Take the garment of one who puts up security for a stranger; hold it in pledge if it is done for an outsider. Proverbs 27, verse 13.
Good Monday, Happy Halloween, and pat yourself on the back, now, for completing five sixths of the year that is 2011. Tomorrow you and I will be able to say “Christmas (or Hannukah) is next month.” If you’re like me, you’ve had a busy year, and at small milestones like today, if you’re like me again, you might stop and ask yourself just where the time went. Day to day, we live our lives and (I believe) pay little attention to all the things that comprise each twenty-four hour period. At the end of a day, how many times have you or I said “not much” when someone asked us “what did you do today?” Sometimes that’s just an oversight because, if you think of it, we each make hundreds, maybe even thousands, of minute decisions every day. Each one of those decisions that turns out successfully is a win; I’ve learned this lesson in combating depression and find it immensely helpful to remember.
If you make those thousands of daily decisions, you might say you and I are blessed to be industrious. I also think that, by and large, most people are honest and try hard to live their lives honestly. Thus it is that, on this minor milestone, it’s good say that an honest man can become a beggar but a man can’t be considered honest if he deceitfully makes himself out to be a beggar. I learned this saying while researching this verse; see http://www.bible.cc (I think). An honest (and industrious) man can still turn out to be a beggar, but if he lives his life honestly (and is industrious in honest ways), then his beggar status is moot. Sure, poverty may be a result, but inside in his spirit, he has something of much higher value.
Contrast that with the dishonest man, who may trade his industrious honesty for something else. It was virtue that drove the Puritans to cling to their Engergizer-bunny work ethic, spurring them to work hard and live modestly Do you know people who sell their image to be hard-working, diligent, and productive yet you rarely see them actually working? In my experience, such people spend much of their time selling their image instead of producing their image. The Puritan work ethic seems to slide off them; maybe it’s too heavy to carry. They might be the person who puts in long hours but seems to produce little. Or they might be the martyr manager who is responsible for much but delegates little and then is constantly crying about how overburdened they are. Be careful, my friends, for they may (at times) be you or me.
Another thing that I find curious about this verse is that, in many other Bible translations, “outsider” means ‘adulterous woman.’ Huh? Where does that one come from? New American Standard version says “Take his garment when he becomes surety for a stranger; And for an adulterous woman hold him in pledge.” Maybe there is something in the original text, in Hebrew, that says “adulterous woman.”
So let’s think about it. If you trust in the security of a stranger’s collateral, is the verse implying that we should do differently for an adulterer? I’ve known many adulterous women (and men) and I know first-hand what it feels like to wear a scarlet letter. Let’s sum up that whole adultery concept this way: it sucks. It sucks because unfaithfulness starts in the heart and that’s where it hurts most. It is basically a question of honesty: are you honestly devoting your loyalties, feelings, and affections in the right direction? That’s no easy question to answer.
Accordingly, it’s no wonder that, on the surface, it would appear we should treat strangers and the unfaithful differently. A stranger can win your trust just by getting to know you; an adulterer is often someone you trust who ends up being someone you don’t feel you know. Is it any wonder, then, that Scripture appears to intone that we should treat them differently? Then I remember a couple of key points, the first one being that, to God, we are ALL unfaithful. All of us (and that includes you and me) have fallen short of God’s commands, expectations and hopes for our lives; all of us daily do thousands of things wrong even as we make those thousands of right and successful decisions. Our actions, our thoughts, our desires: it isn’t hard for us to mess up, and we do. Maybe you haven’t left your clothes on the floor to hop in the sack with someone you shouldn’t, but being faithful in body doesn’t mean you’ve always been faithful in your heart. That matters too.
And the second thing I remember is that an honest man can become a beggar but a man can’t be considered honest if he deceitfully makes himself out to be a beggar. Good people can make lousy decisions and still be good inside. All it takes is faith and an honest view or our thoughts and actions. Have faith in God that He means what He says about His grace and love and let that paint those thoughts and actions in a realistic light. If you haven’t already, I believe you’ll see that, to live in the love and grace means honestly repenting of our wrongs. It means being willing to let God remold our lives so that we don’t flock to the unfaithfulness of what once was, but we do eagerly (and industriously) work forward to the good that yet will be.
In this way, we put off the unfaithful deceit we once knew and clothe ourselves in something better. On a day like today, I find that’s a good thing to remember, especially on a Halloween milestone that looks back at how far we’ve already come. It has been a busy year, hasn’t it? If your life is like mine, the rest of it promises to be busy as well. Here’s to working hard and working industriously in a better light.