One phrase in 1 Corinthians 10 jumps  out at us. It can make us question, “Do I  understand my relationship with God?”  That question came from verse 22. In the context of  idolatry – serving God and devils – Paul asks, “Do  we provoke the Lord to jealousy? are we stronger than he?”

It is an extraordinary thing for us to consider  the jealousy of our God towards us and, more so,  that we could provoke it.

The jealousy of God

Jealousy is a noun that we tend to use negatively, but  it shouldn’t always be negative. Consider whether each of these definitions of jealousy is negative or  positive:

1.(a) intolerant of rivalry or unfaithfulness

(b) disposed to suspect rivalry or unfaithfulness

  1. hostile toward a rival
  2. vigilant in guarding something precious.

Jealous and zealous are closely related words.  Zealous means – eager, fervent, intense, passionate  – all of which are strong words and usually positive.  Perhaps they help us to better understand why  jealousy is both good and bad, depending on its cause.  We are aware that Paul is not alone in saying  that jealousy is part of the character of our God.  Throughout the Bible it is a description our God  takes to Himself. Take for example, “I Yahweh thy  God am a jealous God” (Exod 20:5); and Paul says,  “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 Cor 11:2). This  latter quote has the nub of the matter. Paul tells us  we are espoused to Christ and so God’s jealousy  is justified. It is an intimate relationship. We have  seen therefore that He will not tolerate rivalry or  unfaithfulness. He is looking out for it. He will be  hostile towards rivals and He will guard us fiercely.

Our aim then is to spend some time working out  how we can each personally answer the question,  “Do we provoke the Lord to jealousy?”

Honeymoons

In the Song of Solomon we have a beautiful  portrayal of the courting period. We hear the lovely  words spoken – those of admiration and love – we  see the delicate dance of those deeply in love,  seeking and waiting. But here we are considering a  different stage of the figurative relationship.

Not many of us are newly baptised, not many of  us are newly married, and human experts agree that all marriages have a honeymoon period that extends  for a few years after the definitive “honeymoon”. The  world’s definition of love and marriage is skewed  by Hollywood’s obsession with it. Generally applied  to the first few years of a relationship, it’s a time  when the dust hasn’t settled, everything is new and  exciting, and the couple are inseparable. By God’s  beautiful design, it’s also a time period when in our  brains the feeling of love is strong.

This marriage honeymoon period generally ends  after a few years, the chemicals settle and people  either find what love means day to day, or they don’t.  Not many of us are newly baptised, not many of us  are newly married but how we have settled into the  relationship with our God after baptism is part of  our exhortation today.

Three fictional stories

Loosely inspired by the ‘parables of the lost’ here are  three stories with a secondary spiritual meaning:

Story 1

There is a wife; she is young, attractive and full of life.  Her husband is a bit of a bore but she doesn’t regret  her marriage. Unfortunately she loves to party. She is  extroverted and has dozens of friends. She goes out with  them regularly; dinner, coffee, drinks … her husband  normally stays home. He doesn’t see what a flirt she is;  she loves it when other men pay her compliments. She  thinks it’s harmless. She always goes home to her husband.

That’s the end of the first story. One of our  greatest challenges in our walk is humility and  submission. One of our greatest assets in this life is  having a relationship with another in the Truth on  whom we can model our behaviour towards our Lord.

Our second story is not as nice. And the third  is, in my opinion, the worst – but you may think  otherwise.

Story 2

There is a wife; we don’t know how old she is, but the  honeymoon period is over. The marriage started off  well but she doesn’t know what happened since. The  fire’s gone, she doesn’t look at her husband in the same  way she used to. She caught up with an old ‘flame’ from  her school years while shopping the other day and they  really hit it off. She has an affair and that’s as much as  needs to be said.

Story 3

Lastly, there is a wife. She’s been married a while too  and quite unhappy, but she’d never betray her husband.  She doesn’t know why her marriage isn’t like it used to  be; all she knows is it’s the same thing every day and  every week. She feels trapped in her marriage and she  wants to be free again as she remembers her youth. But  what would her friends think if she left? So she stays.  She doesn’t resent him yet, but bitterness is creeping into  her heart. She knows how much he loves her, but what  if he knew how she felt? What would he say?

