When a Christian is in Business
GENUINE Christians are “no part of the world,” not engaging in its religious or political schemes. Nevertheless, they are in the world and must have some dealings with it. (John 15:19; 1 Cor. 5:9, 10) But from Jehovah’s standpoint, the main purpose in their being alive is to serve as witnesses for his name and kingdom in every aspect of their lives.—Phil. 2:15.
Accordingly, true Christians must “make honest provision, not only in the sight of Jehovah, but also in the sight of men.” (2 Cor. 8:21) They appreciate that everyone should work and that those having the responsibility for dependents should provide for them. This is a “ministry,” a feature of their worship of God.—2 Thess. 3:10; 1 Tim. 5:8.
Therefore, Jehovah’s Christian witnesses support themselves financially, either by some trade, profession or form of labor, or, in some cases, by operating a business.
What is the purpose of a business, as far as one of Jehovah’s servants is concerned? It is so that he can provide properly for himself and his family in the sight of God. Consequently, he controls his business to serve its proper purpose, not permitting his business to control him.
Indeed, a Christian in business must be unusually careful to keep his senses and his balance. (1 Pet. 5:8) In some families a successful business becomes a tradition, a matter of family pride, an image. It is put first. Others are greatly concerned that their business serve to amass much material wealth. These persons, too, become subservient to their business.
A Christian can fall into either of these snares. The apostle Paul warned: “Those who are determined to be rich fall into temptation and a snare and many senseless and hurtful desires, which plunge men into destruction and ruin.” James the half brother of Jesus speaks of some who ignore their dependence on God and plan without his guidance. As an illustration of such an attitude, James says: “Come, now, you who say: ‘Today or tomorrow we will journey to this city and will spend a year there, and we will engage in business and make profits,’ whereas you do not know what your life will be tomorrow. For you are a mist appearing for a little while and then disappearing.”—1 Tim. 6:9; Jas. 4:13, 14; compare Luke 12:16-21.
So a true Christian is not concerned with expanding his business beyond what is necessary. Otherwise it could gradually encroach on the time essential for certain vital ministries: his personal study, associating with and teaching his family, attending Christian meetings, preaching the good news of the Kingdom, preparing assignments, and other duties and privileges in connection with the Christian congregation.
A BUSINESS BRINGS RESPONSIBILITIES
A Christian contemplating entering into business must take into consideration the heavy responsibilities he is assuming. First of all, he is bound, as a Christian, to be careful that nothing he does brings any blame on the Christian ministry. (2 Cor. 6:3) He has a responsibility to his customers or clients. If he is manufacturing a product, it must be a good product, or if performing a service, it must be work very well done. In advertising or selling, he cannot employ lies, misrepresentation, trickery or deception. He must realize that engaging in business as a Christian means hard work, not smooth talk. God hates liars and deceivers.—Rev. 21:8; Prov. 6:12-15.
Additionally, a businessman has a responsibility toward his employees. Whether these are fellow Christians or unbelievers, all should receive fair and unprejudiced treatment and should be paid the wages agreed upon beforehand.—Lev. 19:13.
Operating a business in this present system of things requires great carefulness. Detailed records have to be kept because of governmental regulations such as sales taxes, workmen’s compensation insurance, social security tax, income taxes, and so forth. The Christian ought to keep an accurate record of all his business transactions so that he will not run into difficulty and bring reproach on the ministry through laxity or carelessness, perhaps failing to ‘pay back to Caesar what is Caesar’s.’—Mark 12:17.
In view of the Scriptural warning about seeking wealth, a Christian should be very suspicious of projects that promise quick or unusually large returns on money invested. Even if a Christian believes that a certain enterprise of such nature is honest and he decides to invest in it, it is wise not to involve other Christians, or even outsiders, in it. Such things have brought about difficulty, particularly where the enterprise did not turn out well and caused a loss of money. Certainly a Christian would be sinning grievously against God if he became guilty of fraud. He would bear a measure of guilt if he cooperated in a scheme that he thought was good, but which proved to be fraudulent.—Mic. 2:1, 2; Ps. 72:4; 62:10; Prov. 22:16.
God’s viewpoint of such matters is shown in the laws he gave to Israel. One who defrauded or stole from his associate was to pay double, or more, if caught. But even if he repented and brought the matter to light of his own volition, he was required to confess his sin, restore the amount defrauded plus twenty percent, and offer as a guilt offering a ram (quite costly to an Israelite) at the sanctuary as an appeal to God for forgiveness. (Ex. 22:1, 4, 7; Lev. 6:1-7; compare Luke 19:8.) Even where a person found that he had sinned unintentionally against any of God’s laws, he was nevertheless guilty and had to set the matter straight.—Lev. 4:27, 28; 5:15-19.
A Christian does not want to share responsibility for the sins of “Babylon the Great,” the world empire of false religion. (Rev. 18:2, 4) Also he wants to maintain neutrality as to the conflicting political factions of this world. Therefore the Christian in business will watch carefully against making alliances with them, avoiding involvement in the supporting of them.
For reasons such as the foregoing, the counsel of the apostle Paul should be taken very seriously not to “become unevenly yoked with unbelievers.” (2 Cor. 6:14) A Christian entering into such a partnership in business would be acting disobediently toward God’s counsel. He would encounter innumerable situations where he would be tempted to compromise to please or to get along with his unbelieving partner. He could be led into violating right principles, thereby incurring God’s displeasure.
