Question: Should you be responsible for someone else's debts?

Answer: Of course not!

Question: Have you ever cosigned for someone?

Answer: Whoops!

Scripture speaks quite frankly about anyone who cosigns and becomes surety for another. "A man lacking in sense pledges and become guarantor in the presence of his neighbor" (Proverbs 17:18).

Think about it. Why does a bank require a cosigner? Generally, a bank requires a cosigner because it thinks the person borrowing the money cannot repay it. Get the picture?

Cosigning for someone holds two opportunities for problems:
  1. The person for whom you cosign may borrow more money than realistically can be paid back
  2. You have made a pledge to cover the obligation of another person.
Scripture teaches that you should not cosign for anyone -- even son or daughter, mother or father. "Do not be among those who give pledges, among those who become guarantors for debts" (Proverbs 22:26).

If you pledge the assets God has given you against the liabilities of another person, you have assumed the role of "advisor." You are encouraging someone to take on a debt he or she cannot actually afford; and you are pledging God's provision for you. "A prudent man sees evil and hides himself, the naive proceed and pay the penalty" (Proverbs 27:12).

"Help. . . they aren't paying me what they owe!"
It is often difficult to find the right balance between being a good steward and a good witness when you face a situation involving nonpayment of a loan by an unbeliever.

Certainly you should not lend more money to that person, but you may need to consider forgiving that debt and telling that person, "It's all God's money, and I'm not concerned about the loss, but I am concerned about your salvation."

The apostle Paul said we should give "no cause for offense in anything, so that the ministry will not be discredited" (2 Corinthians 6:3). Of course, this doesn't mean that you can never collect a debt for fear of being a bad witness, but the general principle is that a Christian should not sue an individual over a personal debt if it is possible to forgive the debt (see Matthew 5:38?42).

Above all, you should sincerely pray for that person regularly and ask God to provide an opportunity for you to be a witness in the midst of this problem. Look at it this way: your behavior may be the only example of Christianity this person will ever see. "Be kind to one another, tender?hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you" (Ephesians 4:32).

The same principles apply when faced with the situation of collecting a loan from a relative, and you should seek the same sort of balance between being a good steward and being a good witness.

If your relative or friend is a Christian, you should confront him or her face-to-face, as you would any other Christian, according to Matthew 18. Those who owe money but can't repay it are invariably embarrassed and often avoid the person they owe. Obviously that's the wrong response, but it happens.

If the friend or relative is not a Christian, maybe you should consider the suggestions above for forgiving that debt. Be certain that the person knows you are more concerned about his or her salvation than you are about the money.

So it becomes your responsibility, as the lender, to approach the one who owes you; if you find that he or she can't pay, the best course of action probably is to forgive all or part of the debt. If you find that the debtor can pay but won't, then you face a more difficult choice.

Read other articles by Larry Burkett.