Be Careful About Obligations to Friends
Growing up I often heard adults say things like, “Never co-sign a loan for someone else.” As I matured I understood what this means. If you co-sign a loan, then you are obligated to pay the loan should the person who took out the loan fail to do so. That is sort of what the beginning of Proverbs 6 is warning against. Let’s read verses 1-5:
My son, if you become surety for your friend, If you have shaken hands in pledge for a stranger, 2 You are snared by the words of your mouth; You are taken by the words of your mouth. 3 So do this, my son, and deliver yourself; For you have come into the hand of your friend: Go and humble yourself; Plead with your friend. 4 Give no sleep to your eyes, Nor slumber to your eyelids. 5 Deliver yourself like a gazelle from the hand of the hunter, And like a bird from the hand of the fowler.
Most biblical commentators seem to think that Solomon, the writer of most of these proverbs, has in mind, “co-signing” for a loan of high interest. It was against the law for an Israelite to charge another Israelite interest on a loan; interest could only be charged to strangers and then not at an unfair rate. The counsel here is to get out of that obligation as soon as possible. What we have here is what we often see in proverbs, a general principle presented to us. It is pretty clear that in general, we should not routinely take on the debt obligations of others. It doesn’t mean we should never do this, or do it on a short term basis. But in general, this is a situation which can lead to a lot of trouble.
How else might we apply this? I think that at times we can get ourselves involved with someone and we find ourselves to be “in over our heads”. It could be financially or emotionally. The counsel here is to go to the friend, humble ourselves before the friend and ask for “relief”. There is a sense of urgency here that is good for us and the friend we might be involved in. If we are “in over our heads” then we’re not going to be much help anyway should a problem develop. We should, with God’s leading, know our own limitations and communicate those limitations to others.