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Consider the implications of verse 15: “It’s a dangerous thing to guarantee payment for someone’s debts. Don’t do it.”
Guaranteeing payment would include practices such as co-signing a loan for someone else. If the person defaults on the loan, you are responsible for paying it off. It’s risky business.
So, it’s cut and dry. Don’t do it. Right?
But how do we reconcile this with the New Testament? Jesus did not simply guarantee payment for our debts – he paid them himself, in full, on the cross. If we are to live as Jesus did, we have a problem.
It’s further complicated because this is the second time King Solomon has advised strongly against putting up security for someone else (see Proverbs 6:1-5). There’s no chance we’re reading this verse out of context.
While Jesus does not instruct on co-signing, he does refer to people who are in a financial bind. He says to lend money to them (Matthew 5:42). Period. No conditions such as lending only to people who are likely to repay.
Herein lies the key to understanding Proverbs. They are general principles of wisdom, not laws or commands.
Wisdom says to avoid high-risk behavior, especially anything that jeopardizes our money or reputation. Jesus says our reputation, as Christ-followers, is built on a foundation of love for God and for others. (And, remember, Solomon also says kindness is rewarded – vv 16, 17!)
So, a sticky problem, such as co-signing, calls for prayer and discernment; the issue is whether guaranteeing payment is the loving thing to do – whether it will really help someone. Be confident and do not doubt: God knows the answer and He will provide guidance (James 1:5-7). And, sometimes, He wants us to take risks – with our eyes wide open.
Gracious God who knows the answers before we’ve formed the questions, there are times when we simply don’t know what to do. Help us to search our own hearts and motivations. Help us to seek your will. In Christ’s name, Amen.