Questions From Readers
Would it be fitting for a Christian to go into business with an unbeliever, since the Bible tells us: “Do not become unevenly yoked with unbelievers”?
We find that counsel at 2 Corinthians 6:14-16: “Do not become unevenly yoked with unbelievers. For what fellowship do righteousness and lawlessness have? Or what sharing does light have with darkness? Further, what harmony is there between Christ and Belial? Or what portion does a faithful person have with an unbeliever? And what agreement does God’s temple have with idols?”
There is no reason to believe that the apostle Paul offered this counsel with the intent of establishing specific prohibitions, such as against a Christian’s being in business with an unbeliever. Yet, his counsel certainly bears on that, as well as on other avenues of life.
Paul wrote that counsel to his Christian brothers in ancient Corinth. Dwelling in a city that was particularly corrupt, they daily had to contend with moral and spiritual dangers. Unless they were careful, exposure to unwholesome influences could gradually weaken their resolve to be a distinct people, “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for special possession.”—1 Peter 2:9.
Before writing what appears at 2 Corinthians 6:14-16, Paul had dealt with a serious problem among his Corinthian brothers. They had allowed a case of gross immorality to exist in their midst, so Paul directed them to expel, or disfellowship, the unrepentant sinner. (1 Corinthians 5:1) That man’s wrongdoing showed that bad association or unguarded immersion in the world’s moral climate could affect Christians.
The Corinthian Christians were to avoid association with the expelled man, but did that mean that they needed to separate themselves entirely from unbelievers? Were they to avoid virtually all contact or dealings with non-Christians, becoming a sort of monastic sect, like the Jews who withdrew to Qumran near the Dead Sea? Let Paul answer: “In my letter I wrote you to quit mixing in company with fornicators, not meaning entirely with the fornicators of this world . . . Otherwise, you would actually have to get out of the world.”—1 Corinthians 5:9, 10.
The implication of those words is plain. Paul realized that Christians were still on this planet, living among and having almost daily contact with unbelievers whose morals were low and whose standards were different. Since that was basically unavoidable, Christians should be alert to the dangers of such contacts.
Now let us again consider Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. He pointed out that anointed Christians are qualified as God’s ministers, ambassadors substituting for Christ. He told them to guard against any cause for stumbling that might bring their ministry into a bad light. (2 Corinthians 4:1–6:3) Paul directly urged his Corinthian brothers, who were like his spiritual children, to widen out in their affections. (2 Corinthians 6:13) After that he urged: “Do not become unevenly yoked with unbelievers.” He used a series of rhetorical contrasts to underscore that point.
The context shows that Paul was not focusing on some specific area of life, such as business or employment, and setting out a formal rule to be enforced in that regard. Rather, he was providing broad, sound, helpful counsel to brothers he dearly loved.
Would this counsel apply, for example, in the case of a Christian who was interested in marriage? Certainly. In his first letter, the apostle counseled Corinthians who wanted to marry to do so “only in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 7:39) He emphasized the wisdom of those words by what he later wrote, as stated at 2 Corinthians 6:14-18. If a Christian was to contemplate marriage to someone who was not a servant of Jehovah and not a follower of Christ, he or she would be considering becoming linked with an unbeliever. (Compare Leviticus 19:19; Deuteronomy 22:10.) Clearly, the fundamental incompatibility would invite problems, including spiritual ones. For example, the unbeliever might presently or in the future pursue the worship of a false god. Paul reasoned: “What harmony is there between Christ and Belial?”
What, though, about another avenue of life—going into business with an unbeliever? In some cases a Christian might feel that earning a living and caring for his family requires entering into a business relationship with someone who is not a fellow Christian. (1 Timothy 5:8) Consider what are merely examples:
A Christian might want to begin a business of selling a type of merchandise, but the only way would be to accept a partnership with a man who has access to needed products or funds. Another Christian wants to do farming (or raise a type of livestock); yet there is no land available, so he would have to do it jointly with someone willing to lease him the land for a share in any profit. Perhaps another Christian is not able to enter into the plumbing business because Caesar grants only a few licenses, and they are already taken; the only way would be for him to join an unbelieving relative who is licensed.—Mark 12:17.
These are just illustrations. We are not trying to exhaust the possibilities, nor are we making any statement of approval or disapproval. But with these examples in mind, can you not see why the counsel at 2 Corinthians 6:14-18 should not be ignored?
A Christian who went into a business with an unbeliever, whether a relative or not, might well encounter unexpected problems and temptations. Perhaps the partner concludes that the way to make a reasonable profit is to underreport earnings or employ workers off the books, even if that violated government rules. He might be happy to pay deliverymen under the table for goods not listed on the official invoice. Would a Christian have any part in that or similar dishonesty? And what would the Christian do when it came time for both of them to sign tax papers or other legal documents about how they do business?—Exodus 23:1; Romans 13:1, 7.
Or the unbelieving business associate might want to stock items related to pagan holidays, send holiday cards in the company’s name, and decorate the business for religious holidays. Paul asked: “What agreement does God’s temple have with idols? For we are a temple of a living God.” How appropriate is the comment: “‘“Therefore get out from among them, and separate yourselves,” says Jehovah, “and quit touching the unclean thing”’; ‘“and I will take you in”’”! (2 Corinthians 6:16, 17) In applying that wise counsel, many Christians have chosen types of secular work that would expose them to as few potential problems as possible.—Hebrews 13:5, 6, 18.
The congregation is not charged with keeping watch over or investigating all that Christians do in their secular work, whether as employees or as owners of businesses. Of course, if it became known that a Christian is party to wrongdoing, such as promoting false worship or some form of lying or stealing, the congregation would have to take steps to uphold Jehovah’s standards.
The key point is, however, that Paul’s inspired counsel, “Do not become unevenly yoked with unbelievers,” can help Christians avoid problems and any needed judicial action. Wise Christians will take that counsel to heart and not choose to enter situations where they will be under added pressure to compromise Bible principles. If someone feels that he must go into business with an unbeliever, others need not be quick to judge or criticize him, realizing that he will have to bear the responsibility for his choice. Basically, Paul was not setting out a formal, enforceable rule against going into business with an unbeliever. Still, his counsel should not be ignored. God inspired that counsel and had it recorded in the Bible for our benefit. We are wise to heed it.