Sermon Podcast Audio
I’m so excited to continue our series describing who God is. Long before we began this series, when we were only in the planning stages — I was fired up to teach you all about this character trait of God.
And the reason I wanted to teach on this topic is because it’s a hard pill for many of us to swallow. It’s one of those character traits that leaves us scratching our heads, not because it’s a big fancy word like “omniscience” or “sovereignty” — as a matter of fact, this is THE character trait we are all MOST familiar with. We just never think of God when we think of it.
And that’s why I’m so excited about this message — I LOVE to teach things that are new for most people. Now it’s not that I like to teach things that are obscure and scarcely mentioned in the Bible. We never teach something that’s only mentioned in one questionable verse. Today’s message about God is directly stated all over the Bible. But for some reason, I think most of us skim right past this important description of God, never considering the incredible significance this trait plays in our lives.
Isn’t it funny how we do that sometimes? We can read the Bible for years, read it cover to cover, and still never see things if we never slow down, never take time to consider what God wants to teach us through these passages. And as a result, some people think of the Bible as some dry book that doesn’t apply to their lives at all. Today, I hope you again see the incredible life found in the Bible when we take time to think deeply about what some key phrases mean for our lives and how we relate to God.
Jealousy — Good or Bad?
To introduce our topic for today, I’ll let God tell you about himself — reading from Exodus, God tells the Israelites:
“. . . the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.” —Exodus 34:14
That’s pretty clear. That’s pretty direct. God… is… Jealous. He even claims the word Jealous as his name! That’s an enormous statement — it communicates to the Israelites that Jealousy is part of God’s core — i’ts imbedded in his character. God isn’t just jealous sometimes, like a toddler who wants the toy YOU are holding — it’s who he is. Just like God is Infinite, Sovereign, and Holy, here we find that he is Jealous.
For many of you, that probably comes as a bit of a surprise. You may be thinking, “but I thought jealousy was a BAD thing? Aren’t we told as Christians that we aren’t supposed to be jealous?” Yes. We are.
In the famous verses used at nearly all weddings from 1 Corinthians 13, we read:
Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. (NLT)
So then, how can God be jealous if it’s a sin for us to be jealous? That’s seems like a contradiction, but I hope that unpacking this seeming conflict will lead to understanding God so much better!
So first, we need to start by defining the word jealous. From Merriam-Webster:
a: intolerant of rivalry or unfaithfulness
b: vigilant in guarding a possession
Now for most of us, when we hear the word jealous and think about these definitions, we imagine a teenager in love who jealously tries to control her new boyfriend or a child unwilling to share his toys with another, jealously guarding his toys. In these situations we see an immaturity; we see somebody trying to control the situation; we see selfishness and sin.
And this is why it’s hard for us to wrap our heads around the idea of God being Jealous. But let’s step back and look at that definition again. Is there anything inherently sinful in this definition of the word jealous if applied to a marriage?
It’s good to be intolerant of rivalry in a marriage; it protects the covenant you and your spouse make to one another. It protects you against the unfaithfulness that might destroy your marriage. It’s also noble to vigilantly protect and guard your spouse from danger — to care for him or her as your most valuable possession – one given to you by God to cherish for a lifetime.
So, now that we have two seemingly conflicting ideas about jealousy in mind, how do we differentiate?
The first form of jealousy is selfish and sinful. Its all about YOU. And you’re jealous OF the other person — what they have, what they’re doing. You’re jealous of their vacation, their promotion, their easy life, you name it. I’m sure each of us can think of somebody we are jealous of for one reason or another.
An interesting thing I found when I looked through numerous Bible verses and across translations is that this selfish jealousy, which is described as sinful and something for Christians to avoid in the Bible, is almost always translated as envy. Envy is the form of jealousy that is sinful and selfish.
The second form of jealousy is mature and Godly, focused on others, and based in profound passion FOR the other person. This is when a parent sees a child being drawn into a bad crowd and wants to intervene and pull the child back into relationship with the family. The child may see the parent as overbearing and controlling, but really, the parent is jealously protecting the child.
