Have you ever been passionate about something? How about emotional? I married my wife Christina 19 years ago this coming August. Love at first sight accurately sums up our initial encounter.  Within two weeks we talked marriage. Was it passion, emotion, or foolishness? Perhaps a little of each considering our age: 21 and 22, respectively. Most modern definitions link passion to a strong or overwhelming emotion typically driven by anger or sexual desire. Yeah, sexual desire may have lit up my radar when I met my bride. I won’t lie.

Words like unbridled, unrestrained and barely controllable emotion are most often paired with passion; whereas zeal is most often linked to words like ardent, fervor and diligence. I’ve seen passion and zeal used interchangeably, but I believe a distinct difference exists between the two. Mel Gibson perhaps played a role in the positive connotation of the word passion from his 2004 movie Passion of the Christ. But biblically, passion is more often tied to sin. In fact, Paul in the book of Colossians says to put to death our passion. That’s a rather strong statement.

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Lighter Fluid

People with flighty emotions and quick tempers stirred by passion make for poor spouses, business partners, leaders and even bodybuilders. They’re quick to speak, slow to listen, and buffeted by circumstances like a boat tossed at sea without a rudder. Passionate people can draw a crowd, but often lack staying power because they’re driven by short-lived emotion. It’s like building a fire comprised predominantly of lighter fluid. A huge flame jumps to life when struck with a match, but quickly dies out. Untamed passion is not the long haul; substantive stuff is needed to achieve lasting results.

I’ve seen this played out in both marriages and bodybuilding careers. Nobody builds a marriage on lighter fluid, despite what might occur on the honeymoon. To do so is shortsighted and overlooks those words in which we covenant to love: for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health. This is no easy task and will require much more than a highly flammable passion. I’ve seen the exact same scenario played out in bodybuilding. A guy’s passion for an amateur win or an IFBB pro card causes him to resort to shortcuts without the foresight to realize in achieving short term goals they’re sacrificing long term ones.

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Action Oriented Resolve

Zeal on the other hand shares the enthusiasm of the passionate, but with an eyes-forward, shoulders-square, face-towards-the-goal type of resolve which weathers storms bent on snuffing out passion. It’s the rudder directing the same ship propelled by the wind of passion.

If passion most closely relates to desire, then zeal implies action. I often say I’m passionate about training, but in reality I possess more of a zeal for the iron. If passion dictated my training I would probably overtrain now and quit altogether upon retirement from competitive bodybuilding. However, I don’t believe this is the case because my zeal for pushing iron will last long after I have no business putting on a posing suit.

In Revelation 3:19 God declares, "Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent." Worldly sorrow is feeling sad because you got caught, but true repentance requires a change of direction and a turning away from an old behavior to a new one. Repentance is action oriented and thus the reason I think God’s call is to be zealous for it.


I always placed value on passion, but in meditating a bit on its true definition and what drives, it gave me pause. A good legacy is what I’m after and those aren’t built on lighter fluid. In fact, sometimes the best legacies go largely unnoticed. The loudest person in the room may very well be the most passionate, but the zealous actively and often quietly go about their business.

So here are some questions to consider: Where are you passionate and where are you zealous? In what regard do some passions need to die a quick death to allow your zeal to flourish? The difference may be nuanced, but I believe it’s significant.