Beware of Gifts!
WHY the counsel “beware of gifts”? Are we not told to “practice giving”? And is it not true that “there is more happiness in giving than there is in receiving”? How could we have that greater happiness if others refused to accept our gifts?—Luke 6:38; Acts 20:35.
All very true, but there are gifts and “gifts.” A mature Christian will give on the basis of need and merit, even as the apostolic counsel urges; we are to give to our brothers in need and to esteem worthy of a double reward those who labor hard in preaching and teaching. (1 John 3:17; 1 Tim. 5:17) But he will not give with an ulterior motive, because the one receiving the gift may be in a position to show him a favor, or in order to put him under obligation. And not only should the one bestowing a gift search his heart as to his motive, but the one accepting the gift should do so, accepting it only if he has reason to believe the gift is offered in good faith.
That is why the Bible counsels, especially those in positions of responsibility and therefore able to return a favor, to beware of accepting gifts: “You must not pervert judgment. You must not be partial or accept a bribe.” “You are not to accept a bribe [gift; present, margin].”—Deut. 16:19; Ex. 23:8.
The judge and prophet Samuel faithfully heeded these commands, and so at the end of his long career he could challenge the people of Israel: “Whose bull have I taken or whose ass have I taken or whom have I defrauded or whom have I crushed or from whose hand have I accepted hush money that I should hide my eyes with it?” In reply the people had to admit: “You have not defrauded us, nor have you crushed us, nor have you accepted anything at all from the hand of a single one.” Note: Samuel had not accepted from anyone a single thing! Of how many politicians could that be said today?—1 Sam. 12:3, 4.
In fact, it could not even be said of Samuel’s sons, for we read that “they were inclined to follow unjust profit and would accept a bribe and pervert judgment.” One reason the older men of Israel gave Samuel for wanting a king was: “Your own sons have not walked in your ways.”—1 Sam. 8:3-5.
But having a king did not remedy matters, at least not for long, fallen human nature being what it is. Thus in Isaiah’s time God stingingly rebuked the nation of Israel: “Thy princes are rebellious, and companions of thieves: every one loveth gifts, and followeth after rewards.”—Isa. 1:23, AV.
In the United States in recent years there has been so much giving and receiving of “gifts” in Washington that books, newspapers and magazines have been filled with reports of exposés. So disgraceful was the situation that legislators were stung into appointing a committee to make “proposals for improvement of ethical standards in the federal government,” an admission that ethics were at an all-time low.
Not that this matter of giving and receiving gifts is limited to politicians. In the spring of 1957 the public press told of a certain clergyman, James J. Stewart, of the Southwest, who was unfrocked at a secret hearing because of his agitation against the practice of church officials soliciting “love gifts” from ministers in their charge, which they in turn presented to their bishops.
About the same time newspaper headlines told of dishonest dealings on the part of labor union officials. Those high in industry not only told of making “loans” and outright gifts to labor union officials but, in certain instances, charged that it was such a common practice that government officials had authorized making such gifts and even furnished the needed money when government contracts were involved.
A rather striking exception was furnished by the president of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, Dubinsky. He not only established a rule strictly forbidding any officers of his union accepting gifts from employers but even required that those who had accepted gifts before this rule was established must confess to him that they did. Why did he make this rule? Because he knew that such gifts exerted a “corrupting influence” on labor union officials. He thereby was underscoring what God’s law to Moses some 3,500 years ago stated regarding the receiving of gifts or bribes, namely, that they blind “clear-sighted men and can distort the words of righteous men.” Yes, “a bribe destroyeth the understanding.”—Ex. 23:8; Eccl. 7:7, AS.
A person may naively think at the time that there is nothing wrong in accepting a gift from an ostensible friend, but in doing so he unconsciously becomes indebted to the giver and in a way bound to him, and his judgment becomes warped whether he realizes it or not. The counsel to be “cautious as serpents and yet innocent as doves” may well be applied to this matter of giving and receiving gifts. A wise person will think twice before he will accept a gift from a person if he is in a position to do such a one a favor. Truly the Bible is a lamp and a light for all those that want to do what is right.—Matt. 10:16.