Once upon a time in a land far away neighbors welcomed new people to the neighborhood with a freshly baked apple pie, they offered to watch one another?s house while they were away visiting family, and people felt a sense of security and unity. Kids who lived in the neighborhood knew that they had lots of ?moms? and ?dads? who were watching out for them and checking on them to make sure they were acting right. If a young person acted out instead of acting right then they would be corrected twice: First by the neighbor who caught them in the act and then again when they arrived home. Kids wondered if their parents had telepathic powers?how else could they have known about what they had done? What the kids finally figured out, after having experienced the ritual of double correction time and time again, was that the adults were talking and helping one another raise each other?s children. You need to know that this is not mere speculation or a theoretical hypothesis I?ve constructed–I know this firsthand.
When I was a kid growing up in Duncan I went out on Halloween night with some of my buddies. We were acting out instead of acting right. My buddies and I were plotting and scheming a Halloween prank against one of our neighbors. I was chosen by my buddies to go and knock on the door and run. I snuck up to the front door, knocked as hard as I could, and ran like Maurice Green in the Summer Olympics. As I was running away from the house I heard footsteps behind me. As I glanced behind me I saw the silhouette of a big man making ground on me?it was Jennifer Watkins? daddy. Big John closed in on me and yelled out, ?Hays what are you doing?? I was caught like Leonardo DeCaprio in the movie Catch Me If You Can. Mr. Watkins wasn?t mean, but he sure sounded a lot like my dad. When I got home my mom and dad said, ?What did you do tonight?? As coolly as possible I said, ?Aw nothing much. We just walked around the neighborhood.? Then the hammer dropped and my sin was exposed. Oh, those were the days. It was hard to go bad back in the day when there were eyes all over the neighborhood watching you.
My neighborhood was not unlike most neighborhoods in Duncan. Neighbors sat on one another?s front porch and talked in the evening. When someone was sick there was a steady stream of food and well wishers who stopped by. Men helped each other work on one another?s cars and trucks. People trusted one another and knew that they were looking out for each other?s best interest. Those were the days.
Today things are different. Many neighborhoods are war zones today where neighbors are afraid of one another, they don?t know one another. Bars, security systems, and Pit Bulldogs are all in place to protect one?s personal belongings. People don?t discipline one another?s children because they are afraid of a lawsuit or worse yet, a fistfight with the kid?s parent. Even in upscale neighborhoods there is a sense of isolation. Gates or security guards protect the front entrance. Driveways take you to the back of the house where high fences prevent you from seeing your neighbors as you drive into your garage without every saying ?Hi? to anyone outside of your own home.
This is taking place in America where we?ve got great neighborhoods, relatively speaking. Think about what it would be like living in Baghdad today. Or maybe you would rather live in a quaint neighborhood in Jerusalem or the West Bank? You wouldn?t be worrying about break-ins this morning while you are away at church, but you would be worrying about bombs going off and taking the lives of your loved ones while you walked to church. Does God?s Word have any wisdom to impart to our neighborhoods? Does God?s wisdom hold any hope for transforming our neighborhoods or ourselves or our neighbors? I believe it does. Let?s take a look at Proverbs 3:27-35 and see what we can learn.
27 Do not withhold good from those who deserve it, when it is in your power to act. 28 Do not say to your neighbor, ?Come back later; I?ll give it tomorrow??when you now have it with you. 29 Do not plot harm against your neighbor, who lives trustfully near you. 30 Do not accuse a man for no reason?when he has done you no harm. 31 Do not envy a violent man or choose any of his ways, 32 for the LORD detests a perverse man but takes the upright into his confidence. 33 The LORD?S curse is on the house of the wicked, but he blesses the home of the righteous. 34 He mocks proud mockers but gives grace to the humble. 35 The wise inherit honor, but fools he holds up to shame. (Proverbs 3:27-35 NIV)
What we discover in this section of Scripture that we are studying today is that there is a close connection between what we believe and what we do. We can talk about doctrine, theology, and what we believe until the cows come home, but if our theology and beliefs don?t have a direct impact upon how we live and relate to others then all of our talk is empty. John wrote in 1 John 3,
16This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. 17If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? 18Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. (1 John 3:16-18 NIV)
For those of us who have surrendered our lives to Jesus Christ the precedent has been set: He laid down His life for us so it is imperative that we lay down our lives for others. He loved us when it was inconvenient for Him to love and we should love one another even when it is inconvenient for us to love. Jesus taught us that love is not a sentiment, emotion, or a thought, but love is a verb?it requires action on our part.
