Jealousy is one of the ugliest words in the English language. It was Shakespeare who called jealousy a “the green-eyed monster” in his play, Othello. Our understanding of jealousy includes things like suspicion, distrust, hostility and sometimes even violence. One writer describes it as “possessive, demanding, and overbearing; and… repulsive. It stifles freedom and individuality, it degrades and demeans, it breeds tension and discord, it destroys friendships and marriages. We view jealousy as a horrible trait and we hate it.”
But did you know that the Bible says that “God is a jealous God”? As we pick up in our studies of 2 Corinthians, we begin in chapter 11. Here Paul makes a very interesting statement that made me wonder how many of us understand how God could be jealous when we view it as such an ugly human characteristic. Look with me at just the first two verses of 2 Cor.11.
1 Oh, that you would bear with me in a little folly–and indeed you do bear with me.
2 For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.
Remember in chapter 10 Paul had just finished a hard hitting defense of his apostolic authority and ministry where he contrasted the self-centered boasting of the false apostles with the Christ-centered boasting of Paul who refused to take any credit himself but concluded with a quote from Jeremiah 9:23,24 that says, “he who glories, let him glory in the Lord.”
Paul hated boasting because he added, “For not he who commends himself is approved, but whom the Lord commends.” (2 Cor.10:18) Paul knew it was foolish for men to boast in their accomplishments because it takes the glory away from God. He alone really deserves the credit for anything we do. But now he evidently believes that he has to counter the false teachers because their boasting had drawn some of the Corinthians to their side.
I’m sure Paul must have remembered that Solomon said, “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, Lest you also be like him. Answer a fool according to his folly, Lest he be wise in his own eyes.”.” (Prov.26:4,5) So he begins rather sarcastically because he is forced to do something he really detests. It is very distasteful that has to boast but his concern is not for his reputation but for the souls of those Corinthians that are being duped by the false teachers. He is on sort of a rescue mission to deliver them from the hands of the deceivers… that’s his motive here. So he says, “Please be patient with me as I indulge in a little foolishness… I know you already have.”
But verse 2 tells us why he thinks he must approach the problem this way. “For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.”
Godly jealousy… literally it reads “the jealousy of God” in the Greek. Because some of them were buying into the lies Paul wanted to warn them that they were in danger of stirring God’s jealousy. Even though we think jealousy is a bad and destructive thing… and it is the way we experience it, there is a kind of jealousy that is godly.
Our jealousy is usually selfish and foolish but godly jealousy is concerned for the welfare others. Paul was jealous because they were being pulled away from the true God through deceit. They were being tempted to be unfaithful to Christ and Paul was feeling the pain of God’s heart. But before we get into talking about Paul’s jealousy and his warning here, I thought it would be good for us to find out about what God’s jealousy is… and why is it a good thing when we think jealousy is not good. How can a God who is holy, loving and gracious possibly be jealous?
So let’s go to the Old Testament and look at the first time it is mentioned in Exodus 20. Moses has been given the Ten Commandments and we find that God’s jealousy goes right to the very heart of the first commandment.
1 And God spoke all these words, saying:
2 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
3 You shall have no other gods before Me.
4 “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth;
5 you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me,
6 but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.
God’s jealousy is stirred when we put something or someone before Him. The root idea in the Old Testament word jealous (qanna’)) is to become deeply red. It apparently has to do with the changing color of the face. You know how your face can get red and flushed when your emotions get excited with intense zeal over something you are passionate about. In fact, both the Old and New Testament words for jealousy are also translated “zeal.” Being jealous and being zealous are essentially the same thing in the Bible. God is zealous about protecting what is precious to Him.
Jesus was indignant and drove out the money changers who had turned the Temple into a “house of merchandise” and the disciples remembered Psalm 69:9 which says, “Zeal for Your house has eaten me up.”.” What Jesus meant was that His passion for the worship of the true God in the right way was eating Him up. Why? Because the people weren’t doing it. They were perverting it and He’s saying, “I’m so passionate that My Father would be worshiped in a way that truly honors Him that it’s eating me up.” And then He adds, “The reproaches that fall on You have fallen on me.”.” In other words, when God was being dishonored His heart was being deeply grieved and disturbed.
God also said in Ex.34:14, “for you shall worship no other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God),”
It didn’t take long for the Israelites to provoke God’s jealousy. Remember Moses had come down from Mt. Sinai with the two tablets of the law in his hands only to find the people of Israel indulging in idolatrous worship before the golden image of a calf. He smashed the tablets, burned the calf and ground it to powder, and then he commanded the Levites to discipline the people. It was a powerful demonstration of God’s jealousy being seen through His servant Moses. Why was the punishment so harsh?
