Should Christians Be Jealous?
JEALOUSY—is it a quality that Christians should cultivate? As Christians, we are encouraged to “pursue love,” and we are told that “love is not jealous.” (1 Corinthians 13:4; 14:1) On the other hand, we are also told that “Jehovah . . . is a jealous God” and are commanded to “become imitators of God.” (Exodus 34:14; Ephesians 5:1) Why the seeming contradiction?
It is because the Hebrew and Greek words translated “jealousy” in the Bible carry a wide range of meanings. They can have either a positive or a negative connotation, depending on how the words are used. For instance, the Hebrew word translated “jealousy” can mean “insistence on exclusive devotion; toleration of no rivalry; zeal; ardor; jealousy [righteous or sinful]; envying.” The corresponding Greek word has a similar meaning. These words can refer to a warped, distorted emotion toward a suspected rival or one believed to be enjoying an advantage. (Proverbs 14:30) They can also refer to a positive expression of a God-given quality—wanting to protect a loved one from harm.—2 Corinthians 11:2.
The Superlative Example
Jehovah sets the superlative example in exercising proper jealousy. His motives are pure and clean, prompted by the desire to keep his people from spiritual and moral corruption. Of his ancient people, figuratively spoken of as Zion, he said: “I will be jealous for Zion with great jealousy, and with great rage I will be jealous for her.” (Zechariah 8:2) Just as a loving father is ever alert to protect his children from harm, Jehovah is alert to protect his servants from physical and spiritual danger.
To safeguard his people, Jehovah provided his Word, the Bible. It contains much encouragement for them to walk wisely, and it is rich in examples of those who did. At Isaiah 48:17, we read: “I, Jehovah, am your God, the One teaching you to benefit yourself, the One causing you to tread in the way in which you should walk.” How comforting it is to know that his jealousy moves him to care for and to watch over us! If he were not jealous in this good way, we would suffer all kinds of harm because of our inexperience. Jehovah’s expressions of jealousy are in no way selfish.
So, then, what makes the difference between godly jealousy and improper jealousy? To find out, let us consider the example of Miriam and that of Phinehas. Notice what moved them.
Miriam and Phinehas
Miriam was the older sister of Moses and Aaron, the leaders of the Israelites during the Exodus. While the Israelites were in the wilderness, Miriam became jealous of her brother Moses. The Bible record reads: “Now Miriam and Aaron began to speak against Moses on account of the Cushite wife whom he had taken . . . And they kept saying: ‘Is it just by Moses alone that Jehovah has spoken? Is it not by us also that he has spoken?’” Apparently, Miriam took the lead in this move against Moses, for Jehovah disciplined Miriam, not Aaron, with a week-long case of leprosy for her disrespectful conduct.—Numbers 12:1-15.
What prompted Miriam to act against Moses? Was it concern for true worship and a desire to protect fellow Israelites from harm? Evidently not. It appears that Miriam had allowed an improper desire for more prestige and authority to well up in her heart. As a prophetess in Israel, she enjoyed great respect from the people, particularly the women. She led them in music and song after Israel’s miraculous salvation at the Red Sea. Now, though, Miriam might have become unduly concerned about losing some of her prominence to a suspected rival, the wife of Moses. Moved by selfish jealousy, she stirred up contention against Moses, the one appointed by Jehovah.—Exodus 15:1, 20, 21.
Phinehas, on the other hand, had a different motive for his actions. Shortly before entering the Promised Land, when Israel was encamped on the Plains of Moab, Moabite and Midianite women lured many Israelite males into immorality and idolatry. To cleanse the camp and turn back Jehovah’s burning anger, the judges of Israel were instructed to kill all the men who had thus deflected. For immoral purposes, the Simeonite chieftain Zimri brazenly brought the Midianite woman Cozbi into the camp “before the eyes of all the assembly of the sons of Israel.” Phinehas acted decisively. Impelled by feelings of jealousy, or zeal, for Jehovah’s worship and a desire to maintain the moral purity of the camp, he executed the fornicators in their tent. He was commended for his “jealous anger,” “tolerating no rivalry at all” toward Jehovah. Phinehas’ prompt action stopped the punishing scourge that had already claimed the lives of 24,000, and Jehovah rewarded him with a covenant for the priesthood to remain in his line to time indefinite.—Numbers 25:4-13; The New English Bible.
What was the difference between these two expressions of jealousy? Miriam acted against her brother out of selfish jealousy, while Phinehas executed justice based on godly jealousy. There are times when we, like Phinehas, should feel compelled to speak up or to take some action in defense of Jehovah’s name, his worship, and his people.