As we look at our Scripture for today we can divide it into three different parts. In verses 27-28 we told how to relate to our needy neighbor. In verses 29-30 we are given wisdom on how to relate to an innocent neighbor who trusts us and doesn?t mean us any harm. Last of all, in verse 31 we are given wisdom on how to relate to a neighbor who is violent.
Another interesting aspect of this section of Scripture is that in verses 27-30 each verse is made up of two parts. Let?s use verse 27 as an illustration of what I am talking about. In verse 27 we read, 27 Do not withhold good from those who deserve it, when it is in your power to act. Do you see the two parts? ?Do not withhold good from those who deserve it? ? ?when it is in your power to act.?
This is an interesting verse. To whom is help due? Who deserves our help? That?s a great question, especially in a day when people act like the world owes them something. There are two groups of folks that are addressed in Scripture that we are to avoid. They are the ?sluggard? and the ?leech.? Concerning the sluggard, or the person who can work but chooses not to, Paul had this to say in 2 Thessalonians 3:10.
10For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: ?If a man will not work, he shall not eat.? (2 Thessalonians 3:10 NIV)
We need to pray that the sluggard?s hunger pangs will stir within him a desire to get up off of his couch and find work. Alongside of the sluggard is the leech. In Proverbs 30:15 we read, 15 ?The leech has two daughters. ?Give! Give!? they cry.? It doesn?t matter how much help is given to a ?taker,? or a ?leech? as Scripture calls them, it will never be enough. It will be like dipping water out of the ocean with a teaspoon?it just won?t make any difference.
There are leeches and there are sluggards who don?t have any desire to use their abilities or time to provide for themselves or for others, but there are many among us who simply need help of some kind. Scripture addresses this group in Proverbs 3:27. ?Those who deserve it? are those who need help. They are not proud that they need help, they don?t expect you or me to bail them out, but they need help.
This past week I received a call from a lady here in the neighborhood that needed help. Her electric bill had gotten away from her and the cut-off date was on its way. I told her that we wanted to help out and the way that we could help would be to let her work for $6.00 an hour. I told her that she could think about it and if she wanted to work then she could come the next day at 8 am and begin. She said she wanted to work. The next day she arrived at the church on time and went to work. She did everything we asked?she cleaned every slat of every mini-blind in the church and pulled weeds in all of the flower beds. That my friend is a person for whom the ?good? that we possess is due.
There is another important point to this verse that we need to talk about. We are told that we are not to withhold good when it is in our power to help. Our power is limited. We can?t help everyone, but we can help. We are told in Proverbs 6 that we are not to sign a note with someone who might default and destroy us financially. If I am giving money to people in need, real need, but it is keeping my own family from eating or making me late paying my mortgage then I am being a poor steward of what God has given to me. If I am not spending any time with my family because of work, but I am spending time volunteering in some ministry, additional time away from home, then I am being a poor steward of the time the Lord has given to me. We need to know what we can and can?t do and then be prepared to act when the opportunity arises.
Let?s take a look at the next verse. 28 Do not say to your neighbor, ?Come back later; I?ll give it tomorrow??when you now have it with you. How many times have we been approached by someone who needs help and we?ve said, ?I can?t help you today, but call me next week and I will see what I can do.? In reality we just didn?t want to be bothered. We could have helped, we should?ve helped, but we didn?t help our neighbor. When we have the ability to help then we need to allow the Lord to use us to benefit the person in need. We shouldn?t delay, dilly dally around, or put people off because of laziness or apathy.
