I've been seeking the Lord over what to speak to you on tonight and on Sunday. On Sunday morning I think I'll be preaching on 'The Power Of God', but this evening I want us to look at 'The Jealousy Of God'. So we're turning to James chapter 4, beginning to read from the start of the chapter at verse 1.
James 4 and verse 1, and then we'll have a brief word of prayer: "Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, 'The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously'?".
Let's pray, just a brief word of prayer, and I want you to do something: I want you to ask the Lord to speak to your heart. Will you do that? Just now as we come before the Lord, ask Him to come personally to you and speak deep into your spirit. Please do that, and let's come: Abba Father, we do come to You reverently, with godly fear, and yet with boldness as sons and daughters of the King. We know that Your word tells us that Your sheep hear Your voice, and they follow You. Lord, to follow You we need to hear You, and we ask just now that You will speak by Your Holy Spirit. We give ourselves over to You. We give You complete and absolute permission to speak into our hearts. In Jesus' name we pray, Amen.
I want you to look down at verse 5 again, please. The New King James that I'm reading here reads: 'Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, 'The Spirit who dwells in us', the 'Spirit', capital 'S', that is the Holy Spirit, 'who dwells in us yearns jealously'?'. Then, if you have the NIV, it will read a little differently - it reads: 'Do you think Scripture says without reason that He jealously longs for the spirit', small 's', that is the human spirit, 'He has caused to dwell in us?'. Now there's some debate over this verse, as you can see right away: whether it is the Holy Spirit of God in us who envies intensely for us - and that's what the Authorised and New King James seems to indicate - but the NIV, and the New American Standard Bible, and the ESV seems to render it such that God is yearning jealously over our human spirits that He has created in us.
Now, either way, it doesn't really matter, because the whole point is this: God is jealous for us! God's Spirit is jealous for us, and He is jealous over the human spirits that He has created and placed within us. God is jealous for you. I wonder did you ever realise that?
Now, in the context that we find verse 5 here, we see that God is jealous over our friendships, we might say 'our affections'. He actually calls these Christians 'adulterers' and 'adulteresses'. Now, I'm sure you all know what adultery is, and sad to say: adultery is becoming a real problem in the church. Sexual ethics appear to be no different in the ranks of the Church of Jesus Christ than outside in the world, to lesser and greater extents - but what is being spoken of here is spiritual adultery, that's what James has in view. If you like, to put it another way, Christians who are having an illicit affair with the world.
Do you know that God has no room for 'open relationships'? Do you know what an 'open relationship' is? There are more of them today than there have ever been: people who are married with a partner, but they have relationships with other partners outside the marriage bond. So they are together in a legal, ceremonial marriage, but it's 'open'. God has no room for open relationships. He says very clearly here in James 4 that friendship with the world is enmity with God. If we're friends with the world, we make ourselves the enemies of God.
Now there's another query about this verse 5, and that is: what Scripture is James quoting from? He says the Scripture says this, but there's no statement that we can find that is identical to this verse in the Old Testament. So probably the best explanation of what James is saying here is that he's not quoting from a particular passage, but he is summarising what the Old Testament testifies to concerning the fact that God is a jealous God.
I wonder how that sits with you tonight? God is a jealous God? I have to say that I have never heard a sermon on the jealousy of God. I have never seen a book on this subject. When I tend to think of God, I don't think of Him as jealous - in fact, if I'm honest, I would have to say I probably try not to think of Him as jealous. It just doesn't seem to feel right to me, initially. Probably that is because my understanding of 'jealousy' has been defined by popular opinion.
You know that the modern world teaches us that jealousy is that green-eyed monster. It's seen as a petty, pathetic, vindictive emotion that smacks of control, or an attempt to possess the will of another. So when we hear this phrase, 'the jealousy of God', we're forgiven in asking the question: 'Well, if God is perfectly good, how can He be jealous?'.
Now, there's no doubt, for us jealousy can be really bad. We can envy another's success in their career, in their family life, we can covet their wealth and possessions. It can be a problem, and it can become that green-eyed monster - jealousy can become monstrous! I was reading the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, and it spoke of the psychology of jealousy. It says: 'Psychologically, jealous people are filled with tension and conflict. The jealous person is always an angry person who is filled with self-pity. For the jealous person both his past and his future seem empty, and the desire to cut other people down to his own size becomes intense. The jealous person responds defensively and is easily irritated. He develops a hypersensitivity toward everyone and interprets both the deeds and conversations of others in the most negative light possible. Jealousy sets a person at cross-purposes to everyone, robbing him of any feeling of belonging to this world'. Now listen to this statement: 'It has been found that jealousy is basic to all character disorders' - that's staggering! Jealousy has been found as basic to all character disorders. This writer finishes by saying: 'Nothing can liberate the envious person until he or she sees that they are the source of their own painful situation'. Jealousy can become a monster in all our lives.