BORROWING AND LENDING
Borrowing money is something to avoid if at all possible, for, as the apostle admonishes: “Do not you people be owing anybody a single thing, except to love one another.” (Rom. 13:8) And the Scriptures say: “The borrower is servant to the man doing the lending.” (Prov. 22:7) The borrower does indeed come into a form of servitude, because he has a responsibility to his creditor. He must pay back to the lender according to the agreement made. Also, when he thinks of engaging in certain further business ventures or expenses, he has to consider the one to whom he is already in debt, and he cannot be as free as if he owed no money. Again, when he gets money in hand he is not free to use it as he pleases, perhaps for recreation, or even for his family. He must give priority to the payment of his debt.—Ps. 37:21.
However, if a loan is necessary and a brother has the money that he can afford to lend, a written agreement should be drawn up stating the amount borrowed, the rate of interest, if any, and the manner and time in which the loan is to be repaid.
Is this done because we do not trust our Christian associates, our brothers? No. It is done because of imperfection. Spoken words may be misunderstood and forgetfulness can enter in. Misunderstandings and hard feelings can then develop and can even bring dissensions that affect the congregation. Jehovah God recognizes our imperfections and knows what can develop as a result. The psalmist says: “For he himself well knows the formation of us, remembering that we are dust.”—Ps. 103:14.
For this very reason the apostle Paul saw to it that the money contributed by the congregations to help the oppressed Christians in Jerusalem was handled by more than one person, so that no misunderstanding would arise and no suspicions of any kind be raised. This was the occasion on which Paul explained: “Thus we are avoiding having any man find fault with us in connection with this liberal contribution to be administered by us. For we ‘make honest provision, not only in the sight of Jehovah, but also in the sight of men.’”—2 Cor. 8:16-21.
For these reasons the same principle holds true with respect to estimates or contracts for work to be done, where payment is expected. Of course, many kindnesses are done by Christians for one another as well as for others and many gifts are given without any thought of a return or reciprocation. (Luke 6:31-36; Gal. 6:10) But if it is a business deal, then one should have the terms in writing, each one involved receiving a copy. The Bible supports such a practice. Among the Israelites written business documents were common, and this practice was approved by God. He directed Jeremiah to write a deed when purchasing a certain tract of land.—Jer. 32:8-14.
As to the lender, he should seriously consider the matter before lending money to another individual. Where there is a real need on the part of a brother or sister, he may well wish to help with a voluntary gift, or make a loan without interest. (Ex. 22:25) Indeed, it would be his obligation to help if he was able, and Jehovah would bless him for his loving-kindness.—Jas. 2:14-16; Prov. 28:27.
On the other hand, if a loan is requested for the borrower to use in a business way, then the prospective lender should consider whether he can afford to make the loan, yes, even to lose the money if adverse circumstances should cripple the borrower’s ability to repay. Also, the lender should keep in mind that being too free in lending may encourage the borrower in an unwise course, particularly if the borrower has no collateral, or is already in debt. And lending to a person who is lax in operating his business or slow in making payments may do him more harm than good, spiritually.
The Scriptures definitely counsel against putting one’s own financial status in jeopardy by becoming surety for another, as by signing for another person who is taking on a debt. We are warned: “Do not get to be among those striking hands, among those who go security for loans. If you have nothing to pay, why should he take your bed from under you?” One who does this is shown as lacking good, right motive: “A man that is wanting in heart shakes hands, going full surety before his companion.”—Prov. 22:26, 27; 17:18.
In view of all the complications that may arise, therefore, it is wise for a person who contemplates borrowing money to ask himself: “Is this loan really necessary, essential to my living?” Perhaps, on examining himself, a person may find that he wants to live higher than he can actually afford. In some instances he may be better off getting a job as an employee rather than continuing to try to run a faltering business. Certainly it is wrong to get into the attitude that ‘others have the money, so why should I not use some of it?’
There are cases where individuals have taken advantage of their Christian brothers in business transactions because of the brothers’ trust in them as fellow Christians. The apostle Paul speaks of those who think, wrongly, “that godly devotion is a means of gain [in prominence or in material things].” He says: “To be sure, it is a means of great gain, this godly devotion along with self-sufficiency. For we have brought nothing into the world, and neither can we carry anything out. So, having sustenance and covering, we shall be content with these things.” Then the apostle continues with a warning about determining to be rich.—1 Tim. 6:5-10.
CONFIDENCE IN JEHOVAH’S CARE
Paul said in his own case: “I have learned, in whatever circumstances I am, to be self-sufficient. I know indeed how to be low on provisions, I know indeed how to have an abundance. . . . For all things I have the strength by virtue of him who imparts power to me.”—Phil. 4:11-13.
What a fine example we have in the apostle Paul, and in our Christian brothers who trust in Jesus’ words: “Keep on, then, seeking first the kingdom and [God’s] righteousness, and all these other things [necessities such as food and clothing] will be added to you.” Their conduct is turning out fine and theirs is the faith we want to imitate.—Matt. 6:33; Heb. 13:7.
Maintaining strong faith in Jehovah’s care for us, realizing he “knows what things you are needing before ever you ask him,” we will not be tempted to store up more than is necessary, and we will not be brought into fear that we and our families may not get sufficient food. We are reassured by the apostle’s inspired words: “Let your manner of life be free of the love of money, while you are content with the present things. For he has said: ‘I will by no means leave you nor by any means forsake you.’ So that we may be of good courage and say: ‘Jehovah is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?’”—Matt. 6:8; Heb. 13:5, 6.