Fighting Corruption With the Sword of the Spirit
“Put on the new personality which was created according to God’s will in true righteousness and loyalty.”—Ephesians 4:24.
AT ITS height, the Roman Empire was the greatest human administration the world had ever seen. Roman legislation was so effective that it is still the basis of the legal code of many countries. Despite Rome’s achievements, however, her legions were unable to conquer one insidious enemy: corruption. Finally, corruption hastened Rome’s downfall.
The apostle Paul was one who suffered under corrupt Roman officials. Felix, the Roman governor who interrogated him, apparently recognized Paul’s innocence. But Felix, one of the most corrupt governors of his day, delayed Paul’s trial, hoping that Paul would give him money to secure his release.—Acts 24:22-26.
Instead of bribing Felix, Paul spoke to him frankly about “righteousness and self-control.” Felix did not change his ways, and Paul remained in prison rather than try to sidestep the legal process with a bribe. He preached a message of truth and honesty, and he lived accordingly. “We trust we have an honest conscience,” he wrote to Jewish Christians, “as we wish to conduct ourselves honestly in all things.”—Hebrews 13:18.
Such a stand was in stark contrast with the morals of the time. Felix’s brother Pallas was one of the richest men of the ancient world, and his wealth—calculated at $45 million—was accumulated almost entirely by bribery and extortion. His fortune, however, pales into insignificance when compared with the billions of dollars some corrupt 20th-century rulers have hidden away in secret bank accounts. Clearly, only the naive would believe that today’s governments have won the war against corruption.
Since corruption has remained entrenched for so long, must we assume that it is just part of human nature? Or can something be done to curb corruption?
How Can Corruption Be Curbed?
The obvious first step in curbing corruption is to recognize that corruption is destructive and wrong, since it benefits the unscrupulous to the detriment of others. Some progress has undoubtedly been made in that direction. James Foley, U.S. deputy secretary of state, said: “We all recognize that the cost of bribery is high. Bribes undermine good governance, harm economic efficiency and development, distort trade, and penalize citizens around the world.” Many would agree with him. On December 17, 1997, 34 major countries signed a “bribery convention” that is designed to “have a major impact on the global fight against corruption.” The convention “makes it a crime to offer, promise or give a bribe to a foreign public official in order to obtain or retain international business deals.”
Bribes for winning business contracts in other countries, however, are just the tip of the corruption iceberg. Eliminating corruption across the board requires a second, much more difficult step: a change of heart or, rather, a change of many hearts. People everywhere must learn to hate bribery and corruption. Only then will graft disappear. To this end, Newsweek magazine said that some feel that governments should “encourage a general sense of civic virtue.” Transparency International, an anticorruption lobbying group, likewise recommends that its supporters “inject a ‘seed of integrity’” into the workplace.
The fight against corruption is a moral one that cannot be won by legislation alone or by “the sword” of legal penalties. (Romans 13:4, 5) Seeds of virtue and integrity have to be sown in people’s hearts. This can best be achieved by use of what the apostle Paul described as “the sword of the spirit,” God’s Word, the Bible.—Ephesians 6:17.
The Bible Condemns Corruption
Why did Paul refuse to condone corruption? Because he wanted to do the will of God, “who treats none with partiality nor accepts a bribe.” (Deuteronomy 10:17) Moreover, Paul doubtless remembered the specific instruction found in the Law of Moses: “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) King David likewise understood that Jehovah hates corruption, and he requested that God not count him among the sinners, “whose right hand is full of bribery.”—Psalm 26:10.
Those who sincerely worship God have additional reasons for rejecting corruption. “By justice a king gives a country stability,” wrote Solomon, “but one who is greedy for bribes tears it down.” (Proverbs 29:4, New International Version) Justice—especially when practiced from the highest official down—brings stability, whereas corruption impoverishes a country. Interestingly, Newsweek pointed out: “In a system where everyone wants a piece of the corruption pie and knows how to get it, economies can simply implode.”
Even when economies do not collapse completely, lovers of justice feel frustrated when corruption flourishes unchecked. (Psalm 73:3, 13) Our Creator, the one who gave us our inherent desire for justice, is also wronged. In the past, Jehovah has intervened to stamp out blatant corruption. For example, he bluntly told the inhabitants of Jerusalem why he would abandon them to their enemies.
Through his prophet Micah, God said: “Hear, please, this, you head ones of the house of Jacob and you commanders of the house of Israel, the ones detesting justice and the ones who make even everything that is straight crooked. Her own head ones judge merely for a bribe, and her own priests instruct just for a price, and her own prophets practice divination simply for money . . . Therefore on account of you men Zion will be plowed up as a mere field, and Jerusalem herself will become mere heaps of ruins.” Corruption had devastated society in Israel, just as it corroded Rome centuries later. True to God’s warning, about a century after Micah wrote those words, Jerusalem was destroyed and abandoned.—Micah 3:9, 11, 12.
