Question and Answer

Business Partnerhips with Unbelievers

Question:

Do you have a position on Christians being in business partnerships with non-Christians where there is equal ownership? 2 Corinthians 6:14 references "unequally yoked with unbelievers," but from my experience this verse is most commonly referred to in the context of worship. Your assistance would be helpful.

Answer:

You are correct, I believe, in perceiving that the context of 2 Corinthians 6:14 indicates that the Apostle's concern is focused on worship and spiritual union within Christ's church. I believe the occasion for this admonition (and for most of the letter) is the arrival in Corinth of the Judaizing heretics who had dogged Paul's path and repeatedly tried to hijack churches founded through his labors (hence, Galatians). Now they have arrived in Corinth where Paul labored almost a year in establishing the church, and part of their strategy is to cut Paul down with criticism of his person and conduct in order to undermine his authority and doctrine. This is why the letter is so personal and emotionally intense. The heretics who want Christian believers to fall from grace by accepting a "gospel" of Christ plus Law are the "lawless" ones, the servants of darkness and Belial (cf. 11:1-15), the unbelievers with whom the church in Corinth is not to be bound. An obvious modern application is to true believers who find themselves in churches that have been captured by the unbelief of modernism or of other heresies that compromise the gospel and rob Christ of His glory.

It is very common to extend the application of this passage (6:14-7:1) to the marriage union. That seems to me to be a reasonable extension since (1) the Bible elsewhere clearly forbids Christians to marry non-Christians and (2) there is no other human institution in which the members are bound together in a union as intimate and all-encompassing as marriage (Eph.5:22-33, reflecting the covenantal and mystical union between Christ and His church).

The passage has also been applied to other close and binding relationships, such as business partnerships (which is your question). I think it may be legitimate to say that 2 Cor. 6:14-7:1 should move us to examine relationships to see if we are bound in such a way to a non-Christian that moral and spiritual compromise might be the result. But I don't think we can say (because it is so far from the contextual concerns of the passage) that this passage forbids such relationships with the force of law.

However, taking it as a caution (and you can find other such cautions, as for example in Proverbs), I think you have to ask yourself hard questions about the contemplated partnership and the contemplated partner. If you do not share together a common faith in Christ (and therefore a common commitment to do all things, including all business dealings, to His glory and in obedience to His Word), has God in His common grace so imbued your potential partner with a commitment to ethical business dealings that you can trust him/her not to do anything in the name of the business that could result in the tarnishing of your good name? Of course, the test of this comes at the point [the possibility of which you have to be prepared for, James 4:13-17] when the business may be doing badly and temptations present themselves to take ethical shortcuts to save the bacon. When the chips are down you might find that while you are willing to accept God's providence ("We gave it our best shot, the results are in God's hands"), the threat of losing everything pushes your non-Christian partner to the point of saying (maybe only to himself behind your back) "I'll do whatever it takes to save the business because it's all I have." Sometimes we think our non-Christian friends are morally impeccable, but extreme stress and pressure expose (fallen) human weaknesses we had not before seen in them. (And great success and prosperity often have a similarly corrupting effect.)

That's a caution, not a law; and the Bible in general does not forbid us to have business dealings with non-Christians (or we would have to go out of the world, as Paul says elsewhere). I pray the Lord gives you the wisdom you need to make the right decision, and that He prospers your endeavor to His glory and the good of others—including the contemplated partner who needs the Lord. Feel free to come back with follow up questions.


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