9–15 June 2019.
Proverbs 24 opens with the simple words: “Don’t envy evil people.” This plea is then repeated again in verse 19: “don’t envy the wicked”. At first it sounds like strange advice. Why would we ever envy evil and wicked people? But sadly this temptation is very common, very real, and very painful.
All of us know that living a good and righteous life is not easy. Keeping a check on our behaviour, focusing our hearts and minds on what is good, and working each day for love and goodness all take effort. But it gets even harder when we see people who aren’t interested in goodness doing much better than us. We see the way others bend the law to take what they want, the way they lie to customers to get the sale, the way they gossip, intimidate others, and violently push others around for their own benefit. And we see them using these techniques to succeed. Not only can that make us angry, it also hurts us deeply. It’s painful to feel left behind, and so we think to ourselves that if we just gave up on integrity and goodness then maybe we, too, could do better. We end up resenting the good life we are leading, and that pulls us down into bitterness and regret. But it’s in that moment that Proverbs quietly urges us: Don’t envy evil people, or be tempted by their apparent successes.
Proverbs encourages us instead to hold onto wisdom and truth, which are the true foundations of a good life: “A house is built by wisdom and becomes strong through good sense” (v. 3). And while some may find a fast-track to riches through wicked ways, Proverbs reminds us that knowledge and wisdom are the true treasures that we should seek (v. 4). And although the strong may use the violence of their words and actions to get ahead, “the wise are mightier than the strong” (v. 5).
It can be painful to watch the wicked get ahead, because it makes us feel like we were wrong to choose lives of wisdom, goodness, and love. And so we get tempted to give up on the right way of living. But appearances are so often deceiving. Throughout history, every kingdom and empire has come to an end; only the Kingdom of God, grounded in love, has continued undefeated. That’s why Proverbs stresses again, that no matter how painful the temptation may be to leave the right way behind, don’t fret because of evildoers and don’t envy the wicked, because in the end there is no true success there (vv. 19–20).
Pastor Stephen Lakkis