Reflection upon the stories

Those probably were not stories you were expecting.  There wasn’t much by way of sunshine in any of  them. But when we consider the question, “Do we  provoke the Lord to jealousy?”, these stories are a  harsh truth. These stories relate something often  difficult to grasp, to something real for us here,  now, today. With a very human heart, we recoil  from these scenarios, from some more than others.  Each of us wants to take the high ground and be  the loving husband who stands strong, but in our  heart we know that figuratively, we are all, “the wife”.

Hourly, daily or weekly all of us, in one way or  another, flirt with the world. We love its flattery and  praise. We love to be wanted. To have our skills recognised,  our egos pandered to, to be successful, beautiful,  admired and respected. Our jobs, homes, cars, kids  – they are all measured up against glossy magazine X.  And no-one throws a better party than the world.  The company feels so alive – like … it’s the way life  is supposed to be. And yet, like the woman in the  story, we always come back here to this place. We’re  Christadelphians after all, espoused to Christ. And  it’s good that we’re here.

Sometimes we stray far from God. We give  our love and time to another in moments of  unfaithfulness. Sometimes people leave the ecclesia  because they can’t find their way back from their sin  or they don’t want to. Sometimes we return to God  as quickly as we left, hoping no-one but us knows  the sin that we did or thought. But sometimes,  brothers and sisters, we find ourselves in story 3.  Love lost but, bound by habit, culture and friends,  we stay. Bitter in our hearts about the freedom lost  and seeing no way to escape without losing face.

In Scripture we are blessed with examples of  all of these. Ugly as they are, all have happened and been written down for our learning and our  comfort that we are not alone in this mortal failing.  Many individuals were unfaithful or worshipped  God in display only. The whole nation of Israel in  Jeremiah’s time (3:20) and Ezekiel’s time (Ezek  16:32; 23:37) were accused of spiritual adultery.  We know from Christ’s words to the ecclesia of  Ephesus in Revelation that it is possible to lose the  love we once declared to our God at baptism. We  are also fortunate in that it is not impossible to find  it again, to renew it, to strengthen it, and to put in  place practices that will maintain it and build it up  until it is almost unassailable.

God first loved us

God gave us marriage so we would understand  our relationship with Him better. Our loved one’s  imperfections give us insight to God’s patience with  us – none of whom are perfect and most far from  it. Older generations can pass on valuable wisdom  about a long term marriage; advice on what makes  a relationship stand the test of time. Scripture gives  us bountiful advice on the efforts we need to take  daily to ensure that the relationship with our God  holds and our “first love” is renewed.

Perhaps it can be summed up in those words  of Christ recorded in Mark 12 defining the most  important of all commandments. There is one  God and we are to love God with all our heart  and soul and strength (v29–30). Love at this level  holds nothing back, and leaves no room for other  competition. This love spills over to our neighbours  and God is glorified. This is the love that has been  shown to us already, that love spoken of by the  Apostle John, “We love him, because he first loved  us” (1 John 4:19). And it is fitting we should look  at a few of John’s other thoughts in this chapter.

John begins by being clear that there is  another who competes for our affections. This is  the “antichrist”, those who stand against Christ  and espouse everything he does not. But we can  overcome this because, “greater is he that is in us”  (v4). Therefore we need not fear the world. John  continues, “We are of God” and, “he heareth us”  (v6). We need not fear being alone for God has  loved us first. Therefore we need not fear that our  love will not be answered. God has saved us and  He promises to forgive. We are not alone in this  love – we ought also to love one another (v10–12).  Our God has removed almost all the barriers that  might hinder us returning His love. Through His  Son, He forgives our sins and has made a way for us  to approach Him. The final barrier – our corruptible  mortality – will be removed, if we are willing to  return His love.

Together

It is worth repeating that we are not alone in this; we  are together in this as brothers and sisters in Christ.  We do well to reflect on how the multitudinous  bride in Revelation 19 ought to interact within.  Many misguided men have taken multiple wives  and the results are less than ideal. In examples  today where sects encourage bigamy, the wives’  relationships are unfulfilled; they compete and  bicker; and the pattern to our God fails. It should  never be seen amongst us. We are all here for each  other. His love is without limit.

