“A gift in secret averts anger, and a concealed bribe, strong wrath.” – Proverbs 21:14
I remember one of my early experiences of getting caught in the gears of church bureaucracy. I wanted to pull off an event and its promotion only a few days beforehand. “We can’t do that,” the admin told me. “You’ve got to submit announcements at least a week in advance, and at least one month, preferably three, to schedule church-wide events.” I was more bemused than irritated. You can’t be serious, I thought. How can this place run so inefficiently?
About a year later, I became less condescending. It dawned on (or was beat into) me that because of communication hurdles, one church week equaled one business day. Also, it was a well-established church. Other ministry leaders weren’t holding their breath until I shared my latest idea they could all rally behind.
That experience isn’t uncommon. We observe something from a distance, and think, “That can’t be right. That’s not how it’s supposed to work.” Then you stick around a little longer, you go a little deeper, and you think, “Hm. Maybe that’s not such a bad idea.” This proverb feels like one of those moments. At first glance, it looks like an observation of something that should definitely not work that way. Anytime you’re dealing with concealed bribes, you’re not wondering why more people haven’t gotten in on this.
But if you reflect a little longer, like with all the proverbs, you’ll get something better than the cold shower of “it is what it is” or “there’s no free lunch.” Not every gift is a bribe. My mom used to bake Christmas cookies for our bus driver. Was that a bribe? If so, he might have hoped for better, despite the generous portions of frosting and sprinkles. It doesn’t hurt to give gifts to people who play a key role in our lives. It’s a normal relational lubricant.
There’s another factor that’s commended here we shouldn’t miss: “In secret;” and “Concealed.” Why does that matter? Much of the power of a gift stems from its personal nature. It’s between the two of you alone. The more you publicize a gift, the more you diffuse the credit you earn. It shows that you gave the gift so you’d be perceived as generous, not because you care about that person.
As Christians, we walk around with a bribe in our pocket – it’s Jesus. Jesus is that personal, you-and-God-alone gift that changes the way He sees you. It’s as if you walk into a party and spot this guy whom you’ve horribly wronged and offended. There’s this momentary surge of fear and anger between the two of you, but then you both remember—that’s right, you gave him that Porsche a few years ago, and he drives that thing all the time. The animosity melts. You smile at each other. You acknowledged the deep wrong you did him and gave him something he would love and cherish. Anger at injustice doesn’t just dissipate. Someone pays for it. When Jesus gave himself as the gift, he gave you the possibility of this easygoing confidence, the smile of a God who’s always in the room.