Proverbs 23:17-18

Let Not Thine Heart Envy Sinners

Introduction:

1. This is the 13th of 30 wise sayings in this section of Proverbs.

2. The proverbial thought consists of verses 17-18, as with most of the proverbial thoughts in this section.

3. Solomon tells us what not to do; what to do; and why.

WHAT NOT TO DO: Let not thine heart envy sinners:

1. This is the main command of the proverb.

2. Envy defined:

a. To envy; be jealous; to be zealous for.

b. A feeling of ill will ranging even to anger, based on a perceived advantage.

3. Solomon’s command is that his readers NOT be envious for what others have.

a. When a person is envious for what others have, it indicates that he is not content with what he has.

b. It also indicates that his focus is not on the Lord, but is on “things of the world”… and in particular, things that others possess that he does not possess.

4. Envy is a common trait of fallen man. We have all been envious. Perhaps we still are!

a. It is SIN to be envious. The Bible clearly commands us NOT to:
• Rom. 13:13 – “Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying.”

b. It is a proof of carnality to be envious:
• Gal. 5:19, 21 – “Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these… envying…”
• I Cor. 3:3 – For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?”

c. Before we were saved we LIVED in envy:
• Titus 3:3 – “For we ourselves also were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another.”
• Rom. 1:29 – “Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers.”

d. As a believer, if we don’t “lay aside” envy, we will not grow spiritually. It hinders spiritual growth.
• I Pet. 2:1-2 – “Wherefore laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings, 2As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby.”

e. It leads to many other forms of sin.
• Jas. 3:16 – “For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.”

5. This proverb (23:27) speaks of a particular KIND of envy: being envious of sinners.

a. This implies that it is also possible to be envious of saints!
• We can envy one another.
• That was a problem in Corinth. They were envious of those with the flashy gifts and they all coveted after those gifts.
• We can be envious of the earthly blessings of other saints too… envious of their wealth, their popularity, their material goods, their family, their looks, their job, their ministries, etc.
• Envy knows no bounds.

b. But here Solomon is speaking about being envious of sinners… of wicked men who know not God and are under His wrath.
• However, those very people often seem to prosper in the world… which creates great angst for many believers.
• This is a common theme, especially in the Old Testament.

6. Commands NOT to be envious of sinners:

a. Psalm 73:2-3 – Asaph was envious of the wicked when he saw them prosper in the world.
• Vs 3-4 – They appeared to be firm and strong and not have the troubles that others have… others who played by the rules and thus did not prosper as the wicked did by cheating.
• Vs. 7 – They seemed to have all their hearts could desire.
• Vs. 12 – They continued to increase in wealth.
• Vs. 8 – Yet they were evil men… ungodly.
• Vs. 13 – At times it made godly Asaph feel like he was living a godly life for nothing. He did NOT prosper. God didn’t seem to bless him. He wondered if perhaps he should go the route of the ungodly and cheat to get ahead.
• Watching the ungodly prosper in the world seems to bring out the worst in all of us as believers.
• It is an age old problem for God’s people.

b. Ps. 37:1, 35 – David warns of the same internal struggle.
• Fret: To be angry; to be zealous; to burn in zeal (being zealous and jealous are very closely related. Sometimes it is the same underlying word.)
• Neither be envious of the workers of iniquity: (same word as in Prov. 23:17)
• This is a common problem that ALL believers struggle with at some point.
• Vs. 35 – David gives his own personal testimony.
» He saw wicked men in positions of great power who spread themselves out like a bay tree (fat and flourishing).
» Evidently, this really stuck out in his mind. It evidently bothered him.
» It doesn’t seem fair… it doesn’t seem right or just.
» It evokes some wrong thoughts in us: “Why does God allow this? It isn’t fair!”
» It is not wrong to notice this phenomenon. But it certainly IS wrong to blame God and question God’s justice—as if our sense of justice was superior to His!

c. The first part of this proverbial thought simply makes one simple command: don’t envy sinners—even though such thoughts might pop into our minds and hearts.
• To do so is sin.

WHAT TO DO: But be thou in the fear of the LORD all the day long.

1. Instead of envying sinners, we are commanded to be in the fear of God all day long!

a. This is an interesting counterpart to the command.

b. One would think that the opposite of “envying a sinner” would be to have a better attitude towards the sinner.

c. To the author, the opposite of “envying the sinner” was “fearing God.”

d. It might not seem like a direct opposite, but it actually is.

e. To the author, the opposite of “focusing attention on the sinner” was focusing attention on the Lord… which means in practical terms, FEARING HIM.

f. In other words, the REASON we envy sinners who prosper in the world, is because we are focusing our attention on them… and what they have… and how well off they are.

g. What we OUGHT to focus on is the Lord. Keep Him in the forefront of our thinking… and that means walking in godly fear of who He is.

h. When our eyes are upon the Lord, we will not be so concerned about the wicked and how they live. We will be much more concerned about the Lord the Lord and how He would have US to live!

