Currently, we are studying the true nature of love in a series of messages that I am calling “Imitators of Love.” However, even though the series title might seem to indicate that we are looking at how we can imitate God, what we are doing is looking at verses that teach us how to love others, knowing that those teach us how God loves us.
I’ll tell you, church—this is a fun new way to study our Bible because it causes us to take a different look at verses. In this case, understanding that God won’t give us a standard that He isn’t practicing Himself, we can learn how God treats us by looking at verses that teach us how to treat each other.
Our golden text that we are basing this teaching on is Ephesians 5:1-2 where the apostle Paul instructs us to imitate God as His children. And I’ve made the point that being imitators of God would encompass everything else we could ever aspire to be in Him and for Him—because everything He tells us to do is simply meant for us to reflect the light that He is to this world.
So we spent several weeks looking at the verses that preceded Ephesians chapter 5 and learned how Paul got to this point of summarizing with this exhortation to imitate God—how God will not lie to us or steal from us, how He will speak to us in a certain way, and what His attitude is towards sin versus the sinner.
Then a couple of weeks ago, we started looking at another section of Scriptures that has been traditionally used to teach us how we are to love one another – the great love chapter, First Corinthians chapter 13.
First Corinthians 13:4-8 teaches us how “love suffers long and is kind. (how) love does not envy; (how) love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; (how it) does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; (how it) does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; (yes, how love) bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
But what we are doing is turning this around and teaching these verses from the same perspective that we have been—how because God is love, these characteristics of love teach us the very characteristics of God Himself. So I encourage you that as we go through these verses, read them as so: “God suffers long and is kind, He does not envy, God does not parade Himself, He is not puffed up; God does not behave rudely, He does not seek His own, He is not provoked, He thinks no evil; God does not rejoice in iniquity, but He rejoices in the truth; God bears all things, He believes all things, He hopes all things, He endures all things; God never fails …”
We looked at Paul’s first description of love—that it “suffers long.” So, at the forefront of all of Love’s characteristics, we see that God is “longsuffering” (you might also say, “patient.”).
So we looked at several Scriptures that clearly teach us how longsuffering our God is—both how He suffers long with His creation before the inevitable judgment and also how He suffered long with the likes of Peter & Paul. In fact, we looked at Paul’s own testimony of how God’s longsuffering was on full display in His life by how He both saved him and used him.
Yes, God suffers long with all of us. In His love, He is totally patient with His creation. This is who He is and not just what He does.
Then last week, we saw how God doesn’t just suffer long, but He’s kind while doing it. How many of you know that it’s one thing to suffer long or be patient with others, but it’s a whole other ballgame to be kind while you’re doing it? In other words, someone might appear to be longsuffering on the outside, but on the inside, they have the wrong attitude while they are waiting.
But the fact is—we have a lot of Scriptures that teach us about the goodness & kindness of God. And like longsuffering, this is more than just what He does; God is kind!
We learned how these virtues like longsuffering & kindness are fruit of the Spirit—meaning, they are the fruit of who He is and what He Himself does! Amen! In other words, God has called His children to produce His very own fruit—that is, His will is for us to be just like Him!
Yes, love is the first fruit listed because this is the core nature of God Himself. Therefore, our call to produce the fruit of love is to simply replicate God’s nature of love. Even the fruits of joy & peace are a part of the nature of God. Did you know He is called the “Happy God”? Yes, God rejoices and is the possessor of all joy. Not only that, but He is called the God of Peace, and He is the Prince of Peace! And the list goes on and on—God is also longsuffering, good, and kind.
So, we saw how in First Corinthians 13:4 that love is kind. So, if God is love, then that Scripture is clearly revealing to us that God is kind. Therefore, as we saw earlier, God is not only longsuffering with us, but He is also kind in the midst of it! In other words, He will still pour out His kindness in our lives while He is waiting for us to repent of our mistakes. What an awesome God we serve!
You see, even the “select elect” out there who actually believe God is patient and longsuffering have a hard time believing that God remains kind in the midst of our continual stumbling. They think that He is longsuffering, but He is tapping His foot in the midst of it. But no! God changes not! Therefore, He is still doing good and being kind even while He is waiting on us to live up to our potential.
We looked at several other Scriptures that teach about how God is kind—not just to His children, but also to those who are unthankful & evil (See Luke 6:35-36). As we learned, it is going to take all of eternity to reveal to us all the riches of God’s kindness towards us (See Ephesians 2:7). This entails everything from our initial salvation to all the other ways that He has shown forth His kindness towards us in our walk with Him. Church, how many times in the Scriptures are we made aware of the “lovingkindness” of our God?
