Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, “The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously”? – James 4:5
Is God jealous?
The apostle James wrote this verse in the context of a stern rebuke to God’s people. They were fighting among themselves, and James faults their “desire for pleasure” for those conflicts.
He called these people adulterers and adulteresses because they loved pleasure. He said that “whoever wants to be a friend of the world makes himself any enemy of God.”
And then he says this:
Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, “The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously”?- James 4:5
This is an interesting passage; James invokes scripture in this verse, but scholars aren’t sure what scripture he is referring to. There isn’t a passage in the Old or New Testament that is similar to what James is saying.
Instead, many scholars believe (as do I) that James is simply offering a summary of a common Old Testament theme. That theme is the jealousy of God.
You shall worship no other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a Jealous God. – Exodus 34:14
Some people have a problem with this. God is Jealous? Isn’t Jealousy a bad thing?
Oprah Winfrey sites this idea of a jealous God as her reason for rejecting the God of the bible: “God is jealous of me? Something about that didn’t feel right in my spirit.” Of course, Oprah didn’t have the scripture quite right. God isn’t jealous of us, He is jealous for us. And there is a big difference.
When the apostle Paul heard about certain men who came to Corinth, preaching a different gospel, seeking to draw the people away from the truth, he says this:
I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. – 2 Corinthians 11:2
Jealousy is a emotion put in us by God Almighty. It is a naturally occurring emotion that is quite involuntary. If I were to notice a man trying to flirt with my wife, feelings of jealousy would arise automatically. If a guy tries to hit on my wife and I don’t feel jealous, something is wrong.
However, just like all emotions, human sinfulness has distorted jealousy to the point that it is almost always viewed in a negative way. We all know of people who are jealous for the wrong people and for the wrong reasons. But to be jealous for the right person for the right reasons is always good.
Paul (who wrote 2 Corinthians) understood that jealousy could be bad. So he qualifies his jealousy by saying that he is jealous for them with a godly jealousy. When Paul learned that men sought to draw away those whom he had labored for and loved, jealousy arose within him. Look at what he says:
But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve, with his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from simplicity that is in Christ – 2 Corinthians 11:3
Notice how he says, “I fear…” Paul was afraid that these people would leave the truth to embrace a lie. This ‘fear’ wasn’t fear in the typical sense of the word. Paul wasn’t shaking in terror, wringing his hands. No, this ‘fear’ is simply a deep concern. He was concerned deeply for these people, because he loved them deeply. He was angry! Who did these men think they were, coming in to deceive away the people that he worked so long and hard with? And what did Paul do to these Corinthians to deserve such rejection?
Did I commit sin in humbling myself that you might be exalted, because I preached the gospel to you free of charge? – 2 Corinthians 11:7
Paul laid down his life for these people. He loved these people, not just in word, but in deed. Were they now going to give themselves to these false apostles–who were charging them for their services!?
Paul was jealous; but God is also jealous with this kind of jealousy. It is to be noted, however, that God’s jealousy is much more severe. Paul was simply a friend of the bride-groom; how much greater must be the jealousy of the bride-groom Himself!
In the Old Testament (and for the most part in the New), the word for jealous is translated from the same word as ‘zealous.’ It would be translated one way or the other depending on the context. But the fact that these words are closely related helps to have a better understanding of jealousy. To be zealous is to be passionate; it means to be stirred with energy. We can see jealousy in the same way: Imagine how stirred you would be to see your spouse with another person! You would be stirred with a mixture of sadness, hurt, and righteous anger!
One thing you wouldn’t be is apathetic.
Anger is actually a big party of jealousy. They go together hand and hand. But it’s not an anger born out of hate, but out of love.
They provoked Him to jealousy with foreign gods; With abominations they provoked Him to anger. – Deuteronomy 32:16
Isn’t that how you would feel if your spouse went off with another? Wouldn’t you feel angry? Wouldn’t you feel jealous?
God has made us in His image–we are like Him. The feelings that arise in us (as unperfect as they may be), also arise in Him (in a perfect and sinless way). God has likened Himself to the Husband, and His people as His bride. If we ourselves have felt righteous jealousy, then we have a small idea of how He feels when His people reject Him for other gods. It is a strike to His very heart. How painful it must be that the people He loves would abandon Him for gods that are no gods at all.
Thus saith the Lord of hosts; I was jealous for Zion with great jealousy, and I was jealous for her with great fury. – Zechariah 8:2
Look at that–God was jealous with great fury! What passion God has for His people! The greater the jealousy is, the greater the love must be, for no one is jealous for someone they don’t love.
God has good right to be jealous. We are His. We were lost and doomed, yet, because of His love for us, He paid the ransom price to save us from eternal death. He bought us out of salvery at a heavy price, and we owe Him our undying allegiance.
And besides that, the other gods that men serve are no gods at all. How can we reject the God that loves us for the imposter gods of this world??
Is an idol anything?…they sacrifice to demons and not to God, and I do not want you to have fellowship with demons. -1 Corinthians 10:19-20
Yet, it may be that you say, “I have never worshipped any other god. How does this apply to me?” Oh, but you have. We all have.
If you remember our title verse, James was rebuking his readers for their adulterous ways. Was it because they were bowing before statues? It was not. It was because of their love for pleasure. They were, as the scripture says, ‘lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God’ (2 Tim 3:4).
Idolatry goes beyond the physical worship of carved statues. The physical worship of idols may be considered mild compared to the type of idolatry that modern men partake in everyday. For while ancient man’s idolatry was an outward act, modern man’s idolatry is of the heart.
Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. – Colossians 3:5
Covetousness is the idolizing of things or people. The people that James wrote to coveted after pleasure. They were pleasure seekers (rather than seekers of God). They lived for pleasure, and pleasure consumed their thoughts. They spent their money in pleasure, they talked with their friends about pleasure, and they fought over pleasure.
I don’t know what kind of pleasure it may have been. It probably wasn’t something that we would regard as overly sinful. Maybe the men loved the pleasure of sport and the women the pleasure of fashion. Whatever it was, it had become their god, for they gave it the attributes of a god: they served it, they worshipped it (with their constant thoughts and adoration), they gave their money to it, and they celebrated with their friends around it. They may even have had special meetings where they would invite all their friends to celebrate it, whatever it was. It was their god.
And pleasure isn’t the only god that is worshipped in our times. The pantheon of modern gods include: the god of success, the god of romance, the god of family, the god of sex, the god of money, the god of achievement, and the god of self. (This list is taken from Kyle Idleman’s excellent book: “gods at war”)
Our generation is extremely guilty of this kind of idol worship. We have taken the affection that belongs to God and have given it to others, even to a host of others–gods that are no gods at all.
Oh how God yearns with a jealous love over that which you give your affection to! Why do you give it to another and not to Him? Why do you drink from the waters that will not satisfy? Why don’t you come drink from that Living Water instead?
This generations’ idolatrous ways are summed up well by the prophet Isaiah. So many in our culture give the true God lip service, but in their hearts they go after others:
the Lord said… these people draw near with their mouths And honor Me with their lips, but have removed their hearts far from Me… -Isaiah 29:13
We must guard our hearts from these false gods, for they are like an adulterous woman, seeking to entice us away.
Serving these false gods is like eating sweet bread–bread that quickly turns to gravel in your mouth.
The lips of these false gods drip like honey, but their temples of worship go down to death, and those that give themselves to them are in the depths of hell.
The God who made you loves you deeply. He loves you enough to sacrifice His Own life for you. With that great love comes a great jealousy when you give yourself to another–that which is not another. Give yourself to Him, the Fountain of Living Waters. Only He can truly satisfy.
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