Bible Studies for Life

with Steve Jordan

Sunday,  July 24

Make Agreements Cautiously

Proverbs 6:1-5; 22:7

God’s Word speaks common sense and practical wisdom to every area of life.  Our 21st century capitalism is different from the economic system of Israel in Old Testament times.  In Old Testament times, deals were made with a hand shake and one’s word was one’s bond.  Social order depended on everyone keeping their promises and paying their debts.  Yet, in that culture, there were no bankruptcy laws to protect the poor or those facing catastrophic circumstances.  God’s word gives us wisdom warning us of the consequences of handling our financial obligations irresponsibly or foolishly going into debt.

Proverbs 22:7—Debt can easily enslave us.  Debt is a form of slavery.  This was all the more clear in ancient Israel when debtors were apt to find themselves in slavery.  In those days, when a person was unable to repay a debt, the only available option was to sell themselves and/or their family members into slavery until the debt was paid.  The borrower could literally become a slave to the lender.

We live in a world in which debt is debilitating and demoralizing.  The statistics are overwhelming.  In 2015 the average US household carried $15,863 in credit card debt, $156,584 in mortgage debt, and $33,090 in student loan debt.  According to Wikipedia, the median household income for Mississippi households in 2014 was $36,919.  So many families are overwhelmed by debt to the extent that they have become slaves to their debts.  No one can live the happy, prosperous life Proverbs recommends in this condition.

Proverbs 6:1-2—Financial obligations beyond your ability to manage are unwise.  The context of these verses is co-signing a note or providing the security or collateral for someone’s debt in which the circumstances are beyond your ability to control.  The Bible does not forbid taking on the legal responsibilities for another person (Philemon 18).  Proverbs 6:1-2 does say that risking one’s home and freedom in a venture over which one has no control is foolishness.  We are wise to avoid entering legal and financial agreements that depend on someone else’s faithfulness and put at risk our ability to make a living for ourselves and our families.  How can we help others in need, or give above a tithe to support the ministries of our local church if our business or financial well-being has been put at risk by people or circumstances beyond our control?

“No one should get into legal entanglements and indebtedness in which circumstances are out of one’s control.  This is certainly the case where giving security for another is concerned.” (Duane Garrett, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, NAC, p.96)

Proverbs 6:3-5—Work to get out of a binding financial entanglement.  No legal means existed to free a man from a commitment sealed by an oath (Num. 30:2).  There were no bankruptcy laws to protect debtors.  It should be remembered that the risks involved in the inability to meet financial obligations were great.  Financial involvement with foreigners increased the dangers because such transactions were conducted with less personal concern than among Israelites.

Since there was no other legal means to escape the debt, Proverbs advised the Israelites in those difficult situations to “go, humble yourself, and plead with your neighbor” (6:3).  Go, hat in hand, and beg for mercy.  In other words, do whatever you must do to get free of the debt.

Here is God’s advice for any of us who might be overwhelmed by debt.  (1) Take action.  Go—Get started working a plan to get out from under the debt.  (2) Humble yourself.  This is no time to be arrogant or rude.  (3) Be disciplined.  Plead—Do what is necessary to pay back creditors.  (4) Be diligent.  “Don’t give sleep to your eyes or slumber to your eyelids” (6:4 HCSB).  (5) Avoid making the same mistakes again.  “Escape like a gazelle from a hunter, like a bird from a fowler’s trap” (6:5 HCSB).

Paul teaches concerning the believer’s posture toward debt.  “Pay your obligations to everyone: taxes to those you owe taxes, tolls to those you owe tolls, respect to those you owe respect, and honor to those you owe honor.  Do not owe anyone anything, except to love one another, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law” (Romans 13:7-8).  The only possible way to obey those verses in today’s world is to follow Jesus.

Wow!  Don’t owe anyone anything, but love.  Now let’s try paying that debt!

Jordan is Associational Missions Director, Attala Association.