First, let’s look at what zeal means from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Zeal means “eagerness and ardent interest in pursuit of something: fervor; passion.” Fervor means “intensity of feeling.” Passion means “intense, driving, or overmastering feeling or conviction; an outbreak of anger; ardent affection; a strong liking or desire for or devotion to some activity, object, or concept.” Put all of these definitions together and you get Saul, the Pharisee.
The one definition that stands out is the one on passion: an intense, driving, or overmastering feeling or conviction. Saul was driven by his hatred of anyone who tried to interfere with the Jewish way in any way, shape, or form. Along with this hatred was this overmastering feeling or conviction that the followers of the Way were against God in the highest order because they proclaimed this Jesus as God for all men, including the Jews. In his fervor to eradicate these Jewish turncoats, Saul decided that they all needed to disappear. It was the only way to get this cult to lie down and die; out of sight, out of mind, just like their savior, Jesus. Killing them would take away the stain that every Jew could see everywhere that these Christians went. Killing them would shut their mouths from spreading their lies that the Messiah had come. The zeal of the learned Pharisee Paul could never let anyone other than the Pharisaic order say who was Messiah and who wasn’t. Paul was not about to stop the killing, especially now that he had his Order on his side.
But then Saul met Jesus on the road to Damascus and everything changed for him. He who once thought that Jesus was dead and buried now finds that no such thing has occurred – Jesus Christ was very much alive and well, scars and all. The persecutor now becomes he persecuted, but only for a short time.
But, like most of us who find that Jesus is very much alive, Saul’s (now renamed Paul) zeal is now given a new meaning and purpose. Now Paul would set out not to tell others where to find and kill Christians, but to tell others where to find Jesus Christ and eternal life. The change in Paul is the same change in all who accept Jesus into their lives. I truly believe that Paul realized that Jesus could have killed him for what he did to Jesus’ people, and I believe that added to his zeal to let all know that Jesus is life and wants us all to live in Him. Meeting Jesus allowed Paul to truly live as he went about the nations proclaiming the truth that he himself had once denied.
As the definition says, zeal is an “eagerness and ardent interest in pursuit of something.” Not only was Paul eager to follow Jesus’ commands to proclaim the Gospel to all the nations, but his ardent interest in pursuit of Christianity took on a whole new meaning, and that meaning was that life, not death, is the purpose of holy living God’s way. As the Apostle Paul said himself, “What actually took place is this: I tried keeping rules and working my head off to please God, and it didn't work. So I quit being a "law man" so that I could be God's man. Christ's life showed me how, and enabled me to do it. I identified myself completely with him. Indeed, I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God. Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not "mine," but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:19-20/MSG) .