In my last post I shared my recent encounters with Bible verses that warn against envying sinners or your enemies. Here are just a few of the verses I ran across:
Do not envy a violent man or choose any of his ways. – Proverbs 3:31
Let not your heart envy sinners, but continue in the fear of the LORD all the day. – Proverbs 23:17
Be not envious of evil men, nor desire to be with them. – Proverbs 24:1
Whenever Scripture mentions something repeatedly, as it does here, it always gets my attention. Scripture repeats things when God knows we won’t get it the first time. The Bible hammers home the things that our flesh is going to resist. Clearly, then, God knows our temptation to envy sinners.
So what exactly does that mean, and why is it such a struggle?
Who are the sinners?
First things first–what does Scripture mean by “sinners?” Throughout Proverbs there is a contrast made between the “righteous” and the “wicked/sinners.” The righteous follow in the way of the Lord, and the wicked follow a path that leads to destruction. As Christians reading these verses today, we would interpret the righteous as Christians and the wicked/sinners as non-Christians, but not because Christians are somehow better, holier people than the rest of the world (Don’t forget Paul’s words in Romans 3:10–“None is righteous, no, not one.”).
The reason Christians are to read themselves as the righteous, and the “wicked” or the “sinners” as non-Christians, is because of the identity we now have in Christ. As Christian disciples we have been given Christ’s righteousness, not on account of our own goodness but on account of his. So when we read about the righteous, we read about the identity we are living into, and when we read of the sinners, we read of the life that we used to have and is no longer fitting for our identities.
Why do we envy them?
Ok so with that out of the way, why is it such a temptation to envy non-Christians? Why envy a lifestyle that we chose to reject? Well as I’ve reflected on this, I’ve realized how easy it is to measure joy, contentment or even God’s favor based upon worldly circumstances. In my own life, envy has manifested itself in 3 keys ways, and behind each one is a very particular lie:
1. Envy of Possessions–As I’ve mentioned in past posts, one of my idols is outward appearance. I like to look nice and I find security in that. In light of this struggle, I find myself feeling jealous of the non-Christians I see on tv who look absolutely flawless all the time. Even though I know that these women are in bondage to their appearance in an idolatrous way, having to watch everything they eat and working out mercilessly, there’s still a part of me that wants the result. I want the perfectly toned body. I want to be able to have children and then shrink my body back to its original size in 6 weeks. I want to have a make-up team that eliminates the bags under my eyes when I don’t get enough sleep.
But the envy doesn’t stop there. If I had chosen another career and not ministry, I might own my own house right now instead of living in an apartment. If I wasn’t a Christian, I could buy whatever clothes I wanted because modesty wouldn’t be an issue.
In the face of this envy, I see a lie about God that’s as old as Eve. It’s the feeling that God is keeping something from me. He’s holding out on me. There are so many things to have and enjoy in this world, but I don’t get to because I’m a Christian.
That’s the first lie.
2. Envy of Success–This envy rears its ugly head in the form of the following three words: “It’s not fair.” It doesn’t seem fair when non-Christians who don’t honor God get ahead in life. It doesn’t seem fair when people experience success for compromising themselves or lowering their standards.
Or maybe you’re simply not experiencing the kind of advancement in life that you thought you would. Maybe you haven’t gotten that job promotion, or a husband, or you’ve struggled to have children, and you wonder if all your faithfulness to God is for nothing. Is living for God even worth it if I don’t experience the “blessing” that I thought I would get? Is God even in control? And if so, does He even care?
That’s lie number two.
3. Envy of Attitude–This envy is a bit more subtle. It is the envy of having a carefree attitude about life. Have you ever wished that you could just do what you wanted and not feel guilty about it? Non-Christians don’t have to worry about pleasing God. They can just live how they choose and not look back. Wouldn’t it be easier if you could do what you wanted with your boyfriend and not regret it? Wouldn’t it be simpler if you could watch whatever movies you wanted? Wouldn’t it be better if you didn’t have to worry about being prideful or greedy, and you could use your money however you want?
That’s lie number three.
Behind each temptation to jealousy is a lie. It’s easy to be jealous when we look to what is seen instead of what is unseen. What we can see is no indicator of reality, but how easily we believe that it is. That’s what makes the temptation so great, and why Scripture repeatedly warns against it.
In reality, possessions are fleeting, God does not care about worldly success (not even in the church!), and the idea of living a care-free life is a myth. No possession brings everlasting contentment, worldly success is no measure of Kingdom success, and the only people who live life without regret have hardened their hearts to love and compassion–to live without ANY regret is to overlook all the people you have inevitably hurt with your mistakes. Sin always has consequences, and the only way to have a free conscience is to have no conscience at all.
All of the things I envy are mirages. They either promise something they can’t deliver, or they promise something that never existed in the first place. That’s why we must constantly stand on truth when we are tempted with these lies. We only envy non-Christians when we are duped by the myths of this world.