WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY ABOUT PARTNERSHIPS?
The New Testament is quite clear about partnerships for believers, and in Second Corinthians 6:14 Paul provides an unambiguous statement for us: “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers; for what fellowship does righteousness have with lawlessness? And what partnership does light have with darkness?”
As Paul had stated earlier in First Corinthians 5:9-10, he was not espousing disassociation with non-believers altogether, in saying, “I wrote to you in the letter not to associate intimately with fornicators; yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then you must go out of the world.”
Indeed, he wanted all believers to actively witness for Christ to these unbelievers but without entering into personal or business relationships which could compromise their faith. He expected Christians to have undivided loyalty to Christ, avoiding situations in which would have them choose between God and Mammon.
He did not want such unequal unions, partnerships or associations to become snares for Christians.
While most readers take his words above primarily to be against marriage with a non-believer, Paul was intending his words to cover all partnership relations, marriage, personal and business.
When studying Paul’s writings on partnerships and in the Christian relationship to the body of believers, the Church, we can see that Paul had not envisioned the situation today where “nominal” or “professing” Christians comprise the majority of all Christians, even perhaps sometimes, even within the Church.
These “CEO” Christians (‘doing church’ at Christmas and Easter Only), would have been expelled from the body in Paul’s day. They would be classified as a non-believer, or worse. In 1 Corinthians 5:11 Paul makes this clear as he says “I have written to you not to associate intimately, if any man called a brother and is either a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such a one not to eat,” while 2 Peter 2:21 warns “Yes, it would be better for them to have never known the right way,” than to have known it, and turned away.
Here he is talking about apostates and back-sliders, the latter who now still see themselves as Christians.
UNWISE PARTNERSHIPS CAN HAVE DISASTROUS CONSEQUENCES
The results of inappropriate, unwise and ungodly partnerships and alliances are found throughout the Bible.
One such example is 2 Chronicles 20:31-37 which follows and the key verse is v35, “But near the end of his life, King Jehoshaphat of Judah made an alliance with King Ahaziah of Israel, who was a very wicked man.”
“And Jehoshaphat reigned over Judah, thirty-five years old when he began to reign, and he reigned twenty-five years in Jerusalem. And his mother’s name was Azubah the daughter of Shilhi. And he walked in the way of Asa his father, and did not depart from it, doing the right in the sight of Jehovah. But, the high places were not taken away, for as yet the people had not prepared their hearts to the God of their fathers. And the rest of the acts of Jehoshaphat, first and last, behold, they are written in the book of Jehu the son of Hanani, which were taken up in the Book of the Kings of Israel.
And after this Jehoshaphat king of Judah joined himself with Ahaziah king of Israel; he did wickedly to do so. And he joined himself with him to make ships to go to Tarshish. And they made the ships in Ezion-geber. And Eliezer the son of Dodavah of Mareshah prophesied against Jehoshaphat, saying, Because you have joined yourself with Ahaziah, Jehovah has broken your works. And the ships were broken so that they were not able to go to Tarshish.” (Emphasis added in v35)
Jehoshaphat met disaster when he joined forces with wicked King Ahaziah. He did not learn from his disastrous alliance with Ahab (above) or from his father’s alliance with Aram in verses 16:2-9:
“So Asa took gold and silver from the treasuries of the LORD’S Temple and the king’s palace. He gave it to his officials and sent them to King Ben-Hadad of Aram. Ben-Hadad was the son of Tabrimmon. Tabrimmon was the son of Hezion. Damascus was Ben-Hadad’s capital city. Asa sent this message, “My father and your father had a peace agreement. Now I want to make a peace agreement with you. I am sending you this gift of gold and silver. Please break your treaty with King Baasha of Israel and make him leave us alone.”
King Ben-Hadad made that agreement with King Asa and sent his army to fight against the Israelite towns of Ijon, Dan, Abel Maim, and the storage cities in the area of Naphtali. When Baasha heard about these attacks, he stopped building up Ramah and went back to Tirzah. He stopped all the work he was doing. Then King Asa gave an order for all the men in Judah, with no exceptions. They had to go to Ramah and carry out all the stone and wood that Baasha was using to build up the city. They carried the material to Geba in Benjamin and to Mizpah and used it to strengthen those two cities.
