“Do not let your heart envy sinners, but live in the fear of the Lord always. Surely there is a future, and your hope will not be cut off.” (Proverbs 23:17,18 — NASB)

The teacher of Proverbs has an important exhortation here, one that acknowledges the strong allure of sin, yet which also urges the man of God to deny that temptation by turning instead to a healthy, joyful, and forward-looking trust in God. This is an ever-timely warning, one that can provide great help to us in our ongoing battles with sin’s deceptive enticements.

Let’s break down a few elements of this exhortation.

1) Sin begins in the heart — our inner attitudes and affections.  The overt acts of sin have their start inside us. (Remember 1 John 1:13-16 and Matthew 5.) Walking in holiness is much more than avoiding the deeds of robbery, adultery, cursing, murder, or exploitation. It is not enough to avoid “acting out” sin. The battleground is, in point of fact, our minds.  It is there that that we are either victorious or defeated, pure or corrupt, pleasing to God or disappointing to Him. Thus, the initial warning of Proverbs 23:17: “do not let your heart envy sinners.”  The basic danger we face is not murdering someone, it’s hating them. It is not hooking up with someone who is not your spouse, but mentally lusting for them. It is not breaking into your neighbor’s home to steal, but being unsatisfied and ungrateful with your own income and possessions. Again, sin begins in the heart and so that is where the Lord commands us to be on our closest guard against it.

2) Do we really envy sinners?  We don’t usually think of our struggles with evil in this way.  We are more likely to think of temptation as being an idea or some kind of evil force…perhaps some line of attack from the devil himself.  But this proverb is just one of the many Scriptures that show us temptation can arise from our attitudes towards other people – even unbelievers.  Their beauty and youth.  Their health and mobility.  Their affluence, eloquence, social standing, relationships, freedom, success.  When we allow our eyes to stray from the Lord, from His Word, from the many and lovely gifts He has given us, and from our heavenly future (more on that momentarily), and start comparing our lot with others, we’re in spiritual trouble. We are likely to end up dissatisfied (at times even despairing). We complain and blame God for whatever we feel lacking. We give way to envy.  But God wants to kindly teach us that there is absolutely no future in this.  No happiness.  No spiritual growth. No heavenly reward. So, let’s listen carefully to His wisdom and choose a different course.

3)  “Live in the fear of the Lord always.” Yes, there is another option.  Instead of letting our hearts be filled with dissatisfaction, ingratitude, and envy towards sinners, our hearts can be filled with the Holy Spirit as we live in the fear of God. Now, you’ve often heard that when the Bible speaks of fearing God, it actually means a solemn reverence for Him. And that’s true. But it’s not the whole truth. A comprehensive study of the Bible’s teaching on this matter reveals that while “the fear of the Lord” certainly includes that sense of solemn reverence towards God, it also involves ongoing trust, gratitude, love, awe, obedience, encouragement, comfort and…yes, an honest fear of the repercussions of sin in our lives.  Make no mistake, God is a jealous God Who disciplines His own.  So be sure to behave yourselves as heavenly children. Honor God with a life of faithful obedience to His Word. As you do so, the temptation to envy sinners will lose its appeal. So, delight yourself in the Lord.  Find in Him your joy, your satisfaction, your purpose, and your strength. And, in God’s divine irony, once your focus is on Him, you can properly see others – not as people to envy, but as people to serve, pray for, and be an example to.

4) Consider the future. There is, in 23:18, a marvelous postscript to the previous proverb.  God reminds us that there is another huge consideration in this matter; namely, the eternal consequences of our present battles with temptation and sin.  Those sinners we are sometimes prone to envy?  Their end is judgment and an eternal separation from God and all His delights.  But, in astonishing contrast, the people of God have a sure hope — a word also translated “expectation” And that sure hope, that guaranteed expectation of believers is a full redemption of mind, body, relationships, and even the physical world in which they will live forever with Christ  And that hope will not be cut off. But the wicked?  That’s a whole different story. He has no portion at all in this.  He is cast out defeated, wanting, and alone…eternally. So why envy sinners? There’s no logic or value in doing so.  Oh no, it is much better to keep the big picture in mind and live in the fear of God: honoring Him, loving Him, and glorifying Him as we joyfully anticipate the grand future before us.

“Do not let your heart envy sinners, but live in the fear of the Lord always. Surely there is a future, and your hope will not be cut off.”  (Proverbs 23:17,18 — NASB)

But be doers of the word,
and not hearers only.