LOVE DOES NOT ENVY
Now the next thing that Paul includes in his description of love in First Corinthians 13:4 is that love does not envy.
The word “envy” here comes from the Greek word zeloo and is simply defined as “to burn with zeal.” And the obvious way it is being used here is to be heated or to boil with envy, hatred, or anger. Therefore, it describes the warmth of feeling against someone.
Now envy is very similar to jealousy, but they do have different characteristics. One difference is that while one might envy someone else’s spouse—desiring to have what they have—someone flirting with their own spouse might make them jealous. So, while jealousy can be involved with things that you already have, envy specifically desires to have something that someone else does. In fact, envy desires to have it even if that means depriving the other person of what they have.
So the fact is, envy is completely motivated by selfishness—yearning to take something that someone else possesses for themselves or, at the least, ruining it for them.
In fact, this is the word that was used to describe what motivated the chief priests to hand Jesus over to Pilate (See Matthew 27:18 & Mark 15:10)—for the root of their issue with Jesus was that they wanted the love, honor, and attention that He was receiving from the Jewish people. Therefore, they wanted Him crucified out of their envy.
So if I were to have asked you—why did the religious leaders want Jesus crucified? Well, some of us might have said it was because they thought He was claiming to be one with God and was violating all of their religious rules, etc. but the fact is they wanted Him dead because of their “envy & jealousy.”
This word “envy’ is also used to describe the envy that motivated Joseph’s brothers to sell him into slavery (Acts 7:9) and the jealousy that drove the Jews to gather a mob and attack a Christian’s home in Thessalonica (Acts 17:5).
So while in both of these examples we might have just seen the sin of Joseph’s brothers harming & betraying him and the anger & hatred of the Jews gathering that mob to attack that believer’s home, the underlying issue was envy & jealousy.
So my point is that sometimes we might see something that a person does, but totally miss the root cause of why they did it.
Now envy is one of those vices that we see a lot about in the Bible, yet most Christians don’t see it as their problem. In other words, you will not find many believers who will say, “You know, I really struggle with envy & jealousy.” And I don’t think that’s necessarily because they are not owning up to it; I think it’s really just because most are blind to it in themselves.
But here is the truth—if the Bible has so much to say about things like envy & jealousy, that’s because it is much more of a problem in the Body of Christ than we might think. For example, both envy & jealousy are listed in Paul’s “works of the flesh” in Galatians 5:19-21. God even saw fit to include this in His Ten Commandments when He commanded His people to not covet what was his neighbor’s. These are just a couple of examples, but my point is that it is threaded throughout the pages of our Bibles.
For example, in both Psalms & Proverbs, notice how many times the Holy Spirit speaks about God’s people not envying the world:
That’s a lot of instruction devoted to a people who don’t struggle with envy, isn’t it? But no, it must be more of an issue than most people think it is for it to be repeated throughout the Scriptures.
But here is the main problem with envy—it’s that it’s not what love does. Again, the apostle Paul said, “love does not envy.” That means to envy is not to love because if you are jealous of what is your neighbor’s, then how are you loving your neighbor as you do yourself? No, if you envy what they have, you are just loving yourself.
Now regarding envying what is our neighbor’s, let me remind you that Paul taught us that the commandments are fulfilled in this one word—the royal law of loving our neighbor as we do ourselves (See Romans 13:8-10). So when we fulfill this command to love one another, we fulfill the law because we won’t murder our brother, we won’t steal from our brother, and we also won’t covet what our brother has. Therefore, love will not envy because why would love desire to have what was someone else’s. Again, that is selfish & self-centered. Love will desire to give to someone what we have, not take from them what they have.
Church, true love—God’s love—rejoices when others are blessed. There is no room for envy. Love does not seek to benefit itself and it is content with what it has, because its focus is on meeting the needs of the ones it loves.
But we also need to understand that envy does not just cause one to do evil & wicked things; it can also cause someone to do things that everyone would think were good & noble.
For example, in James 3:13-18, we have an interesting section of verses that show that there were people in James’ church who seemed to be wise & have understanding. Heck, they were probably the supposed teachers and the leaders of this church!
And Pastor James describes their underlying motivation in verse 14—it was “bitter envy” and “self-seeking” in their hearts. And it was that envy & selfishness that was creating all the confusion and the evil works that were going on there (See verse 16).
