Last week, looking at Proverbs 3:27-28, we saw how we were to respond to those around us. How we were to do good, and we saw the Biblical standard of doing good when it comes to giving, welfare, and work. Today puts a different spin on our actions and reactions to those around us. Today, the Bible tells us how we are not to respond. The interesting thing involved with this is the contrast between our culture today, our culture in the 50’s, and the culture in the time of writing.

Let us look at Proverbs 3:29. Notice the call is not to devise evil and why. Do not devise is telling us, as the reader, to not plan, purpose, or intend evil against our neighbor. The word is more than just plotting, but has the concept of being a craftsman. We understand what a craftsman does when we see a beautiful piece of furniture, or an artwork. In my house, I have a few pieces that represent the work of a craftsman. I have an old computer desk from the late 80’s early 90’s that is hand made. We have carried this desk around with my parents and then it came to me when I got married and moved out. I plan on handing it down to my son when he moves out on his own. It is a work of a craftsman from an old church we used to attend. I have a painting that I just recently purchased on a trip to Maine. It is a hand painting from the 20’s and it is a picture of an old sailing cutter going through some choppy seas. This is hanging up in my library. I love the old sailing vessels. But the artwork is spectacular. Lastly, I have an artwork given to me by a dear church member who painted a picture of a squirrel in honor of me catching one with my bare hands and getting bit (yes, there is a story here with this one and no, I have not had an insatiable craving for nuts. Now, hold on while I grab a bite from my peanut sandwich :). ).

There are several other pieces and work that I have that reflect craftsmanship and attention to detail that is absolutely beautiful. I am sure you have something in your home as well that reflects this craftsmanship that I am talking about. That is what this word pictures. Not just planning something but putting the work into planning, laying out, and executing as one who is a craftsman. Do we see how this word is not simply a byproduct but the actual working of the plan itself?

The word devise is found in both positive and negative contexts and is used some seventy three times throughout the Old Testament. It does have a broad range of meanings so I am only going to look at the times when it refers to being a craftsman or to have work of a craft.

1 Samuel 23:9 – Saul plotted against David.

1 Kings 7:14 – The man referenced in 1 Kings 7:13 was a bronze worker.

Proverbs 3:29; 6:14, 18; 12:20; 14:22 – Here it is used to devise evil.

Proverbs 14:22 – It is a good thing when those who devise good.

Jeremiah 17:1 – There is an engraved sin on the heart of the people.

There are many more uses of the word outside of this form of craftsmanship, but this small sampling gives us an idea of how the word is used. So looking now at Proverbs 3:29, the evil, or wickedness, or that which is bad, that is being crafted, should not be done against our neighbor. We can look at who our neighbor is. The concept of a neighbor has changed and our outlook at our neighbors has also changed. Today, many do not even know who their neighbor is. In our culture, when it is time to leave, we open the garage door from the house, close it, get into our car in the garage, open the big garage door with a button, back out, push a button to close the garage, and drive off. Then when we return, we simply reverse the process. We never speak to others, stand outside and visit, or even remotely know who our neighbors are.

Neighbors in the 50’s were different. The children were out from the moment they could till the street lights came on. Everyone knew everyone’s kids and everyone helped make sure there was no trouble. But even going back to the Old Testament context, neighbors became that much more important. The neighbor helped in the fields. They helped with home repairs. They helped share with one another in needs. They looked out for each other. But notice what it says in this text of Proverbs 3:29, they are with each other for safety. The neighbors all were part of the security of the city, or village. They lived close because they knew their neighbor would help them fight off an enemy and they would return the help likewise. Safety in numbers?

That is what makes this devised evil so deviously wicked. The very ones who were counted on to protect from evil so as to not be caught and destroyed are the very ones who INITIATE the destruction of their neighbor! Problematic? I think so. Therefore, Solomon is telling his son, do not craft evil against your neighbor who is depending on you.

