By Irvin Himmel
Let not thine heart envy sinners: but be thou in the fear of the Lord all the day long. For surely there is an end; and thine expectation shall not be cut off (Prov. 23:17,18).
This text from Proverbs teaches some valuable lessons. Let us take a few moments to think on what the writer is saying.
Envy of Sinners
There is a strong temptation for the righteous to be envious of sinners. Here are some reasons why we must not envy the wicked.
1. Envy is wrong. The word of God teaches us to control our emotions, avoiding envy and jealousy. Envy is a feeling of discontent, uneasiness, or resentful begrudging of another because of his possessions, attainments, or success. It is classed with such things as murder, deceit, and malignity in Romans 1:29. It belongs to the “works of the flesh” in Galatians 5:19-21. It is connected with strife, railings, and evil surmisings in 1 Timothy 6:4.
2. The prosperity of sinners is only temporary. “It cannot be denied that wicked men are often in great prosperity even while the pious are poor and despised. They are eminent in social position and fortunate in commercial speculation; hence they are surrounded by all that heart could wish. This is a matter of history. It is also a matter of everyday experience. In this life the wicked are prosperous. They live in this life alone, they are often cunning and selfish; hence it is not to be wondered at that they succeed in it” (Joseph S. Exell).
3. The course of sinners, however easy, will be recompensed. Sometimes the righteous observe how the wicked evade their duties and seem to have a carefree life. The godly struggle to fulfil their responsibilities in a conscientious manner. Let us not overlook the fact that a day of reckoning is coming. Why envy sinners who will stand condemned on that final day?
4. The pleasures of sin are transitory and deceptive. One might easily envy the sinner, for it appears that he is having a merry time. He indulges freely in things from which the righteous are restrained. He laughs and plays, eats and drinks, and partakes of much that amuses and entertains. But it must be remembered that the pleasures of sin are only for a season (Heb. 11:25).
Fear of the Lord
Reverence toward God is more to be coveted than material possessions, worldly honor, or sinful pleasures. The proper attitude toward God is the cure for envy and fretting.
We should live “in the fear of the Lord all the day long.” A famous passage in Ecclesiastes says, “Now let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man” (12:13). Men live recklessly when they do not reverence God.
There Is an End
One is short-sighted who envies sinners. He sees their present and forgets their future. He looks at their outward display, not their spiritual barrenness.
The Bible warns, “Fret not thyself because of evildoers, neither be thou envious against the workers of iniquity. For they shall soon be cut down like the grass, and wither as the green herb” (Psa. 37:1,2).
The Psalmist said, “For I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked . . . . Behold, these are the ungodly, who prosper in the world; they increase in riches” (Psa. 73:3-12).
Before one allows the fortune of the wicked to excite dissatisfaction in his heart, he should think ahead to the end. Do not worry, fume, and fret over the prosperity and pleasures of the sinful. Do not allow fires of jealousy and envy to be kindled.
“Fret not thyself because of evil men, neither be thou envious at the wicked; For there shall be no reward to the evil man; the candle of the wicked shall be put out” (Prov. 24:19,20).
What if Lazarus had allowed himself to be envious of the rich man? Look at what happened when each man reached the end of his life (Lk. 16:19-31). Lazarus was comforted and the rich man was tormented. Sinners are to be pitied, not envied!
Surely there is an end – a reward – a glorious and wonderful future for the person who lives daily in the fear of the Lord. His expectation or hope will not be cut off. Just as surely as the wicked will be punished for their ungodly acts, the righteous will be eternally blessed for their reverence and respect for God, truth, and right.
Guardian of Truth XXXV: 23, p. 719
December 5, 1991