Maintaining Christian Unity in Business Relationships
“Look! How good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity!”—PSALM 133:1.
1. Why is Christian unity so desirable?
IT IS indeed ‘good and pleasant for Christian brothers to dwell together in unity,’ especially today when there is so much disunity in the world. Where genuine unity abounds, it becomes a thing of beauty, resulting in a close bond of brotherly love among people, making it a joy to be in one another’s company. Disunity, on the other hand, is ugly and results in resentment, hatred, and estrangement among associates.
2. How should our common view of Bible principles enhance our brotherly unity even in business matters?
2 When Christians engage in business dealings with other servants of Jehovah, their common view of Bible principles should enhance their brotherly unity. An overseer in a congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses put it this way: “As the world becomes less trustworthy, it is refreshing to work with fellow Christians of principle. We don’t have to be ‘on our guard’ every minute. Clean, honest business associates are becoming rare in this system. How pleasant it is to work with honest people who don’t smoke or use foul language, people with self-control, whose principal motive is not material greed!”
3. (a) What are some business relationships that involve fellow believers? (b) What principles must guide business dealings?
3 What are some of the business relationships that may involve fellow believers? One is where two or more Christians decide to enter a business venture as partners. Another is where one is an employer and the other an employee. Still another situation is where a Christian offers a product or service to another believer. In any such business dealings, the principles of honesty and integrity recorded in Jehovah’s inspired Word must guide their actions. In this way brotherly unity and the joy of working together are enhanced.—1 Corinthians 10:31.
4. What danger exists for Christians in business?
4 However, the danger exists that some may fail to keep the elevated Christian view. They may start thinking too much about their own interests. (Philippians 2:4) Money may become more important than Christian unity. But selfishness in business can ruin brotherly relationships and one’s relationship with Jehovah. Never would we want that to happen!—John 13:34, 35; Hebrews 13:5; 1 Timothy 3:2, 3; 1 John 3:16; 4:20, 21.
The Importance of a Formal Agreement
5. How does Abraham’s experience in buying land demonstrate the value of a formal agreement?
5 To help prevent misunderstandings in business dealings, consider the way Abraham bought a piece of land. He “weighed out to Ephron the amount of silver that he had spoken in the hearing of the sons of Heth, four hundred silver shekels current with the merchants. Thus the field of Ephron that was in Machpelah . . . became confirmed to Abraham as his purchased property before the eyes of the sons of Heth among all those entering the gate of his city.” This was no private gentleman’s agreement. It was a formal agreement, confirmed in front of witnesses. There was no misunderstanding about what had been purchased and the exact price.—Genesis 23:2-4, 14-18.
6. How can Christians formalize important business transactions?
6 Similarly, it is wise for Christians to formalize important transactions. If the transaction involves the sale of an item, the parties may write down what is sold, the price, the method of payment, when and how delivery is to be made, and other conditions agreed upon. If it involves a service that is to be performed, the parties may write down the work to be done, when it is to be completed, the price, and other factors. This document should be dated and signed, and a copy should be kept by both parties. Such a written agreement is especially vital in a business partnership. It helps both sides to understand their relationship clearly and assists them to live in harmony with Jesus’ counsel: “Let your word Yes mean Yes, Your No, No.” (Matthew 5:37) In more complicated matters, it may be advisable to seek professional help in drawing up a written agreement.
7. (a) What else must be considered regarding written agreements? (b) In what spirit should Christians proceed with business matters?
7 In formulating written agreements, the parties should give thought not only to objectives but also to possible consequences, such as how to terminate the arrangement in the event that this becomes necessary. (Proverbs 21:5) All business ventures hold an element of risk, and no document can incorporate every circumstance that may arise. If circumstances do change, the agreement may have to be amended or renegotiated. In time it may even become apparent to a person that he has undertaken a business commitment unwisely and he may have to extricate himself in an honorable way. However, this should not be merely a device to escape responsibility for debts incurred by personal extravagance or mismanagement. The matter needs to be discussed to see if the agreement can be dissolved and what financial settlement, if any, needs to be made. Surely, though, a conscientious person will do all he reasonably can to honor contractual obligations, even if he must change his life-style for a time. (2 Thessalonians 3:12) If a Christian wants to walk faultlessly and practice righteousness, he will try to fulfill his obligations in an agreement even though such is not in his best interests, but he will do this in order to keep Jehovah’s approval. “He has sworn to what is bad for himself, and yet he does not alter.” (Psalm 15:1-4) In all such proceedings, Jehovah’s servants need to let their “affairs take place with love.”—1 Corinthians 16:14.
