Have you ever “fret because of those who are evil” (verse 1)? Have you ever wondered why some people, at least metaphorically, seem to be able to get away with murder—or at least to profit or benefit from doing what is wrong? What is more, have you ever been “envious of those who do wrong” (verse 1)? Have you ever desired to have for yourself the things possessed by those who do wrong? Well, if you’ve ever felt any of these things, then this morning’s psalm is for you!

I think that part of the reason that we as believers may especially struggle with these types of issues is because we believe that Scripture is God’s Word. And those Scriptures teach that God is good; and that he hasn’t abandoned the creation he so lovingly and marvelously made. Scripture further teaches that because God is all-powerful, if he were but to snap his fingers (so to speak), he could do away with all evil and evildoers in an instant. And yet he hasn’t.

Well part of what this psalm addresses is this very matter of theodicy, the so-called problem of evil that demands to know:

If God is all-loving as he has revealed himself to be;

and if he is all powerful, as he has also revealed himself to be;

then why is there evil in this world?

The psalm further addresses the matter of what the proper response to evil-doers ought to be by those who know God. Well let’s turn to this psalm to see if we can find some answers!

David, the author of this psalm, a man who well knew the reality of those who are evil, begins not by asking but by exhorting, “Do not fret because of those who are evil or be envious of those who do wrong.” Now to fret is to “be constantly or visibly worried or anxious.” And much as I hate to admit it, I confess that I am a fretter! What do I fret about? Oh, let me count the ways! In no particular order:

I fret about money;

I fret about those I love;

I fret about my weight;

I fret about house projects;

I fret about my dog;

I fret about my family;

I fret about work;

I fret if Ron is late answering a text or returning home;

I fret about my schedule and getting through my seemingly endless “to do” list;

And, yes, I also fret about the specific situation that David is writing about—I fret “because of those who are evil” and I can “be envious of those who do wrong.” Therefore I need to take David’s words to heart; I need to find a way not to fret because of those who are evil; I need to figure out how I can not be envious of those who do wrong. But the problem is, how can we stop an emotion? How can we stop being worried? How can we stop being anxious? For aren’t emotions a response to our circumstances? Aren’t they a kind of defense system that God has built into us so that we can cope? So, for example, if we feel fear when we see a fire, that’s a helpful emotion that can lead us to safety; and if we feel sadness when someone we love is hurting, that, too is what God intended. By and large emotional responses are given us by our Lord that we might better know how to live our lives.

But David here is addressing unhelpful and unhealthy emotions. Therefore if we’re unable to change our circumstances, how can we stop fretting about those who are evil? How can we stop being envious of those who do wrong?

Though there isn’t an easy answer to this, there is an answer. We can begin to address our fretting by countering wrong thinking with right thinking. In the case of those who are evil, we need to realize that evil doers will not last. Notice that the first instruction David provides as to how we can cease from fretting, from being constantly or visibly worried or anxious about those who are evil and of being envious of those who do wrong, can be found in verse 2. We mustn’t fret about those evil-doers because “like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away.”[1] When we find ourselves dealing with those who are evil or doing wrong, we may fret out of a concern that evil will get the last word and good will lose out. But David reminds us that evil will not win. Those who are evil and doing wrong will, like the grass, “soon wither;” like green plants they “will soon die away.” Believing this is the first line of defense to help keep us from fretting; believing this is one way we can counter wrong thinking with right thinking.

What David states here isn’t an isolated message from God’s Word but it’s one that’s underscored multiple times. Isaiah similarly exhorted,

12I, even I, am he who comforts you. Who are you that you fear mere mortals, human beings who are but grass, 13 that you forget the Lord your Maker, who stretches out the heavens and who lays the foundations of the earth, that you live in constant terror every day because of the wrath of the oppressor, who is bent on destruction? For where is the wrath of the oppressor? 14The cowering prisoners will soon be set free; they will not die in their dungeon, nor will they lack bread. 15 For I am the Lord your God, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar—the Lord Almighty is his name. 16 I have put my words in your mouth and covered you with the shadow of my hand—I who set the heavens in place, who laid the foundations of the earth, and who say to Zion, ‘You are my people.’[2]

Isaiah is boldly stating not only that evil won’t win, but that evil won’t win because the LORD God who made and rules this world will win. He is the One who will make all things right one day. Evil may appear to be great but the greatest evil we will ever experience is but a drop in the bucket compared with the goodness and greatness of the LORD Almighty who made everything that exists. We must never forget the LORD, our Maker, but must turn to him for comfort for we are his people; we belong to him.

