Happy Saturday; let’s read Proverbs 6:1-19.
When you go to a baseball or a softball diamond, behind home plate there is always some kind of fence or net. That’s a backstop; it keeps a baseball from flying and then rolling off the baseball field. It stops the ball whether that ball is a bad pitch, an errant attempt to throw out a runner who is trying to score, or a foul ball.
Most of the time a backstop isn’t needed. The pitcher may throw more balls than strikes, but usually the catcher can grab each pitch or dig it out of the dirt. So the backstop sits there, unneeded and unused, pitch after pitch, play after play. Usually.
That’s what someone who co-signs a loan for someone else or who obligates himself on someone else’s behalf thinks. “My brother is a good guy,” he thinks. “He’s down on his luck for the moment, but he’ll make all the payments on that F-250.”
Or, “these five other people seem like hardworking, dedicated folks. We can all be equal business partners” or “I can put my name on the electric bill for everyone who rents this house with me.” We think of ourselves like a backstop for someone else’s integrity. Since we expect them to act with integrity, there seems to be no cost to us for being a friendly, helpful person and signing that personal guarantee so they can get a loan or a lease or whatever. The ball almost never gets to the backstop in baseball, so I don’t have to worry about bearing all the responsibility if someone else fails to do what they said they would do.
You and I might talk ourselves into a situation like this. We want to be friendly, helpful people, so we take on what seem like minor risks to help someone else.
Solomon, however, think’s we’ve made a foolish decision. When we choose to backstop someone else, we will end up having stop a financial pitch that they can’t handle. That’s why Solomon says that if we’ve co-signed a loan for someone else, or agreed to do something that protects a stranger, “you have been trapped by what you said, ensnared by the words of your mouth” (v. 2). If your brother needs a guarantor to get a loan for his truck, he almost certainly can’t handle the payments. If he had a financial track record of paying the bills, he wouldn’t have any problems completing the sale or getting financed for it.
Before the trap is sprung on us, however, Solomon commanded us to find a way out of the commitment (v. 5: “Free yourself, like a gazelle from the hand of the hunter”). We tend to think that amending a commitment is breaking that commitment but Solomon told us that a re-negotiated commitment is not a broken commitment. So his advice for us, when we make a bad decision or commitment, is to find a way out of it as quickly as possible: “Go—to the point of exhaustion—and give your neighbor no rest! Allow no sleep to your eyes, no slumber to your eyelids. Free yourself, like a gazelle from the hand of the hunter….”
Be careful about what you promise to do, even as a backstop. If you make a foolish commitment to be someone else’s backstop, get out of it as soon as you can. Your future and your responsibilities will be hard enough to keep in this life; don’t foolishly vouch for someone you barely know. Also, don’t take on direct, legal responsibility for someone else’s integrity or lack of it. These are foolish moves that you will regret, so avoid them and extricate yourself from them as soon as you can.
Not being on the hook for someone else’s plan is genuine wisdom. Have you made any promises you can’t keep? Have you promised to backstop anyone who is in over his head? These are foolish decisions that can cause big problems for you in the future. So think about what you are committed to carefully and, when you make a bad decision, get out of it as quickly as you can.