The Reward of Our Work

Luke 17:5-10

5 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”

6 The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.

7 “Would any of you say to your servant, who had just come in from the field after plowing or tending sheep, ‘Come! Sit down for dinner’? 8  Wouldn’t you say instead, ‘Fix my dinner. Put on the clothes of a table servant and wait on me while I eat and drink. After that, you can eat and drink’? 9  You won’t thank the servant because the servant did what you asked, will you? 10  In the same way, when you have done everything required of you, you should say, ‘We servants deserve no special praise. We have only done our duty.’”


Thoughts on the passage:

I have never felt comfortable with the concept of tipping.  There is so much about it that I just do not like.  Who should you be tipping, waiters, cleaning staff at a hotel, barbers, pastors?  Okay, we can probably all safely say we do not need to tip the pastor for a good sermon or a nice table blessing, but there are lots of jobs that seem to fall into that nebulous position.  So I tip when I sit down at Applebee’s but what about when I get their carry out?  Do you tip the pizza guy on top of the delivery charge?

Even once you solve the question of who to tip there are the follow-up questions like how much do you tip?  I was taught to tip in percentages but that sometimes seems silly.  There was a diner in Glenwood where you could get a good breakfast for less than $5, even 20% seems like you are stiffing the waitress there.  That same 20% however seems like a lot when you order at a nicer place like Olive Garden.  Does the server there really provide that much better service for what easily could be ten times the tip?  Answering how much is just the start of our problems.

The last question, which is maybe also the first question is why are you tipping?  Are we tipping just as a matter of social expectation, if so why don’t we just add that to the price of things.  Is tipping meant to reward past behavior (thanks for keeping my water full) or to incentivize future behavior (next time make sure the water stays full too).  Does the personality of the server effect tipping?  So are we tipping the server because they were polite, made good jokes, or complimented our kids?  Suddenly tipping starts to feel like a pay-for-performance and that feels a little awkward for me.  I want my wait-staff to be able to be genuine and not feel like offering me dinner needs to be some big production.  The bottom line, while I make a point to tip at restaurants, I just do not like to think about it.

So what does scripture say about tipping?  Maybe I am reading too much into the text today, but I think Jesus is opposed to tipping.  Our lesson for today seems to make it clear that people should do their job and be paid for their job, but not be rewarded additional for just doing their job.  So, if tipping is just a part of how a person is paid (as is the case in some restaurants) then scripture says that such a payment would be appropriate.  If, however, a person is already compensated for the work they do, then they should not expect to be rewarded with additional tip beyond their regular paycheck.

Obviously, Jesus is not really trying to offer a theology around tipping, but I think it gives us a good way of looking at the text today because I think we all understand the different ways that tipping works.  Instead, Jesus is reminding us of something much more important, what sort of reward we can expect for living a good life.  Here the answer is simple, no reward.  Being good will get you nothing special when it comes to God.  Yeah, I know that runs counter to a lot of what we think and sometimes even say, but the reality is that scripture is pretty clear, we are not serving God for a reward.  We are serving God because we want to serve God.  We live a good life because God wants us to live a good life, not because we get rewarded for it.

So how do we get our eternal reward that scripture talks about at different times.  Well, we get it because of what Jesus does, not because of what we do.  Any rewards that come to us from God are not deserved by our actions but instead are a part of the unmerited grace that we are offered through Christ.  Our reward comes because of what Jesus did, living, dying, and being born again that we might have life.  Our actions alone are never going to be enough, because we will always sin and fall short of perfection.  It is probably good we are not rewarded for what we do, because then we might also have to face the punishments for what we do as well.

What Jesus wants us to know with the lesson today is two things: first, he wants us to know that we have been given the power (through faith) to do anything we might need to do and second, we are not going to be given an additional reward for what we do.  What does this mean?  It means we need to believe that through our faith in Christ, anything is possible.  We do not need “more faith” to get something done, we need to believe that we have faith enough to achieve what we need to achieve.  Second, we need to stop thinking that our good actions will come with future rewards.  Bound up in our relationship with God is the idea that we will serve God and God will care for us.  Serving God will not help us win the lottery, or get us a better spot in Heaven.  Serving God comes out of our desire for a relationship with God.  The rewards that God gives are not merited by our actions but are part of God’s love that is unmerited.

So what do we need to do?  We need to make sure we are not expecting to be rewarded for what we do.  We need to divorce ourselves from the idea that if we just live a good life then God will reward us for it.  The reward we get is not for what we do, it is for what Christ did for us.  Second, we need to remember that God has given us the power to do whatever we need to do through faith.  We are asked as followers of Christ to help in building God’s kingdom here on earth.  We are called upon to heal the sick, offer hope to those in prison, offer food for those who are hungry.  God has already given us the greatest reward of all, now let us get busy doing God’s work in the world.

Questions to Ponder:

What are the ways that you serve God in your daily life?

When is a time you have been rewarded for something you did not deserve?

When is a time you have not been rewarded or recognized when you felt you deserved it?


God, you loved us before we loved you.  You have been present with us before we were aware of it.  You offer your grace to us even though we do not deserve it.  Help us to remember that all that we do is not done in expectation of reward but simply out of our love for you and in gratitude for the ways that you have already rewarded us.  Amen