Word to the Wise (Part 14) – Proverbs 23:17-18

Proverbs 23:17-18 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.

Wise people know that from our perspective good things happen to bad people. Asaph, a worship leader for Israel, struggled with this and then wrote a song about it:

Psalm 73

A Psalm of Asaph.

1Truly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart.

2But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped.

3For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

4For they have no pangs until death; their bodies are fat and sleek.

5They are not in trouble as others are; they are not stricken like the rest of mankind.

6Therefore pride is their necklace; violence covers them as a garment.

7Their eyes swell out through fatness; their hearts overflow with follies.

8They scoff and speak with malice; loftily they threaten oppression.

9They set their mouths against the heavens, and their tongue struts through the earth.

10Therefore his people turn back to them, and find no fault in them.

11And they say, “How can God know? Is there knowledge in the Most High?”

12Behold, these are the wicked; always at ease, they increase in riches.

13All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence.

14For all the day long I have been stricken and rebuked every morning.

15If I had said, “I will speak thus,” I would have betrayed the generation of your children.

16But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task,

17until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end.

18Truly you set them in slippery places; you make them fall to ruin.

19How they are destroyed in a moment, swept away utterly by terrors!

20Like a dream when one awakes, O Lord, when you rouse yourself, you despise them as phantoms.

21When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart,

22I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you.

23Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand.

24You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory.

25Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.

26My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

27For behold, those who are far from you shall perish; you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you.

28But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.

That is a very honest song. It’s not like the ones we sing in church, and I don’t suspect we’re hear a modern rendition of Psalm 73 anytime soon.

This was a very honest songwriter. He openly admits to being “envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked”. He was deeply frustrated over that fact that his righteous life didn’t lead to material prosperity. In fact, the unrighteous appear to be doing far better than the righteous.

Nothing has changed. Wicked people often appear to thrive. They don’t suffer the same diseases, deprivation, difficulties, or distressing situations (Psalm 73:4-5) that plague the rest of us.

Here’s the issue:

The temptation is to associate the condition of their life with the condition of their heart.

Life is temporary good and will soon be over. The heart is hard, and will soon sink into an abyss of judgment. Don’t be fooled by external appearance.

The thought is, “Look at them, obviously God doesn’t punish wickedness as quickly as we thought. Maybe we were wrong about his judgment after all”.

We know that kind of thinking is a trap, but we’re tempted to taste the bait. Maybe we can nibble around the hook and engage in a little unrighteousness ourselves. The pleasant season of sin (Hebrews 11:25) is short, but it’s still satisfying to the flesh.

Here’s the solution:

Solomon warns us to stay the course, continue on the path, and cultivate a healthy fear of God. In the future, and especially the next life, there will be a full measure of pleasure. We won’t be disappointed when we trade in the old flesh strained by temptation in exchange for a resurrected body primed for eternal pleasure.

2 thoughts on “Word to the Wise (Part 14) – Proverbs 23:17-18

  1. Psalm 73 is a convicting Psalm.

    ** Then **
    Not many years ago, all while calling myself a Christian, I was one in love with the worldly ideals of success and wealth (1 John 2:15), pursuing the things of this world (Matthew 6:24) in a high-tech startup on its way to riches (1 Timothy 6:9-10), surrounding myself with wealthy people (James 4:4). Searing my conscience by doing things I knew were wrong (Romans 14:23), but justifying my ventures by thinking “it’s what I need to do to succeed” – such as working with alcohol companies, casinos, partnering with businessmen who were unashamedly anti-God (1 Corinthians 15:33), etc. I was pursuing this with all my might, until one day, by the will of Almighty God (Ephesians 2:1-2), it imploded.

    By God’s grace He saved me (Colossians 2:13), and He enables me to view that period from His perspective (through His Word – Psalm 119:105), to understand it was all vanity (very short list):
    • Compared to eternity – futility (Ecclesiastes 12:8)
    • About self-will/being a self-made man (Deuteronomy 8:17)
    • On the wide road to destruction (Matthew 7:13)

    ** Now **
    • By God’s grace I’m to view work this way:
    Here is what I have seen: It is good and fitting for one to eat and drink, and to enjoy the good of all his labor in which he toils under the sun all the days of his life which God gives him; for it is his heritage. As for every man to whom God has given riches and wealth, and given him power to eat of it, to receive his heritage and rejoice in his labor—this is the gift of God. For he will not dwell unduly on the days of his life, because God keeps him busy with the joy of his heart. (Ecclesiastes 5:18-20)

    • By God’s grace I’m to view material things this way:
    Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. (Philippians 4:11-12)

    Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. (1 Timothy 6:6-8)

    • By God’s grace I’m to no longer covet, pursue and desire the things of the world. But God’s word commands me to devote myself to those things that truly matter:
    But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness. (1 Timothy 6:11)

    Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15)

    ** What will be **
    God tells us what is going to happen to this world: But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. (2 Peter 3:10)

    And we need to heed the counsel God gave to Baruch: And do you seek great things for yourself? Do not seek them; for behold, I will bring adversity on all flesh,” says the Lord. “But I will give your life to you as a prize in all places, wherever you go.”’” (Jeremiah 45:5)

    So, I exhort you to keep this life, and the things in this life, in God’s eternal perspective, for God has told us of how in the future, when we are in heaven with Him, what we will think of this world and its temporary successes:

    For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; And the former shall not be remembered or come to mind. (Isaiah 65:17)

    But as it is written: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9)

    ** Summary **
    Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, For this is man’s all. (Ecclesiastes 12:13)

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