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?