At that time Hanani the seer came to King Asa of Judah and said to him, “Asa, you depended on the king of Aram to help you and not the LORD your God. That’s why the king’s army has escaped from you.”
Did you forget what happened with the Ethiopians and the Libyans who also had a powerful army with many chariots and horse soldiers? That time you depended on the LORD to help you, and he let you defeat them. The eyes of the LORD go around looking in all the earth for people who are faithful to him so that he can make them strong. Asa, you did a foolish thing. So from now on you will have wars.”
The partnership stood on unequal footings because one man served the LORD while the other worshiped idols. Here we need to open our minds as to what “idols” are in contemporary society, for not only do non-believers bow before them, so to do born-again believers.
Webster’s defines Idolatry as 1) the worshiper of idols; one who pays divine honors to images, statues, or representations of anything made by hands; one who worships as a deity that which is not God; a pagan AND 2) an adorer; a great admirer.
While devout Christians may not intentionally bow before other deities, they often instead make idols of their children, their jobs, their wealth, they status in Church, their Mission for God. Such good things are easy to “adore.” But in doing so, we move our heart and mind from Jesus to ourselves and our achievements or our possessions and there we adore and gloat and obsess and in that, we become idolaters.
Such a multiplicity of challenges as we now face, could perhaps not have easily been imagined by Peter and Paul, but Jesus knew. For he tells us in Matthew 19:23 as “Jesus said to His disciples, ‘Truly I say to you that a rich man will with great difficulty enter into the kingdom of Heaven. And again I say to you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of God.’”
We court disaster when we enter into partnership with unbelievers, because our very foundations differ. Our core beliefs are different. We walk to the beat of a different drummer, as the adage says. This is made clear for us in 2 Corinthians 6:14-18 where the correct foundation of a Godly partnership is described:
“Solomon kneeled, spread his hands out toward heaven and said, “LORD, God of Israel, there is no god like you in heaven or on earth. You keep the agreement that you made with your people. You are kind and loyal to those who follow you with all their heart. You made a promise to your servant, my father David, and you kept that promise. You made that promise with your own mouth, and with your own hands you made it come true today. Now, LORD, God of Israel, keep the other promises you made to your servant David, my father. You said, ‘David, if your sons carefully obey me as you did, you will always have someone from your family ruling the people of Israel.’
Again, LORD, God of Israel, I ask you to keep the promise you made to your servant, my father David.
“But, God, will you really live here with us on the earth? The whole sky and the highest heaven cannot contain you. Certainly this house that I built cannot contain you either.”
In unequally yoked partnerships, while one serves the LORD, the other does not, or perhaps cannot recognize God’s authority. Remember, all we do, we are asked to do as a praise offering to God! Inevitably, the one who serves God is faced with the temptation to compromise his and God’s stated values. When this situation occurs, as occur it most certainly will, spiritual disaster results.
Jesus warns us of this perilous position in Matthew 16:26 “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?”
THERE ARE IMPORTANT BASIC GUIDELINES FOR PARTNERSHIPS
Before entering into partnerships, ask:
- What are my motives?
- What problems am I avoiding by seeking this partnership?
- Is this partnership the best solution, or is it only a quick fix to my problem?
- Have I prayed or asked others to pray for guidance?
- Are my partner and I really working toward the same goals?
- Am I willing to settle for less financial gain in order to do what God wants?
In answering these questions, complete and utter honesty is required. The problem for us is that we are still living in this fallen world and the enemy is bent on our destruction.
Speaking honestly about our decision making process at its most basic and fundamental levels is hard. All too easily we bluff ourselves, giving the palliative answers we know will satisfy, but may be in opposition to the truth.
The Bible, in Jeremiah 2, gives us a clear picture of how this works, from God’s position. As John Darby’s Synopsis says about this chapter “Chapter 2 contains a most touching appeal to the people at Jerusalem.
It requires no explanation, but deserves the heart’s serious attention. It testifies in the most striking manner to the kindness and tender love of the LORD. Only that we have here only the comparison of what they had originally been as planted by the LORD, and His ways of love, not any reference to the coming of the LORD.
