Should I Break Up with My Unbeliever Partner?

by Brad Harmon on September 16, 2010 in Entrepreneurs

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Yesterday, we looked at Paul’s second letter to the Corinthian church where he told them to not be “unequally yoked together with unbelievers (II Cor 6:14).”  We examined the practical and Biblical reasons why this is great advice for marriage, business partnerships, and relationships in general.  It’s pretty clear cut that we are not to enter into such a relationship with an unbeliever, but what if it’s too late?  What if you already have?

Maybe you weren’t aware of Paul’s advice when you started your partnership.  Perhaps you’re a new Christian who was an unbeliever yesterday, but today you’re a new creature.  What are you to do now?  Should you break up with your business partner of 10 years just because you got saved?  Many Christians would tell you absolutely, unequivocally yes, but is that really what the Bible teaches?

The Dangers of Staying with an Unbeliever Partner

When you partner with someone in business, you create a legal and moral yoke the is second in strength only to marriage.  Your partner can act on your behalf in business, legal, and various other types of transactions.  He can represent you through your business even when you are not there, but can he represent God?

Even though you will probably be in agreement with his decisions 90% of the time, what about the other 10% that you don’t?  By whose terms are you really doing business?  Are you bringing him closer to Christ, or is he just paying lip service to your faith as he slowly drags you away from Biblical principles?

A yoke is something that binds the two of you together to act as one.  It’s impossible for both of you to go in a different direction.  One of you has to yield.  Will it be you?  Or will your partner realign his values to fall in line with Biblical financial principles?  How do you know which it will be?

The Collateral Damage from Breaking Your Yoke

What about all of the people that will be hurt if you break the yoke you share with your business partner who is an unbeliever?  Will this decision ruin you, your partner, and your employees financially?  What about agreements you have entered into as part of this partnership?  Do you default on them by breaking up your partnership?

Is this really what God wants?  Isn’t it a lot of pain to inflict because you became a Christian or realized you shouldn’t have entered into this partnership?  Tough questions.  Is the answer to these simply, sorry but that’s the way it has to be?

Chances are that the yoke between you and your unbeliever partner will be severed eventually.  Unless he yields and becomes a Christian, or you yield turning your back on God’s will for your business, the constant tug and pull on the yoke will cause it to snap.  One reason Paul warns against entering these relationships is to prevent this type of collateral damage when the yoke breaks.

What if My Unbeliever Partner Agrees to Yield to Me?

What if your partner isn’t just paying lip service?  What if they’re really okay with running the business based on Biblical financial principles?  Do you still have to break the yoke?  Paul thought of this situation specifically when it came to marriage, but I wonder if it doesn’t also apply to our business partnerships.

12But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away. 13And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him. 14For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy. 15But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace. 16For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife? – 1 Corinthians 7:12-16

Paul is saying here to buck those odds that the relationship will fail anyway.  If you’re already in the situation AND your partner is willing to stay with you then you stay yoked together.  There’s a chance that living out your faith in front of them may lead them to salvation.  This is not an ideal situation, and one Paul would vehemently warn you against entering into; however, you’re already in it.

God Calls You Where You Are

I know some of you are probably cringing right now and thinking that I have gone well into the weeds on this post.  You may be right, but before you pass judgment keep reading a little bit longer.  Paul continues,

17But as God hath distributed to every man, as the Lord hath called every one, so let him walk.  And so ordain I in all churches. 18Is any man called being circumcised? let him not become uncircumcised.  Is any called in uncircumcision?  let him not be circumcised. 19Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God. 20Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called. 21Art thou called being a servant? care not for it: but if thou mayest be made free, use it rather. 22For he that is called in the Lord, being a servant, is the Lord’s freeman: likewise also he that is called, being free, is Christ’s servant. 23Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men. 24Brethren, let every man, wherein he is called, therein abide with God. – 1 Corinthians 7:17-24

For me, Paul is making the point that when God calls us, when we’re saved or even when we’ve disobeyed but realized the errors of our way, He wants us to start following Him there where we are.  If your partner is willing to turn your shared yoke towards God, then just keep on plowing.

If this is true in the strongest bond of marriage where two people become one flesh, wouldn’t it also apply to the second strongest bond as business partners where we become one business entity?  Paul is clear on his thoughts when it comes to the marriage partnership, but you have to decide through prayer and listening to the Holy Spirit if this also applies to your business partnership.

Sit Down and Talk About It With Your Partner

If the partnership can be easily dissolved it’s probably the best solution.  If it can’t, and, after earnestly seeking God’s will in the matter, you have no peace about breaking the yoke, then it’s time to have a sit down with your partner.

What to discuss in your sit down meeting.

