We’ve all heard this scenario: A waiter comes back to his table to settle the bill and clean up, exhausted from his busy Saturday night shift. He grabs the leather holder and opens it up to find, in place of a tip, a tract that tells him of the worthlessness of money and his dire need for Jesus Christ.
I have to admit, I’ve never been a waiter, but I have friends in food service who have all experienced this phenomenon. Now, our immediate reaction might be varied. Some might agree with this practice, signifying it with a hearty “Amen!” Others, however, might respond in disgust.
What, dare I ask, would Jesus do?
While the Bible does not have any verses about tipping at restaurants, there are principles that guide our thinking on the matter. The way I see it, there are two basic levels to this issue: custom and Gospel.
As Christians, we live in the world, but we are not to be of the world… but we still live in the world. While we are specifically required to obey the laws of this world (Rom. 13; Titus 3:1) unless it violates Christian conscience, what are we to do with the customs of our culture?
In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he deals with these kinds of issues. After 11 chapters of doctrine, he explores the implications of that doctrine in the lives of believers. He writes,
“Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due, custom to whom custom, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.” (Rom. 13:7)
If you pray before your meal and then leave a bad (or no) tip, you make a loud public statement about your faith.
The immediate context is submission to government, but the general thrust of the end of Romans is the believers’ responsibility to government and society. Paul is making a case for submitting to government through the practical obedience of paying taxes. From here, Paul goes further and tells the church to pay whatever is owed accordingly; taxes, customs, fear, and honor.
For example, we correctly believe that all people, men and women, free and slave, are equal before God (Gal. 3:28). But if a person has earned the title of “Doctor”, we do not stubbornly defy this designation; we pay honor and address the person as “Doctor so-and-so.”
With regard to custom, the rules still apply.
While I have a few friends who despise the custom of tipping waitstaff, generally, this is a widely accepted mandate of dining out. And while we could cite the tyranny and legal trickery of the restaurant industry shoving their responsibility to adequately compensate their hard-working employees off onto their price-gouged customers, the accepted practice is to tip a waiter or waitress 15-20% on the bill.
In fact, all Christians are Biblically obliged to “owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.” (Rom. 13:8)
But why must we do this?
In Titus 2, the apostle Paul lays out a general format for the responsibilities within a Christian household. Within the discourse, there are 3 result clauses, signifying the reason for our obedience. In v. 10, bondservants (workers) are told that their obedience is to “adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in every respect.”
To “adorn” means “to make something beautiful.” So, our good conduct in the eyes of others serves to make the gospel of Jesus Christ beautiful. Ultimately, this is a top priority for us as we interact with culture. When a Christian refuses to tip their waiter on principle, the message that is received is that we are self-righteous cheapskates. While I don’t believe that Christians who do it intend to convey this message, unbelievers receive this gesture negatively.
I’ve never met a wealthy waiter. Often, they’re single mothers working a second job, or college kids trying to pay tuition, or struggling artists working toward a dream. By refusing to tip them, we are telling them that their lives and hard work don’t matter to us… or to God.
That doesn’t make the gospel beautiful.
Jesus is an abundant giver, not at all stingy. While the things of this world will ultimately not matter, the way we reach unbelievers with a saving gospel is by ministering to them where they are. We are not to upset the social order unless it sharply violates Christian conscience. We owe the people around us our love, because they will see it as Christ’s love. This draws them toward the Savior.
So, the next time you dine out and want to reach out to your server, be deliberate in your conversation, care about them genuinely, treat them with respect, thank them sincerely, share the Gospel with them, and leave a $100 bill on the table when you’re done.