Christ is not in view nor the counsels of God as in Isaiah, though we shall find it further on; but their responsibility under God’s touching ways of grace with them is much more fully brought out, and final blessing is spoken of in the following chapter.” All is positive. But hidden in there is a salutary message for us:
“The LORD’S message came to me: “Jeremiah, go and speak to the people of Jerusalem. Tell them that this is what the LORD says: “‘At the time you were a young nation, you were faithful to me. You followed me like a young bride. You followed me through the desert, through a land that had never been used for farmland. The people of Israel were a holy gift to the LORD. They were the first fruit he gathered. Any people who tried to hurt them were judged guilty. Bad things happened to those wicked people.'” This message is from the LORD. Family of Jacob, hear the LORD’S message. Tribes of Israel, listen.
This is what the LORD says: “Do you think that I was not fair to your ancestors? Is that why they turned away from me? Your ancestors worshiped worthless idols, and they became worthless themselves. Your ancestors did not say, ‘The LORD brought us out of Egypt. He led us through the desert, through a dry and rocky land. He led us through a dark and dangerous land. No one lives there; people don’t even travel through that land. But the LORD led us through that land. So where is he now?’
“I brought you into a good land, a land filled with many good things. I did this so that you could eat the fruit and crops that grow there. But you only made my land ‘dirty.’ I gave that land to you, but you made it a bad place.
“The priests did not ask, ‘Where is the LORD?’ The people who know the law did not want to know me. The leaders of the people of Israel turned against me. The prophets spoke in the name of the false god Baal. They worshiped worthless idols.”
The LORD says, “So now I will accuse you again, and I will also accuse your grandchildren. Go across the sea to the Islands of Kittim. Send someone to the land of Kedar. Look very carefully. See if anyone has ever done anything like this. Has any nation ever stopped worshiping their old gods so that they could worship new gods? No! And their gods are not really gods at all! But my people stopped worshiping their glorious God and started worshiping idols that are worth nothing.
“Skies, be shocked at what happened! Shake with great fear!” This message is from the LORD. “My people have done two evil things. They turned away from me, and they dug their own water cisterns. I am the source of living water; those cisterns are broken and cannot hold water.
“Israel is not a slave, is he? He was not born a slave, was he? Then why did the enemy carry him away as a captive? Like a lion the enemy has roared at Israel. They have destroyed your land. Your cities have been burned, and no one is left in them. People from Memphis and Tahpanhes have smashed the top of your head. This trouble is your own fault. The LORD your God was leading you the right way, but you turned away from him.
People of Judah, think about this: How did it help you to go to Egypt and drink from the Nile River? How did it help you to go to Assyria and drink from the Euphrates River?
You have done wrong, and that will only bring punishment to you. Trouble will come to you, and it will teach you a lesson. Think about it and understand how bad it is to turn away from the LORD your God. It is wrong not to fear and respect me.” This message is from LORD GOD All-Powerful. “Judah, long ago you broke free from me, like an ox that breaks its yoke and the ropes that held it. You said to me, ‘I will not serve you!’ On every high hill and under every green tree, you acted like a prostitute.
Judah, I planted you like a special vine. You were all from good seed. How did you turn into a different vine that grows bad fruit? Even if you wash yourself with lye, even if you use much soap, I can still see your guilt.” This message is from the LORD GOD.
“Judah, how can you say to me, ‘I am not guilty because I have not worshiped the Baal idols’? Think about what you did in the valley. Think about what you have done. You are like a fast she-camel that runs from place to place. You are like a wild donkey that lives in the desert. At mating time, she sniffs the wind. No one can control her when she is in heat. At mating time, every male that wants her will get her. She is easy to find. Judah, stop chasing after idols! Stop wanting those other gods. But you say, ‘It is no use! I cannot stop! I love those other gods. I can’t stop chasing them.’
“A thief is ashamed when people catch him stealing. The people of Israel should be ashamed too and so should their kings and leaders, priests and prophets. They say to pieces of wood, ‘You are my father.’ They say to a rock, ‘You gave birth to me.’ All these people will be ashamed. They don’t look to me for help. They have turned their backs to me. But when the people of Judah get into trouble, they say to me, ‘Come and save us!’
But where are the idols you made for yourselves? Let’s see if they come and save you when you are in trouble! People of Judah, you have as many idols as you have cities!
