May 14 – Tempering Zeal with Sensitivity (James, son of Zebedee)

The twelve apostles included “James the son of Zebedee” (Matt. 10:2).

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Zeal without sensitivity can destroy your life and ministry.

There’s the story of a Norwegian pastor whose motto was “All or nothing!” His life and preaching were stern, strong, powerful, uncompromising, and utterly insensitive. Reportedly the people in his church didn’t care much for him because he didn’t care much for them. In his zeal and ambition to advance the Kingdom and uphold God’s standard, he neglected everything else—including his own family.

One day his little daughter became so ill, the doctor warned him that if he didn’t move her out of the cold Norwegian air to a warmer climate she would die. He refused, telling the doctor, “All or nothing!” Soon his little girl died. His wife was so grief-stricken she would sit for hours holding her daughter’s garments close to her heart, trying somehow to ease her pain.

When the pastor saw what his wife was doing, he gave the clothes to a poor woman in the street. All that remained was a little bonnet, which his wife had hidden so she would have some reminder of her precious daughter. When the pastor found it, he gave that away too, lecturing his wife on giving “all or nothing.” Within a few months she too died—of grief.

Now that’s an extreme example of insensitive zeal, and yet there are many pastors, evangelists, and other Christian workers who are so zealous for the Lord and so task-oriented, they don’t see the pain their own families and congregations are suffering.

James could have been like that if he hadn’t yielded his life to Christ. He began as a zealous and insensitive disciple, but God refined his character and used him in a marvelous way.

Examine your own ministries and motives. Are you sensitive to your family and the people with whom you serve? Zeal can be a wonderful quality, but it must be tempered with love and sensitivity.

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Suggestions for Prayer:  If you have been insensitive to those around you, confess that to them, and ask the Lord to give you a greater sensitivity from now on.

For Further Study: Eli the priest was negligent and insensitive to his family. Read 1 Samuel 3:1–4:18. ✧ What did the Lord tell Samuel concerning Eli? ✧ What was the outcome of Israel’s battles with the Philistines? ✧ How did Eli and his sons die?[1]


10:2 the names of the twelve apostles. The 12 are always listed in a similar order (cf. Mk 3:16–19; Lk 6:13–16; Ac 1:13). Peter is always named first. The list contains 3 groups of 4. The 3 subgroups are always listed in the same order, and the first name in each subgroup is always the same, though there is some variation in the order within the subgroups—but Judas Iscariot is always named last. Peter … Andrew … James … John. The first subgroup of 4 are the most familiar to us. These two sets of brothers, all fishermen, represent an inner circle of disciples often seen closest to Jesus (see note on 17:1).[2]


10:2 Apostles (plural of Gk. apostolos; used only here in Matthew; see note on Rom. 1:1) describes those commissioned to be Jesus’ special representatives, while “disciples” (Matt. 10:1) was also used more broadly to refer to anyone who believed in Jesus. Peter heads all the lists of the Twelve (cf. Mark 3:16–19; Luke 6:13–16; Acts 1:13) and serves as their spokesman. Peter, along with James and John, made up Jesus’ inner circle.[3]


10:2 apostles. The Gk. word apostolos designates an authorized representative or emissary whose word has the authority of the sender (cf. 2 Cor. 8:23, where it is translated “messengers,” and 2 Cor. 1:1 note). Here the Twelve receive authority to do exactly what Jesus has been doing (vv. 7, 8).[4]


[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1993). Drawing Near—Daily Readings for a Deeper Faith (p. 147). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Mt 10:2). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[3] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 1839). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[4] Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2015). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (2015 Edition) (p. 1687). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.

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