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I’m Jealous


It’s a shameful thing! Right?

Not something a minister would ever admit to publicly, nor need to?


This morning I spoke with a minister who feels like he is running out of steam. He loves the Lord, but he is unsure if he has the energy to lead his church into the next stage. He once served the Lord enthusiastically; now he serves conscientiously but without passion.

When asked who feeds and encourages him as he leads his flock, his responses, sadly, did not surprise me. He has tried to find a mentor, but none of the more experienced leaders he approached seemed to have time to meet with him. He has attended a clergy fellowship in his area, but found people comparing statistics and competing for prominence.

In my work with Living Leadership, this is too familiar a story. We must be honest. Boastfulness and rivalry beset Christian ministry. And a major driving force is jealousy of other ministers and their ministries.

We should not be surprised. It was ever thus. The apostle Paul was aware of people who ‘preach[ed] Christ out of envy and rivalry’ (Phil 1.15). James warned about the destructive potential of ‘wisdom’ that is ‘earthly, unspiritual, demonic’, revealed in attitudes of ‘bitter envy and selfish ambition’ (Jas 3.14-16).

But there is another story.

Many more ministers I meet are sincere servants of Christ. They know they are flawed but they are seeking to learn from their Lord. They seek to walk beneath his ‘easy yoke’, to be people who are ‘gentle and lowly of heart’ (Matt 11.28). They are committed to serving in the ‘wisdom that comes from heaven’, which, ‘is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere’ (Jas 3.17).

Still, even amidst the best intentions, jealousy can rear its ugly head.

Few ministers would openly confess to their churches, ‘I’m jealous’, but jealousy is a basic human instinct.

And jealousy is not all bad.

Yes, you read me correctly, it is not always wrong to be jealous.


The apostle Paul once wrote, ‘I am jealous’ (1 Cor 11.2).

This is no confession of a sinful attitude. He proceeds to call what he is experiencing ‘a godly jealousy’. To translate it more literally, he says he is ‘jealous with the jealousy of God’. Or, as the ESV puts it, ‘with a divine jealousy’.

When God revealed himself to Israel, he described himself as jealous (Exod 20.5; Deut 4.24). This is the pure and appropriate jealousy of a lover for his beloved. God wants his people to worship only him. He deeply desires their love and devotion. He wants them to reciprocate the commitment he has made to them. So deep is God’s passion for his people that he even says one of his names is ‘Jealous’! (Exod 34.14)


As Paul writes to the Corinthians, his heart is attuned to the heart of God. He feels what God feels for the Corinthians. God is jealous for them. Paul is jealous for them too.

That little word ‘for’ is important. Paul does not say he is jealous of them. Jealousy of someone is never healthy. Paul does not envy their situation or qualities. He longs for their affection. But here is the important point. Paul is not jealous in the sense of desiring their attention and devotion for himself. He is not a possessive pastor or a megalomaniacal minister. The only relationship in which we should be jealous for the exclusive affection of another person is marriage. And even then, we must be very careful to avoid the dark side of such jealousy. We should never be controlling and possessive, traits that are destructive and damaging.

Paul is very clear about the kind of jealousy he seeks in the Corinthians.

For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.

2 Cor 11.2

Paul doesn’t want to be the bride. He is quite content to be the matchmaker, who introduces these believers to the lover of their souls. In our modern Western marriage customs, we might imagine him playing the part of the father of the bride, walking the Corinthian church down the aisle to pass her hand into that of her husband-to-be. (Even though that image might seem a little strange, I’m sure you get my drift.)


Jealousy has a part in marital devotion because two people have made a covenant before God to become one flesh (Gen 2.24). God ordained human marriage as a lived ‘parable’ of his eternal love for his people. The image of Israel as the bride of God (Jer 31.31ff., Isa 54.5) lies behind his jealousy for her affections. This image continues into the New Testament, when the apostle Paul describes the Church as the bride of Christ (Eph 5.22-23).

Having said that, earthly marriage doesn’t represent our human attempts to capture something about God. Rather, the marriage of God to his people is the substance—the eternal reality—and human marriage is the image, the shadow of this greater, heavenly reality. The culmination of history will be the union of the victorious Lamb of God with his people (Rev 19.6-9). All believers, from both Old and New Testaments, will be united as one holy city (Rev 21.9ff.)

The apostle Paul explains that God is not yet married to his people; instead, they are betrothed to him in anticipation of the eschatological marriage. I have often thought that we would do well to think of ministry in terms of this Pauline image. Evangelism is matchmaking. Disciple-making is wedding preparation. Church services are wedding rehearsals. For now, we are betrothed to Christ. Only when he comes for his own will we be united with him as the bride of Christ.

Paul understood this, and he was jealous with the jealousy of God for the Corinthians to keep their devotion to Jesus. Nothing should displace their love for him. They must not follow some other ‘Jesus’, some other spirit, some other gospel.

So, let me ask you, minister, are you jealous in the right way?

Do you share the heart of God to see his people love and serve him alone?

This godly jealousy is the antidote to ungodly jealousy. When we are jealous for people to love and serve Christ, there is no room for us to be jealous of others. Godly jealousy may, of course, cause us to be wary of other ministries and ministers. We cannot feel good about them if they are preaching a false gospel or leading people into devotion to mere human leaders, like the ‘super apostles’ in Corinth.

That said, godly jealousy will never lead us to look down upon, envy, or put down a sincere servant of Christ. It will never drive a wedge between you and other true servants of the Lord. Rather, your shared devotion to him should draw you closer as you encourage each other by his grace.

We can cultivate godly jealousy if we keep our devotion to Christ. Three thoughts about what that means:

  • It means delighting in the love of the Lord of the Church for us more than we crave the affection of those we lead.

  • It means loving the Lord of the Church more than we love our visions for our churches.

  • It means learning from the Lord of the Church how to love the precious people he died for more than we love our own reputations.

That’s godly jealousy.

Jealousy for the glory of Christ and the devotion of his people to him.


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