Zeal Without Knowledge
“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.” Rom. 10:1-3
This was written by the apostle Paul to the church at Rome. To learn what this means and therefore make proper applications, please consider The Context, The Concern, The Condition and the Condemnation.
PART 1 – The Context
The tenth chapter of Romans is part of a section in the book of Romans that begins with chapter nine and ends at the end of chapter eleven. These three chapters deal with a problem both Jews and Gentiles in the church faced. It is a problem that we may not immediately identify with. But it was reality for both Jews and Gentiles who sought common ground in the church, though their background differed significantly. Gentiles struggled with the pride of some Jews who maintained loyalty to their traditionally conceived theocratic status. Jews had lingering questions about the annulling of the Mosaic law, the end of their theocratic status and the inclusion of Gentiles. These three chapters in Romans are concerned with these very real problems and questions in churches established by people obeying the gospel in the first century.
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.
The Concern expressed by Paul in this passage 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. Paul expresses his personal pain and concern for his Jewish countrymen. This was on his mind; this was a heavy weight on his heart. His people were lost! In chapter nine 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 ten begins: “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved.”
Paul was bothered by the fact that 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; look at verse 16 à they had not obeyed the gospel. The problem for all men (Jew and Gentile) is sin. The solution is the gospel of Christ, heard, believed and obeyed. Many of Paul’s own kinsmen “according to the flesh” were lost, because they had not obeyed the gospel. This caused great grief and sorrow for Paul.
Next, consider Their Condition. Let us carefully observe, 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 and persecutor of the church, he proved himself to have extraordinary zeal for what he believed was right. Galatians 1:14 says, he was “more exceedingly zealous.” In Philippians 3:6, “concerning zeal,” Paul admits his activity “persecuting the church.” And in Acts 22:3, he says that at that time he was “zealous toward God.” Therefore, in writing about lost Jews in Romans 10, Paul expressed no doubt about their sincerity, their emotion, their 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. Who could claim to teach the Jews anything about zeal! They had it. Paul displayed great zeal in his career as a Pharisee. Paul admits the zeal of Jews who had not obeyed the gospel.
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