Recently I counseled a friend by saying that it's right to be jealous. It may sound a little strange to offer the advice of "Be jealous!", but I believe the Bible gives us a clear picture that jealousy is a completely valid and warranted emotion.
In fact, God even describes himself as jealous:
ESV Exodus 34:14 for you shall worship no other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God
ESV Deuteronomy 4:24 For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.
NIV Exodus 20:5-6 I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.
Given that God describes himself in this manner, there must be another definition for jealousy other than the destructive view we typically take.
Part of the problem may be that we tend to confuse the terms "jealousy" and "envy". Envy is desiring something that doesn't belong to you. A house like the neighbor's. A marriage like the one you read about in a recent romance novel. Your friend's skinny body. A voice like the singer at church. Envy wants what you don't have, but others do. It creates a discontent with what God has given you, and a longing for more than He has blessed you with.
On the other hand, jealousy desires what already is yours. It is a fierce protectiveness and longing for something that belongs to you. A husband. A child. Honesty in a close friendship. Time with God.
For example, in marriage jealousy is essential. When a couple exchanges marriage vows they essentially said to one another, "I will save my affections for you only. I will belong only to you. I will be faithful." When one spouse breaks that promise in word, emotion, or deed there is absolutely good cause for the other to be jealous.
Likewise when we commit to a relationship with God, we are also making a vow. A vow to place Him first in our lives. God is jealous for our affections. He purposely sets out to expose the idols in our lives, those things that compete for the primo spot in life. We are His and He has every right to our affections.
But what strikes me even more than the fact that God is jealous for me is that I should be jealous regarding my relationship with Him. If I truly value my time with God, I should be consistently weeding out those things that prohibit me from investing time and effort into the relationship. Just as I would with a spouse or a child.
I'm thankful that God is not forceful in His regard toward me. He does not slam His way into my life and harshly rip out anything that gets in the way. Instead, He patiently waits for me to fall so deeply in love that I jealously guard my time with Him. Although much too frequently I really could use a swift kick in the pants to get me moving in the right direction!
But that is the incredible complexity and care of our God. He calls Himself a jealous God, but in the same breath reveals that He extends love to a thousand generations of those who love Him. What patience! What forgiveness! Surely He is deserving of the highest priority.
I leave you with a song by Meredith Andrews that puts God's love into beautiful words. Enjoy.