8. Why is it good to count the cost before entering a business relationship?
8 In view of this, before entering a business relationship, it is good to count the cost. (Luke 14:28-30) Some may optimistically sail into the seas of commerce but founder on its hidden rocks. For example, some have felt that the profits earned by their employers could have been theirs if they had had a similar business of their own. But they failed to realize that business management is not easy in this world of cutthroat competition. Each year tens of thousands of businesses fail all over the world. Thus, after experiencing bitter disappointments in commercial ventures, many Christians have been relieved to become again employees with a steady salary.
Honoring Business Relationships
9. What are some ways in which Christians can show honor to one another at work?
9 “In showing honor to one another take the lead,” says Romans 12:10. Christian employees who do this will not try to take advantage of their employer because he is a fellow Witness, adopting the worldly attitude that since the employer can afford it, he should tolerate the shortcomings of his employees. Instead, they will show honor to their employer by their attitude and diligent work. (1 Timothy 6:2) In turn, Christian employers will show honor to fellow Witness employees by the way they talk to them and deal with them. An employer should never feel that he is above a fellow believer who works for him but should remember that both are slaves of Jehovah, equal in His sight. (Ephesians 6:9) Too, both employer and employee should always keep in mind this counsel at Galatians 6:10: “Let us work what is good toward all, but especially toward those related to us in the faith.”
10. How does humility help in showing honor to one another?
10 Honor is not hard to show where humility abounds. As an example, a humble elder in a Christian congregation will not find it difficult to subject himself in business to the direction of a fellow Christian who does not have the same privileges in the congregation. In turn, the humble employer will not find it difficult to subject himself to his employee, the elder, in congregation activities. Humility will also keep both of them from becoming overly critical or expecting perfection of the other, since “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”—Romans 3:23; 12:3.
11. How can Christians show reasonableness in business matters?
11 The Bible also commands: “Let your reasonableness become known to all men.” (Philippians 4:5) It would not be reasonable for a Christian to expect special favors or superior work or always the lowest price just because he is dealing with a fellow believer. Nor should a Christian, as a right, expect time off or other privileges, such as the use of machines or vehicles, because his employer is a fellow believer. Favors, superior work, low prices, or time off may come but should not be demanded. Unreasonable expectations can cause resentment between Christians, damaging their relationship.—Proverbs 18:19.
12. Regarding Kingdom witnessing, what care needs to be exercised at the workplace?
12 While Christians want to make known the good news of God’s Kingdom to nonbelievers, at the workplace they should exercise care that such Kingdom witnessing is done at the proper time. (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 7) If it is done during working hours, it should be with the employer’s approval. Otherwise the employer may resent it, and this could bring reproach on Jehovah and His people. (1 Timothy 6:1) There are other times, such as during lunch or breaks in the workday, when such witnessing can be done. Too, where there are several Witnesses on the job, they would not want to spend time talking to one another about theocratic matters when they should be working.
Guarding Business Motives
13. How did Paul and his hosts at Corinth view their secular work?
13 While in Corinth, the apostle Paul entered into a business relationship with his Christian hosts, Aquila and Priscilla. (Acts 18:1-3) They worked to provide for life’s necessities, but that was secondary to their main objective—furthering the worship of Jehovah. They certainly could not be accused of “thinking that godly devotion is a means of [material] gain.” (1 Timothy 6:5) All three were richly blessed by Jehovah and are favorably mentioned in the Bible.—Romans 16:3-5.
14. (a) Why is it good to examine motives before entering a business venture? (b) How did three Witnesses solve their problem?
14 By carefully examining motives before entering a business venture, a Christian can avoid many difficulties. For instance, one Christian may want more time to further Kingdom interests, whereas a partner may want to improve his life-style. One may wish to reinvest profits to develop the business, but the other is ready to pay heavier taxes and not reinvest the profits so as to avoid increased involvement. In one country, three of Jehovah’s Witnesses who were also related in a fleshly way became partners in a business. But in time their views differed as to the extent to which each wanted to involve himself in the business. Their solution was a mutual decision to separate their business interests and to distribute their clients among them. In this way they preserved both their spiritual and their family relationships. They had heeded the Bible’s counsel to “pursue the things making for peace and the things that are upbuilding to one another.”—Romans 14:19.
