I read a clever definition of a fanatic, “One who is highly enthusiastic about something in which you are not even remotely interested.”
It’s one of those words, like fundamentalist, legalist, or Pharisee that is usually defined as people who disagree with me. A legalist is anyone who tells me to do something I don’t want to do. A Pharisee is anyone who tells me not to do something I enjoy. A fundamentalist is anyone who restricts my liberty, in any way. Here’s the real definition of both zeal and fanatic, to show what I mean. Zeal; passionate ardor in the pursuit of anything. In general, zeal is an eagerness of desire to accomplish or obtain some object. Fanatic; wild and extravagant in opinions, particularly in religious opinions; excessively enthusiastic; possessed by a kind of frenzy. What’s the difference between someone who is excessively enthusiastic and someone who is eager? Who makes that judgment?
Others will say being balanced and moderate is the best way. Not too extreme, but a centrist who keep the main thing the main thing. But, you can fiddle with that idea as well. Balance can be another way of avoiding conflict or keeping coalitions. I have been called extremist, a fanatic, a fundamentalist and I’ve also been called a moderate and a squish – over the same issue. It just depends on who you talk to. Either I’m not very good at explaining myself, or there is something else at play. Those who think I’m harsh and extreme disagree with my position and how much importance I put on it, while those who think I’m wishy-washy, may agree with me, but don’t think I judge the issue important enough. And, there are those in the middle who like their position because they can tell everyone they are wrong. The truth is, in some things, we need to be moderate. And, we also need to be zealous. We don’t want to be fanatical, but the Bible must be our judge, not other men.
Second Corinthians was written to the church at Corinth after Paul had rebuked them and corrected them in the 1 Corinthians. Some repented and Paul commented on the characteristics that proved their sorrow over sin was a godly sorrow – vehement desire and zeal (2 Corinthians 7:11). Desire, passion, zealousness is a gift of the Holy Spirit. It’s not a curse or an evil to avoid. Zealousness doesn’t make you and extremist and vehement desire doesn’t make you a fanatic. These are the characteristics of one who has repented of their sin and turned to Christ for salvation, who has been born again and revived in spirit.
Emotions are not sinful, but how we use emotions can be sinful. Letting emotions rule us and not seeking guidance from Scripture to rule our emotions can be sinful. Desiring the wrong things is sinful. However, emotions, of themselves, are natural to human beings. God has not made us robots, but human beings and God’s Word must direct us.