By Nick Batzig
“You scratch my back; I’ll scratch yours.” This familiar idiomatic phrase sometimes simply refers to the way in which people with differing skills and abilities seek to care for one another out of a sense of need and gratitude. However, more often than not, it represents the way in which people are willing to show unjust partiality to one another for dishonest advancement or gain. In the latter case, it is not always made manifest in an official offer of possessions or promotion. Instead, it is often packaged in unspoken and unofficial ways. We may be tempted to show partiality to others in places of leadership in the workplace, civil service or in the church because they have convinced us that they can help us achieve our own goals or advance in our own ambitions. We may do so out of a sense of self-preservation–acting unjustly toward another because someone has convinced us that if we don’t do such or such a thing in regard to another, it will hurt us or our own advancement in the long run. In no matter what form or presentation it may come, Scripture distills the essence of such perverting of justice down to one word–namely, bribery! From the catalogue of sins and injustices we hear about in our day, bribery is almost entirely absent. However, Scripture repeatedly sets out this evil–even to the supreme example of it in the betrayal of the Son of God. In our day, bribery in all its sophisticated and subtle forms may be the least mentioned sin. It is, however, in no way whatsoever absent from the pages of Scripture. Consider the following:
- The Law of God reveals the nature of the evil of bribery when it says, “You shall take no bribe, for a bribe blinds the clear-sighted and subverts the cause of those who are in the right” (Ex. 23:8).
- In giving Israel God’s principles of justice, regarding the judges and officers of His people, Moses told them, “You shall not pervert justice. You shall not show partiality, and you shall not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of the righteous” (Deut. 16:19).
- God rejected Samuel’s sons, who were judges over Israel, because they “took bribes and perverted justice” (1 Sam. 8:3).
- By way of contrast, when Samuel gave his farewell speech to Israel, he made the following appeal: “Here I am; testify against me before the Lord and before his anointed. Whose ox have I taken? Or whose donkey have I taken? Or whom have I defrauded? Whom have I oppressed? Or from whose hand have I taken a bribe to blind my eyes with it? Testify against me and I will restore it to you.”
- When Jehosephat, King of Judah, appointed judges in the land, he gave them this one all important admonition: “Consider what you do, for you judge not for man but for the Lord. He is with you in giving judgment. Now then, let the fear of the Lord be upon you. Be careful what you do, for there is no injustice with the Lord our God, or partiality or taking bribes.”(2 Chron. 19:6-7).
- In the days of Ezra, when the people were returning to rebuild the Temple, their adversaries sent “bribed counselors” to “discourage the people” and to “bring accusations” against them (Ezra 4:4-6).
- The Wisdom Literature repeatedly reminds us of the reality and evil of bribery (Psalm 15:5; 26:10; Proverbs 15:27; 17:8, 23; 21:14; Ecclesiastes 7:7).
- In God’s indictment against His people through the message of the prophet Isaiah, the reality of bribery is prominent. At the outset of his message, Isaiah noted the prevalence of this evil when he said, “Everyone loves a bribe and runs after gifts” (Is. 1:23).
- In the final book in the Old Testament, bribery is again set out as one of the great evils in the church. Micah explained the way in which the leaders in the church who took bribes were blind to what they were doing. He wrote, “Rulers of the house of Israel…give judgment for a bribe; its priests teach for a price; its prophets practice divination for money; yet they lean on the Lord and say, ‘Is not the Lord in the midst of us? No disaster shall come upon us'” (Micah 3:9-11).
- The greatest act of injustice ever committed by an individual–the betrayal of the Son of God by his own familiar friend–was motivated by a sinful desire for selfish gain (Matt. 26:14-15). The fact that Judas sold Jesus to the chief priests for thirty pieces of silver shows just how great an injustice one will commit for the least profit.
When we take in all that the Scriptures has to say about justice and bribery, we must honestly ask ourselves the following questions:
Do I allow myself to be swayed by others for dishonest gain?
Do my actions reveal a just dealing with others out of a love for God and His word, or am I driven by selfish ambition and dishonest gain?
Do my actions accord with a desire to bring God glory or to secure and promote benefit for myself?
Do I gravitate toward and surround myself with those whom I believe will help my own cause and build my own kingdom, or do I seek to love and care for those in God’s Kingdom who bring me no personal advancement or gain?
Do my private dealings reveal a heart of justice? If they were made public, would they lead to the conclusion that my actions have not been driven by a desire for unjust gain?
If, when we honestly examine our hearts, conversations and lives in these respects, we conclude that we have not acted as justly as we ought to have acted in our dealings with others, we must return to the Lord in brokenness and repentance, seeking His mercy and grace in the Gospel. We must remember that Jesus never took a bride (Matt. 4:9-11). He never perverted justice. The Son of God always did what was pleasing to His Father (John 8:29). He never spoke words in private dealings with others that he would have been ashamed to have had made known in public (John 18:20). Though Judas betrayed Jesus for a measly thirty pieces of silver; Jesus paid the enormity of the debt of our sin when he hung on the cross. Everything that he did, he did with unselfish motives and out of a desire to see others advance in the Kingdom of God. May God give us the grace to trust him and to seek to be conformed more and more into his glorious image.
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