Jesus told a story about a judge who had the opportunity to help, but he just kept the putting the lady off until she finally wore him down. Read along with me in Luke 18.
2He said: ?In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. 3And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ?Grant me justice against my adversary.? 4?For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ?Even though I don?t fear God or care about men, 5yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won?t eventually wear me out with her coming!?? (Luke 18:2-5 NIV)
We can?t be like the judge when we know that God has heard our cries for help and He has answered us time and time again with the help we?ve needed.
James, the brother of Jesus, wrote to those in his day and told them that sin is not just the bad things we do, but sin is also refusing the opportunities that God brings our way to help another person. He wrote in James 4:17, 17Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn?t do it, sins. (James 4:17 NIV)
It is good for us to pray for those in need, but we need to put actions beside our prayers when we have the opportunity to make a difference in someone?s life. In James 2 we read,
15Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16If one of you says to him, ?Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,? but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? (James 2:15-16 NIV)
We are to be generous with those in need. I?m so glad that the writer of Proverbs didn?t narrow ?good? down to something specific because there are a myriad of ways that we can contribute good to those who need help. Proverbs 11:25 assures that God will take care of us if we will bless others who are in need. Read along with me.
25 A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed. (Proverbs 11:25 NIV)
Isn?t that a beautiful promise! If we are generous with others then we will be refreshed by the Lord. Christians are not to hoard, we are not to hesitate to help, and we are not to withhold when we are able to give. Neither should we help in such a way that lets others know that we are only helping because we have to. We should wear the joy of generosity and possess a spirit of gratitude as we help others because the Lord has been so generous with us.
In the second section of our Scripture for today we can see how we are to respond to our neighbor who trusts us. This neighbor is not necessarily in need. They are minding their own business?just being a good neighbor. Let?s take a look at verses 29-30.
29 Do not plot harm against your neighbor, who lives trustfully near you. 30 Do not accuse a man for no reason?when he has done you no harm. (Proverbs 3:29-30 NIV)
This section of God?s Word makes it very clear that we are not to take advantage of our neighbors. We are not to ?plot harm? for the trusting neighbor. ?Plotting harm? is the opposite of ?doing good.? It means to manipulate, use, hurt, harm, or burden our neighbors. To do good means that we are relating to others in a way that works for their advantage. To plot harm means that we are trying to take advantage of others in some way. Let me give you some examples.
For the Christian businessperson it means that you don?t sell someone products that they don?t really need. It means that you don?t sell inferior products that you know won?t last. It means that when a storm hits or natural disaster strikes that you don?t jack up the prices to take advantage of those who are hurting. For those who live in a neighborhood it means that I don?t take advantage of my generous neighbor who will let me use his tools, but then I don?t return them, or I return them broken. It means that if I borrow my neighbor?s truck that I return it full of gas?even if it was half empty when I borrowed it. For the young athlete it means that you don?t try to disadvantage someone who is competing for the same position as you are just so you can play more. You see this is just really good, practical advice. Good advice that isn?t taught very often in families today.
In verse 30 we see another bit of wisdom concerning how we should treat our neighbors. We are told that we should not ?accuse? an innocent man. Simply put this means that we should never slander anyone, never speak negatively against someone else, for any reason. If we have an issue with another person then we should go to that person and speak with them, but we are never to speak negatively about someone else.
God doesn?t look kindly upon those who murmur and slander, spread gossip, and talk maliciously about others. When Moses sent the spies out to check out the Promised Land there were those who returned from the expedition who were afraid and began talking to others in the camp. In Number 14:36-37 you can read about what happened.
36So the men Moses had sent to explore the land, who returned and made the whole community grumble against him by spreading a bad report about it?37these men responsible for spreading the bad report about the land were struck down and died of a plague before the LORD. (Numbers 14:36-37 NIV)
The men went around mumbling and complaining against Moses and it ended up costing them their lives.
