These days, I'm reading Proverbs for my daily quiet time with God. (I'm using The One Year Chronological Bible and am once again be reading the Bible over the course of the year.
Today, I was struck by several passages that, despite not being situated together, seem to go together, each successive couplet of two proverbs building on the previous one and forming a more complete picture.
Take a look at them here to see what I mean.
"Let not your heart envy sinners, but continue in the fear of the Lord all the day. Surely there is a future, and your hope will not be cut off." (Proverbs 23:17-18)
Anyone who seeks to humbly follow God and love their neighbor has had those moments when, like Jeremiah, in one way or another, they ask God, "Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all the faithless live at ease?" (Jeremiah 12:1)
We can ask these questions self-righteously, seeing the splinter in our neighbor's eye without acknowledging the log in our own, as Jesus says. (I know that I do anyway.) We wonder why some people seem to "get away with murder," doing cruel things, saying cruel things, and yet enjoying ease and sometimes, the approval of the world.
But what the verses from Proverbs tell us is that we shouldn't fall prey to anger at the evil people in the world for their prosperity or other advantages.
We need to remember that all who daily repent of sin and keep on trusting in the God we now meet in Jesus, God the Son--all who keep pursuing Christ and endure in trusting in Him--have infinitely and eternally more than the arrogant rich and powerful of this world.
The apostle Peter says that believers in Jesus have "an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time." (1 Peter 1:4-5)
To waste our time on envy of the evil people who gobble up more of the dead and dying stuff of a world ticketed for destruction doesn't make sense.
(By the way, as our current Facebook study of 1 John reminds us that some of these evil people we might be tempted to envy claim to be Christians themselves. They're the folks who twist the truth of the Gospel or exploit Christians to get the earthly things they want, like power, wealth, and advantage. John says that people like these are among the "many antichrists" that do evil in these last days [1 John 2:18-29] and who we need to ignore.)
The next couplet of verses from Proverbs that seems to go with the one mentioned above is Proverbs 24:1-2: "Be not envious of evil men, nor desire to be with them, for their hearts devise violence, and their lips talk of trouble."
While in Proverbs 23:17-18, we're told that it's ridiculous for those who trust in the God now revealed to all in Jesus to be envious of evil people because we know that God stands with those who trust in Him always, here we're told to stay away from the wicked because of the rotten things they say and do.
When we see the wicked exploiting others for big bucks or manipulating people to get or keep power, we may be tempted to befriend them. We may think that we can get some of their money or power for ourselves.
But these aren't good people. They spend their time devising ways to hurt people or stir up chaos to their own advantage. If we associate with people like these, they're likely to exploit us or, even worse, influence us to become like them!
Proverbs warns us to stay away from evil people who view others either as objects they can use or can discard.
We can pray for people given over to evil like Proverbs is talking about, asking that their hearts will be changed.
But we should never envy them.
We shouldn't do business with them.
We shouldn't trust them in any way.
We shouldn't emulate them and we shouldn't even mention their names in public.
And we shouldn't, by entering into their orbits, allow them to take us to hell with them.
The third couplet of verses from Proverbs that seems to go with the previous two is Proverbs 24:19-20: "Fret not yourself because of evildoers, and be not envious of the wicked, for the evil man has no future; the lamp of the wicked will be put out."
The idea here seems to be: Don't spend a moment stewing over the advantages that evil people may have in the world. Fight for justice and fair treatment for your neighbor, by all means. That goes with loving God with our whole being and loving our neighbor as we love ourselves.
But our call is to get on with lives by trusting in Jesus, Who empowers us to live in love toward God and others and to share the good news of new and eternal life for all who entrust their lives to Jesus.
For us to spend any time being resentful of the evil is a waste.
They're on the losing side of history no matter how much they may think they're winning.
Do what you can to keep these types from hurting your neighbor.
Pray that God will bring them to faith in Christ.
Pray even that you might have the chance to share Christ with them.
Otherwise, give them no thought. And don't be envious of them!
These six verses seem especially appropriate for me to heed today.