No man or nation, however, needs to be corrupt. God encourages the wicked to leave their way of life and change their way of thinking. (Isaiah 55:7) He wants each and every one of us to replace greed with unselfishness and corruption with righteousness. “He that is defrauding the lowly one has reproached his Maker, but the one showing favor to the poor one is glorifying Him,” Jehovah reminds us.—Proverbs 14:31.
Successfully Fighting Corruption With Bible Truth
What can move a person to make such a change? The same force that moved Paul to renounce the life of a Pharisee to become a stalwart follower of Jesus Christ. “The word of God is alive and exerts power,” he wrote. (Hebrews 4:12) Today, Scriptural truth still promotes honesty, even among those who have been deeply involved in corruption. Consider an example.
Not long after finishing his military service, Alexander, who is from Eastern Europe, joined a gang that practiced racketeering, extortion, and bribery.a “My assignment was to extort protection money from wealthy businessmen,” he explains. “Once I had gained the confidence of a businessman, other members of our team threatened him with violence. I then offered to handle the matter—for a hefty price. My ‘clients’ thanked me for helping them deal with their problems, when I was actually the cause of them. Strange as it may seem, this was an aspect of the job that I liked.
“I also enjoyed the money and the excitement that this life-style offered me. I drove an expensive car, lived in a nice apartment, and I had the money to buy anything I wanted. People feared me, which gave me a sense of power. I somehow felt that nobody could touch me and that I was above the law. Any problems with the police could be solved either by an expert lawyer, who had ways of getting around the justice system, or by a bribe to the right person.
“However, loyalty rarely exists among those whose living depends on corruption. One of our gang took a dislike to me, and I found myself out of favor. Suddenly, I lost my flashy car, my money, my expensive girlfriend. I even got badly beaten up. This reversal made me think seriously about the purpose of life.
“A few months earlier, my mother had become one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and I began to read their literature. The text at Proverbs 4:14, 15 really made me think: ‘Into the path of the wicked ones do not enter, and do not walk straight on into the way of the bad ones. Shun it, do not pass along by it; turn aside from it, and pass along.’ Passages such as this convinced me that those who want to lead a criminal life have no real future. I began to pray to Jehovah and to ask him to guide me in the right way. I studied the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses, and finally, I dedicated my life to God. I have lived honestly ever since.
“Of course, living by honest standards has meant earning a lot less money. But now I feel that I have a future, that my life has real meaning. I realize that my former life-style with all its expensive trappings was just like a house of cards waiting to collapse at any moment. Formerly, my conscience was insensitive. Now, thanks to my study of the Bible, it pricks me whenever I am tempted to be dishonest—even in small matters. I am trying to live in harmony with Psalm 37:3, which says: ‘Trust in Jehovah and do good; reside in the earth, and deal with faithfulness.’”
“He Who Hates Bribes Will Live”
As Alexander discovered, Bible truth can move a person to overcome corruption. He made changes in harmony with what the apostle Paul says in his letter to the Ephesians: “Put away the old personality which conforms to your former course of conduct and which is being corrupted according to his deceptive desires; . . . you should be made new in the force actuating your mind, and should put on the new personality which was created according to God’s will in true righteousness and loyalty. Wherefore, now that you have put away falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor, because we are members belonging to one another. Let the stealer steal no more, but rather let him do hard work, doing with his hands what is good work, that he may have something to distribute to someone in need.” (Ephesians 4:22-25, 28) The very future of mankind depends on such transformations.
Left unchecked, greed and corruption can ruin the earth, just as they contributed to the ruin of the Roman Empire. Happily, though, the Creator of mankind does not plan to leave such matters to chance. He has determined “to bring to ruin those ruining the earth.” (Revelation 11:18) And Jehovah promises those who long for a world free from corruption that shortly there will come “new heavens and a new earth . . . and in these righteousness is to dwell.”—2 Peter 3:13.
True, it may not be easy to live by honest standards today. Nevertheless, Jehovah assures us that in the long run, “a greedy man brings trouble to his family, but he who hates bribes will live.”b (Proverbs 15:27, NIV) By renouncing corruption now, we show our sincerity when we pray to God: “Let your kingdom come. Let your will take place, as in heaven, also upon earth.”—Matthew 6:10.
While we wait for that Kingdom to act, each one of us can ‘sow seed in righteousness’ by refusing to condone or practice corruption. (Hosea 10:12) If we do so, our lives too will testify to the power of the inspired Word of God. The sword of the spirit can conquer corruption.
a His name has been changed.
b Of course, there is a difference between a bribe and a tip. While a bribe is given to pervert justice or for other dishonest purposes, a tip is an expression of appreciation for services rendered. This is explained in “Questions From Readers” in the October 1, 1986, issue of The Watchtower.
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With the Bible’s help, we can cultivate “the new personality” and shun corruption