“Concerning zeal, persecuting the church, concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.”
The sixth of Paul’s perceived assets was his religious zeal. To prove that he was at the top of his religion, he became the foremost persecutor of this new rival religion.
“concerning zeal, persecuting the church”
The man who wrote half the New Testament was at one time its principal persecutor:
“As for Saul (the apostle Paul), he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison” (Acts 8:3). He became a Christian in Acts 9.
“For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.” (1 Cor. 15:9)
“But they were hearing only, ‘He who formerly persecuted us now preaches the faith which he once tried to destroy.’” (Gal. 1:23)
The word “concerning” means according to the standard of. It was the norm of Paul’s life to persecute the church. He made it an absolute norm to be religiously zealous. No other Jewish leader surpassed Paul in religious enthusiasm.
If salvation comes by zeal and enthusiasm, Paul would have been on the top of God’s brownie-point list. There was no one more sincere than Paul. But sincerity is not an excuse for wrongdoing. If someone goes to the medicine cabinet for cough medicine and picks up a bottle of poison by mistake and drinks it, he would be sincere but deadly wrong. Sincerity in that context is no virtue. Paul was mightily sincere, but he was wildly wrong.
Christianity loses its character when it makes a virtue of zeal over truth. For example, when this happens, confidence is placed in a pleasant personality, making others vulnerable to the failure of that personality. These people become weak in the moral fiber of truth. Their stability rests upon the ebb and flow of an unstable human being rather than in the eternal Word of God.
Religious zeal is no virtue in itself. Zeal minus truth is ignorance. We find Paul’s commentary on this aspect of his life in 1 Timothy 1:13: “Although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief.” Character is always connected to truth.
Character is always based on truth.
Have you placed your ultimate confidence in people rather than God? Obviously, a healthy human being trusts people but not in a naive sense. To put our supreme confidence in a finite human being is idolatry. It is also fleeting:
“Having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible through the word of God which lives and abides forever, because ‘All flesh is as grass, And all the glory of man as the flower of the grass. The grass withers. And its flower falls away, But the word of the LORD endures forever.’” (1 Peter 1:23-25)