“Why do you argue with me? You have all turned against me.” This message was from the LORD. “I punished you people of Judah, but it did not help. You did not come back when you were punished. With your swords you killed the prophets who came to you. Like a dangerous lion, you killed the prophets.”
>People of this generation, pay attention to the LORD’S message! “Have I been like a desert to the people of Israel? Have I been like a dark and dangerous land to them? My people say, ‘We are free to go our own way. We will not come back to you!’ Why do they say these things?
A young woman does not forget her jewellery. A bride does not forget to wear her wedding dress. But my people have forgotten me too many times to count.
Judah, you have become so good at finding lovers. Even the worst women could learn some evil ways from you. You have blood on your hands! It is the blood of poor, innocent people. You did not catch them breaking into your house. You killed them for no reason!
But still, you say, ‘I am innocent. God is not angry with me.’ So I will also judge you guilty of lying, because you say, ‘I have done nothing wrong.’
You go from one place to another looking for help, always changing your mind. But Egypt will also disappoint you, just as Assyria did. So you will eventually leave Egypt too, and you will hide your face in shame. You trusted these countries, but the LORD rejected them, so they cannot help you win.” (Emphasis added in v36)
Yes, Jeremiah 2:36 warns us clearly when we cannot it see it for ourselves: “First here, then there-you flit from one ally to another asking for help. But your new friends in Egypt will let you down, just as Assyria did before.” We will be let down in unequally yoked partnerships.
SOME PARTNERSHIPS BETRAY A LACK OF TRUST IN GOD
God is not against alliances or working partnerships, but He is against people trusting others for the help that should come from Him.
I believe that is the nub of the teaching for this was the problem in Jeremiah’s time. After the days of David and Solomon, Israel fell apart because the leaders turned to other nations and gods instead of the true God. They played power politics, thinking that their strong neighbors could protect them.
But Judah would soon learn that its alliance with Egypt would be just as disappointing as its former alliance with Assyria as Second Kings 16:8-9 and Isaiah 7:13-25 clearly demonstrate.
2 Kings 16:8-9 says:
“Ahaz also took the silver and gold that was in the Temple of the LORD and in the treasuries of the king’s palace. Then Ahaz sent a gift to the king of Assyria. The king of Assyria listened to Ahaz and went to fight against Damascus. The king captured that city and took the people from Damascus as prisoners to Kir. He also killed Rezin.”
Isaiah 7:13-35 says:
“Then Isaiah said, “Family of David, listen very carefully! Is it not enough that you would test the patience of humans? Will you now test the patience of my God? But the LORD will still show you this sign: The young woman is pregnant and will give birth to a son. She will name him Immanuel. He will eat milk curds and honey as he learns to choose good and refuse evil. But before he is old enough to make that choice, the land of the two kings you fear will be empty.
“But the LORD will bring troubled times to you. These troubles will be worse than anything that has happened since the time Israel separated from Judah. This will happen to your people and to your father’s family when God brings the king of Assyria to fight against you.
“At that time the LORD will call for the ‘Fly’ that is now near the streams of Egypt, and he will call for the ‘Bee’ that is now in the country of Assyria. Those enemies will come to your country. They will settle in the deep valleys and in the caves, by the thornbushes and watering holes. The LORD will use Assyria to punish Judah. Assyria will be hired and used like a razor to shave off Judah’s beard and to remove the hair from his head and body. “At that time someone might keep only one young cow and two sheep alive. But there will be enough milk for them to eat milk curds. In fact, everyone left in the country will eat milk curds and honey. There are now fields that have 1000 grapevines, and each grapevine is worth 1000 pieces of silver.
But those fields will be covered with weeds and thorns. That land will be wild and used only as a hunting ground where people go with bows and arrows. People once worked the soil and grew food on these hills, but at that time they will not go there, because the fields will be covered with weeds and thorns. It will be a place where cattle graze and sheep wander.”
God has warned us in His Word about the problems of being unequally yoked in a partnership with an unbeliever.
We may kid ourselves and live in denial saying, “It will not happen to me!” or “It will not happen to us!”
As Isaiah asked of David’s descendants, “Will you now test the patience of my God?”
Amen and Amen.