Proverbs 23:17–18 “Let not your heart envy sinners, but continue in the fear of the Lord all the day. Surely there is a future, and your hope will not be cut off.”
Sometimes it seems like they’ve got it all doesn’t it?
Nice houses. New suits. Shiny shoes. Unlimited credit. Beautiful lovers. Beautiful bodies. Exotic travel. Whether it’s a successful CEO, a Hollywood star, a sports hero or the guy who lives down the street – we are prone to envy what others have. We see their apparent ease and are tempted to think that they’re living the good life. We get lured into thinking that God is holding out on us and that if we had what they had, then we’d be happy. This of course is the same lie Satan told in the Garden so many days ago, tempting God’s people to not delight in what God has given, but to look to what He has withheld.
Our text tells us to not let our hearts envy sinners, those who do not know God. They have no regard for Him and see no need for Him. I know of a couple who shared the Gospel with a well-known actor who during their conversation leaned back in his plush chair, threw up his arms and said, “what do I need God for? Look at everything I have!”
Now, it’s true that our heart is not prejudice in its envies. It seems to happily envy just about anybody. But the point of the passage is to alert us to the fact that our hearts are prone to look for pleasure in what others possess rather than what God has provided, “let not your heart envy sinners.”
The danger with envy is its insidious nature. Envy is a temptation that calls us to point our finger at God and say “what you have given me is not good enough.” It calls us to entertain ways to get what others have. To lie, cheat, steal, use others – and disregard God. Envy is a bold sin, and sadly none of us are immune to it. What is it that you envy in others? Their popularity? The way others esteem them? Their apparent ease in life? Ask God to search your heart so that you might see it plainly.
The remedy for envy is not a new prescription, but certainly a faithful one: “continue in the fear of the Lord all the day.” If discontentment breads displeasure with God, then the fear of God frees us to delight in Him. The posture of our hearts must not be one of leaning over the fence looking at what God has given another, but rather it should be pointed upward, looking at God Himself. When we get a pure glance at the holiness and majesty and beauty of God in Christ Jesus, the lies of envy lose their power. Envy of what others have is eliminated when we believe that God is the greatest treasure.
This God-centered perspective must be a daily pursuit for God’s people. Since our hearts are tempted all day long, we must “continue in the fear of the Lord all the day.” Every waking moment of our lives must be guided by the reality that God is great and that stuff is not. God is great and acclaim is not. God is great and positions are not.
To help us abide in a healthy fear of the Lord, we must keep His promises ever before us, “surely there is a future and your hope will not be cut off.” What we see is not all that will be. History is moving to a moment. There is a day when all the parties will end for the wicked. Their deeds will be exposed. Their lawyers won’t get them off charges. David’s reflection in Psalm 73 may be a good read if this is a particular struggle for you.
Seeing the end of all things brings clarity to present things. It helps us trust God when our bank account or our social portfolio seems to say that we are defeated and will remain so. There is great hope for God’s people and as Matthew Henry wisely says, “The consideration of the end will help to reconcile us to all the difficulties and discouragements of the way.”
So, let us guard our hearts with the guarantee of heaven. Grab a brother or sister in Christ and meditate deeply on the surety of your salvation in Christ. Delight in the hope of that Happy Land where there will be no evil or death. Lean into the promises of God and ask Him to give you a hope that is unshakable. Remember the promised end of those who do not know Christ and pray for them and strive to share the good news of Christ with them. May we be a people whose hearts are free from envying that which is fleeting. Come soon Lord Jesus, come soon.
Picture by NTPL/Andrea Jones