“Do not let your heart envy sinners, but always be zealous for the fear of the LORD. There is surely a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off.”
Proverbs 23:17-18 (NIV)
Have you ever looked across the way and thought life was better over there than it was on your side of the fence? Whether it was envy of another’s person’s house, car, family, appearance, relationships, wealth, or personality, whatever you found yourself jealous of, remember Proverbs 23:17-18. These verses exhort us not to be envious of others, but instead to place our focus on revering the Lord and his commands.
The importance of this idea is repeated multiple times in Psalms and Proverbs:
“Do not fret over doers of evil; do not envy those who do wrong.”
“For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.”
“Do not envy wicked men or desire their company;”
“Do not fret over evildoers, and do not be envious of the wicked.”
“Blessed is the man who is always reverent, but he who hardens his heart falls into trouble.”
In the verses above, both David and his son Solomon tell us not to envy others. Why should we not envy others? Solomon explains in Proverbs 23:18 that when we replace envy of others with a fear of the Lord, we have a hope that ensures eternal life in heaven. He also tells us in Proverbs 14:30 that envy will rot our bones. So, in classic couplet style, Proverbs 23:18 provides us with two simple choices:
- envy others and find ruin and hopelessness or
- fear the Lord and embrace hope and eternal life.
What does it mean to “fear the Lord”? Fearing the Lord is having a deep respect, or an awe for God. This means we respect his commands, seek his wisdom, and rely on the Holy Spirit to help us through our temptations and struggles. Instead of comparing ourselves to others, which in essence makes them a “god” to us, we keep our focus on the Lord and what he says about us.
During different times of my life, I have envied others: their extravagant yearly trips, their flawless complexions, their luxury cars, their close friendships. But wisdom tells me not to compare myself to them but, rather, to be who God made me to be (Ps. 139), and to be content in this life (Phil. 4:12).
God had an intentional plan when he gave me my own unique looks and talents, and I should celebrate those things and use them for his glory (1 Pe. 4:10-11 and Mt. 5:14-16). When I consider the struggles of Paul (persecuted, chased, imprisoned, shipwrecked, and snake-bitten, to name a few), and hear his words on being content regardless of his lot in life, surely I can find contentment, too. Having a humble and grateful heart help with this. I am fearing the Lord when I acknowledge that everything I have comes from him, and when I praise him for the things he has given me.
Is there anything you envy right now? Release that envy to the Lord, thank him for who he has made you and what he has given you, and enjoy the hope that only comes from God.