This word is more closely related to the idea of zeal — an eagerness and pursuit of something.
And as you can see, it’s this second form, this idea of God’s jealousy as zeal for his people that God is conveying to us when he repeatedly tells us across the Bible that he is a jealous God.
Moving forward, now let’s look at how God’s jealousy impacts our lives. Let’s look at Exodus 20.
This is the second book of the Bible, right at the front. And this is a really important chapter in the Bible. It’s at the heart of the Old Testament. It’s where God gives Moses the 10 Commandments. You all know at least some of these rules — Thou shall not kill, shall not steal, shall not covet. These are the very first rules where God began to establish how he wanted his people to be a holy people, to be set apart from the other nations. And right in the beginning of these 10 commandments, we read of God’s jealousy, something we probably have glossed over many times before and never fully understood.
And God spoke all these words:
“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
“You shall have no other gods before me.” —Exodus 20: 1-3
Here, we see God first describing that he is “YOUR GOD.” He is establishing the relationship he has with the Israelites. He is reminding them of the covenant he made with their ancestor, Abraham to be their God and to be in a covenant relationship with them. Essentially, his relationship with the Israelites is to be like a marriage relationship.
And then he continues and he sets his first commandment — Have no other Gods. Just like a marriage, you have one partner. God will not allow any other lovers, nothing else that might draw away their attention, their focus, or their love.
Then he continues in verse 4 & 5:
“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, “
Here it is again, clear as day, God’s reason for his first and second commandments is that he is jealous.
Now I know many of you have read these verses before, but have you ever considered the significance of this statement? When we start to put this all together, it only makes sense that God is jealous.
If God is in a covenant relationship with his people, and that covenant is like a marriage:
- then we should expect that God will be zealous for his people
- we should expect that he will be intolerant of rival gods
- we should expect that he would be vigilant in guarding and protecting his people
- this is how we expect a husband to feel towards his wife, and so we should understand why God feels this way towards his people
And in saying that, we would expect all of this from the God who loves his people with greater love than we could ever comprehend, then we are, by our own logic, defining God as a Jealous God. And that’s a very good thing for us.
You see, God knows that no other gods exist. He knows that nothing in all creation can give us the joy and peace that relationship with him provides. He knows that we were created for a relationship with Him – so when he sees us sleeping around with the gods we create in our lives, our modern-day idols, his jealousy burns brightly for us. He wants better for us. He knows we are settling for second best.
And this isn’t the selfish jealousy you and I so quickly think of when we hear that word. He isn’t envious of the idols we set up in our own lives. He is jealous — no zealous — for our affection and worship – knowing that we will never be fully satisfied with anything or anyone other than HIM.
And it’s through his holy jealousy that we are better able to understand and appreciate the remainder of this verse in Exodus. Let’s continue where we left off in verse 5:
for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me,
Reading these verses can be really challenging to our faith. We wonder why God would say he will punish the children for the sins of their parents. And while that takes a much more detailed answer than I have time to give, here’s the short answer:
- He doesn’t actively punish anyone for their parent’s sins – but the consequences of parents sins are often passed down through generations.
- Additionally, the reason for the consequences isn’t to get even, or to cause suffering; the reason for the punishment is to try and restore the relationship, to try and bring his children back to himself. His jealousy isn’t AGAINST you, it’s FOR you and for your good.
Many of us are parents. When our kids mess up, we know we have to discipline them to teach them and help them grow up. God does that same exact thing with his children. So, we shouldn’t view this verse on punishment as displaying God as a terrible person, but as a loving father.
And we can see the purpose of God’s jealousy being for our good from the very next verse:
but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.
Ultimately, God’s jealousy is for our own good. It’s to keep us in our father’s love, to protect us from all the false lovers the world parades in front of us, trying to draw our affection away from God and toward things which, while they might be good, should never be put above God in our lives.
So, what does it mean for us that God has a holy zeal, a Godly jealousy for us and our affection?