In Philippians 1:15, the apostle Paul described how there was a faction of people who were actually “preaching Christ” from “envy and strife” and others who were preaching Him from “goodwill”—showing us again that even in one of the most noble things that a Christian can do – tell people about Jesus – it can be done from a bad motive.
So we need to be aware that this little fox that likes to spoil our vines can produce in us both good & bad things. But the underlying motive is what is important.
GOD DOES NOT ENVY BUT HE CAN BE JEALOUS
But our point here today is that if love does not envy, then that means that God does not envy.
Now this one might be a little easier for us to swallow because certainly God has no reason to be envious of anything we have, for all that we have was given to us by Him to begin with. But we need to consider another description of this word “envy.” It also describes a desire to deprive someone of something they have. In other words, envy not only wants to possess something someone else possesses; envy also wants to deprive the one they are taking from.
But God is not like that, is He? No, He desires to add to us, not take away from us. Many like to quote verses like “He gives and He takes away” but that is not completely true. Although Job said that, when he said it, he did not have the understanding that Satan was the one who came to steal, kill, and destroy from him. Again, the thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy from our lives but love has come to add to our lives—and that more abundantly (see John 10:10)!
So God’s nature, which is love, does the opposite of what envy does. While envy desires to take from others what they have, God desires to give to others and add to what they have.
I’ll tell you—you’ll never find a bigger giver than God! I can give you Scripture after Scripture that talks about how His will is to bless you and I exceedingly, abundantly, above all we could ask or even think. Yes, pressed down, shaken together, and running over does He desire to add to us!
One that proves this is found in Second Corinthians 9:7 where it describes how God loves a cheerful giver. Why do you suppose this is? It’s because the saint who is a cheerful giver is imitating Him! God is the cheerful giver!
In fact, this is why there are so many Scriptures in the Bible that talk about us giving. It’s because God is wanting us to emulate Him by being givers the way that He has given to us! Amen! So God is certainly not in the business of envying because He does the exact opposite. He’s too preoccupied with giving to us!
But just as God does not envy (in the bad sense), there are other verses that teach us how God does operate in the good kind of envy & jealousy. You might say, “I didn’t know there is a good kind of jealousy & envy.” Well, there actually is.
Like I said earlier, the Greek word translated “envy” means “to burn with zeal.” And while this certainly describes the kind of burning with zeal for what others have (thus, envy), there is a good and even encouraged kind of burning zeal to possess good things that God said are for us. In other words, in the good sense, zeloo describes being zealous in the pursuit of good. So just as this word means to be zealous to obtain something another person has in a wrong way, it can also mean to be zealous for something good that God says we can have.
We see it used this way in Galatians 4:17-18 when the apostle Paul said, “They zealously court you, but for no good; yes, they want to exclude you, that you may be zealous for them. But it is good to be zealous in a good thing always, and not only when I am present with you.”
The phrase “They zealously court” comes from this Greek word zeloo which, like I said, has both a positive and negative connotation. It is positive in the sense that it describes “earnestly desiring” the gifts of the Spirit (First Corinthians 12:31, 14:1 & 14:39). When Paul (back in Galatians 4) went on to say, “but for no good,” he was not insinuating that being “zealously courted” was wrong. Good godly leaders should show a love, desire, and affection towards the ones they are leading, just not for the wrong reasons. And Paul says here that the Judaizers were operating with “no good” motives. And as he goes on to say, it was so that they could “exclude” them—which means to shut or lock them out for themselves. And here was their motivation— “that you may be zealous for them.”
Again, Paul uses this Greek word zeloo in the negative sense because he exposes these Judaizers motivation for zealously courting these Galatians. They did it all because they wanted themselves to be the object of the Galatians’ affections. Yes, they wanted the Galatian believers to look up to them and envy what they had and were not willing to share this with the apostle Paul.
But as Paul goes on to say in the next verse— “But it is good to be zealous in a good thing always.” Again, Paul was not saying that being zealous was a bad thing. On the contrary, he says here being zealous is a good thing, as long it is being “fervent, passionate, on-fire, and dedicated” (synonyms for “zealous) about good things. In fact, he goes on to say that we ought to “always” be this way about the things of God (i.e., good).
So here is the point I want to leave you with today— If it is always good to be “zealous” in a good thing, then how does God do this?
Well, if your heart is open to see it, you can see how His heart burns with passion for us! Yes, like a person’s heart can burn with a desire to gain something that someone else has, God’s heart is to gain us! This is the love story of God’s kingdom!