In the last section we are offered wisdom as to how to deal with a violent neighbor. Every one of us knows who this neighbor is in your own neighborhood. They are mean. They don?t like when kids walk across their yard. They won?t wave at anyone. They grumble and fuss and bellyache about anything and everything. Take a look with me at verses 31-32.
31 Do not envy a violent man or choose any of his ways, 32 for the LORD detests a perverse man but takes the upright into his confidence. (Proverbs 3:31-32 NIV)
We are not to be jealous of the neighborhood bully. It may appear that people walk on eggshells around him and that he always gets his way, but let me assure you that his is coming?he will get his. There is always a bigger bully, a meaner dog on the block.
As we observe the ways of the violent neighbor we are to take mental notes. ?Don?t belittle other folks. Never throw your weight around when you have the opportunity. Never ?buddy up? to a violent neighbor so that you can feel like you are somebody.? Make notes of these things and do just the opposite. Instead of belittling others, bless them. Instead of throwing your weight around to get your way, work for the benefit of others. If you are going to ?buddy up? to somebody, then ?buddy up? with the person that nobody else wants to spend time with. Make others feel like somebody and then you can really be someone special.
There is great motivation for avoiding the ways of the oppressive, violent neighbor. Scripture tells us the Lord detests the perverse man. God sees what is going on and He is taking notes.
Not only are we told that God detests the ways of the perverse neighbor, but we are also told that God takes into His confidence those who walk with Him, those whose ways are upright. What we are really talking about my friend is treating others like God has treated us. In the world the bottom line is all about making money, but in God?s economy the highest calling is to love one another, to be a blessing. For those who make this the aim of their life, then God will draw them into His inner circle. What an incredible blessing! In our day everyone is trying to elbow their way into the inner circle of those who are powerful, those who can help them in some way, those who can benefit them in trying to get ahead. You can have the most powerful people on the planet as your friends?I want to be God?s friend. I want to be part of His inner circle!
In verses 33-35 we see that the Lord?s curse is on the house of the wicked and God?s hand of blessing is on the house that honors Him. Read along with me.
33 The LORD?S curse is on the house of the wicked, but he blesses the home of the righteous. 34 He mocks proud mockers but gives grace to the humble. 35 The wise inherit honor, but fools he holds up to shame. (Proverbs 3:33-35 NIV)
What does this mean? We all know people who are not seeking God at all and yet it seems that things are going well for them. Hold on my friend we haven?t gotten to the end of the book yet. Instead of peace, security, and joy the house of the wicked is filled with chaos, insecurity, and unrest. You may have all of the toys in the world and a bulging bank account as well, but never experience the peace, security, and joy that comes when God?s hand of blessing is upon you. Don?t measure blessings and curses by what one has or doesn?t have. Measure God?s blessings by who a person is, by how at rest they are in their current situation.
As I mentioned to you earlier, if you listen to the wisdom of the world then you will learn that making more money at any cost is the ultimate goal. It doesn?t matter who you step on or how you get it?just get it. God?s Word stands as a total contradiction to the world?s wisdom. God teaches us, shows us, and reminds us to be a blessing, to serve those around us, to defend the helpless, orphans, and widows. Let me read to you from Romans 13:8-10 as we close our study.
8Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. 9The commandments, ?Do not commit adultery,? ?Do not murder,? ?Do not steal,? ?Do not covet,? and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: ?Love your neighbor as yourself.? 10Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. (Romans 13:8-10 NIV)
Love one another. Seek the best for those around you. Give when you have the opportunity to give. Help when you are called upon to help and you have it in your power to help. Serve even when it is inconvenient. Always love one another. You need to know that it is an impossibility to live this kind of life, but all things are possible for those who humbly bow before His throne of grace and surrender their lives to Jesus as Lord and Savior. Won?t you welcome Him into your heart today?