instead of being lukewarm, Jesus demanded that they be burning hot!
Jesus’ warning to the church at Laodicea serves to remind us of the importance of keeping our spirits burning. When that fiery zeal is missing, it will be detrimental towards our faith in Jesus. When our love grows cold, that is when we may eventually give up and fall (Matthew 24:12). When our passion becomes lukewarm, that is when Jesus may spit us out of His mouth (Revelation 3:16). How is our spiritual temperature today?
2. A Misdirected Zeal
Having stressed the importance of a burning zeal, it also needs to be said that such a zeal must be directed towards the right places. Interestingly, the word ζηλόω (zēloō) can be translated both positively or negatively. To burn with zeal could be “to be heated or to boil with envy, hatred, anger” or “in a good sense, to be zealous in the pursuit of good.” For example, the Jews were described as having a “zeal of God” (Romans 10:2); however, their zeal was not guided by knowledge, resulting in them misdirecting their zeal towards the persecution of our Lord Jesus. Unfortunately, the apostle Paul himself had also zealously persecuted the church, before He became a Christian (Philippians 3:6).
Another way for such burning passion to be misdirected is towards lustful desires. In 1 Corinthians 7:1-9, Paul addresses the proper way for sexual desires to be fulfilled: only in marriage. There is an argument to be made for Christians to remain single so that they can serve the Lord whole-heartedly (1 Corinthians 7:34). However, Paul instructs that if anyone is unable to contain his sexual urges, it is better for him to get married, rather than to “burn” in his desires (1 Corinthians 7:9). Unfortunately, there are those who allow their lustful desires to run wild, even to the extent of having unlawful and unnatural sexual relationships (Romans 1:27). A certain fiery wrath of God awaits those who allow themselves to burn in unlawful desires (Hebrews 10:27).
3. A Must-have Zeal
A lack of zeal in a Christian will leave him lukewarm, if not cold and listless. A misdirected zeal can lead a Christian down the wrong path of sin. A well-directed and burning zeal can help him to be a useful servant for the Lord! We can look up to faithful men of old who had zealously served God. We can look up to Phinehas, who saved the Israelite camp from God’s wrath, when he zealously removed the sinner from the camp (Numbers 25:6-13). We can look up to the prophet Jeremiah, who never stopped preaching because of the burning fire in his heart (Jeremiah 20:9). We can look up to our Lord Jesus, who having been eaten up by the zeal of God’s house, cleansed the temple of merchandizers (John 2:17).
Burning zeal is a must-have for every child of God. It is the difference between an active Christian and a passive one. It is the fuel that propels the faithful Christian to the finish line. It is the identifying mark of everyone who professes to love God. However, zeal is a quality that starts from within. It begins with a personal commitment: a commitment to put Jesus first before anything else in our lives. How can we develop such a burning zeal? Perhaps it would be useful to see the three things that Jesus asked from the church at Laodicea (Revelation 3:18):
Buy gold tried in the fire. The Laodicean Christians were materially rich, but spiritually poor. They had a lack of zeal because they were distracted by worldly things. They needed to invest more towards heavenly treasures! (Matthew 6:19-20). However, this precious treasure is often found in the fiery trials of life. Nevertheless, when our faith is able to withstand the fiery test, we can become a perfect person (James 1:2-4). Despite the fiery trials, the zealous Christian chooses God over worldly pleasures.
Be clothed with white garments. The Laodicean Christians had their spiritual garments stained with sin. They had a lack of zeal because they were bogged down by sin and temptation. Sin leaves a stain on our soul, and puts us to shame. Christians must keep themselves clothed in white garments of holiness and purity (Revelation 19:8). Despite the temptation of sin, the zealous Christian chooses a life of holiness and purity.
Anoint your eyes with eyesalve. The Laodicean Christians had invested their time on material wealth, but failed to plan for eternity. They had a lack of zeal because they were myopic, and focused only on the present. If only they had more foresight, they would realize they needed to look beyond the temporal, and to prepare for Heaven! (2 Corinthians 4:17-18). At the end of the day, we need to realize that the most worthwhile thing to do on this earth is to serve Jesus (Mark 8:34-37). Despite the remoteness of Heaven, the zealous Christian chooses to focus on things of eternal importance.
Having a fever is never a comfortable experience to go through. However, perhaps every soul is in need of a fever: we need our temperatures burning with passion for the Lord! The Lord rebuked the Laodicean Christians for their lukewarm temperatures. Let us not stay lukewarm, but let us get fired up and burning, so that we can serve the Lord wholeheartedly and give Him our 100%!