Do You Have Zeal for a Bad Thing?

Legalists zealously court the Galatians. But the end result of legalism is for no good. Paul addressed this issue in Galatians chapter 4.

Galatians 4:18 Zealous Legalists

In Galatians 4:17, Paul will admit that the legalists zealously court the Galatians, and legalism often comes wrapped in a cloak of “love.” But the end result is for no good.

Many cults use a technique informally known as “love bombing.” They overwhelm a prospective member with attention, support, and affection. Yet it isn’t really a sincere love for the prospective. It’s just a technique to gain another member. Many Christian churches use the same technique in some way or another.

Paul’s legalistic opponents wanted to draw the Galatian Christians away into their own divisive group. They wanted to exclude the Galatians from other Christians and to bring them into the “super-spiritual” group of legalists.

The zeal cultivated by legalism is often more of a zeal for the group itself than for Jesus Christ. Though they name the name of Jesus, in practice the group itself is exalted as the main focus, and usually exalted as the last refuge of the true “super-Christians.”

In the Scripture “exclude” literally means to “lock you up.” For now, the legalists are courting the Galatians, but once they have alienated them from Jesus and from Paul, the legalists will demand that the Galatians serve them. Legalism is almost always associated with some kind of religious bondage.

The Judaizers had presented only part of the requirements of the Mosaic law, those parts which might be least repulsive to the Gentiles. Having gotten the Gentiles to adopt the festivals and perhaps the fast days, the Judaizers then urged them to adopt circumcision.

The point of verse 18 is not that we should seek to be “made much of” but that we should act in such a way that our behavior is admirable.

In verse 18 Paul certainly wasn’t against zeal. He wanted Christians to always be zealous in good things, but to make sure that their zeal is in a good thing. Zeal in the service of a lie is dangerous.

Daily Bread Galatians 4:18

Before Paul became a Christian, he had a lot of zeal in a bad thing. He was zealous in persecuting Christians (Acts 7:58-8:4). Later, Paul looked back at that time of great zeal as service of a lie and deeply regretted it (1 Corinthians 15:9, 1 Timothy 1:15).

It is a good thing when people want to be around us or to imitate us because we follow Christ. “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).

Zeal is commendable if other criteria are also present. Paul was zealous for the Galatians, but truth controlled his zeal. Paul did not preach to gain popularity (Philippians 1:15-18), but he preached truth even when it cost him personally.

Paul wanted the Galatians to be zealous for what is good when he was absent, not only when he was present among them.

The Galatians had a zeal for grace when Paul was with them, but when he left, they became vulnerable to the legalists. God’s work should never depend on people. It must go on even when key leaders must leave.

The fact that other leaders are zealous toward Paul’s followers is not wrong in itself. He welcomes the fact that his followers would attach themselves to other leaders, so long as those leaders teach the truth.

Paul is not against other leaders influencing the Galatians so long as they did so “in a good thing.” He did not exclude other leaders from interacting with his followers.

Leaders should release their followers to the influence of other leaders, so long as those leaders teach the truth.

Christian leaders should not possess their followers to exclude others from influencing them. God uses different people with different gifts. Some sow, others water, yet others reap. Petty jealousy should never get in the way of the growth of our followers. Great leaders seek the welfare of their people, not their own welfare.

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Galatians 4:18 – But it is good always to be eagerly sought in a commendable manner, and not only when I am present with you. (NASB)

In conclusion, consider the Daily Bread email message sent on 1/17/2009 and 7/17/2023 says,

Galatians 4:18 – But it is good always to be eagerly sought in a commendable manner, and not only when I am present with you. (NASB)

The NIV translation says, “It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good, and to be so always and not just when I am with you.” (NIV)

Be sure that the good works you do are in His service, for God’s glory and edification, not your own. And continue your ministry at all times, not just when your spiritual leader or some admirer is watching.

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