Proverbs 6:1–5 “My son, if you have put up security for your neighbor, have given your pledge for a stranger, 2 if you are snared in the words of your mouth, caught in the words of your mouth, 3 then do this, my son, and save yourself, for you have come into the hand of your neighbor: go, hasten, and plead urgently with your neighbor. 4 Give your eyes no sleep and your eyelids no slumber; 5 save yourself like a gazelle from the hand of the hunter, like a bird from the hand of the fowler.”
One of the dangers of reading Proverbs rather casually, is that it can easily degenerate into being interpreted as merely moral or ethical advice. That then can degenerate further into Imagining that Christianity itself is just ethics and morals – do the right thing and you’ll have acceptance with God. New Covenant or not, being a Christian is just following the “new” rules Jesus brought. Forgetting the types and shadows of Christ throughout, so that you miss the Cross in it all.
On the other hand, some ignore Wisdom literature like Proverbs, setting the ethics and morals aside completely, because they’ve come to know grace and reconciliation to God in the imputed righteousness of Christ and don’t know how to balance the two. They live in a painful, unresolved tension between grace and works (not a true tension, but one bred of misunderstanding) and so leave those portions alone because they fear falling into works salvation. They do not grasp how these precious texts give us insight to how holiness is lived out in the power of the Spirit. So we do not want to ignore the morals and ethics altogether, or we miss some of the gifts God has treasured up for us in them.
In the text above we get an opportunity to explore what happens when two ethical principles seemingly collide.
Solomon warns his young son first of all to avoid committing himself to a “neighbor” (some translations “stranger” – not a family member) in an arrangement like co-signing for a car loan or a mortgage, etc. Not being the guarantor to someone else’s debt. Not taking their responsibility on himself. As we discussed in our sermon yesterday, this is over-involvement that is unhealthy. But it often appeals to us either because of pride – “I can be the rescuer” or perhaps out of a misguided sense of obligation in friendship. Obligation which in this case is out of proportion given the relationship.
So what is one to do in such a case? Isn’t it ethical to keep one’s word and go thru with it (once agreed to) even though one realizes it is a bad idea? We can’t just renege on it can we? We have to be men and women of our word – being honest and upright.
Solomon does not counsel failing to follow through even though it might be very costly and detrimental. What he does counsel is to do everything you can to re-negotiate, and put yourself out of harm’s way. And that, is humbling and embarrassing. Yet how many of us would rather suffer the consequences than humble ourselves sin such a matter?
How many have become engaged, and know full well that there are warning signs all over the place that it is not a good match. And yet, the invitations have gone out. The rooms booked. The shower gifts opened. And rather than suffer the embarrassment, an ill-advised marriage headed for disaster is launched.
How powerful is this principle? According to Matt. 14:9 – it boxed Herod into beheading John the Baptizer. And in Judges 34, it resulted in Jephthah sacrificing his daughter, even though the Word of the Lord was clear on the subject of human sacrifice.
The text is calling for nothing less than a Spirit enabled death to self in extraordinary terms.
Beloved, if you have entered into an improper or foolish agreement, then do everything you can within Biblical bounds to extricate yourself from it. Some things ought never to be promised, and then certainly never carried out. Oh that Jephtha had done this. His foolish, careless, rash oath to sacrifice the first thing that came out of his house ought to have been recanted of and NOT fulfilled. It was time for him to humble himself, rather than keep his pledge to do that which God never would demand, and at the cost of his daughter’s life.
Now this is good and sound but please – DO NOT stop at the ethics! If you do, you’ll miss the point. Because it is in precisely this kind of tension that we can see the root of the Gospel being exposed – the wonder of how God can be both just, and the justifier of sinful men. How can He remain holy and still save us? Not by being paralyzed by seeming collision between the two. But in the miracle of the substitutionary death of Jesus at Calvary. Christ our surety. Christ our guarantee. Christ Jesus, the answer to the REAL dilemma of the ages. In Him, the resolution of the cosmos is possible.
What a glorious Savior He is!