  • Be open, honest, and frank about what it means to be a Christian in business.  If you’re not sure about everything this will entail then let them know that what you believe now will likely change as you mature in your faith.
  • Explain the concept of the yoke, and how it forces the two of you to move together in one direction.  Share your concerns that you will need to change course as God directs sometimes without notice or even fully knowing why.
  • Answer their questions to the best of your ability.  Bring in other mature Christian business people to help answer any questions to which you may not know the answers.
  • Own up to the fact that this is not about them, but about you.  In no way should your conversation come across that because they’re evil you can’t do business with them.
  • Let them know that they have the choice about continuing the partnership under this new agreement.
    • If they do not wish to do so, then let them know that you will do everything to make dissolving the partnership as easy and painless as possible – even at your own expense.
    • If they wish to do so, draft an agreement of operating principles to solidify what this means to each of you in writing.  It can be formalized into the partnership agreement as a morality clause if you wish to do so.

It’s likely that this will need to happen over several settings.  Allow them enough time to let it all soak in.  All the while, continue in prayer and listening for the Holy Spirit’s guidance in the matter.  He should quickly give you peace if this is the right decision.

What Advice Would You Give?

Okay, now you can judge.  Did I miss it with this post?  Is it always break the yoke, damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead?  Is the collateral damage left in our wake by doing so just the price we, and others, pay for disobeying God?  Is this black-and-white interpretation consistent with the Golden Rule (Matt 7:12)?

If so, then what advice would you give to someone who finds themselves already yoked together with an unbeliever?

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Sue Miley September 19, 2010 at 9:43 pm

Brad, I agree with the parallel to marriage. I think that if you are already in a partnership that is going well, and the partner is comfortable with your faith, you are not called to leave it.

I think there is a little more complexity in a business relationship because there isn’t a God given headship in a business partnership. In marriage, the husband is the head. It makes it more difficult even if you are equally yoked to make decisions if there isn’t someone with the final say.

On a side note, I was jewish when my Christian husband married me. Later Jesus called me and I brought my husband back to church. In the end, God is in control. And I am very thankful that He allowed my husband and I to ride a few waves before we settled on the same waters.

Great post.

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Brad Harmon September 21, 2010 at 1:10 pm

Thanks Sue. 50/50 partnerships always sound better than they ever end up being in reality. Looking at how God designed headship in marriage is another great lesson we can learn in business. Just like in business, neither partner is less than the other; however, one needs to be chosen to steer the yoke they share. I think the issue that most people have with this, whether in business or in marriage, is that the one chosen to be the head too often forgets their awesome responsibility of putting the other first as Christ did for the church. Rather than remembering that we are to submit one to another, too many have abused this headship and turned it into something that God does not like – nor does He honor.

Your personal story is interesting. I love how you discovering your true love rekindled this same love in your husband. Yes, God is in control and works in mysterious ways.

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Datcharat Mungkieatsakul December 2, 2010 at 12:57 am

I am also search for an answer of being in business with unbeliever; I already have business which I am the sole owner of Wisdom PC, LLC. I also have family aunt, uncle that own Thai restaurant that invited me to be in business partner with them and they are not believers. I am only member in my entire family that received Jesus as my load and savior and sometime it really a hard decision to make to joint them or not, even knowing that they are not believer but also knowing that they can be trusted as family. After doing research on Google and verses in the Bible, I believe that most likely I should not joint my family for partnership in business, I do need to pray for God to guild me, any tips and advice that you could provide me?

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Brad Harmon December 3, 2010 at 12:40 am

It’s a hard place to be in, isn’t it? Trying to explain to nonbelievers why you can’t partner with them (especially with family) can be a very tough conversation to have. Personally, I do not recommend to anyone to enter into a business partnership at all. They have a very low rate of success without adding one’s faith into the mix.

It sounds like you have the necessary scriptures to support not going into a partnership with them, but the issue is more how to break the news to them. Imagine the difficulty though if a few years into the partnership God calls you to do something that isn’t in the best interest of the partnership from a purely financial standpoint. Or, if they would want to pursue something that violates your faith.

Continue to pray about the decision until you have peace from God on how you should proceed. Don’t forget to ask God for the right words to say when you have the conversation with your aunt and uncle too.
Brad Harmon recently posted..Too Busy Laughing to See God

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Jessica March 21, 2011 at 5:03 pm

Me and my ex boyfriend broke up because he is Muslim and I am a born again christian.. We had NO peace due to the fact that he does not accept Jesus Christ as Gods perfect creation that preached the Gospel and died for our sins and was risen on the third day and is seated at the right hand of the father and going to come back to judge the living and the dead…He argued with me and argued with me and always pulled out his Holy Koran and started to preach to me what he believes is the truth..and telling me that the Bible is NOT the truth… and that there is no Lord Jesus and he would not worship him ever n that he would never be a christian…It killed me…But we are no longer together..He also forbids children if he has any in the future to be baptised in a church the christian religion..that killed me also when we were together.. sometimes you can talk and talk and there is no easy way to stay together when you are two different faiths…It drives you apart..

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N.T December 5, 2011 at 5:59 am

What if the business partner in another denomination or has different Christian beliefs i.e. one may belief that it is ok to drink alcohol, while another believes not (i’m on the not). Do you get into business?

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