“Whoso keepeth the fig tree shall eat the fruit thereof: so he that waiteth on his master shall be honoured.” Proverbs 27:18
Proverbs 27:18 reveals the wisdom of God in Jesus Christ with regard to our relationships to our employers. The wisdom of God is infinitely deeper than our own, and this text is evidence of that. It flips the servant-master (or employee-employer) relationship on its head to help us see this important relationship in our lives as young people from the point of view of stewardship. Not, as we might expect, our employer’s stewardship of us. But our stewardship of our employer!
Our text compares the master/employer to the fig tree: “whoso keepeth the fig tree…he that waiteth on his master.” The fig tree was cultivated all over Palestine in Bible times. Its fruit formed part of the “daily bread” of God’s people. The fig tree usually yielded two crops every year: an earlier one (about June) and a later crop (around August). The first tiny figs heralded the arrival of spring (Song of Sol. 2:12–13). Those that remained on the tree ripened into the first crop of figs in June and was called the “first-ripe” figs (Jer. 24:2; Hos. 9:10, Nah. 3:12). Even when figs were not in season, dried figs remained a staple of Israel’s diet (1 Sam. 25:18; 30:12).
The word “master” refers to one who has authority and power over others. It literally means “lord or ruler”: one who is the owner or master of servants or slaves. He (or she) is in a place of authority over them: he has the right to control their movements and actions. He also has might over them: he can use force to compel them to follow his will. Today, our society as a whole resents this idea that there are those with “power” over another. This resentment in the workplace fuels the organization of labor unions which oppose the authority of the boss. This hostility in society toward power is seen in the organization of mobs which burn buildings, loot stores, and resist officers of the law.
The question is: what is the comparison between a fig tree and a master or employer?
The answer is: both the fig tree and the master are means God gives his people to support the life of those who depend on them. Those who employ are given by God as means to provide the livelihood of his people in this world. The employer provides you with work to do, for which you are paid money. With that money from your employer, you can purchase your daily bread, “all things necessary for the body,” and support the cause of the gospel in your church (by giving to the general fund) and the causes of God’s kingdom more broadly (Christian education, missions, etc.). God created the heavens and the earth and all things; the earth is his and the fullness thereof. He gives to all life and breath and all things. But God is pleased to impart his gifts through means. He does not drop our daily bread into our laps; he is pleased to provide it for us through the means of livelihoods supplied by employers in the way of our diligent labor.
The text says that he that “keepeth the fig tree shall eat the fruit thereof: so he that waiteth on his master shall be honoured.” The word “keep” literally means “to watch closely, to guard.” The word “guard” implies threats! The fig tree needed to be guarded against threats to it from weather, disease, insects, or enemies who would deliberately cut it down to deprive the farmer of the food it provided. Positively, the farmer needed to nourish the fig tree. Years of careful attention and cultivation were required. In his parable of the barren fig tree (Luke 13:6–9), Jesus hints at the extent of labor required. All this guarding and nourishing required intensive and time-consuming labor: lots of hours outdoors in all kinds of weather; lots of sweat; even blood, perhaps, as he defended his fig tree from human attackers.
So, says the text, Christian employees wait on their master. “Wait on” is the same word used to describe the calling God gave Adam and Eve “to dress…and to keep” the garden of Eden (Gen. 2:15). It means to watch in order to protect from danger and help to flourish. The text therefore describes the employee as the caretaker, the steward of his employer. Young people, is this how you see your relationship and calling toward your employer? As a steward? As a caretaker? As a guardian?
Now, how practically do we “wait on” our master? Negatively, by guarding our employer against threats and dangers. We ward off criticism of the boss and prevent it as much as we can. We don’t condemn or join in condemning our boss rashly or unheard. Positively, we promote as much as we are able the honor and good character of our boss. We nourish our master with kind words and actions, first of all in our prayers. Do you pray for your boss? Further, we use our personal contact to nourish him with kindness, encouragement, and courtesy. We give our boss an honest day’s work: we show up, clock in on time, and don’t take extra break time on the clock. Like the farmer toiling on behalf of his fig tree, we put in the time, effort, and hard work required by our employer. We’re not surfing the web when we’re supposed to be making a spreadsheet. We don’t cut corners in ways that will affect the quality of the product we’re making or service we’re providing and thus reflect badly on our employer. In one word, we love our employer. That which we love, we will keep/wait on! The fig tree farmer, in a certain sense, could be said to love his tree. Out of that love, he bestows tender care on it. If a man can be said to love a dumb tree, how much more are we called to love the person of our employer? “Love thy neighbour as thyself.”
If we truly reflect on our behavior toward our employer, we have to say that we are miserable keepers. We’re more like the enemies who want to cut the fig tree down than the care-takers who protect and nourish it. This means that every day when we get home from work, before we pray for our boss, before we ask God’s blessing on our work, we must go to the cross of Jesus, our Lord and Savior, for forgiveness and grace. He is our one high priest, who is “holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens,” who offered himself as the once-for-all sacrifice for sin (Heb. 7:26–27; 10:12)—also our sins of not waiting on our masters.
“Whoso keepeth the fig tree shall eat the fruit thereof: so he that waiteth on his master shall be honoured.” In sum: we will enjoy the fruits of our labors. The fig tree farmer could sit in the shade of his fig tree and eat the fruit. Today, we can take home a paycheck from the boss, support ourselves, and have something to give to the poor (the benevolence fund at church). But no earthly reward—whether figs or earthly recognition by our boss—is certain.
Ephesians 6:5–8 says there is only one reward that is!
- Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as unto Christ;
- Not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart;
- With good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men:
- Knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free.
First, we take our eyes off our employer—we aren’t a “pleaser” or, literally, a “slave” to their eyes! Secondly, we labor faithfully each day in the calling God has given us. We wake up, we pray, we go to work, we earn our wage, and we use it to support ourselves and to give to the kingdom. Third, we ask, Why would the Lord like this done? How would the Lord like this done? When would the Lord like this done? What effect will this have for the Lord’s honor? Do this in the very duties given to you by your earthly supervisor. Fourth, we expect our reward from the Lord. When your boss ignores you or even criticizes you, Paul’s answer is: stop thinking about your boss as your main supervisor, and start working for the Lord’s glory. Thank him for his grace, by which you work faithfully. Look forward to appearing before the Lord Christ on the basis of his own finished work for you and hearing from him: “Well done, thou good and faithful servant…enter thou into the joy of thy lord” (Matt. 25:21).
Originally published February 2021, Vol 80 No 2