Have you ever committed to something only realize sometime afterwards that your commitment was a serious mistake? If so, then Proverbs 6:1-5 will be the advice you need, and serve as counsel to help guard you from foolish over-commitment in the future.
My, son, if you have put up security for your neighbor, if you have struck hands in pledge for another, if you have been trapped by what you said, ensnared by the words of your mouth, then do this, my son, to free yourself, since you have fallen into your neighbor’s hands: Go and humble yourself; press your plea with your neighbor! Allow no sleep to you eyes, no slumber to your eyelids. Free yourself, like a gazelle from the hand of the hunter, like a bird from the snare of the fowler.Proverb 6:1-5, NIV 1999
Just about everyone I know has been here before: We’ve said or done things that in retrospect we realize were foolish, and so we wish we could take it back. We’ve made commitments to others that we were in no position to uphold. That is, we really weren’t able to do the thing we’d promised. In the end, we actually couldn’t follow through with what we said. If you’ve been there, then you might recognize the embarrassment and even shame that may be associated with coming to this point. As a side note, these circumstances are not always necessarily about what can be done in a literal sense. That is, say, bail someone out of jail with a loose expectation of getting your bail-bond money back. You might have the literal means to provide for the situation, and it’s conceivable you genuinely don’t care about getting your money back because you can afford the financial loss. Though this proverb speaks to these kinds of financial transactions, I also hope to speak to situations beyond financial transactions. Solomon is helping us see there is a something in our heart that is driving our thinking and decision making tendencies in the first place.
UNNECESSARY FINANCIAL OBLIGATIONS
There are times in our lives when the opportunity to financially help someone seems very much within our control. Our emotions can get the best of us and we commit to helping someone when, truth be told, we really shouldn’t have stuck ourselves out there like that. Great care and discretion is needed when making certain kinds of decisions in our lives; in particular, financial decisions.
My, son, if you have put up security for your neighbor, if you have struck hands in pledge for another...
This part of the verse is a way of describing financial commitment. We can do this in a variety of ways and in the modern era, the easiest example may be things like: Using credit cards in a way we ought not, taking out personal loans or even taking a higher mortgage that you can really afford. There was a time many years ago when I helped someone close to me pay off a vehicle of over $3K. In retrospect, I may have opted for another way to support this person but I had done so because I thought I was helping.
UNNECESSARY VERBAL COMMITMENTS
Most verbal commitments we make to someone spring from a heart that is well-intended. We may know them personally, we may love them and we may even worship with these individuals. We genuinely want the best for them. So in light of that, we sometimes say things that constitute a commitment to them in a manner that essentially traps and ensnares us.
...if you have been trapped by what you said, ensnared by the words of your mouth...
Financial commitments are the most common sort of commitments that create that sense of being trapped or ensnared, but there are others: your time, romantic relationships, career decision making (including christian ministry). Someone can enter into a profession not actually prepared to engage in a manner that is best for the people who would presumably benefit from the service or activity. On a personal level, making verbal promises is probably the easiest thing because most of the time it flows out of a conversation where we’ve personally met with a need that demands some kind of response. Our emotions get the best of us and we end up making a commitment that we ought not make.
A WAY OUT
Thankfully the Bible anticipates our folly and offers advice whenever we do make commitments beyond our means: A humble presentation of the facts of the matter.
…then do this, my son, to free yourself, since you have fallen into your neighbor’s hands: Go and humble yourself; press your plea with your neighbor!Verse 3
Two things are necessary in order to “fix” the situation where you’ve over-committed:
(1) Humility: A posture of the heart that is rightly aligned toward the truth of the situation. A humble heart understands not only that a mistake has been made and that one is willing to go and rectify it, but it has done the work to see why the mistake was made in the first place.
(2) Honest clarity about the facts of the matter is my way of describing the process of pressing your plea. Finding resolution in your case can only come by way straightforward honesty. At the core, there was a lie, even if it can be represented as “unintentional;” nonetheless, it stood to serve your commitment in the first place. The lie was: I can do this while in reality you could not. You were the first person to believe it and as such, you entrapped yourself.
THE MANNER OF FREEDOM
...Allow no sleep to you eyes, no slumber to your eyelids...
When you have come to your senses and you’ve taken honest stock of your heart and seen the error of your way, Solomon instructs us to find relief from the situation as soon as possible. In some cases, the longer your delay drags, the greater the consequence. But there are other situations where the delay is principally rooted in the revelation of the folly: We don’t want to be found out as having made a poor choice in over-committing; spent beyond our means. This is often where shame and embarrassment have crept in and so we are vulnerable to doubling down in our error and thereby exacerbating the original lie. Each day you remain ensnared is another day of perpetual lies. This is why Solomon counsels us find relief immediately, so we can be free from the burden of the lie.
The ultimate aim is to free yourself. Many years ago I paid off my first student loan debt. It was approximately the fall of 2005. I remember the relief I experienced to have that financial obligation totally accounted for. In this case, however, Solomon knows that the freedom we need is not a freedom we can afford. It is a freedom that is entirely dependent on the mercy of the person we’ve held ourselves to. We need more than freedom, we need mercy.
Often times, the freedom may not seem too consequential, as it may not involve a financial connection but a relational one. However, relational toll that our over-commitment can have can sometimes be more costly and more valuable than money. It may be the case that your freedom costs you small degree of respect or notoriety or trust or confidence that you once enjoyed with someone. Yet, Solomon finds it more valuable to be come clean about your inability to maintain your commitment than than to remain in pretense. Free yourself, like a gazelle…
HOW TO AVOID OVER-COMMITMENT
A handful of questions you might consider when approaching decision making that, somewhere in your heart, you sense that you’re about to over-commit.
- Why really am I trying to help? Is there something I am after? (e.g. notoriety with your neighbor or with God)
- Is it possible that I am not really helping so-and-so, but more so myself?
- Is there a part of me that doesn’t really want to do this? If so, reflect on 2 Cor 1:1-11 with particular attention to verses 7.
- Is there a part of me that is bothered by giving or doing “less than”? If so, what is driving that sense of being bothered (i.e. notoriety or other pride)? Seek clarity on the truth of matter on this specific issue.
- What would happen if you didn’t give or do anything at all?
- Would others think less of you?
- Would God think less of you?
- Would you think less of yourself?
Now, truth be told the way out of these over-commitments is the same way one avoids these situations: humility and truthfulness. Humility can sometimes be a tricky matter because even the effort of moderating pride can sometimes lend itself to the setting up pride traps. And to a very large extent, that is where the sense of being ensnared really lies – it lies with being ensnared by your own pride.
Sober reflection of the reality of your limitations will help guard you from over-commitment. Sober reflection leads to honesty clarity about your life and helping you accept the extent to which God has enabled you serve others. The reality is: you cannot serve everyone in your life equally well.Tweet
If you have over-committed, then you’re good company because everyone of us has done this at one time or another. Yet, as we see, there is a way to handle these moments so as to actually serve others better than we pretend when we continue in our folly.
If you see need grammar correction, please do not hesitate to reach out to me.