The depth of His love is something we find  difficult to fathom on a daily basis, surrounded as  we are by the passing parade of life. In this life, it  is strange to think that someone could ever, would  ever, give their life for us. Who would you give your  life for? A husband, a wife, a child … our lists are  short. Australian soldiers are regularly in the news;  they lose their life fighting man’s wars. But you could  argue, though they volunteer for dangerous work  they don’t choose to die, they don’t lay down their  life as our Lord did. He was fully capable of saying  no, fully capable of defence against the Romans  or any human powers, and yet our Lord chose to  submit to God’s will. He chose to accept that cup,  and chose to give us opportunity to attain eternal  life. That opportunity we take up this morning and  every day.

We struggle sometimes at those words recorded  in Isaiah 53:10. We struggle to understand how  it pleased God to bruise him, perhaps because  to consider ourselves worthy of that sacrifice is  an abhorrent notion. We can rest only on the  privilege of His grace and the unparalleled elation  at knowing each of us here today has been called  and chosen as Paul describes in Ephesians 1. We  are chosen to be holy and blameless before him in  love, adopted into His family by His good pleasure,  that we should praise God for His grace. This is a  bride without spot.

Chosen as a bride

How often do we consider the privilege of being  chosen, as the bride in the Song of Solomon –  chosen as one chooses a bride: carefully, examined  deeply, chosen from among many others for our  beauty. We may not call ourselves worthy, but each  of us has shown those characteristics of His that  give Him pleasure – a willingness  to obey and return His love.  Occasionally, we may think we  just happen to be here; we’re not  sure how, but it just happened.  Then we must remember the  intimacy of our relationship –  God does not select lightly or  take chances; we are all precious  in His sight.

Do we provoke the Lord to  jealousy?

“Do we provoke the Lord to  jealousy?” was the question we  began with. If we reflect on our  own marriage, we can understand  this term of jealousy applied to  God. We can understand why  He is hurt when our promise  of devotion is watered down or  denied. We can imagine being  hurt if our loved one acted that  way towards us.

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Each of us can imagine we might behave  differently sometimes if our wife or husband were  somewhere else. We might interact with others  differently, say things differently and act in a way  that is more Christlike. We would be showing the  power we have to effect good in each other – in our  marriages, in our friendships and in the ecclesia.  We do well to remember that God is always with  us, that He is there to mould our behaviour to His  glorification.

Each of us faces a very real challenge to serve our  God with our whole heart and mind and to submit  our lives to Him. For our married sisters, perhaps  this idea of submission is easier to reconcile with  daily life. Perhaps for the brethren we are challenged  further. Instead of coming home, walking in the  front door feeling as though we are master of all  we survey – perhaps we struggle more to show  that same submission to Christ and to espouse his  ways in our marriage and our family. An interesting  conversation to have over lunch with our wife might  be: “Are you submitting to me more than I am to  Christ?” What is the submission we expect? Do we  offer it to Christ?

The thoughts of Brother Dennis Gillett are  helpful on the topic of love. He advises that it is  important to understand love  as a principle by comparison  to the law which operated by  fear. Instead of, “I would, but  I dare not”, love says, “I could,  but I won’t – for love’s sake”.  Brother Dennis continues to say  that “Every act of love makes  you more compassionate, more  selfless, more loving: in the sight  of God, more lovely. Just as one  act of submission to the Father  makes you more of a son or  daughter, so one act of love makes  you more like Christ … Love is  a practical thing.”

On the memorial table is  a practical outworking of love.  Prepared by loving hands is a  type of the sacrifice our Lord  made for us, while we were yet  sinners, and without hope. We  are here to celebrate that hope,  that opportunity we have yet  to serve in; to remember his love shown to us; to  consider how we are showing that love in our lives  and to examine our relationship with Him.

Conclusion

Paul asks, who can separate us from the love of  Christ? Not tribulation or distress, not persecution  or famine, nakedness or sword. Not death or life,  angels or powers, nothing now or in the future,  not height or depth nor any other creature (Rom  8:35–39).

Which leaves only us!

If we choose to, we can allow ourselves to be  drawn away. If we do not strive to be faithful, we can  be unfaithful. Let us strive to follow our heavenly  Bridegroom, the author and finisher of faith.

In his jealousy for us, let us be zealous for him.