Another song from Scripture that drives home this very same message is Psalm 92 which teaches,

6 Senseless people do not know, fools do not understand, 7 that though the wicked spring up like grass and all evildoers flourish, they will be destroyed forever. 8 But you, Lord, are forever exalted. 9 For surely your enemies, Lord, surely your enemies will perish; all evildoers will be scattered…. 12 The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; 13 planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God. 14 They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, 15 proclaiming, “The Lord is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.”[3]

Scripture repeatedly calls us to see life through the lens of God and his providence. He is a good and upright God who hasn’t given up on his creation. He is a steadfast Rock in whom there is no wickedness. The fact that evil doers exist doesn’t disprove the existence and goodness of God. Evil will die out but God is good and he is eternal. Therefore believers are called to persevere, to stay the course even in the face of evil-doers, knowing that evil will not have the last word. And, again, reminding ourselves of these truths and reality is one way we can stop from fretting about or being envious of evil doers.

After noting that evil doers will wither and die away, David similarly calls believers to turn their eyes from the evil at hand by turning to the LORD who rules. Starting in verse 3 we read, “Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.” Again, contrary to what we may think at any given moment, those who are evil will wither and die away. We mustn’t be envious of them. Instead we’re called to believe—and become—like God for the LORD is good—and he calls us to goodness; he calls us to be good as he is. Even if for a time it seems that evil doers are winning, we must remain steadfast envying not them, but God; becoming not like them, but emulating God who has made us in his image. What we find here is that the best way to stop fretting about evil is by overcoming evil with good. The best way to stop being envious of those who do wrong is by doing what is good and right. We’re to trust in the LORD and to trust that his ways are better than the ways of a fallen world. We’re to follow his ways in order that his kingdom might be made evident on earth as it is in heaven.

What is more, in verse 4 David calls us to move beyond trust to delight: “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” This isn’t a blank check to be filled in as we’d like. As we delight in God, our hearts will desire what is right. We’re to take great pleasure in the LORD, not be envious of those who do wrong. And we can delight in the LORD knowing that his goodness will one day win out; knowing that in the end, he will give us the desires of our heart. This doesn’t mean that we’ll receive whatever we want for not everything we desire is necessarily good or good for us. In this context of being confronted with and fretting over evil, the heart’s desire of wanting evil to cease will surely be met and fulfilled beyond our wildest dreams and expectations. We can cease to fret about those who are evil; we can cease being envious of those who do wrong because we know that they will not last. And it’s when we know the joy of delighting in the LORD that our heart’s desires will be realized for the greatest desire our hearts could ever have is that of knowing, loving, and delighting in him. If the psalm begins with a problem that is stealing our delight—why do the wicked prosper?—here the psalmist lays out a plan for how we can restore our equilibrium: exchange fretting about those who do evil with trusting in God; exchange being envious of evil-doers with delighting in the LORD. Once we know and place our confidence in the LORD, our delight in him will result in the fears of our heart being replaced with the joys of knowing and living for him.

David continues to strengthen those fretting over evil in verse 5 by exhorting, “Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this.” Don’t fret about those who do evil, but trust in the LORD; don’t be envious of evil-doers but delight yourself in the LORD; and make this way of coping a lifestyle and habit—commit your way, your life to him. Pledge yourself to him knowing that because of his great worth, he is worthy of our praise—and he is worthy of our trust. For if the greatness of God fills our gaze, evil doers will seem but a speck; if the goodness and greatness of God fills our gaze, no room will be left for fretting over those who are or do evil. What is more, verse 6, the LORD “will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn, your vindication like the noonday sun.” If we pledge ourselves to loving and living for God, then he’ll use even us to bring light to this dark world. He’ll use even us as a means of pointing others to God who is always righteous and just. For make no mistake, one day all will see God’s righteousness and justice vindicated.

What is more in verse 7 David calls believers who are fretting about those who are evil and doing wrong to “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when people succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes.” Rather than fret in the face of evil, we should stop—take a deep breath—and turn to our gracious God. To be still before the LORD is to refrain from acting as we look to him; it is to look to him for clarity; it is to seek his wisdom and guidance. Our God calls us to wait patiently for him. We’re to trust in his goodness. We’re to trust in his deliverance. We’re to trust in his justice. We’re to trust in him, not fret when evil-doers “succeed in their ways” and “carry out their wicked schemes.”

