The Dangers of Extremism

          Who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto Himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee.” Titus 2:14-15

We're not to love the Lord Jesus moderately. We need to be zealous! The word zealous means “to be on fire,” and we need to be aflame with the love of our Lord Jesus Christ. We ought to be zealous for the Word of God and for truth. There are certain things that are non-negotiable, certain hills that are big enough to die on.

But there’s a misguided zeal that is divisive, destructive, and deadly. It divides homes and churches.

This misguided zeal finds an error and perpetuates it, or a principle and takes it to an extreme. Principles are like tools: you can use a hammer to build a house, or you can beat someone to death with it. Anything taken to an extreme can become a bad thing. And the cause of Christ has been deeply hurt by extremists with their misguided zeal.

Very frankly, some of our Christian causes are lost because of the extremism of those fighting for that cause.

A zealot has been described as someone who, having lost sight of his goal, doubles his speed. Extremism takes a good thing and distorts it. Let’s notice some characteristics, found in Titus 3:9-10, of those who have become extremists:

  • They are foolish. “… avoid foolish questions ...” They emphasize things that are light and vapid.
  • They are profitless. “… they are unprofitable …” They get involved in some crusade, but when all of the dust is settled, it doesn’t amount to anything
  • They are fruitless. He says, “... they are unprofitable and vain.” They don’t produce any fruit.
  • They are divisive. “A man that is a heretic …” The word heretic means a divider, one that brings division. They're self-willed people who want to bicker, judge, and criticize.

Let me give you an example from the Bible of a zealot—an extremist found in Luke 22:39-53. It was the night Jesus would be betrayed. He took His remaining 11 disciples with Him to the Garden of Gethsemane. Knowing He would soon be crucified, Jesus sought His Father in prayer. He took His 3 closest disciples, Peter, James and John farther into the Garden with Him and asked them to watch and pray. and

As Jesus prayed, the soldiers came to take Him. Peter awoke, saw what was happening, pulled out his sword, and cut off the ear of a man named Malchus. Probably Malchus was the person closest to Peter that he could take a swing at. He connected. Peter’s blow might have even killed Malchus. Jesus rebuked Peter and reattached the poor man’s ear, healing him supernaturally. Now you talk about zeal! Peter was full of zeal—but it was misguided zeal. What was wrong with Peter?

First, he had the wrong enemy. Malchus was a servant of the high priest. In reality, he was a slave. We don’t know if he was a person of great stature in the high priest’s household or just a lowly slave. In any event, he was a slave. Many times we're fighting those who are slaves of Satan. The Bible says, “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:12). These individuals are not our enemy. Satan and his forces are. We’ve chosen the wrong enemy.

Next, Peter used the wrong weapon—a sword. Some of us today use our tongues, which can be sharper than a sword. 2 Corinthians 10:4 says, “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God …” Peter, using that sword, made a miserable mess. Yet, on the day of Pentecost, filled with the Holy Spirit, using his tongue and a different sword—the  two-edged sword of God's Word—3,000 people weren’t killed but made alive by the Sword of the Spirit. Our only weapon should be the life-giving, restoring Word of God.

Finally, he used the wrong strength. He was in the flesh. He was sleeping when he should have been praying. He acted out of emotion, anger. The Bible says in James 1:20, “For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.” I'm so glad Jesus healed that man. What kind of testimony would that have been for the Lord Jesus Christ for a hot-headed Christian cut a man’s ear off? Only when we’re controlled by the Spirit can we bring glory to God and His work.

Now don’t get me wrong. We need churches today with a burning, passionate, emotional zeal for the Lord Jesus. Our Lord had rather have you out-and-out against Him than to have you lukewarm pretending to be for Him.

The middle of the road is bad place to drive, and it's a bad place to live. But zealousness must be tempered by grace. We must be zealous “of good works” and produce lasting fruit for God’s kingdom.

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