Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise: Living Ethically in the Light of the Bible
John 20:10-18; Revelation 18:11-24; Zechariah 1-2; Nahum 1-3
Living ethically in the light of the Bible has to do with godly character formation. We are to follow the example of Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1) and have the same attitudes that Jesus did (Philippians 2:5). This makes sense when we think of God’s love, his concern for the poor, and many other attributes. But what do we do with a passage like Nahum 1? Imitating a jealous and avenging God, one filled with wrath, raises ethical problems. Some have been vengeful in the name of God and committed atrocities that hold many back from God.
Jealousy today is seen primarily as a negative emotion: an inappropriate desire to have things, talents or opportunities that others have. It can lead to bitterness or conflict. This negative sense of jealousy is seen in the Bible, but so also is an appropriate form of jealousy. The root idea behind the biblical term is the rising hotness as we get passionate over something we care deeply about. The Hebrew and Greek words for jealousy can also be translated as zeal. They refer to an intense emotional reaction that can be positive or negative. Thus, Paul says he is jealous with a godly jealousy (2 Corinthians 11:2), suggesting that there are godly and ungodly forms of jealousy. The key is distinguishing between the two.
God’s jealousy is often mentioned in connection with people pursuing other gods (Exodus 20:4-5). In Nahum, God’s jealousy is aroused because the inhabitants of Nineveh were worshiping other gods and idols (Nahum 1:14). This is not the emotional tantrum of a spoiled child not getting his way. Neither is it the jealous rage of an insecure teenager who doesn’t like his girlfriend talking to others. The God of Israel is the one true God, and is completely justified in being passionate that people worship him alone.
We get a glimpse of this appropriate jealousy between spouses. If a husband hears of another man pursuing his wife, or a wife that another woman is pursuing her husband, they are justified in being jealous. We would expect them to passionately defend the exclusive nature of their marriage relationship. If they did not fervently protect their marriage from outsiders, we would wonder about the depth of their commitment to their relationship. In the same way, God’s jealousy for his people demonstrates his commitment to us and what is best for our relationship.
Just as God is jealously committed to us, we should be jealous in our commitment to others. The Corinthians had devoted themselves to Christ, and Paul promised to help them in their commitment (2 Corinthians 11:2). His godly jealousy depicts the zeal and fervour he has to help them follow Christ. Uniting God’s jealousy and Paul’s godly jealousy is a commitment to our good. God is good and cares for those who trust him (Nahum 1:7). Following him is what is best for us; his ways are the best ways; his wisdom is right. Because of that, God jealously desires for us to follow him, and we should be jealous (i.e. zealous) to help others follow God. Paul did this by helping people discern truth (2 Corinthians 11:3-4), while Epaphras did so through fervent prayer (Colossians 4:13). Godly jealousy is about commitment to godly character formation. As God is passionate about that, we should be too.