Have you ever been tempted to be envious of unbelievers? They don’t pray, give to the church, or crack open a Bible. Often they live in blatant sin, yet their lives appear trouble-free and everything they touch turns to gold. Meanwhile, following Christ is often hard and painful. If you’re tempted to envy the wicked, you’re not the first. Asaph started sliding down this slippery slope. He writes about it in Psalm 73:
Truly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart.
But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped.
For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. (1-3)
Asaph had come to realize afresh that God is good to his people who are pure in heart after he had failed to guard his heart against the lure of the world. As he looked at the wicked they seemed to live charmed lives:
For they have no pangs until death; their bodies are fat and sleek.
They are not in trouble as others are; they are not stricken like the rest of mankind.
Therefore pride is their necklace; violence covers them as a garment.
Their eyes swell out through fatness; their hearts overflow with follies.
They scoff and speak with malice; loftily they threaten oppression.
They set their mouths against the heavens, and their tongue struts through the earth.
Therefore his people turn back to them, and find no fault in them.
And they say, “How can God know? Is there knowledge in the Most High?”
Behold, these are the wicked; always at ease, they increase in riches. (4-12)
The wicked appear to be healthy and carefree, despite their proud hearts that spew out malice, oppression and boasting. They believe and act as if God is unaware of how they live, yet they just keep getting richer. Asaph wondered if self-denial and holy living were really worth it:
All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence.
For all the day long I have been stricken and rebuked every morning. (13-14)
Asaph thought what’s the point? Why should I deny myself? Where has living for God gotten me? I’ve kept my heart clean in vain. I just keep suffering – “all the day long I have been stricken and rebuked every morning.” At least he didn’t say what he was thinking out loud and stumble his fellow believers:
If I had said, “I will speak thus,” I would have betrayed the generation of your children. (15)
The more Asaph tried to understand why the wicked prosper, the more weary and despairing he became:
But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task (16)
THE ANTIDOTE: LIFT UP OUR EYES
How often have we been sliding into despair and Jesus calls us to look up again and focus on his goodness and beauty. The antidote to the slippery slope of envying the wicked is to refocus and fix our gaze on God again. As we focus on Christ and his beauty and holiness, we see clearly the outcome of living for the world. Asaph nearly despaired until he lifted his eyes…
until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end.
Truly you set them in slippery places; you make them fall to ruin.
How they are destroyed in a moment, swept away utterly by terrors!
Like a dream when one awakes, O Lord, when you rouse yourself, you despise them as phantoms. (17-20)
When Asaph fixed his eyes on God he realized afresh how bitter, brutish and blind he’d become by envying the wicked:
When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart,
I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you. (21-22)
Yet even when we envy the wicked and doubt the value of following the Lord, even when we become bitter towards him, like ignorant beasts, Christ is always faithful. He never forsook Asaph, but held his hand, spoke to him, guided him, and showed him his glorious reward:
Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. (23-24)
God made Asaph realize anew where his true joy was to be found:
Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
For behold, those who are far from you shall perish; you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you. But 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. (25-28)
Jesus never lets us go, but is continually with us to sustain, guide and counsel us. He lifts our gaze again and again to see his beauty, and reminds us that nothing on earth is as desirable as he is. Sooner or later this fallen world will take its toll us – our flesh and heart will fail – but Jesus himself is our strength, our portion, our treasure, our glory, joy, and satisfaction – forever.
If you’re wondering if it’s worth it to be a disciple of Christ, lift up your gaze again. Set your mind on things above, where Christ is. Behold again his glory and contemplate the day you will see him face to face. Draw near to Jesus today and take refuge in him. Ask him for strength and joy. Thank him for his faithfulness and love. And say with Asaph, “But for me it is good to be near God.”