“He is jealous for me, loves like a hurricane, I am a tree…” – John Mark McMillan
In the Bible, God is referred to as jealous, but jealousy is also referred to as sin in Scripture. The second commandment says that God is a jealous God (Exodus 20:4-5; Exodus 34:14); but, in Galatians, Paul condemns jealousy in the same area as things like idolatry and immorality (Galatians 5:19-20). What does this mean then? How can God be jealous?
This type of jealousy would be a proper response of a husband or wife whose trust has been violated through someone being unfaithful. When an exclusive covenant relationship (like marriage) is dishonored, sanctified jealousy comes in when someone is passionate and will fight to restore that relationship. God is jealous for His holy name and for the exclusive worship of His people. This would define sanctified jealousy.
On the flip side of things (and what we probably think of more often) is sinful jealousy. This is when we get jealous over other people. It could be their position at work, their possessions like a home, or even their relationship. This is the jealousy that Paul is discussing in regards to our sinful nature:
“Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” – Galatians 5:19-21
God clearly represents sanctified jealousy (since He is without sin), so believers will also reflect His character and be jealous for the things of God. There are many examples in Scripture like Elijah (1 Kings 19:10, 1 Kings 19:14), David (Psalm 69:9), and Paul (2 Corinthians 11:2) who were jealous for God’s glory and used that for their motivation. The ultimate example we have is Jesus. When He overturned the tables of the moneychangers in the temple and condemned the Jewish leaders of His day for dishonoring God, He demonstrated sanctified jealousy (Matthew 21:12-13; John 2:17).
I don’t think we often think of jealously as a good thing (I know I don’t), but we must let the Bible define it and not us. I love how Paul was jealous for the Church (2 Corinthians 11:2) and reminded them of their relationship to one husband, Christ. It’s a good reminder for us who are followers of Christ to be jealous for God. Let’s be jealous for God’s Holy Name to be proclaimed throughout all the nations and to encourage and build up His Church.
Here are other Frequently Asked Questions and how the Bible answers them.