15. Why must we especially guard our motives regarding money?
15 Special care should be exercised in guarding one’s motive relative to money. “A man of faithful acts,” the Bible assures us, “will get many blessings, but he that is hastening to gain riches will not remain innocent.” (Proverbs 28:20) By “hastening to gain riches,” a Christian can become blind to something far more precious—his Christian brotherhood. This can cause disunity in the congregation, as others may resent his putting money ahead of Kingdom interests. Thus the Bible warns: “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. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of injurious things, and by reaching out for this love some have been led astray from the faith and have stabbed themselves all over with many pains.”—1 Timothy 6:9, 10.
16. How must all business matters be conducted?
16 One way that “the love of money” can lead a Christian astray is by tempting him to adopt business practices that are unethical or outright dishonest. When fellow Christians are involved with such a person, disunity can result. And such practices jeopardize one’s relationship with Jehovah. For business relationships to run smoothly, it is important to keep in mind that cheating in business “is something detestable to Jehovah.” (Proverbs 11:1; 20:23) Rather, Christians want to be able to say, as did the apostle Paul: “We trust we have an honest conscience, as we wish to conduct ourselves honestly in all things.”—Hebrews 13:18.
Solving Business Problems
17. How can some minor business problems be solved?
17 In any business relationship between brothers, problems can arise. Some of the minor problems can be solved simply by applying the principle at 1 Peter 4:8, which says: “Above all things, have intense love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.” If problems cannot be solved in that way, they should not be allowed to fester and worsen. This could result in a loss of mutual respect and in alienation. The solution often lies in kind, frank communication before the situation grows worse. God’s Word counsels us to settle disputes quickly.—Matthew 5:23-25; Ephesians 4:26, 27.
18. What can a Christian do if he believes he has been seriously wronged in business by a fellow Christian?
18 However, when a Christian believes that he has been seriously wronged by a fellow believer in business, the steps outlined at Matthew 18:15-17 should be carefully followed. The first step or two should resolve the matter. If they do not, the third step would be for the appointed elders to look into the matter. If this should happen, the elders would strongly discourage the brothers involved from instituting lawsuits against each other. A lawsuit against a fellow believer would mean, as Paul said, “altogether a defeat for you.” He added: “Why do you not rather let yourselves be wronged? Why do you not rather let yourselves be defrauded?” (1 Corinthians 6:1-8) It is better to suffer financial loss than to bring reproach on Jehovah’s name as well as the congregation and disrupt our unity by taking a believer to court. Of course, even though court action is not taken, some form of congregation action may be necessary if dishonesty is involved.
19. What excellent Bible examples can elders point to when counseling on business problems?
19 When counseling those who are having business difficulties, the elders could point them to the unselfish example set by Abraham when his relationship with Lot was in jeopardy. Abraham, though older, kindly gave Lot the first choice of land rather than risk a breach in relationships. (Genesis 13:5-11) Elders could also point to the good example of Zacchaeus. He was willing to give half his belongings to the poor and with the other half to restore fourfold what he had extorted from people by false accusation.—Luke 19:1-10; see also 1 Corinthians 10:24.
20, 21. What must be kept foremost in mind about secular activity?
20 How fine it is when Christians effectively settle business problems by carefully following Bible counsel! In this way they remain united even when business ventures fail. That will be the happy outcome when we keep foremost in mind at all times that, for Christians, secular activity is secondary to Kingdom interests and brotherly unity. It is also fine when business interests can be arranged in order to allow more time for the more important things related to Kingdom activity.—Matthew 6:33; compare Philippians 1:9, 10.
21 Thus, what is really vital in our lives is our relationship with Jehovah and our Christian brotherhood. (Matthew 22:36-39) Never would we want this to be marred by worldly influences or business matters, for absolutely nothing can be compared to our relationship with Jehovah or can match the beauty of our united brotherhood!
Questions for Review
□ How does obeying God’s Word enhance business relationships?
□ Why is it wise to formalize important transactions?
□ How can Christians show honor to one another at work?
□ Why should we examine our motives in business?
□ What attitude should be shown in resolving business problems?
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Abraham confirmed a purchase of land by a formal agreement with Ephron
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Working to provide a livelihood was of secondary importance to Paul, Aquila, and Priscilla