1My son, if thou be surety for thy friend, if thou hast stricken thy hand with a stranger, 2Thou art snared with the words of thy mouth, thou art taken with the words of thy mouth. 3Do this now, my son, and deliver thyself, when thou art come into the hand of thy friend; go, humble thyself, and make sure thy friend. 4Give not sleep to thine eyes, nor slumber to thine eyelids. 5Deliver thyself as a roe from the hand of the hunter, and as a bird from the hand of the fowler.
When it comes to the wisdom of Proverbs, some think it’s all spiritual. Much like the person who thinks faith should be kept out of everything secular, such as politics or the workplace, these people assume biblical wisdom is incompatible with everyday life. How wrong they are!
Today’s passage is a lesson in financial wisdom. Here, Solomon is addressing the dangers of unwisely obligating one’s self to a creditor (stranger) on behalf of a friend.
There is nothing wrong with helping a friend. As a matter of fact, it was Paul who told Philemon that if Onesimus owed him anything to “put that on my account…I will repay” (Phil. 1:18-19). Helping someone out when they are truly in need, especially when you have the ability, is the right thing to do.
“If there is a poor man among your brothers in any of the towns of the land that the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother. Rather be openhanded and freely lend him whatever he needs.” – Deuteronomy 15:7-8 NIV
However, Solomon is warning that we should be very careful when entering agreements (striking hands) on behalf of others, even our friends. You see, to be a “surety” for someone means guaranteeing the lender your friend will pay his debt. The problem comes when you end up owing what you cannot pay, therefore putting your family and your self at risk.
“Can You Co-Sign for Me?”
How many times have you been asked to co-sign on a loan? How many times have you had a brother-in-law ask for help starting a business that “can’t fail?” How many times have you felt sorry for someone, only to get burned in the end?
Many times we want to help our friends and loved ones, but end up snared by people we don’t even know. “I’ll help you this time,” we say. Then, a few months later, Hunter Loan Company is tracking us like deer.
There is a practical, yet spiritual principle to be found in the following verse: “[If] any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel” (1 Tim. 5:8). The principle is “if you can barely afford to take care of your own family, don’t make financial commitments you can’t keep.”
Solomon says that even if you have become surety for a friend, prove his friendship – get him to relieve you of your obligation. Otherwise, when the rubber check hits the road, you risk losing not only your money, but your good name, your friend, and even your faith.