“A gift given in secret soothes anger, and a bribe concealed in the cloak pacifies great wrath.”
Proverbs 21:14 (NIV)
Lately, I’ve had some extra time to read and decided to check out a few of John Grisham’s books. When I was in college, I read through several of his books, but somewhere along the way lost interest in legal thrillers. Currently, though, I’m reading through another one of his novels and it’s always intriguing to me to read about the loopholes in our legal system and how bribery and gifts are used to buy favor in the court system. So, when I came across Proverbs 21:14 which mentioned bribery and secret gifts, my first thought was how can that be godly?
For the most part, the book of Proverbs reads as a list of godly and ungodly ways of doing things, with many of its proverbs contrasting the two choices. Verse 14, however, doesn’t really make a moral statement or show a choice between two actions. Instead, it states two simple facts about human nature – a gift can often soothe anger and the gift, itself, is best given in secret.
I read several commentaries on this verse and understand it to mean that we can use a gift given privately to someone to help diminish his or her anger against us. We give our gift privately, without fanfare or others knowing about it, so that the person who is angry with us will know we are doing it for him or her only and not as an ostentatious show of our “generosity.” For, if the other person believes we are giving the gift simply for the sake of being seen, rather than out of sincerity, we will most likely incur wrath and anger, rather than gratitude, from that person.
In the Bible, Jacob gave a gift to pacify Esau (Genesis 32-33), and Abigail gave a gift to David to save her husband’s life (1 Samuel 25:1-35). In both of these situations, anger was pacified, and there wasn’t any hint of immorality in these actions because the motivation for giving the gift was restoration. God commands us to honor and respect our parents (Exodus 20:12), feed our enemies (Proverbs 25:21), leave vengeance to him (Romans 12:19), love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:31), resolve conflict before bringing him a gift (Matthew 5:23-24 ), and live at peace with everyone (Romans 12:18). If giving a gift to another will help us do any of those commands, we should do it.
On the other hand, if we are giving a gift to someone to subvert justice or buy favor from an official (aka the story lines usually found in a legal thriller), this may pacify anger but it will not ultimately end well because God sees our hearts and we will be judged on our motives as well as our actions (2 Corinthians 5:10).
I’ve always thought Romans 12:9-21 was the secret to living a peaceful life with others, but it is a tall order to fill. We’re all individuals who like our own way, so it’s easy for anger to creep into a relationship, but not impossible to pacify that anger. Maybe giving a creative gift in secret is the remedy that will help you restore a broken relationship.
Gifts do not have to be expensive, or even bought items, but they should be thoughtful. Your gift could be something as simple as a handwritten note or running an errand for someone. Pray for the right time to give a gift to the person with whom you seek restoration. When you do this, you are seeking peace with others and obeying God, who wants broken relationships to be restored.