Last night at our small group meeting, a young man asked me to help him with understanding how God could be a jealous God and still be good. How can a good and righteous God be jealous?
Of course the question assumed a view of jealousy more fitting for fallen humans than God. My questioner understood that. What he wanted to know was in what way can jealousy be good.
The short answer is jealousy is good when it protects or cherishes virtue. When jealousy guards another's honor or purity or prosperity, it is jealous for the right reasons and with the right aims. Such is God's jealousy. Being infinite in all perfections, it's good and right that he should be jealous for his honor, glory, majesty, name, etc.
The Apostle Paul tells us that he, too, was jealous with godly jealousy. In 2 Cor. 11:2 Paul writes, "I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him."
Paul, as an apostle, is jealous for the church at Corinth. He describes it as a "godly" or God-like jealousy. It's a holy affection, care and protection for the church.
And then, to put this godly jealousy into a crisp word picture, the apostle likens his jealousy to that of a father who promises his virgin daughter in marriage to a groom. Verse 2 perhaps draws on the Old Testament law requiring women betrothed to a man to remain in their father's home during the time of engagement. The father was responsible for ensuring her virginity under the threat of divorce should she be found not to be a virgin on the wedding night, or the threat of death by stoning if she is taken in an adulterous situation (Deut. 22:13-29). Paul, like a vigilant father guarding the honor and purity of his daughter, is jealous for the church.
And more to the point, he understands that the groom to which he has pledged this bride is none other than Christ himself. As a "father," he could not possibly hope for a better suitor for his bride daughter. He is not indifferent regarding his promise. He's made it to "one husband." No other suitor is tolerated or entertained. No other bride price is welcomed. All would be calamity were this Suitor to find Paul's daughter defiled on the wedding night. So he is moved with godly jealousy to present the church "a pure virgin" to Christ.
This is an amazing thought. Paul's writing to Corinth, with all her stains and blemishes, faults and ungodly jealousies. And yet, he has in view the spotless, radiant presentation of the church as the bride of Christ. It's what he labored for. It's what he sought to protect with his ministry. The pastor's heart must be jealous for the bride of Christ, seeing and vigilantly protecting her honor and purity and glory, lest he allow her to date and sleep around with the Baals, Jezebels, Balaams, and Ashteroths. This is Paul's heart.
Is it the case that this kind of heart, a heart possessed of "godly jealousy" for the church, is not developed enough in many pastors? I don't know. But when I detect in my own heart, or in the comments and reactions of others, an indifference to the purity of the church, I suspect that the kind of godly jealousy that Paul speaks of is in too short a supply, or too inconsistently displayed. When we're not jealous for the pulpit and what's taught there, when we're not jealous for meaningful and regenerate church membership, when we're not jealous for the loving exercise of correction and discipline where necessary, or when we're more jealous for our personal reputations as preachers or leaders, more jealous for physical buildings and grounds, more jealous for large numbers... I suspect our jealousy is not "godly" or is altogether lacking.
This is a good thing to look for in prospective pastors and elders and leaders, and to encourage, support, applaud, and strengthen in existing pastors, elders and leaders. We require in our current situation a generation of men who are moved with godly jealousy to protect our Lord's bride until He comes and consummates the wedding. And such jealousy and concern should be for all the churches of our Lord (2 Cor. 11:28).
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