Because God’s name is the epitome of who and what He is, and He says His name is Jealous Jealousy is not a passing mood with God. It is the essence of His person. He cannot be other than jealous because He is the highest and greatest being there is… infinitely holy and glorious! He must be passionately committed to preserving His honor and supremacy. He must zealously demand exclusive devotion and worship simply because of who He is. To do less would make Him less than God. He said in Isaiah 42:8 about Himself:
I am the LORD, that is My name;
I will not give My glory to another,
Nor My praise to graven images
God is sovereign and supreme over all and there is no other being that can compare to Him. It is impossible for Him to share His glory with another false god and He cannot tolerate having anyone or anything put before Him.
You know, if a person has that attitude, we would say, “How egotistical is that?” And I have heard foolish unbelievers make the same kind of statement about God’s ego. They accuse God of being and egomaniac but this is God! He cannot be less than He is. He is the supreme deity and only true God! His jealousy does not grow out of insecurity or anxiety or covetousness or pride or spite. That’s what prompts our jealousy. But for God it is the natural and necessary by-product of His absolute sovereignty and infinite holiness. He must demand what His glory requires!
Now Paul says the reason for his godly jealousy is because of our relationship with Jesus Christ. He wrote, “For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.”
Believers make up the bride of Christ. In the Old Testament God spoke frequently of Israel as an adulterous wife whenever they followed after the false gods. So the marital relationship may be the best way to help us understand the difference between sinful jealousy and righteous jealousy. I can be jealous over my relationship with my wife in a wrong way or in a right way. For example, if I feel resentment or anger because I see her talking to another man, that would be self-centered possessiveness. It would be a clear demonstration of selfish domination in the relationship… in other words, it would be sinful jealousy. It would come from my own selfishness or insecurity instead of from my love and commitment to her.
But, on the other hand, if I see some man actually trying to attract my wife’s affections and seduce her, then I have reason to be righteously jealous. God gave her to me to be my wife. Her body is mine and my body is hers. I have the exclusive right to enjoy her fully, and for someone else to assume that right would be a violation of God’s holy standards. I am zealous for the protection and purity of our marriage, and that is a righteous jealousy. The Lord feels the same way about His relationship with His “wife.” There is no selfishness in His jealousy. It is the appropriate expression of His holiness because those whom He has redeemed, whether it be Israel in the Old Testament or the church in the New Testament… they belong to Him.
We are a purchased possession. We are the bride of Christ. We are to be exclusively His and love Him more than anything or anyone else and when we allow anything or anyone to interfere with that relationship it is as if we are committing adultery… it is spiritual adultery.
Spiritual adultery can be committed in several ways. As Paul was writing to the Corinthians, godly jealousy was provoked because they were accepting false doctrine from false teachers. They were being led astray. He says they put up with those who preached “another Jesus” and received “another spirit” and “another gospel”
But God is also jealous when we love the world more than we love Him. God is jealous when we pursue or own wills rather than His. God is jealous when we put our loved ones before Him… or our jobs… or our things… or our ambitions. And it is not only for His sake that He is jealous over these things.
He also knows that nothing can bring true satisfaction and fulfillment and purpose and wholeness and abundant life and salvation but Him. So this jealousy of God is not only for the honor of His glory but also for the maximum benefit of His people. It grieves Him to see us settle for anything less than the best He has for us. He has a passionate, consuming zeal for our best interests… that’s why He gave us His Son!
If you’re here this morning and you’ve never had a personal encounter with Jesus Christ… if you’ve never understood that He died for you so that your sins would be forgiven and rose again from the grave so that you could be redeemed and brought into a personal relationship with the living God… the One who created you and desires that you become His, you can trust Him today. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” the Bible says. The only thing standing in your way is your sin.
Now for those of us who know Him… If God, by virtue of His glorious Being, is jealous for His glory and His supremacy above everything and everyone else, then those who know Him and want to please Him should be just as jealous for Him. If we are serious about our relationship with Him then we will make it a priority to exalt Him above everyone and everything else in our lives; we will be absolutely dedicated to living for His honor; we will be zealously committed to doing His will. The primary goal of our lives will be to show the world that our God is the one true and living God… that He alone makes life meaningful and worthwhile. Can that be said of you?
Let me ask you… are you arousing God’s jealousy? Is there anything going on in your life that interferes with the love relationship that He has for you? Has your love grown so cold that you’re flirting with things that would break His heart?
Right now, in the quietness of this moment… ask the Spirit of God to search your heart. If He has revealed something to you, you can repent and confess whatever it might be right where you sit. Would you do that and renew your love for Him? Ask God for a move of His Holy Spirit to fill you and flow through you with a passion for God.
Last of all, if we shared God’s jealousy for others as Paul did, we too would be filling our minds with God’s truth and graciously sharing it with those whom God sends our way. We would want what is best for them, and we know that patterning their lives according to His Word will always result in their greatest possible good. If we cared enough we would share the very best… the eternal truths of God’s Word. Are you busy showing that you have zeal for God by sharing it with others?
28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.
29 For our God is a consuming fire.
He is jealous for Himself… He is jealous for us… let us be jealous for Him… and let us be jealous for others on God’s behalf, even as Paul was.