A young pastor and his wife thought they were the last people to leave church following the evening service. The parking lot appeared empty and dark as they headed home after a long day of ministry. Much to their surprise, their car’s headlights revealed a young woman standing near her car, which sported several flat tires. Her complicated story unfolded when they stopped to offer assistance.
The woman had just ended an inappropriate relationship with a married man and saw the church lights on as she was driving by. Broken and desperate, with no place to go, she pulled into the church parking lot and joined the service in progress. Maybe God can help, she thought. While inside, the man she had left found her car and punctured the tires. His plan was to strand her in the parking lot to force her to call him for help.
The events brought the pastor and his wife face to face with a young woman in need. They were weary and had looked forward to going home, kicking off their shoes, and relaxing. They had to make a decision. It was late; the woman was alone with no place to go, no personal belongings, and no way to buy new tires. What should they do? What would you do?
The ancient wisdom of Proverbs tells us, “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in the power of your hand to do so. Do not say to your neighbor, ‘Go, and come back, and tomorrow I will give it,’ when you have it with you” (3:27–28). Perhaps that wisdom inspired the apostle Paul to tell the Christians in Galatia, “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal. 6:10).
Life’s unexpected opportunities unlock wonderful doors of possibility. The outcomes are never guaranteed, but often we can do something good when we offer our abilities and availability. We experience the passionate adventure of living for Christ in a broken world when we recognize and respond to such moments. Usually, those moments do not return. Today may be the only time a specific door of ministry will be open.
The word Paul used to express the concept of opportunity in Galatians 6:10 is often translated as “time.” Yet the original Greek bursts with a more profound meaning. The word speaks of a strategic point in time—when circumstances make something possible. An opportunity, therefore, is a specific moment in time that demands an instantaneous decision and an active response to the possibilities presented.
The Scriptures use this word when Jesus, through His tears, pronounced judgment on Jerusalem because the Jewish people failed to know the “time” of their visitation (Lk. 19:44). Their decisive moment had come with the Messianic offer of the Kingdom. They rejected it. Judgment was pronounced on that generation, Jerusalem was destroyed in AD 70, and those whom Jesus yearned to gather under His wings were scattered to the four winds.
Paul told the churches at Ephesus and Colossae they should be “redeeming the time” (Eph 5:16; Col. 4:5). They were called to be alert and sensitive to decisive moments that provided opportunities to glorify God through holy living and service to those around them. Redeeming the time requires a watchful servant’s heart in order to recognize the opportunities that intercept and interrupt each day.
A great many opportune moments pass by unnoticed if we choose only to see life through the narrow blinders of our own needs and wants. True disciples live intentionally. Opportunity unlocks the door of possibility, but few people are willing to open the door.
Solomon’s wise instructions in Proverbs 3:27–28 present three important truths for those who would live righteously: (1) There is a required responsibility; (2) those in need have a reasonable right; and (3) only a rapid response is acceptable.
A Required Responsibility
“Do not withhold good . . . when it is in the power of your hand to do so” (v. 27). In other words, when you have the opportunity and ability to help someone, do it! Walking away is not an option. Those who desire to live righteously are required to take seriously their responsibility to help others.
For many, giving money may be the initial action that comes to mind. However, people have more needs than those that can be met easily with money. In fact, giving money often requires less on our part than giving time, companionship, aid, or comfort. The word good here speaks of whatever someone has that would benefit another in a practical way.
Whatever we give should be dispensed cheerfully and sacrificially. Givers are never required to give what they do not have. This limitation appears in the phrase, when it is in the power of your hand to do so. The New Testament teaches the same principle: “For if there is first a willing mind, it is accepted according to what one has, and not according to what he does not have. For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened” (2 Cor. 8:12–13). Generosity is a lifestyle that brings blessing to those who are wise (Prov. 11:25; 22:9).
A Reasonable Right
The phrase from those to whom it is due (3:27) indicates there is a legitimate need in the recipient’s life. These words are variously translated and difficult to understand. They literally mean “from the owners thereof” or “from those who possess it.” They imply that people who are in genuine need have a rightful claim to the aid others can provide—be it financial, spiritual, emotional, or physical.
Proverbs does put limits on that aid: It should go to people to whom it is rightfully due. We are not to assist the foolishness of the lazy, lustful, or wasteful. Every possession, capability, and gift we have is a blessing of God to be used in service to Him and others. Those who are in genuine straits have a reasonable right to expect that those who are not will share with them when needed.
This principle of generosity goes beyond the material and physical. It also applies to the spiritual wealth we have. Paul saw himself as being obliged to do something for all men by proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ, which was entrusted to him by the grace of God (Rom. 1:14). Likewise, those of us who possess salvation through Jesus Christ are not to withhold it from those needing the Savior. They have a reasonable right to expect us to share the gift with those who are perishing eternally.
Rapid Response, Promised Blessing
“Do not say to your neighbor, ‘Go, and come back, and tomorrow I will give it’” (Prov. 3:28). This prohibition is directed toward people who use the postponement tactic to put off those who are in need. Telling someone to come back tomorrow is not a promise. It is a way to avoid obligation. The second part of the verse exposes the tactic: “when you have it with you.” The need is legitimate, and the ability to meet the need is present and available. Why delay? Forcing someone to return is a form of withholding and violates the first prohibition. The proverb cries out, “Don’t wait. Do it now!”
We are encouraged to be ready always to do good (1 Tim. 6:18; Ti. 3:1). The divine command in Galatians 6:10 to grasp every opportunity to help people falls in the midst of promised blessings for those who do not grow weary or lose heart in doing good. It also comes with a priority: The household of God (our fellow Christians) comes first, in accordance with Jesus’ command in John 13:34–35.
The real-life Archibald “Moonlight” Graham’s Major League baseball career lasted merely one-half inning of one game. After that, he set aside baseball and spent the next 50-plus years caring for schoolchildren as a small-town pediatrician. In the fictional film Field of Dreams, Doc Graham’s older character muses about his baseball past and remarks, “We just don’t recognize the most significant moments of our lives while they are happening. Back then I thought, well, there’ll be other days. I didn’t know that that was the only day.”
May your significant moments be filled with eternal possibilities!