Like I said a moment ago, in First Corinthians 12:31, 14:1, and 14:39, we see this same word used to translate “envy” in a positive sense when Paul uses it to describe how we are to “earnestly desire” and “covet” spiritual gifts.
Now it is obvious that this is not describing “envy” in a bad way. No, these spiritual gifts are not things that someone else possesses and are not for us. They are obviously things that the Lord has made available to any and all who are willing to go after them. Therefore, with that same burning heartfelt desire for something that is off-limits, we are actually encouraged to “covet” the best spiritual gifts! That means that we are to earnestly desire them at all costs and do whatever we have to in order to get them in our lives!
I wonder if God has ever “earnestly desired” something like that? I believe He has—and that is YOU!
In Second Corinthians 11:2, notice how Paul described that he was “jealous” for the Corinthian church with a “godly jealousy.” That means that while there is certainly an ungodly jealousy, there is also a godly jealously—meaning, it’s a jealousy that God possesses.
Of course, we know that this isn’t a sinful type of jealousy—for God is incapable of sinning. So what this does teach us is that God is a jealous God when it comes to certain things.
We see this in Exodus 20:4-5 when God, in giving the children of Israel the Ten Commandments, said, “You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God …”
Now it is important to realize what God was saying here: It was not that He is a glory-hog and can’t handle not being given all the attention, etc. No, it’s more like a marriage relationship: If a man and a woman are joined together, it is totally reasonable for either spouse to have zero tolerance for the other being unfaithful to them or even looking at another man or woman, right? This is more of what God was meaning when He described Himself as a “jealous God.”
You see, we have a great example of this in the New Testament, where in James 4:5 we see it revealed that the Holy Spirit yearns for something like this: In this verse, the Word says, “Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, ‘The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously’?” This is preceded by verse 4 that calls us “Adulteresses” if we make ourselves friends with the world. That is because we are “married” to God and when we try and have a relationship with our ex-husband, the world, we are being unfaithful to our current mate. The Holy Spirit represents that current mate here and the Word says that He “yearns jealously”.
A good paraphrase of this verse is “The Spirit that has come to settle down, make His home and permanently dwell in us, is bent with an all-consuming, ever-growing, excessive, passionate desire to possess us totally, and is envious and filled with jealousy toward anything or anyone who tries to take His place.” Ephesians 4:30 portrays this same picture. It says, “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” The word “grieve” is the Greek word lupete. It is used to denote the emotions of a betrayed spouse, such as, being hurt, wounded, betrayed, misled, lied to, and abused. He is our spouse and partner, and He hurts when we are unfaithful.
But again, this is not that unhealthy form of jealousy that is only thinking about itself. No, whatever this “yearning jealously” for us by God’s Spirit is, we know it has to be done in love, because the Holy Spirit is God and God is love. Therefore, it’s not our own perverted form of jealousy that’s ultimately just love for ourselves. No, this jealousy is a healthy kind that is motivated by love for the one that this jealousy is aimed towards.
Church, in this world we live in, people envy those who possess things like silver, gold, and precious stones. Yes, they covet these things that the world says are valuable. But the truth is—the only thing of great value on this earth is the souls of men. That’s what God so loved the world enough to send His only begotten Son to redeem. Yes, we are the pearls of great price! Yes, we are the treasure hidden in this field! And that’s what God is jealous for. That’s what He earnestly desires to possess! It’s you. It’s me. It’s every human being on this planet, fully & completely.
So, what we must learn to do is to give Him everything. Yes, that means going into this lost and dying world and bringing people out of darkness and into the light. But it also means us giving our own selves completely over to Him—which is exactly what James was talking about in James 4:5.
So, while love certainly does not envy, love possesses a healthy kind of jealousy towards the ones He created in His likeness & image. He desires to own us completely and is unwilling to share us with the enemy and this world.
Hear the heart of the One that inspired the apostle Paul to utter these words today, the precious Holy Spirit, when he said in Second Corinthians 11:2 that he was “jealous for them with a godly jealousy.” This means that there is a jealousy that comes from God and that is the jealousy that a husband has for his wife to where he’s unwilling to share her with another man. That’s the way the Holy Spirit feels towards you today. He wants you as His own—because that’s what love does!
Church, while God certainly does not envy, He is jealous—and that’s because He loves you so much, He doesn’t want to share you with anything or anyone else. Amen.