What is the biblical response to an “unequal yoke” in business? We’ve been given the opportunity to go into business with an individual who operates under the same moral principles we do, though he is not a professing Christian. He is open to the gospel but hasn’t made a public confession of Christ. We would love any information you have. Our desire is to glorify God in our lives.
Thank you for this very important and practical question. From the moment the apostle Paul exhorted the Corinthians to not be unequally yoked, believers have debated the applications of his words. There is some universal agreement:
- That believers should leave all idolatry and immorality connected with paganism as they follow Jesus. There is no place for syncretism (Col. 2:6–10).
- That believers do not marry nonbelievers. If husbands or wives are already married, they should prayerfully point their spouses and children toward Christ (1 Cor. 7:39).
- That believers be aware of the spiritual forces arrayed against them and fully apply the resources of the gospel to resist compromise and enslavement (2 Cor. 10:1–6; Eph. 6:10–20).
In warning us against worldliness, Paul also reminds us we must interact with believers––we are not called to retreat from engagement in the real world. Paul the apostle was also Paul the tentmaker, and his clientele almost certainly included nonbelievers. Indeed, Jesus makes it clear that we are salt and light (Matt. 5:13–16), visibly demonstrating the good works of the kingdom for a watching public. The parables of the mustard seed and leaven (Matt. 13:31–33) further illustrate the positive influences believers can have wherever God places them.
So how do we apply Jesus’s and Paul’s teachings to modern business and commerce? What are the boundaries for contracts, partnerships, and other relationships where assets are intertwined?
Here are three insights in the category of informed, prudential wisdom. They are not legal absolutes, for each person must prayerfully consult Scripture and listen to the Holy Spirit before stepping into any arenas of work.
1. Biblically Aligned Values
First, in order for a believer to partner with nonbelievers, the values and vision, products and practices of the enterprise must be consistent with scriptural ethics. One example––neighborly love through excellent customer service.
In order for a believer to partner with nonbelievers, the values and vision, products and practices of the enterprise must be consistent with scriptural ethics.
One of my friends is a Christian venture capitalist who has successfully navigated several projects with a Hindu partner. He insists on the Golden Rule as their guide for investors, employers, and all facets of engagement.
A few years ago, a Christian international banker was completing a major, billion-dollar development deal. At the last moment, one of the parties demanded an additional “administrative fee” of $250,000. The banker said no, and the deal fell through. (There were already lots of fees in the deal as written.) Many colleagues critiqued his decision, saying such a bribe was “the cost of doing business.” The believing banker wondered if he would have a job after this public debacle. Weeks later his boss came into the office and asked, in a booming voice, “Where is my honest banker?” Fear turned to surprise as he was promoted by his unbelieving boss.
2. A Way Out
Partnership agreements must contain language that allows for separation and sharing of assets and liabilities if the two (or more) parties are unable to work together. Apart from very rare and trusting circumstances, “on paper, on purpose” is wise for all business dealings, whether they include believers or not.
3. Wise Counsel
It’s important to pursue the Holy Spirit and the counsel of wise colleagues about both business opportunities and potential partner(s). We serve a wonderful Lord who grants wisdom lavishly to the humble (James 1:5–7). We are to “call out and cry aloud” and “search and seek” for wisdom (Prov. 2). Don’t neglect the wisdom of trusted believers in your community, including the elders of your church. Romans 14 says we must exercise our freedom with a clear conscience. There are always risks in business, and nervousness is normal, but please do not go forward if there is deep unease in your heart.
Don’t neglect the wisdom of trusted believers in your community, including the elders of your church.
In my four decades of pastoral service, I rarely saw the business leaders who were deliberate and disciplined, prayerful and principled, ensnared in legal or personal problems. Those who rushed into opportunities with only a handshake and brief prayer were often left with hard lessons.
We are not guaranteed worldly success, but we can offer our work as worship and bring pleasure to our Lord (Rom. 12:1–2; Col. 3:17–23).