First Corinthians 13--Love is not jealous
Jul 13, 2017
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:4 that “love… is not jealous.” The Greek word he uses for “jealous” is zeloo. It comes from the verb zelo, “zeal,” which means “to be heated or to boil, to burn with envy, hatred, or anger.”
The word can be applied in a positive way as being zealous in earnestly pursuing what is good, or in a negative way as being overheated by envy, hatred, or anger. In 1 Corinthians 13:4, it is plain that Paul applies the word in a negative way, something that is not a function of love.
Zeloo is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word qana in the Septuagint translation. In Genesis 37:11, Joseph’s brothers were jealous (qana) of him. Yet in Exodus 20:5 God tells Moses, “I am a jealous God,” that is, a qanna, which is from the root word (verb) qana.
The word zeloo is not epithymeo, “covet.” One would think that being jealous refers to coveting another person’s goods. Certainly, coveting is not a function of love, but Paul uses a different word to show that love is not jealous.
The Wedding Feast of Cana
Cana (Qana) was a town whose name is of Hebrew origin, qana, “zeal.” The word has another meaning also, as we see in Isaiah 42:3, “A bruised reed (qana) He will not break.” So the town of Cana could be defined either as “a place of reeds” or “a place of zeal.”
In John 2:1-11 the apostle tells us the story of the wedding feast of Cana, where Jesus turned the water into wine. This is the first of eight miracle signs (semeion) in the book of John, which prophesy of the eight days of the feast of Tabernacles. The purpose of those signs is to manifest His glory (John 2:11).
We know that He intends to manifest His glory in us, for we are His temple (1 Corinthians 3:16). That is the prophetic purpose of the feast of Tabernacles, and it follows the pattern of Solomon’s temple, which was glorified on the eighth day of Tabernacles (1 Kings 8:2). Each of these miracle signs in the book of John are followed by commentary and explanatory stories from the life of Jesus. In this case, the sign of turning water into wine is followed by the story of Jesus driving the bankers out of the temple. Then John 2:17 says,
17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for Thy house will consume me.”
This was a quotation from a Passover psalm that prophesied of Christ’s death at the hands of “those who hate me without a cause” (Psalm 69:4). The same psalm prophesied that He would be offered “gall” (i.e., opium) and "vinegar to drink" (Psalm 69:21). It also prophesies of His betrayal at the hands of Judas. (Compare Psalm 69:25 with Acts 1:20.)
So when Jesus cleansed the temple of the money changers out of godly “zeal for Thy house,” His act prophesied of the day when He would cleanse our own temples. What will be removed from our temples? The answer is found in the previous verse, John 2:16 KJV, where Jesus said,
16 … Take these things hence; make not My Father’s house an house of merchandise.”
The word cana is the root word of Canaan and Canaanite, which means “lowlander, merchant, or banker.”
All of these double meanings form the background of the story of Jesus’ first cleansing of the temple in the second chapter of John. Hence, when Jesus turned water into wine, it illustrated how He was to cleanse our own temples of its “merchandise,” so that we would no longer act like Canaanite bankers.
With this in mind, we can see that the Jesus’ “zeal” is a good thing. His zealous jealousy is His all-consuming passion, and He will not stop until He has cleansed His Father’s house. His anger did not burn out of hatred or any other wrong motive, but rather, it expressed his zeal (or jealousy) for His Father’s house. Because He is jealous, He will not rest until He has cleansed our temples of all its merchandise, so that the prophecy in Zechariah 14:21 will be fulfilled, saying, “there will be no longer a Canaanite in the house of the Lord in that day.”
Godly and Ungodly Jealousy
Paul says in 2 Corinthians 11:2,
2 For I am jealous [zeloo] for you with a godly jealousy [zelo]; for I betrothed you to one husband, that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin.
Godly jealousy is a function of love, as expressed in Paul’s zealous jealousy for the Corinthian church—that is, his desire to present that church “as a pure virgin” to Christ. However, there are those who have an ungodly jealousy that is destructive. Even husbands and wives can have an unhealthy jealousy, if they treat each other as merchandise. We must contrast Christ’s jealousy with Canaanite jealousy. We must search our own temples to see if they are defiled by Canaanites.
True motives can be difficult to see in ourselves, for we are often blind in those areas. It is common to justify our ungodly jealousy as if we had a right to be jealous. It is only when we can distinguish between godly and ungodly jealousy that we are able to remove the defilement from our temples and prepare ourselves for the manifestation of His glory in us.
This is part 74 of a series titled "Studies in First Corinthians." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones