What can help Christians determine whether it is appropriate to give gifts or tips to government employees?
A number of factors need to be borne in mind. Christians must be honest. They have a responsibility to obey the law of the land when this does not conflict with Jehovah’s law. (Matt. 22:21; Rom. 13:1, 2; Heb. 13:18) They also strive to respect local customs and sensibilities and to ‘love their neighbor as themselves.’ (Matt. 22:39; Rom. 12:17, 18; 1 Thess. 4:11, 12) Applying such principles will likely affect how Christians in different parts of the world view the giving of gifts and tips.
In many places, a member of the community does not have to give anything to public employees in order to obtain what he is entitled to. Public employees perform services for which they are paid by the government, and they neither ask for nor expect to receive anything in addition to their normal wages. In many lands, it is illegal for government employees to seek or accept anything of value for an official action, even if they would be acting in what is otherwise a completely legal manner in the fulfillment of their responsibilities. Such a gift would be considered a bribe, even if the gift did not change the outcome of the official action. Where this situation exists, the question of whether a Christian might give gifts or tips to government employees does not even arise. Such gifts are simply improper.
However, public employees in parts of the world without such laws or where such laws are not rigorously enforced do not have the same attitude toward the functions they fulfill. In some lands, government officials take advantage of their position to extort money or other favors from those whom they are supposed to serve, and they are unwilling to do anything unless they receive a gift. Tips are thus demanded by officials who legalize marriages, who accept legitimate income tax payments, who issue building permits, and so on. When tips are not forthcoming, officials may deliberately create obstacles to make it very difficult, if not impossible, for citizens to obtain what is their legal right. It is even reported that in one country, firemen who respond to emergencies will not begin to tackle a blaze unless they first receive a substantial tip.
Where the practices described above are widespread, some feel that it is impossible to avoid giving tips. In such circumstances, a Christian might view a tip as an additional fee that he is required to pay in order to obtain a legitimate service. In an environment where corruption is common, however, a Christian needs to be on guard so that the boundary between what is acceptable and what is unacceptable from God’s standpoint does not become blurred for him. It is one thing to give a tip in order to obtain what one is legally entitled to, yet quite another to seek an illegal favor. In an atmosphere of corruption, some people tip an official in order to obtain a service to which they are not entitled or offer a policeman or a government inspector a “tip” in order to avoid a proper and justifiable fine. Of course, it would be wrong to seek to corrupt anyone with a “gift,” just as it would also be wrong to be corrupted by accepting such a “gift.” Either action would distort justice.
On the basis of their Bible-trained conscience, most mature Christians are not comfortable giving tips solicited by officials. They feel that by doing so, they would be condoning or promoting corruption. Thus, they reject requests for any kind of gift at all.
While mature Christians recognize that gift-giving to obtain an unlawful favor could be tantamount to bribery, local circumstances and sensibilities may allow some to offer a small token of appreciation to receive a legitimate service or to avoid unfair delay. In other cases, after receiving free medical treatment in a public hospital, some Christians give gifts to doctors and nurses out of gratitude for the treatment received. They feel free to do this after the treatment has been received, rather than before, so that there can be no suggestion that the gift is intended as a bribe or a request for preferential treatment.
It is impossible to consider here every conceivable situation in every different land. Irrespective of local circumstances, therefore, when deciding how to act, Christians should pursue a course that leaves them with a good conscience. (Rom. 14:1-6) They should avoid lawless actions. (Rom. 13:1-7) They should avoid any practice that might bring reproach on Jehovah’s name or stumble others. (Matt. 6:9; 1 Cor. 10:32) And their decisions should reflect their love for neighbor.
How can the congregation express its joy when an announcement is made that someone has been reinstated?
In Luke chapter 15, we find Jesus’ powerful illustration about a man who had a flock of 100 sheep. When one of the sheep was missing, the man left the 99 behind in the wilderness and went after the lost sheep ‘until he found it.’ Jesus continued: “When he has found it, he puts it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he gets home, he calls his friends and his neighbors together, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’” In conclusion, Jesus said: “I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous ones who have no need of repentance.”
The context shows that Jesus spoke these words in order to correct the thinking of the scribes and the Pharisees, who criticized him for associating with tax collectors and sinners. (Luke 15:1-3) Jesus pointed out that there is joy in heaven when a sinner has come to repentance. We ask, ‘Since there is joy in heaven, should there not also be joy on earth when a sinner has repented, turned around, and made straight paths for his feet?’
When someone is reinstated in the congregation, we have good reason to rejoice. The person will have to keep on maintaining his integrity to God, but he had to be repentant in order to be reinstated, and we are glad that he repented. Accordingly, there may well be spontaneous, dignified applause when the elders make an announcement of a reinstatement.
What could have caused the water of Jerusalem’s pool of Bethzatha to be “stirred up”?
Some inhabitants of Jerusalem in Jesus’ day thought that the pool of Bethzatha had healing powers when its water was “stirred up.” (John 5:1-7) As a result, people seeking a cure congregated at the site.
The pool in question has been identified as a Jewish ritual bath. Its water level was fed and maintained by drawing on the contents of an adjacent reservoir, which was part of the same complex. Investigation of the site has revealed that the two pools were divided by a dam. A sluice gate within the structure of this dam could be opened in order to allow water to flow from the reservoir through a channel into the bottom of the ritual bath. On such occasions, the rush of water would certainly have disturbed the pool’s surface.
It is noteworthy that John 5:4, which said that an angel disturbed the water, is not found in highly regarded ancient Greek manuscripts, such as the fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus. At Bethzatha, however, Jesus cured a man who had been sick for 38 years. Without even entering the pool, the man was instantly healed.