Let not your heart envy sinners,
but continue in the fear of the Lord all the day.
Buy truth, and do not sell it;
buy wisdom, instruction, and understanding.
23:17: “Let not your heart envy sinners”: The antidote to “envying sinners,” this scripture says, is “fearing the Lord.” What does it mean to envy sinners? For me, it means wanting the praise and recognition that other people receive. I want (in the case of fellow UMC pastors, who are also fellow sinners) their more prominent church appointments. I want their social media “likes.” I want to live in their hip and trendy neighborhoods. I want their respect. I want them to love me. (They love others; why can’t the love me, too? Do they not know how clever, charming, and funny I am?) But God’s Word is telling me, by contrast, to desire only God’s praise and approval, not other people’s (“Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.”); to care only about what God thinks of me, not what other people think of me; to fear God, in other words.
At the heart of envy is fear: What if other people are getting something that I’m not getting? This scares me. The acquisition of glory (which I so desperately crave) is a zero-sum game: If someone else is getting it, they are stealing it from me. If other people are being exalted, I am being diminished.
What a miserable way to live! Why not trust instead that God is giving me everything I need? This is in part what it means to fear the Lord.
23:23: “Buy truth and do not sell it”: And just think: it’s not even something that I have to buy; it’s completely free. And alongside “wisdom, instruction, and understanding,” it’s available in this book, Proverbs, and this Book of Books, the Bible. Buy it? I don’t even have to. But if there were a price for it, this scripture says—even an expensive one—it would be worth paying.
Instead, it’s free. Yet too often I think, “It’s still too expensive! It’s not worth the time and effort to invest in. It’s not worth getting up early, or (worse for me) going to bed early, in order to acquire this truth, wisdom, instruction, and understanding… I’d rather be lazy… I’d rather suffer!” Because make no mistake: that’s what I do! My envy (as I point out above) causes suffering. My anger causes suffering. My resentment causes suffering. It causes me to suffer, not to mention the suffering of others—those poor souls who have to live with me, or deal with me on a regular basis!
So, in the interest of “loving my neighbor,” if not loving myself, I need to “buy truth,” wisdom, instruction, and understanding.
Do I really think it’s worth it? Or would I rather suffer? This verse, please notice, says it is worth it.
Lord, teach my heart to believe it. Amen.