Envying Evil Men
“Be not envious of evil men, nor desire to be with them, for their hearts devise violence, and their lips talk of trouble.”- Proverbs 24:1–2
Visible success and acclaim are engaging to the human heart. We are all motivated to one degree or another to succeed in what we do. Of course, there is nothing inherently wrong with this drive. Throughout Scripture, God motivates His people by promising them success if they follow His ways (for example, see Josh. 1:7). We also read of the Apostles’ encouraging us to think on what is excellent (Phil. 4:8). However, the Bible also recognizes that sin has twisted the desire to do well, a desire that we possess by virtue of being made in the image of the Lord. In our fallenness, we are often tempted to pursue fame and success through immoral means. Young people might imitate the bad behavior of celebrities in order to achieve a degree of fame on social media. In the work force, men and women may step on colleagues as they climb the ladder of success. We see that others have been successful by employing these wicked means, so we justify our doing the same things.
The warning in today’s passage is particularly pertinent in light of what we have just said. Given that the book of Proverbs is concerned with practical, everyday realities, we find it no surprise that it addresses these matters. When we see evil people prosper, it is easy to become envious and let that envy drive us into breaking God’s law even just a “little bit” in order to get ahead. But the success of the ungodly, while attractive to us in many ways, is not something to be envied when it is obtained by wicked means; much less is it to be admired (Prov. 24:1). Why is this? Because the fundamental orientation of the wicked is toward violence, be it physical, spiritual, or emotional. Readers of Proverbs know that such people end up ensnaring themselves and going off into destruction (1:8–19).
In addition to being given to all kinds of violence, the wicked are also characterized by lips that “talk of trouble.” What people say reveals the state of their hearts (Luke 6:43– 45), and those with evil hearts prove that they have not been regenerated and will be condemned. Certainly, we do not want to associate with the wicked and put ourselves in danger of being judged. Matthew Henry comments about such evil men: “all they say has an ill tendency, to dishonor God, reproach religion, or wrong their neighbor; but it will be mischief to themselves at last. It is therefore thy wisdom to have nothing to do with them. Nor hast thou any reason to look upon them with envy, but with pity rather, or a just indignation at their wicked practices.”
Seeing the wicked succeed can be discouraging, especially when we are suffering for the sake of righteousness. Yet what we should never do, today’s passage tells us, is envy the wicked and their success. The success of the wicked is but temporary, and any suffering we endure for righteousness is temporary as well. In eternity to come, the wicked will receive their just reward, just as those who are righteous in Christ will be confirmed in glory forever.
Passages for Further Study
Proverbs 10:7, 16
Proverbs 12:3, 12