At thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore (Ps. 16: 11)
A gift in secret pacifieth anger: And a reward in the bosom strong wrath.Proverbs 21:14
Here is a proverb that many Christians consider somewhat angular. We could just take it as a detached observation about how the world usually runs, but that seems inadequate. Like other proverbs, this seems aimed at directing our behavior. So is the Bible encouraging us to . . . give bribes?
But we have to make distinctions. It is obviously a sin for an official to take a bribe. That would mean that he was declining to do his duty unless someone sweetened the pot for him. But what if someone is giving a bribe to get an official to do his duty?
So when it comes to taking a bribe, the testimony of Scripture is plain. Let’s start with a different proverb conjoined with other passages.
“He who is greedy for gain troubles his own house, But he who hates bribes will live” (Proverbs 15:27). “And you shall take no bribe, for a bribe blinds the discerning and perverts the words of the righteous” (Exodus 23:8). “Surely oppression destroys a wise man’s reason, and a bribe debases the heart” (Ecclesiastes 7:7). “For I know your manifold transgressions and your mighty sins: Afflicting the just sand taking bribes; Diverting the poor from justice at the gate” (Amos 5:12).
These are all examples of men distorting justice in order to monetize their position for themselves. But let us say the situation is completely reversed. You are trying to get out of some kind of a hellhole of country, and the customs official is about to impound your daughter unless . . . and he looks at you meaningfully. A gift there would simply be to induce him to do what he ought to have done for free. It is not in the same category as the first scenario, which perverts justice.
At the same time, if you are a missionary to a country that runs on bribes, and it seems impossible to get anything official done without them, it is necessary to keep in the forefront of your mind the fact that this is one of the reforms that the Christian faith promises to bring—a system that does not have to be bribed and cajoled into doing right. And this means that you should seek to learn (from the more experienced missionaries) the various tricks that they have learned to enable them to avoid having to give bribes. This is needful because the system of bribes and bribery is a corrosive in that society, and the sooner it is gone the better.
It should also be mentioned that the proverb speaks of using the secret gift as a means of assuaging anger or wrath, and perhaps that is an indication for when a gift would be appropriate. If a greasy bureaucrat is just trying to make a little extra money, it might be best to stand your ground and say no. Just sit in his waiting room area. You have all afternoon.