“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).
I posted on this previously, and diverted from what it actually says to talk about avoiding utilitarianism/pragmatism. Today, I’d like to talk briefly about what it says.
We have two parallel instructions here. The first verse speaks of duty, the second appears to speak of charity.
“Withhold not good from them to whom it is due….” The general idea is that when we can pay a debt, we should do so. This is not strictly referring to financial debts — there are debts of time, of respect, etc.
For many years, I have read aloud to the family. It has been a big part of our family life together, something that we have all enjoyed. We’ve been through the Chronicles of Narnia, Lord of the Rings, most of the Swallows and Amazons series, and many other books. Over the last two years, as I struggled with health problems, this was one thing that went by the wayside, but we’ve started again.
Tuesday evening, I was tired and not really feeling well, and considered just not reading. I could have excused it. I could have sat at my desk and worked, which would actually require less physical energy. I could have gone and imitated a vegetable in a hot bath (do veggies take hot baths?). No one would have criticised me, probably. But as I sat at my desk, the Lord brought this proverb to mind. I may not have felt great, but it was certainly “in the power of my hand to do it.” So, I tackled The Picts and the Martyrs again on Tuesday evening (poor Aunt Maria, I really do feel sorry for her), and enjoyed it thoroughly, and was glad I had done so. The next morning, I hit this proverb in my reading, and was even more glad I had done so.
The point of all that rambling? There are other duties or debts than just money. To withhold good of any kind from those to whom it is due is selfish. It might not hurt the other person particularly, but in some cases it might do damage. Who knows whether the other person has financial needs, or other needs? Do you want to be responsible for someone suffering negative consequences just because you neglected or delayed carrying through on something you could have and should have done?
Children should obey their parents. They shouldn’t delay. Obedience is due to parents, and it should be done immediately. Husbands and wives should give each other assistance, care, and affection, and not delay it for selfish reasons. Financial debts should be paid on time — why should someone suffer or go hungry because we are lazy or sloppy in carrying out our responsibilities? Employees should do the tasks their employers set for them, and not say, “I’ll do it later,” just because we don’t like that particular task. We should pay taxes on time (even if they are WAY too high). If your car is blocking your neighbour’s drive, get it moved — don’t delay.
Do what you ought to do, and don’t mess around with other stuff, when you can do it now and have it done. If it is “in the power of your hand to do it,” there is no reason to delay. God sees. As I said in my previous post on this passage, this is not a matter of what is effective in life. Rather, it is a question of whether we are going to choose the ways of the oppressor (verse 31) or dwell in the habitation of the just (verse 33).
More to come on verse 28, Lord willing….