Tipping and Grace: Do Christians Ever Have the Right to Stiff?

jar2A former pastor once told of an experience as a caterer. He served two groups in the same day that could not have treated him more differently. The first was a gathering of homosexual folks; they were warm, friendly, and left a great tip. The other was impatient, grouchy, fault-finding, and left no tip at all.

The second group was a pastors’ luncheon.

Tipping has become a flashpoint in our social consciousness. I suppose it was inevitable that the smartphone age would allow us to capture and publicize everyone’s tips. (Here’s a montage of tips that would be hilarious if not for their rudeness.) But it’s worth talking about for Christians, because any question of generosity becomes a checkup on how we’re doing as the salt of the earth.

Some Christians respond to this call by leaving tracts for their waiters instead of tips.


It’s the worst thing ever.

Look, I get the reasoning. Tracts can potentially lead to salvation, and salvation is worth far more than few bucks.

But we Christians aren’t supposed to be operating on our own reasoning. We’re supposed to be operating on God’s. Here’s it is, if you’re interested:

Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. (James 2:15-17)

My friends, waiters and waitresses live off their tips. When I worked as a pizza delivery driver (a nice earner during football season, I would mention to the college folks), my tips usually amounted to two to three times my actual wage. It was still only marginally worth the wear and tear on my car (and my gas tank). Very rarely will eight or nine bucks an hour get anyone through college. So trust me, your waiter isn’t there for the joy of minimum wage.


God understands and appreciates the practical plane, and he ties the validity of our works to it with cords of Scripture. Jesus teaches that meeting worldly needs is a terrific opening to the Gospel (and not the other way around). Christians’ failure to meet these needs gives the world an easy opportunity to beat us at our own Christ-commissioned game: generosity.

Never offer a prayer to which you can be the answer.

But there is an even greater matter on my mind today. Suppose your waiter or driver gives you bad service. Drops food, rolls his eyes, or something. It is often our practice in that instance to withhold tips, in the hopes of “encouraging” better service next time.

I just want to ask one thing.

Is that anywhere close to the way Jesus handles us?

I understand it’s extremely difficult to shell out five bucks for a burnt chicken or a wrong order. “Tipping bad service rewards bad service,” we say. “I’ll tip well when I’m treated well.”

Sounds reasonable. From a human perspective.

I’m just glad God doesn’t say that. None of us would ever get anything.

Christianity understands from a Biblical framework that salvation is not earned. It is a gift, enabled solely by our faith and Christ’s sacrifice.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8)

If we could earn our salvation through works, that salvation would become an accomplishment of man and therefore lead to human pride. So God makes it dependent on his love alone. This in turn spawns a Bible’s worth of astonishing grace – the adulterer and swindler accepted and forgiven while the religious elite are rejected, the cowardly fisherman given the keys to the kingdom, the persecutor tranformed into Asia Minor’s greatest evangelist. It chafes against our human idea of justice and fairness.

And this omniscient God continues to hold out this gift today, knowing we will service him poorly. I don’t think I’m surprising anyone when I say that we Christians, both before and after salvation, do not run well with the baton of being good people. We continue to sin. We are complacent and slow to learn. We embarrass his witness. Paul was already seeing it in the early church: “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?” (Romans 6:1)

But he never renounces grace. The fact that some use grace to excuse sin does not deter Paul from preaching it. Stunningly, God refuses to retract this very abuseable gift.

What God does for us is very similar to generously tipping a grouchy, incompetent waiter.

Do you blink at the ludicrousness of it? I did. Perhaps it had been a while since I had a relatable picture of God’s grace. Yet the picture is remarkably apt. Each one of us reaches for absolution or goodness and falls badly short. Yet God proclaims himself satisfied thanks to his Son serving on our behalf – and directs the rewards to us!

If grace doesn’t feel outrageous, it’s not grace.

Now…consider that we are called to be conduits of this God in our daily lives. I imagine myself at the diner. The service has not been what I wished. Do I stiff the waiter to make a point? Or do I respond as Jesus did: “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8)? (And am I even certain that the poor service was the waiter’s fault?)

I can’t escape God’s example of grace. It’s stuck in my head like a commercial jingle. He never stiffed me when I deserved it.

So while I might point out bad service, I’ve decided that if it’s appropriate to the venue, I will tip. Every time. 15% isn’t that much. Unless I’ve just got to have my fast food budget, in which case I have bigger issues to address. (I’m getting much better at this, by the way.)

This isn’t meant to guilt any of you into doing the same. I’m no spiritual giant. Metaphors strike us each differently. Get your tipping instructions from God in prayer. (It might help to remember that God rewards our generosity.)

But do let this challenge how you view God’s grace. It’s crazy. It’s not contingent on our performance, no matter how much it should be. Grace is a bulwark, unbreached by our sin and complacency. Instead of the wages of sin, we inherit the kingdom of God.

That’s one heck of a 15%.

Image credit: Dave Dugdale

5 thoughts on “Tipping and Grace: Do Christians Ever Have the Right to Stiff?

  1. Generosity is also a prototype of hospitality…how are we going to be generous to GOD if we don’t become generous towards poor, orphan and widows…”If you want to follow me, go and give your treasures to poor, widows and orphans.” sadly the youth was very rich and was disgusted after hearing JESUS’s reply to him for the condition of being a follower..

    Liked by 1 person

    • I have half a suspicion that we will see that rich young man in heaven. I cannot support that hunch with scripture, cannot say for sure that the young man abandon his possessions, but Jesus did say all things are possible with God.


      • ya… u r true in what you are saying…but i did not mean Rich man cannot enter heaven….it is little difficult for them when they are not generous with God given riches put in their pockets to feed poor..but everything is possible with GOD as u said

        Liked by 1 person

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