The Apostle Paul was used of God to help the Corinthians believe in Christ, and also to unite with Him to become one as a husband and wife are one (see Ephesians 5:23-25). He was the messenger of God who had “espoused them to one husband” when he led them to Christ. This was when they were promised in marriage to Jesus. Paul said to them “I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:2-3). He desired to present them as a spotless virgin to her husband, undivided in her love for Him. And in their worship of Jesus, he wanted them to be faithful, pure and without stain. He did not want their hearts or minds diverted from Christ in any form by teachers of self-righteousness and law who were false.
One meaning of “jealousy” is “to be inflamed.” The kind of jealousy that God has is a warm affection that can’t stand to see the one it loves tempted or misled by someone else. Paul was jealous on behalf of God for the Corinthians believers. He loved this church and had a deep longing for her eternal good. He couldn’t stand the thought that she might be led astray and corrupted by the ones trying to deceive her. It is the primary goal of Satan, our adversary, to corrupt the minds of believers and lead their hearts away from undivided, simple faith in and love for Christ.
The bride of Christ is the Church—those who have been saved. Paul preached the gospel of grace and the Corinthian believers accepted it. He had a jealous longing to present them to their heavenly Bridegroom. He acted as their spiritual father, and told them that he was jealous for them like a father is for his daughter. He had ‘arranged their marriage’ to Jesus, and he wanted to be absolutely sure that they remained an unsullied virgin until they were joined with their Beloved. He also wanted to be certain that no corrupt teaching would lead them away to another gospel or another Jesus. He wanted to be reassured that they were pure in the gospel of Christ.
The destiny of the people of God is to be married to one Husband, so it is therefore vital that they remain chaste virgins. These are the people Jesus loves and cleanses, and sanctifies and justifies. In the meantime, He is calling them to judge their own feelings, thoughts and conduct. Could Paul therefore be anything but jealous over anyone who would try to mislead them? This was not a natural, human jealousy Paul was experiencing, but a true, godly jealousy like that of the heavenly Father.
When we get jealous, it usually comes from an evil point of view in which we act selfishly. But God is not selfish like we are. He has the right to make a claim on our heart to be all for Him, and He will not share His own with anyone else. Paul did not care if the Corinthian believers went to other teachers besides him. But he grew greatly concerned over rival teachers who simply wanted to steal the love of these believers from Christ to themselves. That was the concern he was writing so strongly about. He wanted no one to tamper with their pure, absolute and direct love from the heart for Christ.
Human jealousy demands exclusive loyalty. There is resentment for anyone who competes for the affection or attention of the one that we feel belongs to us. Satan, the enemy of our soul, will use morality or law or anything good or bad as a rival for our loved one’s attention, especially to steal our heart from the adequacy and pre-eminence of Christ.
Godly jealousy is clean and pure. This is what God cherishes. “I am jealous over you” indicates His passion and jealousy. He said “I the Lord thy God am a jealous God” (Deuteronomy 5:9). This is not like human jealousy, but is heavenly passion seeking our love and affection. Paul carefully watched over all who were under his care, because he couldn’t stand to see them turn to false gods. He knew it would mean their eternal ruin. He did not love them so much for his own sake, but out of his pure love for their spiritual welfare.
The right kind of jealousy can be illustrated by a high-minded husband who wants his wife to be faithful only to him. He likewise feels the responsibility to be faithful and true to her. The Lord wants us to be this way with Him. He can’t bear to see us flirting with the world while telling Him that we love Him only. Paul couldn’t bear to watch his charges follow someone or something that would lead them astray and away from God. He wanted them to hold tight to their first love for Christ alone, to be always true and faithful and His Bride. This was godly jealousy on his part.
How important it is for Christians to be careful to maintain their faithfulness to Christ and Him alone. We need to watch continually for any indication of a loosening of our love for Him. If we find this happening to us, we need to confront it and confess our mistake, then ask for His forgiveness. Love cannot thrive in an atmosphere that is corrupt. We need to maintain our love relationship with Christ in a lively, ongoing basis, so we won’t be infected by all the impurity and false teaching that surrounds us. Therefore, let’s make sure that we, as believers, continue to hold tightly to our purity of love for Christ, our Beloved Husband!