Proverbs 23:17, “Do not let your heart envy sinners, but always be zealous for the fear of the Lord.”
The definition of envy is, “a feeling of discontentment that leads to resentment aroused by the desire to have the possessions or qualities of another person.” A similar concept to envy is what John called, “the lust of the eyes” (1 John 2:16). If we don’t guard our heart, our need to have things in life can turn into greed; to have what we don’t need. John Chrysostom wrote, “As a moth gnaws a garment, so doth envy consume a man.”
Envy affects everyone, from young to old and from male to female. If we don’t control our wants and desires, we can become full of bitter envy that makes us an addict to our own greedy impulses and we will not be able to celebrate what others have and do.
One of the key elements advertisers use to get people to buy their products is envy. Fashion magazines want the young girl to feel discontent with her body and strongly desire the body of the unrealistic super model, so she will buy the clothes featured in the magazine. The beer commercial wants the average guy to feel like an unpopular outcast if he doesn’t drink their beer. The one-minute commercial promises him a fantasy world of scantily clothed women, fun parties and attractive friends. Sadly, this kind of “marketing envy” starts with children and affects all stages of life and all aspects. We can’t only blame the marketing companies, because they are successful as a result of people being envious in their heart.
King Solomon gives a direct command to not envy sinners because often times the disciple of Christ can be tempted to think they have it better. After all, sinners get to think, say and do whatever they want, whenever they feel like it. However, the disciple shouldn’t fall for this trap of sinful envy because the sinner’s temporary pleasures will end in eternal destruction. The Christian should be zealous for the fear of the Lord because the fear of the Lord gives life and everlasting pleasures; even joy in this life.
I remember one time when I faced the temptation of envying sinners as a young inner city pastor in New Orleans. I took a much needed break from doing intense ministry to visit Pensacola Beach in Florida. As I began to see how much “fun” all the people my age were having in their sin, I was tempted to envy them. But at that moment my heart was convicted and I heard the Lord say to me, “Am I not enough?”
I am thankful that God reminded me that He is always more than enough to meet all my emotional, spiritual and physical needs. He then showed me that even my worst day as a Christian, was better than my best day as a sinner. Paul said in Philippians 3:7-8, “Because of Christ. Yes, all the things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant—dog dung. I’ve dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ and be embraced by him” (The Message).
Serving God may cost us some temporary pleasures that sin provides. However, those temporary pleasures don’t compare to the happiness of knowing Jesus; both in this life and the life to come. Therefore, don’t let your heart envy sinners in their sin; stay passionate for serving God because He is always more than enough!
- Ask God to show you if you’re envious of sinners.
- Repent of any envy you may have in your heart towards sinful things. For example pornography, greed, selfish ambition, pride and the like.
- Pray for God to guard your heart and to always remind you to be zealous (passionate) for the fear of the Lord (Psalm 73).