“Tip like Jesus.”

As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.

(I Timothy 6:17-19)

“Remember, y’all–tip like Jesus.”

When I go out to dinner with a group of fellow believers, I often say something like that, which will elicit a chuckle or two from my friends. But when I say that, I’m totally serious.

Christians have a TERRIBLE reputation with folks in the “service industry,” especially restaurant waitstaff. It has long been a stereotype that servers hate working Sunday lunch shift because the “church” crowd is often entitled, impatient, and stingy.

My brothers, this should not be.

This is my exhortation to you, whether you are away at a conference or work trip, or you’re just taking the family out to dinner: if you are “bold” enough to bow your head to pray, be bold enough to act like a Christian during the rest of your meal–including when you leave a tip.

Sure, you can argue that there isn’t a clear Biblical command to tip your waiter or waitress well. I admit, there’s no chapter and verse on leaving a certain amount or percentage as gratuity.

But what the Bible does say is that Christians are to be generous with their resources, particularly with the church and with those in need. Well, the person refilling your Dr. Pepper is probably making a pretty low hourly wage and depends on tips to help pay the bills. It is not a stretch to consider that hard-working man or woman as being “in need” of your extra dollar or two.

But even if the server is not “in need,” I would encourage you to leave a generous tip. Why? Because we serve a generous God. We serve a God who gives good gifts to all, and even bestows his common graces on rebellious people who don’t deserve or appreciate it. God gives the replenishing rain to the just and unjust, the joys of family and food and health to the righteous and unrighteous. It is His good pleasure to allow us to enjoy pleasure.

If we are the people of God, the representatives of His Kingdom in the world, should we not reflect His generous nature? 

“What about lousy service?” some may ask. “Are you saying I should reward lazy or incompetent people?”

I would offer 3 responses: 2 practical and 1 theological.

  • First, from a practical standpoint, if you have a thoughtless, incompetent, flat-out lousy server at a restaurant, and you leave a small tip or no tip at all as a punitive measure, ask yourself: Is this server going to “get the message” and straighten up and fly right? Or are they going to assume all manner of evil about you? After all, they don’t actually answer to you, so any attempt by you to punish or correct will likely be seen as pettiness at best. Withholding a tip will not accomplish what you think it does.
  • Second, what you see as inattentiveness, laziness, or a bad attitude may in fact be something else altogether. Turns out, the guy bringing you chips and salsa–he’s a real person, who may be going through some real hardship. He’s not simply a member of the chorus in the grand production of your life, whose only purpose for existing is to bring you chips. (Was that a little harsh? Sorry. But not really. Get over yourself, bro.)
  • Third, if you have a server who truly does not deserve a tip, this gives you the opportunity to do something crazy and countercultural: show kindness to the undeserving. When you do that, you are imitating a God who does the same thing.

In the real world, here’s how it could play out:

  • When you get a server who is inattentive or unprofessional, give the standard tip amount (usually 15%) as a courtesy. Then, you might consider informing the manager (in a gentle, Christlike way!) what was going on. This way, they can address the issue with their employee directly in a way that may actually make a difference.
  • On the flip side, if you get really great service, not only could you tip well, but you could also let the manager know, so that the server can be rewarded or acknowledged.

I’m not creating a new law here. I’m not trying to guilt-trip you. I’m just saying that we are missing a huge opportunity to reflect the generosity of God in a practical way.

Believer, our attitudes toward the restaurant staff is in danger of drowning out the sound of our mealtime prayers. Something to consider, the next time you and your family sit down at Cracker Barrel.

[And for goodness sakes, if you’re going to leave a Gospel tract, DO NOT LEAVE A BAD TIP. Seriously. Don’t make me smack you.]


Your Turn: Do you ever leave tips for bad service? Do you think Tipping is just a city in China? Have you ever left one of those “fake-money” tracts instead of a tip? …Actually, don’t answer that last one, because I DON’T want to know.

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