Yet jealousy can be good for us. To give you the obvious example: when a husband discovers another man trying to steal his wife's affections, he is justifiably jealous - that is a good jealousy. But what is the difference between the good type of jealousy and the bad? Well, let me try and summarise it like this: good jealousy is outward jealousy, it is a jealousy for the other person; whereas a bad jealousy is an inward jealousy, where you're jealous of another person. The negative is jealousy of, the positive is jealousy for. One is selfless, one is selfish. Positive jealousy is a zeal for what is right, a single-minded devotion; and the negative is simply sinful envy or covetousness.
The Hebrew word for 'jealousy' in the Bible in the Old Testament means 'to become dark red'. Some of you look a bit bright red tonight, but that's for another reason! In Proverbs 6 and verse 34 it's alluded to here, this very word: 'For jealousy is a husband's fury' - dark red, the idea is of the heightened colour that results from a deep personal emotion that is being felt, dark red, jealousy. The Greek word in the New Testament means 'to boil', it gives the same sense and is translated different ways: zeal, envy, jealousy, it depends on the context - but it's used of both God and man, 'to boil over'. But this is what I want you to get this evening: God reveals Himself in Scripture, Old and New Testament, as a jealous God.
Turn with me quickly to Exodus 20, these are the Ten Commandments, you're well aware of them. In verse 4 you have the second commandment: '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; 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, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments'. God is a jealous God. Look at chapter 34 of the same book, Exodus. God has revealed Himself through the Law, the Commandments, as being jealous - but here we see that He reveals Himself to Moses in different ways, and particularly through names. He reveals Himself through His names, and in verse 14 of Exodus 34 God says: 'For you shall worship no other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God'. His actual name is 'Jealous', He's quite happy to be known by this jealousy!
Now, if the idea of God were left up to our imagination - and we know it's not, but imagine that it was us who invented God, and that's the way Richard Dawkins and the atheists talk, that we have invented the idea of God because it helps us out. But imagine just for a moment that we did invent God, I believe that we never would have made Him jealous, never! I certainly wouldn't have! But He is not a made up idea, but God has revealed Himself as the ultimate objective reality, and it is in the public record of who God is - that is, Scripture - God says: 'I am a jealous God, and my name is Jealous'.
Now, how are we to understand this? Well, let's ask two questions: why is He jealous? Well, first of all, He is jealous for the worship of His people because He is alone the True and the Living God, so He therefore has exclusive rights to the worship and service of His own people. In fact, the Old Testament regards God's covenant at Sinai, the Mosaic covenant, as an actual marriage document. Therefore, Israel had to carry out the demand of an unqualified loyalty and devotion, like any partner in marriage. God shows a passionate zeal to protect His love relationship with Israel, and indeed to avenge whenever it is broken. Now, I ask you: is that a bad thing? Would you ladies here who are married not want your husbands to avenge your affections, to be jealous of your love? That is a good thing, and it is a good thing with God.
It's not just a jealousy for the worship of His people, but it is motivated by the well-being of God's people. You see, this is not an inward jealousy, as we have said, that is selfish; but it's an outward jealousy that is selfless. When we talk about God being jealous, we maybe get this impression that He must be a wee bit insecure to be jealous - no, no, no! God knows that we will be insecure without Him, that is why He is jealous of us! He desires an undivided loyalty and love from His people, and He resents any alienation of our affections. He knows that it is not good for us to be taken up with anyone or anything other than Him. You see, His jealousy is not for Him, it's for us!
Another question: what provokes Him to jealousy? We know why He is jealous, but what provokes Him to jealousy? Well, most of the references that we have in the Scriptures to God's jealousy are connected with Israel's idolatry. Take Deuteronomy 32:16, listen: 'They provoked God to jealousy with foreign gods; with abominations they provoked Him to anger'. So here you have God's chosen people, Israel, and they are forsaking the Lord and they're worshipping idols, the idols of the Gentile gods of the Canaanite people. In fact, in Ezekiel chapter 8, we see there that there is an idol actually erected in Jerusalem, and it's worshipped by God's people - and God calls it, listen: 'The image of jealousy, which provoketh to jealousy'. You see, idolatry is spiritual harlotry, spiritual prostitution. Therefore, in Ezekiel 16, God then depicts Israel as His adulterous wife embroiled in unholy liaisons with idols and the idol worshippers of Canaan, Egypt, and Assyria. He pronounces this sentence, listen to it: 'I will judge you as women who break wedlock and shed blood are judged; and bring upon you the blood of wrath and jealousy'.
