“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.” (Proverbs 23:17-18)

In the sermon preached on 18 October entitled “Jealousy Corrupts”, we saw how Saul was jealous of David because divine favour was upon him. Saul was envious of another who was righteous. However, Solomon teach-es us that it is possible for us to be jealous of those who are unrighteous. This was also the testimony of Asaph – “For I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.” (Psalm 73:3)

It is easy to envy sinners when they prosper in their ways. The temptation increases when they get away with their nefarious ways, whereas we re-main persecuted for the sake of righteousness. In such situations, we may be moved to adopt the ways of the wicked, and disobey the commandments of the Lord. We reason within ourselves, “Why should they prosper and I suffer? Why should I be bullied? Let me do the same unto them as they have done unto me!” We will foolishly proclaim, “Verily, I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocency.” (Psalm 73:13)

The children of Israel had to face such a test when they dwelt in the Promised Land. As the surrounding nations prosper, they were tempted to follow their ways and their gods. They forgot that Israel was different from the other nations. She was supposed to be a spiritual witness. They must obey the LORD. The LORD will then bless them according to the covenant which He made with Israel (c.f. Deuteronomy 28:1-14). However, they did not listen but admired the surrounding nations. As a result, they fell into gross worldliness, idolatry and iniquity. The LORD judged them and they were dispersed among the nations. This is the consequence of envying sinners!

We must beware of the subtlety of envy. It begins in the inner man, and may not be obvious to others. However, if we do not guard against envy, and allow it to fester, it will corrupt our thoughts, words and deeds. We will be hypocritical in our ways, yet harbouring wicked devices against others, scheming and pursuing all means to get an advantage of others. The envious businessman will say, “I will climb the corporate ladder, by hook or by crook!” The jealous student will say, “I will not help others, for I do not want them to get better grades than me!” Our Christian testimony will soon be rendered ineffective.

How then should we guard our hearts against jealousy? Solomon proposes a two-fold protection:

1. Fear the LORD (v.17). The book of Proverbs teaches, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge” (Prov. 1:7), and, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom” (Prov. 9:10). Man must first learn to fear God before he can enter heaven. When a man does not fear God, he will never acknowledge his sin and come to God for salvation. Such a man can never possess heavenly wisdom for he is not indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and spiritual things must be spiritually discerned. A man who truly fears God will humbly acknowledge that God is holy and just, and he is nothing but a sinner. He will come to the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation. Such a man will be indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and will now be able to discern the spiritual words of Scripture.

However, the book of Proverbs also teaches us that the fear of the LORD is the continuation of wisdom. It is by the fear of the LORD that one is continually instructed in wisdom (Prov. 15:16), and it is by the fear of the LORD that one separates himself from sin and wickedness. “By mercy and truth iniquity is purged: and by the fear of the LORD men depart from evil.” (Proverbs 16:6) When we know how holy and just God is, we will not want to do anything that displeases and angers God.

We are also told by Solomon to abide in the reverential fear of the LORD “all the day long”. Once we lose sight of the holiness of God, we can easily fall into envy. Christians often proclaim that they fear God when they assemble on the Lord’s Day, but are they continually in the fear of the Lord the rest of the week?

King Solomon summarises the whole issue in Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 – “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.”

2. Persevere in hope (v.18). Verse 18 teaches us to look forward to theconsummation of our heavenly hope. Our heavenly hope is a certain hope, for Christ has proclaimed that He has reserved a place in heaven for us. “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.” (John 14:1-3)

In contrast, unbelievers have no hope beyond the grave. They will be judged on the last day, and their end would be an eternal fiery judgement. No one is able to escape the judgement of God. He is not blind, and will certainly vindicate the righteous.

These two aspects of guarding one’s heart from envy are also seen in the testimony of Asaph. He proclaims at the end of Psalm 73 – 16 When I thought to know this, it was too painful for me; 17 Until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end. 18 Surely thou didst set them in slippery places: thou castedst them down into destruction. 19 How are they brought into desolation, as in a moment! they are utterly consumed with terrors. 20 As a dream when one awaketh; so, O Lord, when thou awakest, thou shalt despise their image. 21 Thus my heart was grieved, and I was pricked in my reins. 22 So foolish was I, and ignorant: I was as a beast be-fore thee. 23 Nevertheless I am continually with thee: thou hast holden me by my right hand. 24 Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory. 25 Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee. 26 My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever. 27 For, lo, they that are far from thee shall perish: thou hast destroyed all them that go a whoring from thee. 28 But it is good for me to draw near to God: I have put my trust in the Lord GOD, that I may declare all thy works.” (Psalm 73:16-28)

Dear readers, we must be on our guard against all unrighteous forms of jealousy. Only by the fear of the LORD and anchoring ourselves in the heavenly hope will we not be envious. Is not the will of the LORD the best for us? Trust in the LORD and depart from evil!

Lovingly in Christ,
Preacher Clement Chew