First, it means that we need to examine our lives and make sure that we aren’t arousing his jealousy with anything in our lives we have made an idol of. Idols in America in the 21st century don’t look like they did in the days of Moses. We don’t have wood carvings or stone statues to represent gods. But we have a plethora of activities, hobbies, treasures, and even people that we put in front of God in our lives.
- Maybe it’s your finances. Perhaps you worship the mighty dollar, you’re unwilling to give to the church or to others, you work countless hours to increase your income, to build up your bank account, all at the expense of time with God or time following his steps for your life.
- Maybe you worship your hobby or your special interests. You skip church each Sunday to golf, spend time on your property, or workout for the next 5K you signed up to run. Now don’t get me wrong – neither golf, a vacation property, nor working out are bad things. But if they rob time from God, rob money from God, rob God of your highest affections and worship — then they have become idols in your life.
- Honestly, your children or your spouse might even have become idols in your life. If you love your child more than God, if you are willing to sacrifice your relationship with God for the the sporting events, the band competitions, and the whims of your child to make them happy — then you may be staring at the cutest little idols ever when you look at your kids.
Here’s the thing we need to recognize, and I know it’s hard and steps on our toes, but it’s true: God DEMANDS to be the priority in our lives. He’s not just a God that we can pick up on Sunday when we come to church and put back down the rest of the week. When we do that, when we act as nominal Christians, allowing God to be a part of our lives, but not the main thing, we are behaving as the polytheists that God detests. That’s why in Revelation he tells the church at Laodicea he would rather they be HOT or COLD rather than lukewarm.
God is NOT OK being a part of your life. He loves you too much. His holiness and his faithfulness to his covenant won’t allow him to let you go worship at the feet of other lovers. You are too valuable to just let you throw your life away like that.
As I list those possible examples of idols in your lives, you need to search yourself and see what you have elevated above God, to the highest esteem in your heart. And you need to confess your sin to God and turn these idols over to God, asking him to help you put him first.
Second, we must be zealous for God in the same way he is zealous for us. A marriage isn’t much fun if you’re the only one jealous for your spouse and vigilantly protecting the marriage. You want both spouses to feel that same love, and have that same jealousy for the other person. In the same way, God wants us to be as in love and jealous for him as he is for us.
Here are 3 very practical ways we can jealously protect our relationship with God:
- We should recommit our relationship to God.
- For some of you, after hearing this message, you realize you’re just playing around with God and then going and flirting with everything else you enjoy in this life. You need to commit.
- For some of you, this may mean it’s time for you to be baptized — to let the world know, YOU ARE GOD’s CHILD. If that’s you, let me or Brent know — we have a baptism service coming up right after Easter Sunday.
- For others of you, you need to get into a group that holds you accountable in your relationship. That could be a D-Group, a Sunday School class, whatever…
- We should be guarding our devotional times and not letting the busyness of life rob that special time we get to spend with him, perhaps first thing in the morning or before falling asleep at night.
- We should be intolerant of the things popping up in our hearts that threaten to rival our devotion to God. This isn’t a one and done searching of idols in our hearts. We need to consider regularly what is threatening our relationship with God — what is rivaling him for our time and our attention – and we need to set it aside.
You see, God’s jealousy isn’t just a fancy way of saying he has a lot of love for us. It’s more than just the feeling of love. It’s the protective, purifying, pursuing form of love for us. His jealousy is never to harm us, but is always to draw us to himself.
Just like God was jealous for the Israelites in the time of Moses, promising to punish them if they worshipped other Gods or show love if they kept his commandments, he is jealous for us. Through the death of Jesus Christ on the cross and our accepting his blood for the forgiveness of our sins, we become God’s chosen people. He jealously works to guard us from other lovers, he gives us the Holy Spirit to convict us of sin and point us back to him. He does all he can, short of stepping on our free will, to guard us against rival affections, to keep us holy.
Truly, God’s jealousy is for our good. We should never worry about it or fear it — we should feel secure in knowing he cares so much. And we should respond to his zeal for us with our own single-minded zeal for him, our creator and redeemer.