In many places God's jealousy is seen as 'waxing hot'. Deuteronomy says His jealousy is 'as a consuming fire'. Now we, as evangelicals, we have this wee mechanism in our brains where we sort of say: 'Ah, but that was the way God was in the Old Testament', you know, 'He used to be like that, but He's not like that any more'. Well, think again, because this is not exclusively an Old Testament problem, the jealousy of God - here you have it in James 4. He calls these Christians 'adulterers and adulteresses', and He says that the Holy Spirit is yearning jealously after our human spirits, because they belong to God! He is jealous over us!
Just in case you don't believe me, turn with me to 1 Corinthians 10, look at verse 22, Paul says: 'Do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than He?'. So here the great apostle is saying, implying I think, that the world, the flesh, and the devil - those three enemies of ours - are constantly seeking to divert us as Christians, and the church as a movement, from pure, chaste, devotion and love to Jesus. Now, if you know the context of this chapter, you will know that Paul is addressing actual idolatry in Corinth, actual idols! You might think: 'Well, that couldn't possibly be a problem to Christians today' - really? I believe it is a serious problem, because I believe Christians in our modern era, many, are dabbling in false religion. You might find that staggering, but some are indulging in occult practices - yes, Christians! Sometimes this comes through eastern mysticism or dubious practices of alternative medicine, but some Christians are actually literally bringing idols into their homes. You might think: 'David Legge has really lost the plot now!' - but I know Christians, and it might be some kind of internal decoration, but they have got Buddhas in their homes. Christians with the idol Buddha in their home! I know that for a fact. I'm not saying that in a judgemental or condemnatory way, all I'm saying is: you're in a big problem, because you are provoking the Lord to jealousy. Many Christians can have other ungodly objects in their home. I was reading the other day in my daily devotions an amazing verse from Isaiah 2:6, in the NIV it reads like this, speaking of God's ancient people: 'They are full of superstitions from the East; they practice divination like the Philistines and embrace pagan customs'.
Evangelical Christians can be engaging in idolatry, actual idolatry. But even if you're not engaging in that, we have all been tempted to engage in spiritual idolatry - the worship of money, sex, pleasure, power, and fame. Do you know another form of idolatry that isn't often talked of in church? It is the idolatry of church. I know people, and their church is their idol. They don't worship God directly through the Lord Jesus Christ, they worship God through their church - yes, evangelicals I'm talking about. Some of them worship their denomination, or they have an idol of a particular doctrine or a practice. Now I know I'm stretching things for some of you, perhaps, tonight - but the Scripture is clear, we ought not to be ignorant of Satan's devices, or Satan's schemes. Paul here in 1 Corinthians 10 was warning them about idolatry. Now he does say that an idol of itself is nothing, but look at what he goes on to say, look at verse 19 of 1 Corinthians 10: 'What am I saying then? That an idol is anything, or what is offered to idols is anything?'. We know that idols are false gods, they're not true gods, they're just bits of wood and silver and precious stone. Paul is not saying that these idols are real, but look at what he does say, verse 20: 'Rather, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice they sacrifice to demons and not to God, and I do not want you to have fellowship with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the Lord's table and of the table of demons. Or do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than He?'.
An idol might be nothing in and of itself, but there are demons behind idolatry, that's what Paul is saying! Idolatry is empowered by the demonic, do you know that? That's why it's so serious! That's why God is jealous of us, because if we get taken up with some kind of idol, we're actually giving ourselves over to a demonic power. Now maybe you're not bowing down to pieces of stone or wood, or maybe you haven't engaged in any of these dubious practices that I'm talking about, and maybe you don't feel that there is any particular idol or high place in your heart - but, you know, all of us have some form of idolatry, we have done or we do have. It might simply be a disordered love - remember Jesus said that 'If you don't love Me more than your father and your mother, and your brother and sister, your husband or wife, or your child, you cannot be My disciple' - that's what Jesus said. In other words, 'You're to look passionately at Me as the first and preeminent love'. Now we are all struggling with that one, but what Jesus is really saying is: 'Your human spirit that I have created so that you worship God in spirit and in truth, it must bow down to nothing other than Me!'.
