In this series of bulletin articles, we’ve been examining the Westminster Larger Catechism, published in the 17th Century. Lately we’ve been looking at the first commandment of the ten commandments: ‘You shall have no other gods before me’ (Exodus 20:3). We saw the duties of the first commandment and then began to reflect on the sins forbidden by the commandment.
Corrupt, blind and indiscreet zeal is also forbidden by the first commandment.
Zeal is a great enthusiasm for something. Now, zeal is not wrong in itself. It can even be commendable before God if it is for the right reasons. The Apostle Paul says “It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good” (Galatians 4:18).
So as humans we like to see people who are zealous for things. Whether it be for their work or their hobbies, it’s nice to see a God given enthusiasm for something as opposed to a passive mediocrity towards everything.
But when our zeal is for something that is not in accordance with God’s word, we have broken the first commandment. We have begun to worship a false god.
In the passage already quoted. Paul warns against the zeal of men teaching a false gospel to the Galatians: “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 be zealous for them. It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good, and to be so always and not just when I am with you” (Galatians 4:17-18).
Paul also warns about Jews who were zealous to establish their own righteousness: “Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes” (Romans 10:1-4).
So our zeal should always be in accordance with God’s will and for his glory. We should be zealous for things that please God. We shouldn’t be busy for the sake of being busy. We must always ask, ‘Is my zeal in accordance with God’s knowledge?’
And, wonderfully, God has given us great freedom in what we can be zealous about. We can be zealous for the work and relationship responsibilities he has given us. We can be zealous about the good hobbies and pleasures that he has granted. We can be zealous to learn more about him – whether it be for his attributes or his word. Some may be zealous about God’s mercy, some may be zealous for his holiness. Some may be zealous about the cross, some may be zealous about the resurrection. Some may be zealous for the Psalms, some may be zealous for the Gospel of John. These are all good ways to be zealous.
But if our zeal is ever misplaced we need to confess our blind zeal and turn back to our Lord Jesus. He will graciously forgive us and inform our zeal so that it is redirected into better paths.