Last time, we looked at the God-centeredness of God. “God, with all of his heart and soul and mind and strength, loves God.” Pastor John, you said this back in 1992. “God delights in his glory. He rejoices in his magnificence. He is not an idolater. He always has himself at the center of his infinitely worshiping heart.” That was APJ 1901, in a sermon clip I shared on Wednesday.
The God-centeredness of God provides the foundation for us to understand why our salvation hinges on the life and work and blood of Christ. It’s essential. But on the flip side, this God-centeredness of God is one reason why many others reject Christ. They simply cannot stomach the idea of a jealous God. Well, he is jealous — so jealous that his name is Jealous (capital “J,” Exodus 34:14). God reserves for himself the right to our exclusive worship. For believers, that’s the greatest calling in the universe. But for others, this is sheer folly. And that includes Oprah Winfrey, one prominent rejector of God’s jealousy. For many people, divine jealousy seems defective. It seems immature. How can a great and all-sufficient God be jealous? Doesn’t this make it sound like he’s an insecure tyrant, complaining about losing his grip on his lover?
So, Pastor John, I know you’ve been giving this theme some fresh though lately. Help us understand what the Bible means by God’s jealousy. And why should this truth bring us into worship rather than repel us away from God?
You mentioned Oprah Winfrey. It might be helpful to start there. You can go to YouTube and listen to her explain why she left traditional Christianity. She described being in a church service where the preacher was talking about the attributes of God — his omnipotence, omnipresence — and here’s what she said. I wrote it down.
Then he said, “The Lord thy God is a jealous God.” I was caught up in the rapture of the moment until he said “jealous,” and something struck me. I was 27 or 28, and I was thinking, “God is all. God is omnipresent. God is also . . . jealous? A jealous God? Jealous of me?” And something about that didn’t feel right in my spirit because I believe that God is love and that God is in all things.
Now, why did she stumble over the jealousy of God? She doesn’t say exactly why, but many have said that they are uncomfortable with the idea that God demands our affections, our allegiance, our love — and if we don’t give them, he’s going to punish us because he’s jealous. They don’t like the idea of God commanding that our hearts belong to him and being angry if we give our hearts to another.
God Is Jealous
Now it’s true. It’s just plain, straight-up, on-the-face-of-it true that God commands our affections, that they be entirely his. Jesus said that the first and great commandment is to love the Lord your God. “You shall [it’s a command] love the Lord your God with all your heart (Matthew 22:37). All of it. “With all your heart,” God demands that we love him. “Don’t give any of your affections that belong to God to anyone else,” he’s saying. Or the way the Old Testament put it in Exodus 34:14: “You shall worship” — that is, treasure, reverence, admire, esteem, praise, love, delight in — “no other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.”
In other words, God demands that you and I and Oprah Winfrey give him all our worship, all our allegiance, all our affection. Nothing is to be loved more. Jesus said, “Whoever loves father or mother . . . [or] son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37). So Jesus is demanding all of our supreme affections and allegiance for himself. If we give any of our worship to another, God is jealous, because it belongs to him. And if we don’t repent, he will break forth in wrath. “For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God” (Deuteronomy 4:24).
“God is the greatest good in the universe, and he is the greatest joy, and he is the all-satisfying pleasure.”
Now, why do sinners — that’s all of us, unless the Lord breaks our hearts and causes us to be born again — bristle at this? People don’t want to be told where to find their greatest pleasure. We want to be autonomous, self-determining people. We want to decide for ourselves, like Adam and Eve before the tree, what is good and evil, beautiful and ugly, satisfying and unsatisfying. And our sinful hearts recoil at the thought that anyone, including God, would demand that we find our satisfaction in him.
Sin does not like that for at least two reasons. First, we don’t like being told what to do — period. And the second reason is that sin does not find its greatest pleasure in God. So we don’t want to be told what to do, and we certainly can’t be told to find our greatest pleasure in God because we don’t have our greatest pleasure in God. That’s the very meaning of sin. And so, the way we justify our resistance, both to God’s authority and to our finding all satisfaction in him, is by finding fault with his jealousy.
Jealous for His Bride
But suppose — here’s my alternative view that I hope people can embrace, by God’s grace — that God does have a right to tell us what to do because he made us, he owns us, and he’s the only person in the universe who knows everything, and is infinitely wise and infinitely good, and knows what’s best for us. And suppose he is the greatest good in the universe, and he is the greatest joy, and he is the all-satisfying pleasure. Suppose we are utterly and totally dependent on him for our greatest and most lasting happiness. Suppose all that’s true — which it is. Then how would we think about God’s jealousy?
Maybe we would think biblically like this. God looked at fallen, sinful, rebellious humanity, and in his immeasurable grace, he decided to call out a people for his own possession. And the way he would relate to these people is as a loving husband to a beautiful wife. She would find her joy in his greatness and wisdom and strength and love and care and protection, and he would rejoice over her and protect her and provide everything for her that she needs to find her fullest joy in his presence.
So that’s what he did; that’s what God did. In the Old Testament, it’s described like this in Hosea 2:19–20. This is God talking to his people: “I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you will know the Lord.”
Here it is again in Isaiah 62:4: “You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate, but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the Lord delights in you, and your land shall be married.”
And then in the New Testament, the church — God’s people, God’s chosen people, his own special possession — is described as Christ’s bride, his wife. “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her . . . so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:25, 27). In other words, Christ aims to have a beautiful wife, and he died for this.
“Christ aims to have a beautiful wife, and he died for this.”
And Paul himself, he thought of his apostolic ministry as an apostolic Cupid, so to speak, bringing people into this relationship with Jesus. Isn’t that what he said in 2 Corinthians 11:2? “I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ.” That’s Cupid. That’s glorious, divine, apostolic work.
What happens, then, if the church, the bride, starts drifting into a love affair with the world? What happens? And here’s the way James describes that happening: “You adulteresses!” Now, that’s very significant, because not all the translations get the fact that it’s a feminine word. It’s not “adulterers”; it’s not “adulterous generation”; it’s “adulteresses” because it’s treating the church as the wife of God. “You adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world” — in other words, a love affair, a paramour affair with the world — “is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend [a lover, a paramour] of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” He turns God into a cuckold. “Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, ‘He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us’?” (James 4:4–5).
Jealous for Our Joy
So here’s the bottom line: the jealousy of God is the measure of his zeal for our happiness in him. His anger at our spiritual adultery, at our having other lovers besides him, is a reflex both of his zeal for his own worth, but also of his zeal for our joy. If we turn away from him as the greatest treasure, we turn away from our own greatest pleasure.
In Jesus Christ, God offers himself to all, to all as a great Savior, a great treasure, an all-satisfying pleasure. “In your presence there is fullness of joy, at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11). And his jealousy is a massive emotional thunderclap that says, “I mean it: I’m your Savior. I’m your treasure. I’m your pleasure. I really mean it. Don’t turn away.”