Let me ask you tonight: what is your human spirit bent toward. We are to love our family, and we are to love our friends, and we are to love our church - but well dare we as Christians bow down idolatrously, even to good things, someone, or something, or even the biggest one is often ourselves, where we can worship ourselves. The jealousy of God teaches us that God does not tolerate anything less than exclusive devotion to Him - and it's for our good. I mean, how could we doubt that it's for our good? That's how much God loves you! Don't you go away this evening thinking: 'That was very negative! God is jealous?'. God loves you so passionately - how could you doubt that, when you see Jesus hanging on the cross in our place, taking our punishment - but not only is He willing to send His Son to die for us, He is willing, once He has purchased us by his blood, and we are His children and His people, He is willing to aggressively pursue us and fight for us! That's mighty. He is jealous for us even when we are unfaithful.
Do you remember that prophet, Hosea? I don't think there's any other prophet that I pity so much as Hosea. He was told to marry a prostitute and, even when she continued to have affairs, he was told to go and love her. God's people had adulterated themselves with the nations and the idols that surrounded them, but God still loved them. The poet put it like this:
'The Lord our God is a jealous God, He loves with jealous fire,
Carved images and foreign gods provoke His holy ire;
But His is an unselfish love for those redeemed by blood -
He wants first place in all our hearts, since this is for our good'.
Though He is jealous, here's a mighty thing about our God: He never forces you to give Him devotion. There's the balance: He is jealous over you, but He will never force you. What good is a forced love?
Now, quickly, because my time is well gone: what is our response to be to the jealousy of God? How do we make this practical tonight? Well, our right response to the love of God is to love Him, isn't it? Paul said: 'We love Him, because He first loved us' - so our response to God's love is that we love Him back. But our response to God's jealousy is that we are to be jealous for God - or, as it's translated in other places in English, we are to be zealous for God.
Now, when we talk about the jealousy of God, or the love of God, or the anger of God, we're talking about the attributes of God. Do you know that there are communicable attributes of God and there are incommunicable attributes of God? 'What does that mean?', you say. Well, the incommunicable attributes of God are things that God is that He can't share with other people. Well, He's God for a start, so He can't share that with anybody else; He's Almighty, and so on and so forth. But the communicable attributes of God are the ones that He can share, and by His grace He pours into our lives - and jealousy is one of them. It's shared with us in a zealousness for God.
Let's look at a couple of characters, quickly, who had this. In Numbers 25 we meet a man called Phinehas. You don't need to turn to it, but Israel again provoked the Lord to jealousy with idolatry and with prostitution, literal and spiritual, because the gods of the Canaanites involved fertility rites and all the rest, Baal and Asherah. So there was not only immorality, there was idolatry - and by the way, idolatry and immorality always go together. God was provoked, and Moses, the man of God, sentenced the offenders to death, and the people were all distraught at their sin, and they were in tears. As J.I. Packer puts it, this is what happened: 'A man chose that moment to swagger up with a Midianite party girl on his arm, and Phinehas, almost beside himself with despair, speared both of them through'. God commended Phinehas as having being 'jealous for his God'. Now, I know we don't behave that way today - but God commended Phinehas as being jealous for his God, listen to what God said: 'jealous with My jealousy... so that I consumed not the children of Israel in My jealousy'. You see, by Phinehas' act, he actually turned away God's wrath and God's jealousy from destroying the whole people.
Now the greatest, of course, revelation of God Almighty is our Lord Jesus Christ. He is the express image of God's Person, He is the Word of God. In other words, He communicates - like words communicate our thoughts and our feelings - Jesus communicates the personality, the heart of God. Do you know that Jesus is jealous? I don't have time to go into all of this, but you remember He cleansed the Temple of the moneychangers. There were two incidents of that, one at the beginning of His ministry and one at the end, and I believe it was significant to speak of the idolatry of Israel and Judah. The first time, I think it was the first time, He went out and he looked around - I think it's Mark's gospel says He looked around to see what they were doing, buying and selling in the house of God. Then He went home and He spent the night, and do you know what He was doing? He was braiding a plaited whip. This was not explosive anger that Jesus was expressing, this was premeditated, He was completely in control - and you know what happened the next day. He went into the Temple precincts and He drove them out, He whipped them, He lifted the tables of the moneychangers and threw them. This is Jesus Christ, gentle Jesus, meek and mild. Now He was gentle, because He didn't whip the birds, He let the birds fly; and I'm not sure that He whipped the people, He probably whipped the oxen. Nevertheless, we see His jealousy for God. You say: 'How is it jealousy for God?'. Well, listen to how the disciples reacted towards this, as they saw this it says in John 2:17: 'His disciples remembered that it was written, 'The zeal of Thine house has eaten Me up'' - the jealousy of Jesus for God.
