The Difference Between Zeal and Passion

The more I experience life, the more I realize the difference between zeal and passion. Zeal will lead you where only passion can keep you.

I love young people! Sometimes, I wish I was still one of them. They live “all in.” Whatever they give themselves to do, they do with contagious zeal.

At first glance, zeal and passion may look remarkably similar. But they produce considerably different results. The Bible gives us multiple examples of people who zealously began a work or entered a calling. Over time, many people lost momentum or even veered off course. Why? Let’s look at a few examples for the answer.

Elijah

Elijah became a famous prophet during the times of the kings of Israel. He performed many supernatural signs and miracles. But something shifted. Immediately after challenging the prophets of Baal to a public showdown, the entire nation appeared to turn their hearts back to God. You can read more about it in 1 Kings 18. Most prophets would consider this to be a career high point.

But the wife of the king threatened Elijah’s life. This was no idle threat, since she held the power to do exactly what she promised.

Instead of standing firm in his faith, Elijah ran in fear. That’s not the reaction we would expect from God’s great man of the hour. Elijah immediately hands in his resignation.

“I have had enough, LORD,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.”
1 Kings 19:4

We can empathize with Elijah. He had been through a lot. But then, Elijah proceeds to justify himself before God, while issuing a scathing report about the other prophets and his people.

“He replied, ‘I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty.”
1 Kings 19:10

God accepts Elijah’s resignation and commissions him to anoint someone else to take his place. Elijah’s ministry immediately begins to dwindle. Zeal had led Elijah to where only passion could keep him. Though he had been very zealous, his passion for God had faded with discouragement, disappointment, and disillusionment. God continued to use him and show him favor, but Elijah’s best years were now behind him.

Zeal will only carry us so far. Eventually, it will fade. Only authentic passion will stay the course.

Peter

Perhaps none of Jesus’ disciples were as zealous as Peter. He quickly rose above the others, becoming one of the top chosen three. Always ready to speak out and move into action, Peter held unquestionable zeal as he followed Jesus.

When Jesus announced He would soon be arrested and crucified, Peter responded,

… ‘Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.‘”
Luke 22:33

And Peter meant it! But zeal took him to where only passion could keep him. Perhaps you know the story. Within hours, Peter denied his Lord — not once, but three times. He wept bitterly over his failure to faithfully stand with Jesus (Matthew 26:75).

Despite Peter’s failure, Jesus valued him immensely and had plans for Peter’s future position in the soon-to-be-formed church. So after Jesus’ resurrection, He confronted Peter, emphasizing the difference between zeal and passion.

“… Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?'”
John 21:15

That’s the question not just for Peter but for all of us. Do you love Me? Do you love Me more than this, or that, or anything?

Three times Jesus posed the same question. “Peter is your love for Me the foundation of your life? If it isn’t, zeal will always fall short. Zeal will lead you where only love can keep you. Love sustains. Love drives us forward. But only your love for Me enables you to carry out any mission. Love equips, empowers, and motivates. But My love will hold you fast. The deep tap root of passion is love — love for Me.”

Paul

One man, more than any other, fiercely stood against the progress of the early church. A man who was extremely zealous. A man who went about imprisoning and murdering every Christian he could get his hands on.

“I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers.
Galatians 1:14

Though zeal quickly led Saul up the ranks within the religious elite, God knocked him off the high horse of zeal and set him on a more humble course — the course of love and passion. Intimacy with Jesus Christ became Paul’s only pursuit. Everything else flowed from that place of love and intimacy.

‘But whatever were gain to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage that I may gain Christ.”
Philippians 3:7-8

Paul perhaps became the most passionate and devoted follower of Jesus this world has known. He recognized the difference between zeal and passion. Zeal drove him to kill many. But through passion for Jesus, many millions have found live and faith in Christ.

Zeal and Passion

As much as I appreciate the zeal of youth, passion rises strongest through maturity — not a maturity of age or faith but a maturity of deep devotion. Zeal quickly rises, is often volatile, and eventually evaporates. Passion for Jesus grows, intensifies over time, and lasts for eternity. Passion accomplishes more than zeal ever could.

 And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”
Ephesians 3:16-21

A passion for Jesus develops in the incubator of intimacy. There is no substitute. As we intimately know and remain in His unfailing love, our passion grows and deepens. God is a consuming fire. In the fire of passionate love, we will “do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.”

There is no other way! No short cuts! Intimacy fuels the true passion of infinite love that will lead us beyond anything imaginable.

Do we, or will we, love Him more than “these”?

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