WHY: For surely there is an end

1. This expression is variously translated.

a. ASV: For surely there is a reward (but this interprets it as a good end—which connotation is not found in the word).

b. NIV: There is surely a future hope for you (same).

c. NKJV: For surely there is a hereafter (this leaves it generic enough to be interpreted as a good or evil future).

2. The problem lies with the meaning of the word “end.”

a. Defined: End; issue; event; latter time (prophetic for future time); the last point of a period of time; point in time future; an event in the future.

b. The term simply speaks of a future day… a future event… the last time… the end time…

3. The author’s point seems to be that the antidote for envying the wicked is to keep in mind that there is a future to be considered.

a. There is coming a “last day”… a future event that which (if understood) will mitigate AGAINST envy today.

b. Solomon doesn’t say WHAT that future day is, but seems to leave it to the imagination of the readers.

c. It was probably pretty obvious to his readers too—as it should be to us.

4. Other passages dealing with this same issue (envying the wicked) point to a future event that should serve as an antidote for envying.

a. Psalm 73:16-17 –
• The thought of the wicked prospering caused him much inner turmoil and pain.
• That pain continued UNTIL he went into the sanctuary of God.
• Note the change here: He was pained when his eyes were upon the wicked living in their luxury.
• But the pain LEFT when he went to the sanctuary and focused his attention on the Lord!
• It’s amazing how quickly our heart attitude can change when we change our focus!
• It changed when he considered their END (same word as in Prov. 23:18).
• The Lord brought to Asaph’s mind the fact that in the future, all the crooked things will be made straight.
• In that future day, all the wrongs will be made right.
• That future day here (end) referred to the day of Judgment. In a future day, the wicked will be judged… and so will the godly.
• In that future time, the wicked will be punished… and that will last for all eternity.
• Hence, there is no cause for envying that person—even though he may be living a life of luxury today.
• When our minds are on eternity, and view life from eternity’s values, all that angst, trouble, confusion, and envy will have no place.

b. Psalm 37:1 – Don’t fret yourself because of evildoers and the workers of iniquity.
• Vs. 2 – Here’s why: Because they will one day be cut down—in the “end.”
• vs. 3 – Trust in the Lord instead. Fear God instead… and you will be blessed. Your needs will be met.
• vs. 35 – David saw the wicked prosper and sit in position of power and privilege.
• vs. 36 – Yet David realized that their position of earthly power was temporal.
» There is coming a day in the future when God will judge.
» But sometimes it doesn’t even last very long in earthly terms.
» All too often they are sitting on a house of cards about to collapse.
» They may even experience some judgment in THIS life.
» They could be caught for their wickedness and cheating and jailed.
» They could make enemies who seek to kill them.
» The life of the wicked is NOT to be envied.

WHY: And thine expectation shall not be cut off.

1. “Thine expectation”

a. Defined: Hope; expectation; things hoped for; ground of hope; a confidence in regard to a good and beneficial future; anticipation of good in the future.

b. Solomon warns that the wicked have their day coming… but the godly also have a future day coming.

c. The godly can anticipate that future day with great anticipation and joy!

d. Jer. 29:11 – For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end. (end = same word as “end” in Prov. 23:18)

2. “Thine expectation shall not be cut off.”

a. The wicked lived in luxury in this life and perhaps expected that it would continue forever.

b. However, the “end” for the wicked will be a horrible experience. Their prosperity and luxury will all be “cut off”—it will come to an end and will be exchanged for eternal judgment.

c. Prov. 24:20 – “For there shall be no reward to the evil man; the candle of the wicked shall be put out.”

d. But the godly have a glorious expectation in the future and that will NOT be cut off!

e. This thought is an antidote for envying the wicked who prosper in the here and now… those who like Esau enjoy their porridge in this life and yet have made no plans for the hereafter.

f. Don’t ever wish you were in their shoes.

g. They are not to be envied but pitied.

h. Considering their end and our end (if we are faithful) will help us to maintain a right focus… and will help us deal with things such as envy today.

i. Viewing life from eternity’s vantage point will enable us to handle all the troubles and inequities of the here and now.