In the midst of the declaring the 10 Commandments, God inserted a statement about Himself that has always confused me. He said, “I am a jealous God.” Each time I read it I thought, “Huh? That doesn’t sound right.” This statement is part of the explanation of the First Commandment: “You shall have no other Gods before me.” (See Exodus 20:1-5). It has confused me because I’ve always thought of jealousy as a bad thing.
I’ve been jealous for many things in my life. I remember being jealous of other guys in junior high who had a girlfriend, particularly when it was a girl I had eyes for. I’ve been jealous when someone got a promotion or an award that I also wanted. I’ve been jealous of people’s lifestyle — nicer home, newer car, more travel — whatever they have that I don’t have but want to have.
We can be jealous over people, recognition, and things. I’m sure we could identify other nuances or categories of jealousy, too. And let’s just be clear: These cases of jealousy are bad. When Paul wrote to the church in Galatia, he listed jealousy among several “works of the flesh.” Paul explained that works of the flesh are “desires against the Spirit of God.” (See Galatians 5:16-26 for the full passage.)
So if jealousy is bad, then why does God say, “I am a jealous God” and what does it mean for a leader to serve a jealous god?
Let’s look at my examples of jealousy a little more carefully.
- I was jealous over a girl I liked, but I had no relationship with her or right to be her protector.
- I was jealous over recognition, but I had no authority to bestow that recognition or right to expect to receive it.
- I was jealous over someone’s possessions, but I had no ownership of them or responsibility to care for them.
Those are the key differences: Relationship, Authority, and Ownership.
When God said He is a jealous God, He said that because He has relationship, authority, and ownership over His people.
- His relationship with us is as our Heavenly Father. “[There is] one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:6)
- His authority over us is as our creator and redeemer. “But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.” (Isaiah 64:8) and “In [Christ] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace.” (Ephesians 1:7)
- His ownership over us is also as our creator and redeemer.
So there’s a significant difference between being jealous for something over which I have no relationship, authority, or ownership and God who, on the other hand, has all three. And when He said, “You shall have no other gods before me,” and said that He is a jealous God, He was right to say so.
As leaders, this has a profound impact on how we lead. It’s easy for us to place other “gods” on the throne of worship when leading. Ask yourself, What drives my leadership?
- Is it the numbers or metrics of your organization? If that’s your god, how can you shift that toward being a steward of your responsibilities?
- Is your god respect and reputation? How can you shift that to being winsome for Christ?
- What about recognition for your work? Instead of placing yourself on the throne, humble yourself and serve others, placing them above yourself.
- What about your team? Certainly, looking after the needs of your team is worth fighting for. If you’re doing that because it’s YOUR team, shift your focus to building and developing others to become all their creator made them to be for the needs of the organization.
- Maybe your god is your paycheck or performance bonus. God asks you to be a Christ-centered steward of His resources.
- What about a title? Are you pursuing a directorship or vice presidency because then you’ll have arrived? No one’s name or title is worthy of honor or respect other than the name of God.
- Perhaps you pursue power as a leader. No power or influence is greater than that of a humble, servant leader.
Being a leader is a weighty thing. It can be a heavy burden. Why make it heavier by pursuing, leading for, the wrong things. Release all of that and pursue one thing, that is, the one and only, rightfully jealous God.
Dr. Scott Yorkovich is a leadership coach and consultant. He works with individuals, small and medium organizations, and ministries. Contact him at ScottYorkovich[at]LeadStrategic.com with your questions.