Questions From Readers
▪ How can a Christian distinguish between bribing (condemned in the Bible) and giving a “tip” or “gift” for a service rendered?
We need to appreciate that practices differ from area to area. Ways that are accepted in some lands would be offensive or improper elsewhere. For example, people in one country may bow before an official, but in another land that would be viewed as idolatry.* Similarly, a “tipping” practice accepted in one land might be shocking or illegal in another. While bearing such differences in mind, all Christians should apply God’s counsel against bribery.
What is bribery, and what does the Bible say about it? The World Book Encyclopedia explains: “Bribery means giving or offering something of value to a person in a position of trust, who in return violates his or her duty or the law in order to benefit the giver.” Thus it is bribery to give money (or a gift) to a judge to influence his decision and pervert justice. It is also bribery to offer money so as to circumvent the law, such as asking a building or automobile inspector to ignore a violation.
God condemns bribery, telling Israelite judges: “You must not pervert judgment. You must not be partial or accept a bribe, for the bribe blinds the eyes of wise ones and distorts the words of righteous ones.” (Deuteronomy 16:19; compare Proverbs 17:23; Isaiah 1:23; 5:23; 1 Samuel 8:3-5.) Jehovah himself sets the standard, for with him “there is no unrighteousness or partiality or taking of a bribe.” (2 Chronicles 19:7; Deuteronomy 10:17) Christians desiring God’s approval refuse to resort to bribery.—Compare Acts 24:26.
While men worldwide denounce and have laws against bribery, many people face the problem reflected in the above question. They know that it takes a “gift” or “tip” to get minor officials in their land to do their job or to do it fairly. For instance, The Wall Street Journal said about a land rife with inflation: “To obtain the extra cash needed to get by, government workers resort to petty corruption. ‘You have to pay them to hand you any kind of form,’ says the head of a state agency. Meanwhile, immigration officials badger bewildered foreign tourists at the international airport for $20 to stamp their passports so the travelers don’t miss their planes.”
Recently, U.S.News & World Report commented on bureaucratic delays and resulting payoffs that are common around the world. For instance, it said: “An Indian these days must slip money to an official on the side to enroll a child in school, to gain admittance to a hospital, even to secure reservations on a train.” Other illustrations of this include:
—A tradesman needs a permit before he can work. He pays the official fee at the government office, yet everyone knows that without a “gift” his papers will be kept on the bottom of the pile. While he is not asking to be put ahead of others, if he gives the normal “tip,” his paper will be properly handled.
—In a certain land, people know that traffic officers get low pay and are expected to add to it with “gifts for refreshments.” An officer stops a driver and says that a law was broken, so the man must pay a fine. When the driver protests that he broke no law, the officer warns that if the matter goes to court, he will charge the man also with assaulting an officer. Thus, many simply pay the “fine,” viewing it as unofficial taxation. Others refuse, being willing to take the consequences.
—A municipality is supposed to provide garbage collection. But it is normal for a householder to give the garbagemen a “gift.” If someone does not, his trash is “forgotten,” and he is liable to be fined for unsanitary conditions.
Such problems show that many in authority use their government post for unjust profit. (Ecclesiastes 8:9) Christians long for God’s righteous new system, but until then they must cope with the present system. (2 Peter 3:13) This may mean recognizing local situations wherein public servants expect gifts for performing their job. Even in lands where such is normal, many of Jehovah’s Witnesses who deal with inspectors and customs officials have declined to give “tips” to obtain what the law entitles them to. Because they are known for this stand, they receive treatment that most people get only through a payment. (Proverbs 10:9) However, each Christian must be guided by his Bible-educated conscience according to the local situation.
Love for neighbor is a factor to consider. (Matthew 22:39) It would be unloving to use a “gift” to get preferred treatment, such as being moved to the head of a line, bypassing those who were waiting. Jesus counseled us to treat others as we want to be treated. (Matthew 7:12) Some Christians may feel that as their turn in line comes, they can comply with the practice of the land to give a “gift” to get an official to do what his job requires. Of course, in lands where such “gifts” are not customary or they are shocking to public sensibilities, the loving Christian will act in a way that does not stumble others.—1 Corinthians 10:31-33.
Another factor is obedience to law. Jesus urged: “Pay back Caesar’s things to Caesar, but God’s things to God.”* (Mark 12:17; see also Matthew 17:24-27.) It is one thing if a Christian who has not broken the law is expected to “tip” a government employee or other official. But what if a Christian actually had violated the law? In that case, how could he in good conscience offer a bribe to induce an officer to ignore the violation? The apostle Paul wrote that we should fear governmental superior authorities, who are empowered “to express wrath upon the one practicing what is bad.” (Romans 13:3, 4) Paul’s own position was: If he did wrong, he would accept the appropriate punishment. (Acts 25:10, 11) Thus, a Christian who violated a traffic law might have to pay a fine or fee, as directed by an officer or a judge.
Paul also said that governments are ‘ministers to you for your good.’ Despite the greed of some officials, governments do provide services for the public good. For instance, officials inspect automobiles as to their roadworthiness, and they examine whether buildings are in compliance with fire codes. Therefore, if a Christian felt that, within the law, he could “tip” an official who expected a “service fee,” it is evident that this is quite different from bribing an inspector to ignore violations of the law.
In whatever land they live, Christians should exercise practical wisdom in dealing with local situations. God’s servants should remember that those who ‘will be guests in God’s tent and reside in his holy mountain’ cannot resort to bribery. (Psalm 15:1, 5) With regard to giving “tips” to receive rightfully due services or to avoid unfair treatment by officials, a Christian must decide what his conscience permits and bear responsibility for any resulting complications. He certainly should pursue a course that leaves him with a good conscience personally and that does not sully the good name of Christianity or stumble observers.—2 Corinthians 6:3.
“Questions From Readers,” The Watchtower of June 1, 1968.
Elders in the Christian congregation are responsible to handle violations of divine law, such as stealing, murder, and immorality. But God did not require congregation elders to enforce Caesar’s laws and codes. Hence, Paul did not feel compelled to turn over to Roman authorities Onesimus, who was a fugitive under Roman law. (Philemon 10, 15) Of course, if someone flagrantly violates secular law, gaining the reputation of being a lawbreaker, he would not be a good example and might even be disfellowshipped. (1 Timothy 3:2, 7, 10) If lawbreaking was involved in causing another’s death, bloodguilt requiring congregation investigation might result.