The Old Testament is filled with command after command of how to treat our neighbors: Here is a small few,

1. Do not cheat or rob him from his earnings from you – Leviticus 19:13

2. We are to love our neighbors Leviticus 19:18

3. We are not to lie about our neighbors – Exodus 20:16; Zechariah 8:17

4. We are to help watch out for our neighbors well being – Exodus 23:4; Deuteronomy 22:1-4

5. If anything is lost that we have been entrusted with, we should restore even more – Leviticus 6:2-5

6. We should not gossip about our neighbor – Leviticus 19:16

7. We should be willing to correct our neighbors (this will require prayer before just launching into telling them why they are wrong) – Leviticus 19:17

8. We should speak truth to our neighbor – Zechariah 8:16

In the New Testament, we are also given a substantial list,

1. Do unto others (including our neighbor we do not or may not get along with) as we want them to do to us – Matthew 7:12

2. We are to love our neighbors as we do ourselves – Matthew 19:19; 22:39; Mark 12:31; Luke 10:27; Romans 13:8-10; Galatians 5:14;

3. We are to show mercy to our neighbors – Luke 10:37

If we do these things, the presence of God will be in our homes, hearts, and lives (Psalm 15:1-3) but we will absolutely fulfill the law, as well as the command here in Proverbs 3:28 (Galatians 5:14)

The question we must ask ourselves is,

How do I feel about my neighbor?

Now, granted, there are some neighbors that are very hard to get along with. There are some neighbors that want absolutely nothing to do with us. Perhaps we are that neighbor that everyone avoids. The age old adage, “Great fences make good neighbors” could be true and necessary in some incidents, but how many times have we erected “fences” and blocked out our neighbors? Do we know who they are? But a bigger question, and possibly a good mental musing for the afternoon:

Imagine what society, life, and existence would be if we as Christians put this into practice? Our neighbors may think we are nuts (in no ways was this a pun from the squirrel reference above...ok, maybe a little), but even the hardest of neighbors possibly could be swayed with this. Even more, our faith is being shown to be real (do remember our discussion from last week as well though), and we will show that we are believers. I believe we will find, if we ponder this, and do it, things could change in our society. This will do more than marches, protests, riots, etc. Who knows. Perhaps we will also find a friend we never knew we could have.

What about those who are the neighbors that NEVER respond positively. They want you out of their lawn, business, life. They want nothing to do with us and make it clear. Still be kind to them but I believe Proverbs 3:30 gives us a great answer to this.

If they are angry with us and we have done nothing to them, do not argue back. Do not fight with them. IF there is no cause. If they decide to burn your house down, or destroy your car, there is a difference here and there are legal, peaceable ways of handling this, but if all they want is to be left alone, there is no command that we be annoying to them. If they have done no harm to us, then do no harm back. This goes into that do unto others that Jesus tells us about in Luke 6:31.

As Brethren, we are a peace denomination. This means we desire to have peace, not just on a national scale but also in our own hearts, lives, homes, and neighborhoods. This can be had by putting all that has been said above into practice and living our lives simply, quietly, as 1 Thessalonians 4:11 tells us.

There are, however, some who want anything but peace. We may have a neighbor like this. Do we respond evil for evil? Cursing for cursing? Reviling for reviling? Of course, that is our first and primary response. But is that the best way, the Christ way? Jesus said how we should treat our enemies, even if they live right next door, Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:27.

Throughout the rest of the Bible we also find time and again how to carry ourselves: Romans 12:17, 20; 1 Thessalonians 5:15; 1 Peter 3:9 By doing as Jesus said in Matthew 5:39, though it is even harder to do, there is a blessing from it as we will see. As was said, if there must be restitution and there is refusal, we do have a peaceful way to be restored, but we are not called to fight and war against our neighbor without cause. Even Proverbs 24:29 tells us to not respond this way either. I know our immediate response is,

What about self defense? Where does that fit?

I do have a full belief on this but I ask leave to not delve into that from this devotional. It would be a study all of its own and would take us away from our text today. Suffice it to say that there is a time and place and one that is worthy of consideration and study. 

When others see our actions and re-actions against a neighbor who strikes out against us, our response and calmness can very well be summed up in Proverbs 25:21-22. What a better way to respond! As Brethren, and I should say, as Christian, our response should be measured and weighted.

So, how do we respond to our neighbor? Is it Godly? Are there areas we could work on? Are there areas that we should start actually doing? This is not an easy call but to be people of the book, we also must understand what that calls for us to do and be. For then we can show our faith to the world around us. We may lead our neighbors to Christ which will begin a revival. Perhaps we will see a return to a more civilized culture than we are seeing now. Most importantly, the name of Jesus Christ will not simply be a swear word or a joke, but all men, everywhere, will come to know the Lord as their own Savior. It all can start with how we respond to our neighbors around us.