He that is surety for a stranger shall smart for it: and he that hateth suretiship is sure.
Hate risk! Love guarantees, insurance, and security! Hate overextending! Love living within your means! Wise financial management includes reducing risk. Only fools laugh at risk and expose their assets or income to loss or contingent liabilities. King Solomon knew his son would be tempted to guarantee or cosign the obligations of others, and he warned often against this foolish risk in his life (Pr 6:1-5; 17:18; 20:16; 22:26-27; 27:13).
Being surety for a stranger is guaranteeing his performance of some action or payment of some obligation. The most common example of this foolish act today is co-signing on loans. Would you co-sign on a loan for a stranger? Only a fool would consider such a thing! But King Solomon knew his son, as royal prince of Israel, would be tempted by many requests to lend his signature or seal to strangers to confirm them in business deals.
The proverb declares that risk can bring future pain – he that is surety for a stranger shall smart for it. But if a man hates the risk involved in suretiship, he is sure. He has reduced his financial risk, and he has a much greater probability of being successful. A wise man will minimize risking his income and assets, because contingent liabilities can come back to bite you, as when the stranger does not pay, and you must pay for him (Pr 22:26-27).
If you need or want to help someone by consigning a loan or guaranteeing some other obligation, make sure of two things. Make sure you know them well and can count on them to fulfill their obligation. In such a case, your involvement is merely to reassure a cautious or skeptical creditor. Also, make sure you can afford the obligation without it cramping your lifestyle or hindering your own performance, if you are forced to pay it.
Some Christians reject insurance – they assume that living by faith means to ignore risk and trust God to take care of them. This is foolish heresy. God expects men to use their wits and strength to protect themselves, as long as they trust God to bless their efforts. While it is up to God to build houses and secure cities, there is still a need for builders and watchmen (Pr 16:9; 21:31; 30:26; Ps 127:1-2; Jas 4:13-15). These people are never consistent: they still lock doors, take vitamins, wear seatbelts, and carry an umbrella, etc.
A wise man protects himself from danger and contingent liabilities (Pr 22:3; 27:12). He understands the need to avoid risk as one of his duties from God. He takes every precaution he can, from being fully insured to taking on new obligations very slowly. He begs the Lord to bless his efforts, protect him from what he cannot see, and open unseen doors of opportunity. He asks and trusts God to prosper his use of wisdom and effort.
If you assume risk unnecessarily, even if you claim to trust God to protect you, you are guilty of tempting the Lord. Satan took Jesus to the top of the temple in Jerusalem and tempted Him to leap off based on God’s promise to send angels to protect Him in a fall (Matt 4:5-7; Ps 91:11-12). Jesus knew the promise, but He would not jump. He knew it was tempting God. Why? Because He could take the stairs back down! He knew the promise only applied to situations out of a man’s control, when he had no other option.
Those who are hasty, impulsive, or foolish in ignoring risk will be punished – they will smart for it. Those who are cautious, conservative, and risk averse will be safe; they will move through life with solid protection from trouble. They are wise. Hate risk. Do not co-sign loans, unless necessary and within your means. Do insure yourself against large losses in each area of your life. Trust the Lord to bless your means to protect yourself.
What should you do today to reduce the risk in your life and increase your security? Get insurance where you are lacking it? Review the terms and coverage of all policies? Move cash to a safer investment? Ask out of a loan you cosigned for (Pr 6:1-5)? Take your teenage drivers off your auto policy? Confirm the good performance of employees you recommended for a job? Install security lighting where needed? Diversify investments?
Before leaving this proverb, consider the Surety that performed for the children of God, the Lord Jesus Christ (Heb 7:22). Though enemies and strangers, He agreed to a covenant with God to endure the cross and suffer death on their behalf, by which payment He redeemed them to God forever (Rom 5:6-10). Did He violate the rule of this proverb? Never! He knew He was able to pay the full price for them (Is 53:10-12). Amen.