Saturday, January 31, 2015

Be Careful What You Borrow From, or Be Safekeeping For, Others -- Exodus 22:7-9:


“If a man gives his neighbor money or goods to keep for him, and it is stolen from the man’s house, if the thief is caught, he shall pay double.  If the thief is not caught, then the owner of the house shall appear before the judges, to determine whether he laid his hands on his neighbor’s property.  For every breach of trust, whether it is for ox, for donkey, for sheep, for clothing, or for any lost thing about which one says, ‘This is it,’ the case of both parties shall come before the judges; he whom the judges condemn shall pay double to his neighbor.”

 
I was telling a friend of mine that a snow-blower I share with two neighbors was in the shop for repairs.  One of the owners thought we could save money by letting him do last year’s end-of-season cleaning and storage.  Not so.  My friend, before he knew the machine was jointly purchased, said, “Surely, you don’t loan things like that to others, do you?”
The truth is, it took me close to five decades of life before I realized that even a brand new automobile that I purchased was not really mine, but a blessing from God for me to share with others.  Up to that point, I’d drive you anywhere you wanted to go, but don’t ask me to lend you my car.
But here we have a little different spin, not so much on the lending of things, but more on asking others to safe-keep valuables for us.  And interesting enough, the major focus of these three verses is not on the owner, but on him who agrees to keep things safe for us.
Now, true to form with respect to previous laws God had given, if you ask someone to keep something for you and it gets stolen from their possession but the thief is caught, the thief will pay double.  No problem there.
But what happens if the thief is not caught?  Well, it appears that the first suspect is the person you asked to take care of your valuables.  And he/she needs to be cleared first. The implication is that the person responsible for keeping the owner’s goods safe appears before a judge.  But, in today’s terms, how does he/she get there except that the owner of the goods lays charges against them?  Now what?  Is that what we are to do?
First of all, remember that today one remains innocent until proven guilty and that has to be beyond reasonable doubt.  Secondly, assuming the individual to whom you turned your possessions over for safe-keeping was a friend or a relative, accusing them through the legal system is a pretty sure way of ending any relationship you may have had.  Finally, if, like you, the other person was a Christ-follower or believer, then you are instructed elsewhere in Scripture not to take him/her to court.  So what can you do?
There’s an adage in Human Resources dealing with problem employees that goes like this: “The best time to fire someone is before you hire them.”  The point is that if we are not prepared to lose something (or have it damaged) that we lend to someone else or something that we ask someone else to safeguard for us, we should never be lending it or asking them to guard it.
As we can see from the rest of the passage, the issue is first and foremost about trust.  We lend things or ask others to take care of them for us because we trust them to be able to do so.  If they do not, we are the ones that erred in our estimation of the person’s integrity or ability to do so.  We cannot blame them or at least doing so would only get us so far – in the wrong direction.  That said, borrowers of integrity would normally, of their own accord, actually replace anything lost or damaged that they borrowed.
However, if we do pursue court action, and the person is found willfully negligent or criminally involved in the loss or damage of the goods, and the courts so find, then he/she shall be required to pay whatever the judge levies on them.  While the Old Testament calls for double-payment, unfortunately in today’s world, we cannot demand it.
As those with whom people entrust their valuables to for safe-keeping, we also have a great responsibility, assuming we are willing to do so, to do all in our power in protecting the owner’s property until it is returned to him/her.  David Guzik suggests that this is required of us as faithful stewards or managers, and it includes what God gives us to manage or steward for Him.
Bottom line, let’s live by these principles: Think carefully before you lend something to others or ask them to keep it for you for a while, and consider whether you are prepared to lose it.  And, think carefully before you accept the responsibility of borrowing someone else’s goods or guarding their possessions.
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