How would you define the word “friend?” The dictionary answers, “a person whom one knows and with whom one has a bond of mutual affection.” Is there a difference between a “friend” and an “acquaintance?” Don’t we often use “friend” a little too freely, especially when we are trying to impress people? Just because you shook hands with the Queen of England, that doesn’t mean that you are friends. We were talking about “the friend of God,” last Sunday – Abraham was a friend of God, but was Adam? Does the Bible ever say that Jehovah is the friend of any man? The holy angels are acquainted with the Lord, but are they His friends?
But we aren’t thinking about friendship with God tonight. The Bible praises friendship between people, and it speaks about various qualities of that friendship. For example, “A friend sticketh closer than a brother,” and ” a friend loveth at all times.” Friends often sharpen one another; they help each other to grow in righteousness, and they rebuke each other’s sinfulness. And that is a part of this very practical Biblical paragraph.
We have a friend who has a problem.
Let’s call him “Dale.” Dale’s car has broken down, and it will cost more to repair it than it is worth – more than he has. But he needs transportation to get back and forth to work – and to go to church. He has found an adequate vehicle which costs $800, but he doesn’t have the cash. And his credit isn’t good enough for him to borrow even that small amount from the bank. But the slick used car dealer is willing for him to take the car and to make payments to him, if Dale can find someone to co-sign with him. And he has asked you.
You and Dale grew up together; he has been a blessing to you throughout your life. He stepped up and helped you a time or two – and even once protected you from a mugger. You feel obligated to him; you love him like a brother. And now he is asking you to be surety on this loan.
As a friend, what exactly is your obligation towards him?
Perhaps you should make arrangements to drive Dale to church and to work until he can save up enough cash for another car. Maybe you could advise him on ways to better budget his money or how to maintain his vehicle. And there is that old ten-speed bike collecting dust in the back of your garage, why not give that to him? It would not only meet his transportation needs but he’d improve his physical health in the process.
And then, if you have $800, perhaps you should consider loaning him the money. But it should not be like a bank and certainly not like the loan shark at that used car dealership. If Dale volunteers to pay you back $1000 over 20 months, then that should be fine. But in reality, you should be willing to give him that $800 without any expectation of repayment. If after making three payments he breaks his leg and can’t work, you should consider that to be the Lord’s Jubilee and the loan should be forgiven whatever Dale might promise.
There could be other ways in which you could help your friend. You might kindly and patiently point out how his wasteful life-style is eating up his ability to buy a car. You could volunteer to help get his old car up and running again.
Friendship has its duties – but even genuine friendship has its limits. If, in a moment of weakness, as Dale reminds you about your friendship, and you agree to be surety for his car loan….. If somehow he talked you into taking him to the dealership, and you co-signed that note. Upon the authority of the Lord, you should do your best to resolve YOUR very unfortunate situation.
Consider Solomon’s instructions and the lessons involved.
“My son, if thou be surety for thy friend, if thou hast stricken thy hand with a stranger…” We notice first that an agreement can be sealed with little more than a hand-shake. This isn’t a so-called “gentleman’s agreement,” this hand-shake concludes a legally binding contract. “Thou art snared with the words of thy mouth, thou art taken with the words of thy mouth.” For the saint of God, a simple verbal assent is as binding as your signature before a notary. In this case, that handshake and that word of agreement is like a snare or a noose around your neck. A snare for a rabbit is a trap, but in this case it wasn’t a surprise; you willingly put your foot into it. Don’t blame the car dealer; don’t blame Dale; you have no one to blame but yourself. The word “stranger” is essentially the same as the “strange woman” of the last chapter. He is a foreigner – at least to you and Dale. He has no interest in helping anyone but himself. If the payments are not made, Dale will find the car repossessed – that may be his only loss. But you will be responsible for the $800 plus the usury that “stranger” will apply to the loan.
You have enslaved yourself to the stranger. Today such a situation might involve a lawsuit, court-costs – perhaps a lot more than $800. You might get your name in the newspaper as someone charged with a misdemeanor. Your testimony will be defiled and the Name of your Saviour may be dragged through the dirt. But remember that in Solomon’s day, the non-payment of a debt could mean the enslavement of a man and his family. You could have become a slave to that stranger. “Thou art snared with the words of thy mouth, thou art taken with the words of thy mouth.”
“Do 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. Give not sleep to thine eyes, nor slumber to thine eyelids. Deliver thyself as a roe from the hand of the hunter, and as a bird from the hand of the fowler.”
Monday morning as I was driving down Farr street in Spokane Valley, I saw a flock of wild turkeys. I have seen them several times – walking between the houses or crossing the street like quail. It might be a dangerous time of year to be a turkey. But I can tell you this – I would not walk up to one of those big toms and try to grab him. I’m not a coward, but I’m not crazy either. I think that tom turkey just might take exception to me inviting him home for Thanksgiving dinner. Solomon says, “If you have permitted yourself to be taken by the fowler, fight like a turkey to get away.” Don’t let another night pass without extricating yourself from that snare.
“Do 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.” There is probably nothing you can do before the stranger with whom you have made that agreement. But go to your friend, Dale, and do everything in your power to make sure he does his part. If he does his part, then you’ll not be made chargeable. Humble yourself before him: plead with him; do all you can to urge him to keep his part of this three-way bargain. Dale may not care what this stranger thinks about him, but as a saint of God, you should care what he thinks of you and the God you represent.