Jealousy is generally considered to be a bad thing. We relate it to envy and covetousness. But I’m coming to see that jealousy is sometimes an appropriate response. I’m realizing that I would be better off if I had some proper jealousy. I have been pondering the idea of jealousy since I wrote about Elijah, and how God sustained him, in God Is In The Details. In 1 Kings 19, God twice asked the prophet, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Elijah’s response was the same both times. He began with the statement, “I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts.” I started thinking about what it meant to be jealous for God. Clearly, Elijah was claiming it as a positive thing that he has done, being “very jealous for the LORD,” and he went on to contrast it with the sin that the people of Israel had committed.
As a lover of words and etymology, it occurred to me that there must be a link between jealousy and zeal. A quick check in the dictionary confirmed that they are from the same Latin root. I think we tend to look at the word zeal and think of a passion and love, but jealousy brings to mind negative feelings like hatred. When you think of jealousy as an offspring zeal, it frames it in a new way. Elijah had been jealous for God by trying to lead the people of Israel back to the LORD, and by destroying those who followed the idol Baal. At first, I thought maybe I needed to be jealous for God by trying to lead other people toward Him and away from any forms of idolatry. But, I was deflecting the truth of it away from myself.
So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Christ Jesus our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.
If you have been following my blog, you know that I have been struggling over the past month or so to “take every thought captive to obey Christ.” The problem seemed to crop up out of nowhere. I’ve come to realize that the sin has been there all along, but the Holy Spirit has chosen this time to go to battle with it. After more than a month of ruminating on Elijah’s jealousy for the LORD, it finally hit me: I need to be jealous for God when it comes to my own mind and heart.
When I look in my heart, there is no jealousy for God’s place there. I know that He loves me more than anyone else. I repay His everlasting, faithful love with a lukewarm, going-through-the-motions kind of love. My head is often turned by worthless things. I can hardly keep my heart true to Him for a full minute! I thought about what the Apostle Paul wrote, “For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” (Romans 7:15) So, I spent some time in Romans 7 and 8, seeking wisdom and encouragement.
I received some much needed reminders from this passage of Scripture. First, I’m not alone in my struggle. Even the apostles struggled with sin. Secondly, Paul’s writing about the law and sin reminded me that “the law is holy” and that its purpose is “in order that sin might be shown to be sin.” (Romans 7:12,13) This encourages me that my struggle is actually because of a desire to meet God’s righteous requirement. It is good that I recognize my sin and realize that I can never attain God’s holy standard. This is why Paul turned the focus back to Christ at the end of chapter 7. He reminds us that through Christ, we are not condemned and we are no longer slaves to sin.
How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments!
I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.
I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways.
I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word.
Psalms 119:9-11, 15-16
I am free, yet I still want to be holy. I cannot earn my salvation, but I seek to please the One who paid the price to free me. Paul wrote, “For I delight in the law of God in my inner being. . .” I want to be able to honestly say that I delight in God’s righteous precepts. It reminds me of Psalm 119:11, “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” I think I have a tendency to focus on the first part of the verse. I emphasize the storing and forget the purpose behind it.
God’s Word in our “inner being” helps guard us from sin. If I remember the purpose for hiding (NIV) God’s Word in my heart, perhaps it would help me to be more faithful. Perhaps I would find a renewed and strengthened zeal for Scripture that would lead to a jealous streak in my heart. So, “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13b-14)