Withhold not good from them to whom it is due, when it is in the power of thine hand to do it.
You are in debt. And some debts you may not know about. Here is a rule of wisdom to please God and men. You must give good things to those that need them, when you are able to do so. Your debt may be a civil, employment, or financial obligation; or it may be the very religious matters of mercy and charity. This rule is also taught clearly in the New Testament (I John 3:17). Are you fully aware of your debts, and are you paying them?
The context is minimal, but helpful. The next verse says, “Say not unto thy neighbour, Go, and come again, and to morrow I will give; when thou hast it by thee” (Pr 3:28). Noble and virtuous men will not delay to provide the needs of their neighbors, when they are in the position to help them. They will not put neighbors off with promises of future kindness or performance. God and Solomon have taught you true mercy and charity.
The debts you know well are rent payments, shared expenses, wages for services, returning borrowed items, repairing damaged property, refunding overpayments, replacing stolen things, returning unused deposits, and so forth. The duty to pay these debts on a timely basis comes from God’s laws and the civil rules of men (Rom 13:7-8). Consider how Jehovah demanded prompt pay for laborers (Lev 19:13; Deut 24:14-15).
But there are other debts, which are created by the mercy and charity requirements of God alone. The LORD made both rich and poor men (Pr 22:2). Rich men did not get wealthy by their own abilities (Ps 75:6-7; Eccl 9:11; I Cor 4:7). And God expects them to share some of their abundance with those that have less (Ps 112:9; I Tim 6:17-19). Since God expects the rich to consider the poor, the mere need of the poor creates an obligation.
When God brings a person into your life with legitimate needs, and you have the ability to help them, then your help is due. Godliness and wisdom create the debt. God is expecting payment to them, and He will hold you guilty, if you choose to not pay. For example, it is an obligation of heaven for you to help widows and orphans in need that God brings your way (Job 29:12-13; 31:16-23; Isaiah 1:17; 58:6-7; Jas 1:27).
Legitimate needs are food, clothing, and shelter (Job 31:19; Is 58:7; Ezek 18:7; Jas 2:15-16). And only those working hard and not wasting assets deserve charity. If a man will not work, he should starve (Pr 20:4; II Thess 3:6-12). If he is financially foolish, he should be treated the same (Pr 18:9; 12:27; 19:10; 30:22). Godly welfare was gleaning, which required hard work collecting scraps from fields or vineyards (Lev 19:10; 23:22).
Christianity is not communism – from each according to his ability, to each according to his need, until all are reduced to poverty. The rich may enjoy the good life, if they are ready and willing to help the poor (I Tim 6:17-19; Eccl 5:18-19; 9:7-10). If the rich gave all away, they could not fund their wonderful enterprises that employ the poor, and the poor would be destroyed. Communism is folly: look at Russia’s and China’s experiments.
Most charity should be done through your local church, where a pastor or deacons can identify legitimate needs and protect both givers and receivers from abuse or partiality (Acts 4:34-37; 6:1-3; I Tim 5:1-16). Such public giving does not violate the Lord’s rule for secrecy, since He opposed Pharisees seeking the praise of men (Matt 6:1-4). The Bible mentions persons and churches by name that were generous givers (John 12:3; Acts 4:36-37; Rom 15:26; I Cor 16:15; II Cor 9:1-2; Phil 4:10-19; Philemon 1:4-7).
The Bible does not teach you to seek out the poor in other places or feel a debt toward them. God defines objects of mercy and charity, not social do-gooders or televangelists. Godly men have a debt first to the household of faith, where they are to provide for poor saints in their own local church and then in other places (Matt 10:42; 25:40; Acts 2:44-45; 4:34-35; 11:29; Rom 15:26; I Cor 16:1; II Cor 8:4; Gal 6:10; Philemon 1:5; I Pet 4:9).
Your next line of obligation is your neighbor, even if an unbeliever. Who is your neighbor? You asked a good question, which others have done trying to limit their duty to their friends and companions only. And it has a good answer from Jesus Christ, the son of Solomon. Your neighbor is anyone with a legitimate need that God in His providence brings across your ordinary path in life (Luke 10:25-37; Gal 6:10).
Learn from the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). The Samaritan and Jew did not live together. They disliked each other (John 4:9; 8:48). The Jew was in true need, not lacking a television (Luke 10:30). The Samaritan chanced upon the Jew; he was not looking for wounded Jews (Luke 10:33). The Samaritan did not subsidize the Jew; he only rescued him from his desperate need. This is the Lord’s definition of loving your neighbor.
Nowhere does Scripture teach a debt to the poor of the world. Israel was to be generous to their own poor (Ex 23:11; Deut 15:7-11). If they had tried to feed the Egyptians and the Arabians, there would not have been any resources left for the poor in their own nation. Paul took gifts across the Mediterranean for poor saints in Judea, though he ignored the orphanages in the cities of Europe and Asia where he raised the money.
Social do-gooders suggest giving to every poor person in every corner of the earth to earn the praise of men, and televangelists suggest the same to build their television audiences and funding. But if you followed either consistently, you would have nothing left for the two obligations God has given you – poor saints and neighbors by providence.
The Bible is pure wisdom. Gifts to many countries simply subsidize and endorse governmental and personal folly, much like the individual sluggard or waster condemned above. People choosing to live in the desert and reproduce wildly, where food and water have always been in short supply, should rethink their governmental and personal habits. God does not require the rich to dump their wealth for the poor of the world: they are merely to be ready to give it to God’s two objects of charity (I Tim 6:17-19; Gal 6:10).
Do you pay your debts? Do you tell poor saints in your church that you are praying for them? You are cruel! “If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?” (Jas 2:15-16.) “But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?” (I Jn 3:17.)
Do you aggressively take care of your parents? If not, you are behind on your debts! You are denying the Christian faith, if you do not repay your parents for what they did for you (I Tim 5:4,8). It was the perverted Jewish religion that rejected parental support by allowing faith-promise offerings of assets in order to deny parents (Matt 15:4-6).
Are you going out tonight for a nice meal? Why not take a poor couple from your church or neighborhood? Listen to Jesus Christ: “But when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind: And thou shalt be blessed; for they cannot recompense thee: for thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just” (Luke 14:13-14).
The blessed God of heaven did not withhold the good of salvation from His elect, even when they did not deserve anything but eternal condemnation and punishment (Rom 5:6-10). He freely gave His only begotten Son and every other blessing as well (Rom 8:32). Are you able to follow His example even a little? Then pay your debts! Even today! There are blessings in giving that only those who trust the Bible and Jesus Christ can experience (Pr 11:24-25; Eccl 11:1; Luke 6:38; Acts 20:35; II Cor 9:12-14).