By Brooke Holt
“Those people are zealous to win you over, but for no good. What they want is to alienate you from us, so that you may have zeal for them. It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good, and to be so always, not just when I am with you. My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, how I wish I could be with you now and change my tone, because I am perplexed about you!” (Galatians 4:17-20 NIV)
The Apostle Paul knows well about two types of zeal—zeal for the Lord or zeal for oneself. Before encountering Jesus on the road to Damascus, Paul had great zeal, zeal he genuinely believed was a godly zeal. However, it was a misguided zeal focused on his agenda instead of the Lord’s. The Lord made his agenda clear in Jesus Christ. To follow the Lord’s agenda meant to follow his Son. By God’s grace, Paul’s zeal was transformed. He embraced God’s agenda and boldly proclaimed Jesus Christ as Lord throughout the Gentile world.
Paul was passionately committed to seeing these Galatian Christians continue to thrive and grow in their newfound Gospel faith as he wanted them to experience every good thing God had for them—inclusion in the body of Christ, freedom from the bondage and penalty of sin, salvation, and eternal life. As Paul expressed, he longed to see “Christ formed in them” (verse 19). Why was he so zealous for these converted pagan Gentiles? Because Paul loved these people with the love of Christ. Just listen to his passionate cry on their behalf.
Like Paul, the Judaizers claimed to be zealous for the Lord and Galatian Christians. Yet, their zeal was also misguided and misplaced. Instead of surrendering their lives and ministries to Jesus Christ, they clung to the old practices of Judaism. As daGravina said: “Misery loves company”. These miserable Judaizers were looking for company in their feeble attempts to adhere to the law and earn salvation. Seeing the Galatians as easy prey, they sought to drag the Galatians into their legalistic system of religion. The Judaizers were captivated by love of self and their ways as opposed to a love for God and his people.
Speaking from a heart filled with love, Paul admonishes the Galatians to become as he is. In Christ, they have everything they need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). They are free; they are chosen by and for God, and they have equal standing before God as well as a full inheritance in his kingdom.
Paul would have them choose a godly zeal, one that submitted and surrendered to God’s will demonstrated in the person of Jesus Christ. Zeal for the Lord or zeal for the law and man’s ways? Which would they choose?
And, of course, that begs you to ask yourself the same question: am I choosing to live my life in zeal for the Lord’s kingdom and will, or have I chosen zeal for this world and the many ways to earn favor, love, and salvation? We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
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