One emotion we don’t normally associate with God is jealousy. Yet, the Bible clearly describes him in this way (see Exodus 20:3,5 and James 4:5). In fact, many people have found this idea offensive, even disturbing. Brad Pitt was raised a conservative Southern Baptist, but in a 2007 interview in Parade, explained why he walked away: “I didn’t understand this idea of a God who says, ‘You have to acknowledge me. You have to say that I’m the best, and then I’ll give you eternal happiness. If you won’t, then you don't get it!’ It seemed to be about ego. I can’t see God operating from ego, so it made no sense to me.”
So, what is the answer to this so-called problem of God’s jealousy? If it is true that God is the Supreme Being by whom all things were created, who sustains all life, who is of infinite worth, and who gives meaning and purpose to life, then his demand to be acknowledged and worshiped makes complete sense. If the Lord alone is worthy of our supreme love, then as his creatures, we find our ultimate joy and meaning in knowing him and giving him the glory due to his name. (Psalm 29:2) In other words, there is no conflict between God’s demand of you and your happiness. In fact, it is loving for God to demand that we love him since he knows it is the only thing that provides true fulfillment.
It is loving for God to demand that we love him since he knows it is the only thing that provides true fulfillment.
The more we perceive God’s infinite worth, beauty, and holiness, the more apt we are to order our lives towards him and away from the world. James 4:5 is a very difficult verse to interpret, but conservative scholars say it is referring to God’s divine jealousy. One theologian says James is giving us a “reminder of God’s desire that his people be wholly and unreservedly his and provides a beautifully appropriate substantiation of the warning against any flirtation with the attitudes and the values of the world in verse 4.” (Douglas Moo, The Letter of James) The Apostle Paul tells us in Ephesians, “And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live.” (Ephesians 4:30)
Now there are many ways one might grieve the Spirit, but here are at least three that stand out in the Scripture.
1. Resisting His Leading
The Word of God says, “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” (Romans 8:14) Spiritual maturity is reflected by our obedience to follow the prompting of the Spirit in our daily lives. I know there have been times when I have failed to follow the Spirit’s leading and felt his disapproval for my disobedience. Was it his jealousy I sensed?
Truth told, the reason we often grieve the Spirit is because we choose our will over his. He may lead us to share our faith, or reach out to someone in need, to seek reconciliation, or to apologize to someone. Yet, because of our fear, or pride, we choose our way over his.
2. Neglecting His Gifts
Imagine how you feel if you gave your wife an expensive gift which she set aside, never used, and for which no gratitude was ever expressed? There are about 19 spiritual gifts mentioned in the New Testament. I am not sure whether the lists are exhaustive, but I am sure that many fail to use their gifts in ministry within the local church.
Every believer has been given a spiritual gift. This is an ability endowed upon us by the Spirit in order to edify the body of Christ. What is your spiritual gift? Is it encouragement? Perhaps administration? Maybe it’s showing mercy, giving, or teaching? You will discover your gift best by serving within your local church, since these abilities tend to emerge through involvement at church.
3. Loving the World
It’s been said that God’s jealousy is his zeal to protect the relationship with his people. How would you respond to see your wife flirting with another man? In James 4:5, the Spirit’s jealousy is provoked by what James labels as spiritual adultery. It may be a difficult pill to swallow, but whenever we value worldly pleasures and possessions more than we value our relationship with Jesus, we are, according to James, spiritual adulterers. Jesus said, “No man can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” (Matthew 6:24) John said, “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (1 John 2:15)
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We do well to examine our hearts on these issues. Do we faithfully follow the Lord’s leading in our daily lives? Do we confess and forsake our sin when he brings conviction to our hearts? Are we neglecting his gifts by not serving the body of Christ? And do worldly pleasures and possession have our first affection? Your answers will determine whether or not you’re grieving the Spirit and provoking his jealousy.