In verses 16 and 17 of Galatians chapter 4, we read about the zeal of the Judaizers that was leading the Galatians away from the cross and back to the law. The Judaizers were quite persuasive because of their zeal for the law. 24 zealotsReligious zeal often leads to unspeakable behavior. Division, disputes, rivalries and the like are most often the results of such zeal. Paul himself had a “mad or radical zeal” for the law and persecuted Christians and was guilty of murder. John Calvin wrote, “Paul knew what great danger Christians faced from these groups of people.” Jesus was the victim of religious zeal. Paul was the victim of religious zeal throughout Europe and Asia Minor. The Jews often sought to kill him because of his message of grace. Religious zeal disrespects the rights of others. When Luke describes Paul’s radical religious zeal, he uses a phrase in Acts 8:3 about how Paul went about destroying the church of Jesus. The same phrase is used to “describe the devastation caused by an army or a wild beast tearing its meat.”

But zeal in and of itself isn’t bad! Galatians 4:18 is subject to various interpretations but I prefer the focus that comes from the Holman Christian Standard Bible. It gives us this verse like this, “Now it is always good to be enthusiastic about good—and not just when I am with you.” The Bible teaches us that we should be zealous for “the fear of the Lord” (Proverbs 23:17). It says, “Do not let your heart envy sinners, but always be zealous for the fear of the LORD.” Paul told Titus (Titus 2:14) that Jesus saved us “…to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” The “good” kind of zeal always works to bring unity as the Spirit works His fruit into our lives. We find love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control. These are the “good” things that the Spirit produces in our lives. We should be zealous for these things. These are the things that Peter is talking about when he asks his readers to consider, “Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good?” (1 Peter 3:13).

But Paul makes it clear in this passage as well as in Romans 10:2-3 where he says, “For I can testify that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not in line with the truth.” The truth of the Gospel is that it produces in us the fruits of the Spirit. Most of the things we want to pound the table over are things that bring hate instead of love. They bring sorrow instead of joy to any discussion. They inspire strife and confusion rather than peace. Over zealousness for my own perspective makes me impatient with opposing ideas. Kindness goes out the window in overzealous debates. There is rarely “goodness” of any kind present at such times. Gentleness is supplanted by aggression and other hurtful approaches. The faithfulness necessary to maintain healthy and happy relationships dissipates in zealous expressions of “my truth.” Finally, self-control is gone! Misplaced zeal never produces the fruits of the Spirit. It always results in harm for those involved.