Question: "What does the Bible say about MLM (multi-level marketing)?"

The Bible does not address multi-level marketing specifically, but it does give some principles regarding providing goods or services in general and our involvement in them. MLM companies have been a frequent subject of controversy and lawsuits because of their similarity to illegal pyramid schemes, price-fixing of their goods and services, high initial start-up costs, emphasis on recruitment of lower-tiered salespeople over actual sales, requiring associates to purchase and use the company’s products, frustratingly complex compensation schemes, and the cult-like techniques that some groups use to “hook” and keep those in lower tiers.

There is nothing illegal about most MLM companies, but are they a good fit for a Christian? Both spiritually and physically, God gifts us with abilities. He also intends for us to use all of our abilities on behalf of others, not solely for our own gain (Acts 20:35). We are also told to “consider others better than yourselves (Philippians 2:3). This focus on serving others, seen in Christ Himself, is reflected in the frequent use of the word give and is a general principle of Scripture. The contrast to a focus on giving is a focus on getting, also called “greed” or “covetousness.” As Christians, our life focus on giving should also be reflected in our chosen occupation in which we seek to give to others through our work. It is true that our employers should reasonably compensate us for our labor (Luke 10:7), but our primary focus should not be on what we receive.

There is another principle found in Scripture that applies: you can know a tree by its fruit. While this principle specifically concerns being able to identify false teachers (Matthew 12:33), its application extends beyond that. According to one business teacher who has spent a good deal of time researching 350 MLM companies, over 90 percent of the people who become involved with MLM companies end up leaving those companies in just a few years. He also found that, on average, 99 percent of those involved with MLM companies end up losing money (see www.mlm-thetruth.com). These statistics alone say something about a company that uses the multi-level marketing technique as its primary way of selling its product.

As with any business/financial venture, the Christian’s first responsibility is to obey the Lord’s command that we love one another (John 13:34) and Paul’s admonition to “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3). Seen from that perspective, for the Christian, MLM would seem to be a less-than-ideal enterprise.