“But it is good to be zealous in a good thing always, and not only when I am present with you” (Galatians 4:18).
Paul the Apostle made an important observation concerning his Jewish countrymen in the New Testament book of Romans: “…I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge” (Romans 10:2 NIV). While zeal may be a good thing, its important to be zealous for the right things as implied in the verse quoted above.
In this context, “zeal” (1) refers to a warmth of feeling (either for or against), (a) to desire earnestly or pursue, (b) and/or to seek or desire eagerly. (c) One source comments on the Galatians’ zealousness by observing, “(Paul) applauds them for their concern to be zealous, yet immediately asks them to be very careful to judge if the object of their zeal is worthy…” (2)
In a similar manner, some may exhibit great zeal for God but their enthusiasm may be misdirected if it’s done without the knowledge of what is acceptable to Him. If we seek to approach God simply on the basis of what we think or feel is right, then our response might be unacceptable (or even offensive) to Him. Therefore, its important to remember the words of 1 Timothy 2:5: “…There is one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus” (NLT).
We can draw another important insight from the second portion of Galatians 4:18: “It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good, and to be so always, not just when I am with you” (NIV). This reference to “not just when I am with you” recalls the experience of an Old Testament king named Joash…
“Joash did what was pleasing in the LORD’s sight throughout the lifetime of Jehoiada the priest. …But after Jehoiada’s death, the leaders of Judah came and bowed before King Joash and persuaded him to listen to their advice. They decided to abandon the Temple of the LORD, the God of their ancestors, and they worshiped Asherah poles and idols instead! Because of this sin, divine anger fell on Judah and Jerusalem” (2 Chronicles 24:2, 17-18 NLT).
Although Joash honored God while Jehoiada was present to influence his behavior, he no longer did so once he was on his own. Much like the churches of Galatia, Joash’s experience should encourage us to seek God’s help in building the kind of character that will allow us to be enthusiastic about doing good even when others are unavailable to help us do so.
(1) G2206 zeloo (a) Strong’s Hebrew and Greek Dictionaries, (b) Thayer’s Greek Definitions, https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?t=kjv&strongs=g2206 (c) Abbott-Smith Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament, https://www.studylight.org/lexicons/greek/2206.html
(2) McClelland, S. E. (1995). Galatians. In Evangelical Commentary on the Bible (Vol. 3, p. 1015). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.