Sunday School Lessons

Zealous for What?

Do you ever get frustrated when you get lumped into a group of people, some of whom are doing things that are embarrassing to the larger group?  Whether this is due to a few bad seeds in a population (which could be defined by region, ethnicity, or belief), or it is resulting from a bias that society has towards a group that you consider being a member of, it’s difficult to find out that bad actors are sullying the good reputation of a group that – willingly or not – you’re a member of.

Even worse than that, though, I have sometimes become defensive about a generalized statement, like an accusation that a group (of which I’m a member) has a particular issue, and then later realized that I am also guilty of the same thing!

Let’s take a look at some verses from Romans 10 today, starting in verse 1.

Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved.
Romans 10:1 NIV

Paul cared about his fellow Israelites, and we should, too.  In fact, I think that this applies in two different ways:  For one thing, we should care about those who are close to us.  Not only have we  typically developed a greater love for our family and friends, but through the relationships that we have built with them, hopefully we have earned the right to share good news with them without being ignored.

And, we should care about others, including the Jewish people of today.  While I am not one of those people who focuses a lot on the current nation of Israel (compared to my interest in other countries), I do believe that all people need to hear the good news about Jesus Christ, and that most certainly includes those who are biologically descended from Abraham.

Continuing in Romans 10, Paul continues to talk about his countrymen:

For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since they did not know the righteousness of God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.
Romans 10:2‭-‬4 NIV

It is a tragedy when people believe that they are serving God, but choose to try and be reconciled to Him in a way that is different from the one that He has given us.  This gives the appearance of religion (or other “goodness”), but it fills up that portion of people’s lives with a lie, when that gap should instead be focused on God’s truth.

A commentator wrote that Paul would have understood this zeal from his pre-conversion life, and writes, “The problem is that one can be zealous, sincere, and enthusiastic and at the same time be deadly wrong.” (Cottrell, p.156)

However, per the illustration at the start of this article, we must be careful to not think that everyone in a particular group has the same relationship to God.  Just as in Paul’s day, there are some Jewish people today who – like Paul himself – follow the message of Jesus Christ, celebrating being a part of God’s family both through their heritage and through God’s Son, their Messiah.  And, even for those of us who are not of Jewish ancestry, we still need to make sure that our faith is grounded upon the right thing: that we are being sincere about something that is true, and not sincerely wrong.

As we are taught through the book of Romans, religion – doing good things – won’t save us.  I think that anyone trying to find – or make – their own morality to please God isn’t too different from the Jewish people of Paul’s day who took what they knew of the Law and tried to make it into something different from what God had given it for.

And, isn’t this where prideful human beings get things backwards?  In the garden of Eden, eating the forbidden fruit took place after listening to the lie that something we could do would make us like God (see Genesis 3:1-7).  Today, the idea that we can compel God to accept us by our own doing – often through following rules of our own making – is still backwards: We do not force God to accept us by making ourselves good enough for Him, nor can any amount of our own self-acquired knowledge bring us to Him.

Only in accepting that God has reached out to us, and receiving what He has provided for us, can we be made right with Him.  Unlike those in Romans 10:3, we must “submit to God’s righteousness”.  The path to salvation comes from God to us; it is not something that we build up to Him.  (After all, didn’t the builders of the tower of Babel – see Genesis 11:1-6 – make the same kind of mistake?  When they believed that they could make themselves great, they failed miserably when confronted with the reality of God.)

Let’s pause today and make sure that each of us is not making a similar mistake, somewhere in our lives.  Being earnest is good, but only if we’re earnest about the right things.

From Sunday School lesson prepared for February 27, 2022


  • The Lookout, February 27, 2022, © 2022 Christian Standard Media.
  • Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
  • The College Press Commentary, Romans, Volume 2, by Jack Cottrell.  College Press Publishing Company, © 1998.

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