IT’S THE QUESTION OF THE WEEK.
It comes from Tracy T. He wins a book from this inventory for his trouble.
I entered into a verbal contract with a business colleague who, after only one month, changed his end of the deal radically but still expects me to live up to my end. What does the Bible say about business agreements especially concerning broken contracts?
For the bad news first, let’s go to Jesus:
“If someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff” (Matthew 5:41-42, The Message).
All the way through the Bible we get messages about how bad it is to lie, cheat, and steal.
- “Don’t lie to each other” (Colossians 3:9, NLT).
- “Do not deceive or cheat one another” (Leviticus 19:11).
- “You must not steal” (Mark 10:19).
But when someone rubs our face in a pile of goo we’re supposed to suck it up like a sweet chocolate malt, pay the bill, and leave a tip?
Can’t we just leave?
Leaving sounds like something the Apostle Paul would do:
“Don’t become partners with those who reject God. How can you make a partnership out of right and wrong? That’s not partnership; that’s war” (2 Corinthians 6:14, The Message).
Two examples of busted agreements. One from the Bible. One from life today.
Busted agreement #1
Remember the Bible story of Jacob? He contracted to work for his future father-in-law for seven years for the right to marry the good looking daughter, Rachel.
But on the wedding night, Papa-in-law switched out Rachel with her older, and apparently moose-faced sister, Leah.
Jacob didn’t realize it until daylight hit him like a donkey cart.
Papa-in-law cut a new deal, to his advantage, of course. Jacob could have Rachel after a week of celebrating his first wedding. But he’d have to work another seven years.
Jacob honored his part of the exploitive deal in spite of the way his father-in-law dishonored his part of the deal.
That’s not to say we should do the same. Jacob was dealing with family. Relatives add a dynamic that calls for not only the extra effort we should give because we’re Christians, but it calls for the God-in-my-bones extra effort we have to give because we’ve got to live with these people.
Busted agreement #2
When I was working for a religious organization, a new exec came to town and he forced one of the longtime, highly regarded editors into early retirement.
- Degrading the elder editor
- Demoralizing to the young editors
- The first of many of the exec’s hurtful decisions
- Possibly illegal at the time—though worker’s rights have been effectively eroded since then
Friends and acquaintances argued over what the editor should do about it. Nearly everyone I knew said he should resist, and if necessary, defer to the laws intended to protect him.
The elder editor graciously retired.
I was going to seminary at the time, and I was surprised by what the seminary ethics prof had to say about it. We all attended the same church, so we knew what was going on.
“We may not have any rights as Christians,” he explained, “but we have rights as Americans.”
Christian ethicists often argue that Christians in a free society should help create laws to protect people from exploitive me-first jerkwads.
Then, once those laws are in place, we should enforce them.
Perhaps we could multitask—doing what Jesus suggested as well as what Paul recommended.
In Tracy’s case, he could kindly tell his business associate that what they’ve got is a busted agreement and a shattered deal. They could either try to put Humpty Dumpty together again, or they could part company politely and professionally.
But I can tell you from experience, it’s hard to walk away kindly when you believe in your heart of hearts that the dude
- meant to get ahead by hurting you
- deserves a swift kick, surgically targeted.
It’s okay to think that, I believe.
It might even be okay to put on your steel-toed shoes; iffy.
But in the end, I think the best bet is to listen to God’s Spirit within us.
The Spirit speaks.
“The Holy Spirit whom the Father will send at my request, will make everything plain to you” (John 14:25, The Message).
Sometimes we just need to shut our mouth, shut the Bible, and open our mind.