For the zeal of your house has eaten me up; and the reproaches of them that reproached you are fallen on me.
(with Revelation 7:15): — These passages of God's Word, significant in the several truths they contain when standing apart, but still more significant in their contrast when placed side by side, express and interpret the two most prominent phases of the highest form of Christian life and activity. It is not every servant of God who could use them with propriety, but only that man who has not only lived but died for the Master, whose spirits have been burdened, and whose life has been cut off prematurely by unwonted zeal and unvarying labours for the Saviour. The service which has been in the midst of much imperfection and weariness, death may and must end; but the service which shall be without imperfection and without change, it may not and cannot touch. The words, used in such a light, are eloquent with the simplicity of truth, and full of the hope of immortality.
I. First, look at THE DEEP UNDERLYING AGREEMENT amid the differences these words suggest. Both speak of service, yes, and of zealous service, and both speak of service for God.
1. There is a consecration unto God amid the sin and the impurity of earth, even as there is a consecration amid the holiness and beatific blessedness of heaven. It may seem to the angels of God, looking down in wonder, a toil amid darkness, as in some murky mine, in which men grope while there is daylight above; none the less does it yield precious jewels and gold and silver to the crown of the Messiah and to the kingdom of God. And He, the Lord of all, counts it as His work. He has put especial honour upon it. He has taken upon Himself this service of toil, when He became a Man of Sorrows, knowing what weariness was in the midst of labour. And it was when the disciples saw His zeal for God, they remembered it was written, "The zeal of Thine house hath eaten me up."
2. But again, our text carries us on to glance at the occupation of heaven. That also is a service, and a ceaseless service. Not rest, as some would interpret that word, but work — the work which is rest, the balanced activity which brings its own enjoyment and blessedness. To live, "more life and fuller," that is what we want. Heaven would be no heaven unless it gave room to develop, to expand like flowers in the sunshine, in one word, to live. We have had enough of lethargy, enough of sloth, of unused powers in this world; we long to do something in the next. And that conception of heaven is highest which sees it a sphere of loyal service unto God, a realm of ceaseless activities, where they labour amid their rest, and rest in their labours, and find His presence to be, in all, an infinite and everlasting joy.
II. Consider THE CONTRAST suggested in the text. The second phrase found here is taken from that gathering around the throne of the Lamb which included the sealed of the twelve tribes of Israel, and a great multitude out of every nation and kindred, and peoples, and tongues. David's tribe was there, for twelve thousand were sealed of the tribe of Judah, and doubtless David was there. The man who had said, "The zeal of Thine house hath eaten me up," who had borne reproach for God until it had eaten, like a canker, into his very soul, stands with that multitude before the throne, serving day and night. Wondrous change! It is the same service, yet how different in all its results. The idea is that it is not merely the persecutions and dangers of Christian life which tire out these faithful ones; the very enthusiasm and zeal for Christ's service may do this. We have the treasure, says Paul, in earthen vessels, and the heavenly often wears out the earthly. There are not only martyrs for Christ, whose bones bleach upon a foreign shore, unsuccessful and unknown, but yonder in the great city you may find those whose ministry, it may be, has been crowned abundantly, and yet who can say with equal truthfulness, "The zeal of Thine house hath eaten me up." But to all these comes the same consolation of the future. Heaven stands out to give meaning to earth. The Christian who has realized this twofold aspect of Christian service has climbed to some Pisgah height from which he can see both past and future. It is said that when Cortez led his sailors across the vast continent of South America, after months of toil and sickness, they climbed one of the peaks of the Andes, and saw out there in the distance, far away, the glimmering of the sea. And the men wept for joy at the sight. It was their own native element, the love of their life, their home. Toil there was a pleasure in comparison with this journeying through endless forests and wildernesses, and they wept for joy. So it is with God's children when they catch sight of that sea of glass mingled with fire, which is before the throne. There is the desire of their hearts, the hope of their life, their treasure and their home. There is the shout of triumph and the song of victory, the rest that shall never end and the service which cannot weary. But, again, we have a further contrast here. In the former text you have the idea of conflict, the evidence of that struggle which is ever going on in the heart of man; the spirit against the flesh, the flesh against the spirit, the soul cramped and hindered in its progress, as in some prison-house struggling to be free, the body worn out and enfeebled by the restless energy of that which is within. It is a state of intense unrest in which that which is best in the man, his zeal for God, is the disturbing element. And against this, in strong contrast, the text places the calm and composure, the serenity of heaven and heavenly service. On the one hand, it is a sea torn and tossed by every wind and wave, boiling and seething as from some internal convulsion; on the other, it is an ocean quiet and peaceful, in whose every movement there is majesty and grandeur. Or, to change the imagery, here it is a morbid spasmodic activity, a life producing death by its very violence, like some untimely plant which springs up too soon and fast, and is withered ere strength and beauty can be developed; yonder it is a maturity which knows neither change nor decay, but is ever green and fair as the seasons roll round, return, and come again. Here the day of labour needs the night of rest, and even then there is left perchance a weariness which slumber may not remove. In heaven they serve Him day and night in His temple without rest. Lastly, I but emphasize one thought, and that by way of making a practical use of all this. It is the important thought which stands connected with the continuity of the Divine life. For the service here, we must never forget, is the beginning of the service which is yonder. They are essentially one and indivisible, and this is necessary to that. Life is the apprenticeship, the school for heaven, necessary not so much, indeed, in this aspect for the work which is done, and the service which is rendered, as that we may learn how to work and how to serve.
Parallel VersesKJV: For the zeal of thine house hath eaten me up; and the reproaches of them that reproached thee are fallen upon me.