It was happening again. I sat across from my dear friend at one of our favorite restaurants. We were finishing our glass of wine and eating the end of the sushi when the waitress approached. She laid the check on our table, refilled our water glasses, and moved on. My friend reached for her wallet as I reached for mine. Now let me be real honest here: my friend and I both know that she is better off financially than I am. It is no hidden fact. So my friend rolled her eyes as I reached for my wallet and said, “I will get this one. Put your wallet away.” I ask her if she is sure—to give her an out if she wants it—but I know what her response will be; we’ve danced this dance a thousand times before. I agree to let her pay, and then I offer my measly contribution, pathetically saying, “I will get the tip.” She agrees, we finish our meal and head to the movies, until the next time we find ourselves in a situation that I can’t really afford.
Have you ever had this scene play out in your life? My guess is, first, that you have and second, that you haven’t only done it with your friends, you have done it with your Heavenly Father.
Part of our confession of faith is that we believe that we could never pay the debt we owe to God for what He has done for us. We know that, we embrace it, we preach it. The wages of sin is death, and when the check came God looked across the table at us, the dead, rotting, enemy of a corpse, and said “my son will get this one.” We weren’t looking for payment of the bill, we didn’t care about what we owed, we were “passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another” (Titus 3:3). We had a Mount Everest-sized debt and no way to pay it. “But the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared” (Titus 3:4). And he paid that insurmountable mountain of debt for us, “not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy” (Titus 5:5).
So now we look for ways to “get the tip.” Instead of revealing and rejoicing in the extravagance of his gift we reach for our wallet of good works and try and throw a couple bucks on the table. We know full well that we will never be able to repay what he has done for us, but in our heart of hearts we have to prove that we were worth the price. We may resolve to be a better spouse, friend, church member, sibling, daughter thinking we can use that as our tip. Or, if being a better person feels unattainable, we lower the bar and think if we could just be healthier, drink the right amount of water, eat paleo, and exercise daily maybe that could qualify as part of the tip. Or if we could read our Bibles and study diligently and pray daily possibly we could leave that on the table as well. Or maybe, if I can be a good enough witness and lead enough people to the Lord all those souls could be counted toward my account.
Now please hear me: there is nothing wrong with doing all those things listed above. These things, from being a better spouse to reading the Bible to witnessing for Christ, are actually all good and important. When we are doing them, though, to try and make restitution, balance the scales, or “give a little something back to God,” our good works become deadly works. We end up trusting in what we can offer instead of all that he has already given. We end up enslaved to our own opinion. When our obedience to God’s word becomes a drudgery it may stem from the fact that we are trying to leave a tip that will make our friend forget the cost of the meal.
Let’s joyfully savor the meal he has paid for completely. Let’s give up our feeble attempts to “get the tip.” Let’s revel in extravagance of his generosity and then let’s let that generosity motivate and empower us to live a life of good works not out of restitution to God, but out of love for Him and for our neighbors. After all, our very ability to love comes from the fact that the bill—tip and all—has been paid (1 John 4:19).