“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.” — Proverbs 3:27-28
Wisdom is not just a set of abstract principles and metaphors. God’s wisdom will lead you to do practical good for those around you. It will not only protect you and bless you, but it will also cause you to protect and bless others. As you humbly submit to God’s word, God’s word will work through you to express God’s love, righteousness, justice, and equity (Proverbs 1:3) to your neighbor. You should never separate principle from action: they go hand-in-hand.
We live in the age of information overload. There are so many news stories and opinions. We are simply overwhelmed with stories of suffering, death, and tragedy. If you feel this way, you should know this is a unique point in history. There’s never been a time when so much information would have been at your fingertips.
Your limited human mind and emotions are unable to process what is coming at you, resulting in two common responses. The first is to become numb. As your circuits fry, suddenly you find yourself not even caring about what you read or hear about. It’s just too much, and you might tell yourself, “What can I do about this anyway?”
The second response is to become angry. This anger often results in belligerent activism. As you feel the world spinning out of control, you want to do something about it. There is a great temptation here to bypass the particular power God has given you for good in an attempt to fix the whole world.
What Is Your Responsibility?
This leads naturally to the question, “Then what is my responsibility?” I think that’s exactly where this proverb is pointing us. And if you are wondering how to change the world, this is the answer! I think there are three clear steps presented here to evaluate your practical responsibility to do good in any given situation:
1. Does this fall within my power for good?
This is an important question that you might not consider enough. Has God given you the money, resources, skills, authority, or influence to help the person or people in need? You can only give what you have (2 Corinthians 8:11-14). For example, if your neighbor asks to borrow your lawn mower, you can only loan what you have. If you own a mower, then you can let your neighbor borrow it. Additionally, you are not responsible to provide a mower for everyone in the city who needs one, just your neighbor who asked. Simple enough, right?
It seems many forget the simplicity of this principle when it comes to greater matters. I have noticed many get dragged into broad social movements. They end up feeling personally responsible to save the environment, to bring justice to society, or to stop misinformation. In these cases, the drive to fix the whole world supersedes the power God has given the person for good. If you become consumed with fixing what you have no power to change, you will end up neglecting the good works you are actually called to do. If God has called you to address the “big” issues, then he will also give you the ability to do so.
There is another important point here: social media does not constitute power for good. Social media is a self-made platform, not a God given sphere of authority. Do what good you can through social media. But, just know that your realm of influence there will likely reflect your real-life position of authority. Use it for good, but do not mistake it for power.
2. Does the person have a legitimate need?
There is an interesting phrase here: “those to whom it is due.” Even though there are different ideas on exactly what this means, I think the big idea is that you are to meet the true needs of those around you. Is this a real need in the life of a real person in your community?
This takes wisdom. As a pastor, one of the things you are privy to is how many scammers there are in society. Churches receive so many phone calls for requests for needs. Sadly, the majority of these come from people who work a circuit of churches. Over time, it becomes apparent they are not really in need: they just do not want to work. Likewise, there are “ministries,” campaigns, and causes that will ask for your money, time, and attention. You need to make sure you know who and what you are giving to. The best way to do this is to start locally.
Again, the context of these verses is dealing with your “neighbor.” Begin with those in your church, expand to those in your neighborhood, and then look to your city. Once you have good connections and relationships in these local places, it will be easy to go broader because you will have a network of trusted people who can connect you to legitimate needs in other places. Eventually you will meet needs around the world, but it begins with the people right around you.
3. Am I withholding anything?
You should not withhold good when it is in your power. If you answered “yes” to the first two questions, then you should meet the need. You should not withhold anything God has given you when someone else needs your help. Not only should you not withhold it, you should not delay helping. God withholds no good thing from his children (Psalm 84:11; Matthew 7:11). Your love for your neighbor should reflect His love for you.
Your Power for Good Matters
This should make you feel empowered for doing great good on this earth! The numbness and anger that result from the information age work against your sense of significance as a force for good. Yet, if you are in Christ, you were created for good works in Him (Ephesians 4:10). He has ordained each person to walk in these good works.
He has given you enough money, resources, skills, influence, and authority to do the good he has prepared for you to do. You are simply called to be faithful with what he has given you. In that sense, your power for good matters more than you realize. You can powerfully affect the world for good by helping one neighbor at a time!
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