But it’s also important that in the midst of our fretting and being envious about evil doers, that we resist the temptation to become like them. As David states in verse 8, “Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret—it leads only to evil.” The answer to fretting over evil is never to give in to it, never to become like those who do it. Two wrongs will never make a right. Hundreds of years after the time in which David was writing we see James, the brother of our Lord Jesus, similarly teaching, “19 My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. 21 Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.”[4] Believers have ever been called to turn from impulsively acting on their anger and wrath for such actions will not turn out well. Such actions too often result in further evil being committed. So we must do all in our power and resist the impulse to give in to our fretting because of those who are evil; we must do all we can and resist being envious of those who do wrong. And so this portion of the psalm in verse 9 ends with the reminder with which it began: “For those who are evil will be destroyed, but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land.” In the end, those who do evil will be cut off from God but those who look to him will dwell with him not only now but always.

So dear sisters and brothers, how can we keep from fretting, from being constantly or visibly worried about or anxious about those who do evil? How can we resist the temptation to be envious of, to desire to have the possessions of those who do wrong? How can we properly deal with emotions that Scripture asks us to avoid? This psalm provides us with a number of good places to start:

First, we need to replace wrong thinking with right thinking. We need to realize that those who are evil will wither like the grass and that those who do wrong will soon die away. We must resist the temptation of assuming that those who act in such ways are in fact getting ahead or living lives of ease for those who are evil will have to account for their actions and will be judged; those who do wrong will not win in the end.

Second, in order to keep from fretting because of those who are evil and being envious, desiring to have the things that those who do wrong have, we need to work on our relationship with the LORD. David provides but a sampling of how we can do so:

We can work on our relationship by trusting in him;

We can work on our relationship by delighting in him;

We can work on our relationship by committing our way to him;

We can work on our relationship by being still before him;

We can work on our relationship by waiting on him;

We can do all of these things because knowing and loving and serving God are what we were made for. Our heavenly Father will never cease being our Parent and we will never cease being his children, not in this life, not for all eternity. So let’s do all we can now to get to know him better.

And the more we get to know him, the more we will want to know him;

the more we get to know him, the more we’ll be able to trust in his providence;

the more we get to know him, the sweeter will be our times of joy;

the more we get to know him, the more bearable will be our times of suffering and pain;

the more we get to know him, the more we’ll be able to view the circumstances of our lives through his eyes;

the more we get to know him, the more we’ll be able to persevere until he calls us home to be with him forever.

So, again, let us do all in our power to get to know him, to work on our relationship with him.

Third, in order to keep from fretting because of those who are evil and being envious, desiring to have the things that those who do wrong have, we need to be students of Scripture for the Old and New Testaments are the primary means our gracious God has left us so that we might know him; so that we might know his will and his ways. As Isaiah so beautifully stated, “The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.”[5] The word of our God endures forever because he is an eternal God who doesn’t change. So, too, did the apostle Peter quote Isaiah when he reminded those who had committed their lives to our Lord Jesus, “23 For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. 24 For, ‘All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, 25but the word of the Lord endures forever.’ And this is the word that was preached to you.”[6] We who, like Peter, are living after the time in which our kind and compassionate Lord came to earth in order to suffer, die, and rise from death in order to save us from evil ought to have this assurance even more deeply than did David for fifty days after ascending to heaven our Lord Jesus sent his Holy Spirit to seal and indwell those who are his. And now all who believe in Christ are immediately sent his Spirit that we might never be separated from him.

Finally, in order to keep from fretting because of those who are evil and being envious, desiring to have the things that those who do wrong have, we need to act on the Word we have heard. We must do good to others, not evil. We must love others with the love with which God himself has loved us.

So when tempted to fret because of those who are evil;

When tempted to be envious of those who do wrong,

let us cease from fretting and replace that fretting over evil with trusting our gracious and loving Father, Son, and Holy Spirit;

Let us remember David’s words in this psalm and trust in the LORD—and delight in the LORD—and commit our way to the LORD—and be still before the LORD—and wait patiently for him.

And dear brothers and sisters, when we are tempted to fret about evil-doers let us remember as well the apostle Paul’s words

If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?…. 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.[7]

Dear family, do not fret but remember:

  • Evil and evil-doers are temporary and will wither and die;
  • God, who is all good, can be trusted to make things right;
  • So let us imitate God and do good to those around us;
  • Let us delight in the LORD that he might change our fretting to delight in him and his ways;
  • Let us ever commit our way to the LORD.

Let us pray.

[1] See also Proverb 24:19–20.

[2] Isaiah 51:12–16.

[3] Psalm 92:6–9, 12–15.

[4] James 1:19–21.

[5] Isaiah 40:8.

[6] 1 Peter 1:23–25.

[7] Romans 8:31b–35, 37–39.