“Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it. Do not say to your neighbor, ‘Go, and come again, tomorrow I will give it’-when you have it with you…Do not contend with a man for no reason, when he has done you no harm…The devious person is an abomination to the Lord…The wise will inherit honor, but fools get disgrace.” (Proverbs 3:27-30, 32, 35)
Some cultures, such as those of the Middle East, Latin America, and Africa are community oriented; people live and work together as extended families and neighbors. Many Western cultures, such as North America, Europe, and England are individualistic, encouraging their citizens to act as individuals who are entitled to their rights. Your reaction to the above passage will vary greatly depending on where you live, or your nationality. If I am already community-minded, these verses will be a way of life for me, in respect for others in my community. If, however, I live independently, Proverbs 3 may be tough for me to incorporate. For example, if I never see my neighbors, how will I practice giving them anything, let alone helping them today rather than tomorrow?
Sometimes we sin by commission, doing that which we are commanded not to do, such as stealing, lying, and practicing adultery. More often we sin by omission, by not doing that which we are commanded to do. However, one of the most well-known and frequently quoted commands is found in Leviticus 19:18, which Jesus quoted in Matthew 22:39: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” I often remind myself that this means I am to love others the way Jesus loves me, not just as I want others to love me. Honestly, this is hard! According to Proverbs 3:27-31, I am expected to demonstrate this love to others by not withholding good, giving to others in need promptly, and not arguing with someone who hasn’t harmed me. God finds these practices repugnant according to verse 32. To which we may well say, “Uh oh,” and confess right now. It is an honor for the wise to approach God for forgiveness.
Every person with whom we have contact is owed the good we can do for them not just when it is convenient. I have learned to incorporate these practices by having regular contact with people to learn how I might help them through prayers, visits, encouraging notes, or material assistance. We have to work to overcome complacency and pride, which hinder our unpretentious empathy for and outreach to others.
How will you practice doing good to your neighbors on a regular basis?