Paul, the great apostle, we see this in His life as well. In Philippians 3, listen to what he says: 'Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus'. He was filled with zeal, he was a man of one thing, and he allowed everything to go as an expense to the prize of winning Christ.
Now I can almost hear, maybe not hear, but a lot of people saying: 'Oh, be careful, be careful, you don't want to get fanatical!'. This could breed fanaticism, but I think there's little danger of that in the 21st-century in Northern Ireland - fanaticism for Jesus. We could do with a wee bit more of it! I'll tell you this much: I would rather calm down a fanatic as try to resurrect a corpse - and that, I believe, is where, largely, the Western church is tonight. Why is it that there is so little zeal, jealousy for God? Jesus told us, you know the parable of the sower. Remember that the seed was sown, the word of God sown among thorns, and Jesus interpreted it like this: 'They are the ones who hear the word, and the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desire for other things', or the love of other things, 'entering in chokes the word, and it becomes unfruitful' - that's idolatry, where love of other things, bowing down to other things or other people, robs us of the effectiveness of God's word and His life in us.
I don't believe I'm being pessimistic to say that zeal in the church is almost extinct in the West. Would anybody agree with that? Jesus, right at the very beginning of the church, wrote seven letters in the book of Revelation. Even then zeal was beginning to die in His church. You remember He said to the church at Ephesus: 'You have left your first love'. They had started to love other things, and if you read about that church you will find out that they were very commendable in many ways, doctrinally sound and all the rest, but they left their first love. Then He comes to the church at Laodicea - which I think is most like our Western 21st-century church - and you remember that they were rich, they were increased in material goods, they had great gifts and abilities, and their motto was: 'We have need of nothing! We have arrived!'. Jesus, the Son of God said to them: 'You're neither cold nor hot, and I wish that you were either cold or hot' - now, you think about that for a moment. What Jesus was saying here is: 'I'd rather you were stone cold, than you were lukewarm'. I would never preach that, but Jesus did. 'I would rather you were one or the other' - He likes extremes. He likes extreme hot, or extreme cold, but He detests the middle ground - anything is better than apathy, Jesus is saying. He says: 'Because you're neither cold nor hot, I will spew you, I will vomit you out of My mouth'. Lukewarmness, tepidness, makes Jesus sick.
What's the remedy? Do you know what He told Laodicea? Listen: 'Be zealous and repent'. Now, I'm almost finished, but you can't just switch it on like a light switch, zealousness or jealousy. You've got to get rid of the idols. William Cowper once wrote in that brilliant hymn, 'O For A Closer Walk With God', do you remember?
'The dearest idol I have known,
Whate'er that idol be
Help me to tear it from Thy throne,
And worship only Thee'.
You see, Israel was filled, Judah was filled with high places - they were shrines were there were those idols, and they worshipped those idols in sexual immorality. Whenever the great Kings and the prophets came in to purge the land for revival, they had to pull down the high places, they had to destroy the idols. Paul talks about pulling down every high thing in our minds - there are strongholds in our minds you know, there are high places in our hearts that are rivalling for God's worship and God's attention. Paul says we need to pull them down, and take every thought captive to the obedience of Jesus Christ. Will you do that tonight? Will you tear down the high place, whatever that is, whatever the idol is? A more modern chorus by Andre Kempen puts it like this, I love this one:
'I will lift my hands
To the coming King' - do you know that one?
'To the great I AM,
To You I sing,
For You're the One
Who reigns within my heart'.
This is what the chorus says:
'And I will serve no foreign god' - I will serve no foreign god!
'Nor any other treasure.
You are my heart's desire,
The Spirit without measure,
Unto Your name
I will bring my sacrifice'.
God is a jealous God. He is jealous over Israel, His wife. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is jealous over the Church, His bride - and He's jealous over your spirit tonight. He wants all of you, because He loved you and He paid for you - you are not your own! God bless His word to all our hearts.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at Portadown Baptist Church, N. Ireland, by David Legge. It was transcribed from the recording titled "The Jealousy Of God" - Transcribed by Preach The Word.
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