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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Divine Jealousy Over the Local Church

ζήλω γαρ υμάς θεού ζήλω "For I am jealous of you with the jealousy of God" (2 Cor. 11:2).  Herein exist the heart of the true pastor of the local church.  Paul equates his hearts desire for the Corinthian church with the very heart of God over the nation of Israel.  In the Decalogue it says, "I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God", as a command to the Israelites that idolatry is not tolerated (Ex. 20:5; Deut. 5:9).  God's zeal for his people results in blessings when they obey and curses when they disobey (Deut. 28).  God knows that the absolute best scenario for His people is that they worship Him alone.  To worship anything other than the living God is to commit idolatry and incur the just judgment of God.  God's love for His people is evidenced in His desiring their greatest good, which is God.  Thus, it grieves the heart of God when people turn to lesser things.

In the oriental culture of Paul's day an engagement to be married was equivalent to marriage without consummation.  It was like unto Joseph and Mary.  They were betrothed, but the marriage had not been consummated.  The betrothal period generally lasted about one year.  The betrothal was held to such a standard that to break the relationship was equivalent to a divorce.  The only way to end the betrothal was by death of one of the parties.  The father of the bride to be was very concerned to be able to present his daughter to her future husband as a virgin.  It would shame and grieve the father greatly to know that his daughter was unfaithful to the one she was betrothed to.  A good and loving father would have great desire to protect his daughter and to keep her pure until her wedding day.  So Paul exerts himself to keep the church pure from doctrine contrary to the gospel as he strives to present her to Christ.

In this scenario that Paul presents we are brought before a groom who is absolutely perfect.  He is impeccable in His character.  He is sinless in thought, word, and deed.  He is infinitely loving, merciful, and beautiful beyond description.  He sacrifices His own life for the bride.  He prepares an eternal home for  His bride.  He provides for all the needs of His bride and withholds no good thing from her.

Paul knows the groom well and is compelled with a divine jealousy to present the Corinthian church to Christ as a pure virgin.  The word αγνός (pure) is synonymous with the word άγιος (holy).  Paul desires for the Corinthian church to be pure/holy in all her ways as she waits for the coming of her groom.  Paul is greatly disturbed when the Corinthian church pursues after lesser things.  Paul is grieved to see people leave the Corinthian church for a different Jesus (vs. 4a), a different spirit (vs. 4b), or a different gospel (vs. 4c).  Paul is heavy hearted that people would run after so-called super-apostles (vs 5).

Any pastor worth his salt has experienced the same emotions as the apostle Paul did.  In the 21st century the value of the local church is synonymous with the value of marriage.  It has become common language in our day to talk of homosexuality, divorce, living together, shacking-up, test driving the product, co-habitation, and the one man with one woman till death separate them has become the oddity.  The degeneration of the local church is revealed as countless numbers of people sleep with a different local church every year.  The number of local churches that people have joined is closely related to the number of divorces the average American experiences (or changing of partners).  Church people hop from one church to another like fornicators and adulterers jump from one bed to another.  The view of the local church has become so low that most people have lost all respect for the church and thrown it to the side in hope of finding something better.  Like unto marriage, that which God has ordained as good and right has been thrown away for something far less and dramatically more destructive.  The number one phrase used to justify the swapping of one church for another is, "you just do not understand how bad my last church was".  Note: The last church probably improved after you left.

The arguments that are used for leaving the local church are the same ones that are used for divorce.  The fault is always with the spouse and all the things they did not do, or the things that they did that were wrong.  The fault is the pastor's or certain people within the local church.  The love that once existed has been lost and the couple has simply grown apart.  The love that was once held for the local church has been lost and the Lord is moving us somewhere else (this is near unto blasphemy to invoke the name of God to justify something that God had nothing to do with).  Countless marriages could be saved through repentance, forgiveness, and a whole lot of mercy.  Countless people could still be actively serving the local church if they would repent, forgive, and demonstrate a whole lot of mercy.

Paul knew that for people to abandon a church like the one at Corinth (this church was filled with problems) was a terrible move.  He knew that he could only effectively continue to minister to them if they stayed within the local body.  Oh, how it hurt Paul to see people go and for him to no longer have the opportunity to feed and water them on a regular basis.  Paul equates marriage to the local church in Ephesians 5 and a proper study of that passage will reveal that the departure from the local church is equivalent to adultery.  Paul was jealous over his church with a divine jealousy and he makes no apology for living out such an attitude.

I pray that every pastor would live out their ministry with a heart like unto Paul for the local church and that church members would study the Word of God closely and see the value they are to place upon the local church.  The church is the 'apple' of God's eye and great caution must be exercised in how people treat her.  God will not be mocked and he will not overlook the way people treated the bride of His dear Son.  I pray that God will grant you a local church that rightly divides the Word and the sacraments are rightly administered and that you will serve the Lord Jesus in that place until He comes.  Amen!