Rev. Slopsema is pastor of First Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Withhold not good from them to whom it is due, when it is in the power of thine hand to do it. Say not unto thy neighbour, Go, and come again, and to morrow I will give; when thou hast it by thee.

Proverbs 3:27-28

There are in the Bible a number of examples of this proverb being put into practice.

Think of Jesus instructing Nicodemus by night, when Nicodemus sought instruction about eternal realities (John 3). Think of Jesus ministering to the multitudes of Capernaum that followed Him across the Sea of Galilee. Even though He was weary, He taught them, healed them, and fed them with two fishes and five loaves (John 6). Think of the good Samaritan in Jesus’ parable. Coming upon a Jew beaten and dying on the Jericho road, the Samaritan bound up his wounds, brought him to the next inn, and paid for his care (Luke 10).

“Withhold not good from them to whom it is due, when it is in the power of thine hand to do it.”

These are words of wisdom. They are the wisdom of God given by inspiration through Solomon. These words of Solomon were spoken first to his son. But they are spoken to us as well.

How wise we will be if we follow this instruction; how foolish, if we neglect it.

“Withhold not good from them to whom it is due.”

There are those who are due good from you; they have a right to receive good things from you.

There are some very obvious examples of this. The employee who works for you is due the wages he has earned. The neighbor who loans you his tools has a right to receive them back. The government is due the tribute money it demands.

To see the true depth of this proverb we must understand that it really speaks of good things of yours that others own. A more literal translation would be this, “Withhold not good to those who own it.” The perspective is that the good things God has given to you are often not just for yourself but also for the neighbor. These good things that God has given to you for the neighbor are really owned by him.

For example, when God has blessed you with material wealth, this abundance is not just for you. It is also intended by God for the poor. The poor own your wealth. And you are not to withhold it from them. The same is true of your God-given talents. Has God blessed you with musical abilities or with great intellect or knowledge or leadership or experience? These belong not just to you but also to the neighbor. For that reason they are to be used not just for your pleasure but also for his benefit. Even the spare time the Lord has given to you is not just for yourself. It is owned in part by the widow and the shut-in that need your visit.

“…when it is in the power of thine hand to do it.”

It is not always within the power of your hand to provide good things to others. Sometimes you do not possess the good that a particular neighbor needs. Perhaps he is poor, but you do not have even enough for yourself. Perhaps he is sorrowing, and you do not know how to comfort him. He may need guidance, but you do not know how to guide him in this situation. He may be sick and lonely, but you have no time to visit him.

Or it may be that the opportunity does not present itself to help the neighbor in his need. To provide good things to the neighbor requires a God-given opportunity. This does not always present itself. For example, it may be that your relationship with the neighbor or lack of it makes it impossible to help him with the good things God has bestowed on you. Maybe for some reason the neighbor doesn’t trust you and therefore will not receive your advice. Maybe the neighbor in need would rather receive help from someone else.

But when it is in the power of your hand to do good for the neighbor, you may not withhold it.

The very language of this proverb suggests what often happens. We do withhold good to whom it is due. This is no doubt rooted in a lack of love for the neighbor. This also reflects a lack of love and devotion for the Lord, who entrusts His goods to us for the welfare of our neighbor. Above all it reflects a sinful love of self, which is nothing more than selfishness.

All this results in the sin of theft. If our neighbor owns the good things we have and we fail to give him what is his, we are stealing.

“Withhold not good from them to whom it is due, when it is in the power of thine hand to do it.”

Even here there is a priority. We must do good to all men, especially to those of the household of faith (Gal. 6:10).

God will also teach us in this proverb the timely manner in which we are to provide the neighbor with good things. “Say not unto thy neighbor, Go, and come again, and to morrow I will give; when thou hast it by thee.”

Sometimes you see the need of the neighbor as he struggles along, but he never comes to you for help. If you have it in the power of your hand to help him, you must then go to him. But in the case presented in this proverb the neighbor comes to you for help. Perhaps you never before knew of his need, but now he comes to you for food, money, guidance, comfort, encouragement, or help of some other kind. Sometimes you do not have what the neighbor needs, but in the case presented by the proverb, you do. You have the food, money, guidance, comfort, encouragement that the neighbor needs. “Say not unto thy neighbor, Go, and come again, and to morrow I will give.”

How often haven’t you and I said exactly that: Go, and come again, and to morrow I will give. Perhaps today is not a convenient time for us to help the neighbor. Or it may be that we are reluctant to help the neighbor in his need. After all, to help someone requires a great deal of time and energy. Perhaps we want time to evaluate whether we will help this needy neighbor of ours. Or it may even be that we mean to push the neighbor away, hoping that he will not return but go elsewhere with his problem.

No, if we have it by us, we are to help the neighbor today, as soon as possible.

This only underscores the great readiness we must have to give good things to our neighbor. According toTitus 3:1 we are to be ready to every good work. In giving good things to the neighbor or doing good things for him we must never be reluctant or hesitant. We must be ready always to give to the neighbor the good things of ours that he needs.

There are a number of reasons for this. It may be, for example, that the need of the neighbor cannot wait until tomorrow. Or it may be that the opportunity to help the neighbor in his need may not present itself tomorrow. Besides, our readiness or reluctance to help the neighbor reflects the degree to which we truly love the neighbor.

The examples cited earlier demonstrate the readiness we are to have to provide for the need of the neighbor. Jesus gave the searching heart of Nicodemus the instruction he needed in the very dead of night. Jesus ministered to the multitude of Capernaum with teaching, miracles and finally food, even though He was tired and seeking rest. The good Samaritan was ready to help the Jew, whom he found at death’s door on the Jericho road, even though he obviously was in a hurry himself to reach his destination.

The instruction of this proverb arises out of God’s great goodness to us.

No good thing has the Lord our God withheld from us. Never, when we come to him in our need, does He say, “Go, and come again, and to morrow I will give.”

How great is our need! We need food and drink every day and are not able to provide for these in our own strength. As we pass through this valley of tears we need comfort and encouragement, guidance and direction. Above all, we need deliverance—deliverance from the power and penalty of sin. For of ourselves we are hopelessly lost in sin.

And we can claim none of these good things as rightfully ours. For we have forfeited any right to them by our miserable sins.

Yet God in His grace has freely given us all these good things and more. In fact, He has withheld nothing good that we need. He withheld not even His only begotten Son, whom He sacrificed on the cross as payment for our sin.

Should you ever entertain doubts about this, reflect onPsalm 34:10: “The young lions do lack, and suffer hunger: but they that seek the Lord shall not want any good thing.”

Imagine that! And all this in spite of our sin. All gifts of grace!

Certainly we who have received such superabundance of good from the hand of our gracious, loving God must be ready to provide good to the neighbor. We who are due nothing must be ready to give good to those to whom good is due.