Is it possible, though, to hold feelings of misplaced or misguided jealousy? Yes, it is. This was the general case with the Jews in the first century. They jealously guarded the God-given Law and their traditions. In their efforts to protect the Law, they formed innumerable detailed regulations and restrictions that became a heavy burden on the people. (Matthew 23:4) Unable or unwilling to recognize that God had now replaced the Mosaic Law with the reality that it had foreshadowed, their jealousy wrongly moved them to vent uncontrolled rage at the followers of Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul, who himself was once jealously loyal to the Law in a misguided sense, pointed out that people who were defending the Law had “a zeal [jealousy] for God; but not according to accurate knowledge.”—Romans 10:2; Galatians 1:14.
Even many of the Jews who became Christians had a hard time ridding themselves of this inordinate zeal for the Law. After his third missionary tour, Paul gave a report to the first-century governing body on the conversion of the nations. At that time, thousands of Christian Jews were “all zealous for the Law.” (Acts 21:20) This was years after the governing body had ruled that the Gentile Christians did not have to be circumcised. Issues related to observing the Law had been causing strife in the congregation. (Acts 15:1, 2, 28, 29; Galatians 4:9, 10; 5:7-12) Lacking full understanding of how Jehovah now dealt with his people, some Jewish Christians insisted on their own viewpoints, criticizing others.—Colossians 2:17; Hebrews 10:1.
We, then, must avoid the snare of jealously trying to protect our own cherished ideas or ways that are not solidly based on God’s Word. We do well to accept the fresh light shed on the Word of God through the channel that Jehovah is using today.
Be Jealous for Jehovah
Godly jealousy, however, has its place in true worship. When we tend to be unduly concerned with our own reputation or rights, godly jealousy turns our attention to Jehovah. It moves us to seek out avenues to declare the truth about him, defending his ways and his people.
Akiko, a full-time minister of Jehovah’s Witnesses, was sternly rebuffed by a householder who had misconceptions about God’s law on blood. Akiko tactfully defended God’s Word, even mentioning the medical complications and problems associated with blood transfusions. Moved by an ardent desire to talk about Jehovah, she turned the conversation to what she discerned was the real basis for the woman’s objections—her lack of belief in the existence of a Creator. Akiko reasoned with the householder on how creation supported belief in a Creator. Her bold defense led not only to the removing of unfounded prejudices but also to a home Bible study with the woman. Today the formerly irate householder is a praiser of Jehovah.
Proper jealousy, or zeal, for true worship compels us to be alert and to seize opportunities to talk about and defend our faith at work, in school, at the store, and while traveling. Midori, for example, makes it a point to speak about her faith to her workmates. One colleague who was in her 40’s said that she wanted nothing to do with Jehovah’s Witnesses. Later, during another conversation, the woman complained of her daughter’s developing a personality problem. Midori showed her the book Questions Young People Ask—Answers That Work,a and she offered to arrange a study in the book with the daughter. A study was started, but the mother did not sit in on the discussion. Midori decided to show the woman the video Jehovah’s Witnesses—The Organization Behind the Name.b This cleared up many of her misimpressions. Moved by what she saw, she said: “I want to be like Jehovah’s Witnesses.” She joined her daughter in studying the Bible.
Proper jealousy has its place in the Christian congregation too. It fosters a warm spirit of love and concern and moves us to resist disruptive influences that would harm our spiritual brothers, such as damaging gossip and apostate thinking. Godly jealousy moves us to support the decisions of the elders, who on occasion find it necessary to reprove wrongdoers. (1 Corinthians 5:11-13; 1 Timothy 5:20) Writing about his jealous feelings for fellow believers in the Corinthian congregation, Paul said: “I am jealous over you with a godly jealousy, for I personally promised you in marriage to one husband that I might present you as a chaste virgin to the Christ.” (2 Corinthians 11:2) So, too, our jealousy moves us to do all we can to protect the doctrinal, spiritual, and moral purity of all in the congregation.
Yes, properly motivated jealousy—godly jealousy—has a wholesome influence on others. It elicits Jehovah’s approval and should be one of the qualities observed in Christians today.—John 2:17.
a Published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.
b Published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.
[Pictures on page 29]
Phinehas’ actions were based on godly jealousy
[Pictures on page 30]
Avoid the snare of misguided jealousy
[Pictures on page 31]
Godly jealousy moves us to share our faith and cherish our brotherhood