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“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!

 

The metaphor

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 meaning

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. 7:26–2710:12)—also our sins of not waiting on our masters.

 

The reward

“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!

  1. Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as unto Christ;
  2. Not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart;
  3. With good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men:
  4. 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

Prayer is necessary for Christians. Our Heidelberg Catechism teaches this and explains why in Q&A 116: “Because it [prayer] is the chief part of thankfulness which God requires of us, and also because God will give his grace and Holy Spirit to those only who with sincere desires continually ask them of him and are thankful for them.”
For young married Christians, prayer is especially necessary. Before we get further into prayer’s necessity, we should remind ourselves what prayer is.
Communion with God
Prayer is the action of communing with our covenant God. Prayer is activity. This is clear from Q&A 116. This Q&A speaks of thanking God, desiring his grace, and asking him for that grace. This is an activity of your heart, soul, and mind. The Catechism draws its teaching from scripture. In Psalm 50:14–15, God says, “Offer unto God thanksgiving; and pay thy vows unto the Most High: And call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me.” Offering, paying vows, calling on God, and glorifying him—all are activities.
Prayer is the activity of communion with God. Communion is covenantal fellowship, the fellowship of intimate friendship. Communion is fellowship through speaking; in prayer, we talk to God. Q&A 116 says we “ask” God. Communion is also knowledgeable fellowship. Intimate communion with God requires knowledge of him as our friend. God shows us who he is, as our friend in the Bible.
Adam’s sin destroyed communion with God. He did this both for himself and us. God renewed communion with his elect people through Christ. We see this promise already in Genesis 3:15. In Christ, he gave you and me the gift of communion with him again, through prayer. On the cross, Jesus was forsaken of God, that we might never be forsaken of him. Instead of being forsaken you and I have the right of access to God through Jesus’ blood. That gift of prayer Christians, and especially newlywed Christians need today.
Giving Thanks and Asking for Grace
Prayer is necessary for young married Christians. We refer again to Q&A 116, and the two reasons that prayer is necessary for Christians, “because it is the chief part of thankfulness which God requires of us” and because “God will give his grace and Holy Spirit only to those who continually ask them of him.”
Newlywed Christians, you must pray because it is the chief part of thankfulness. Married Christians, are you thankful to God? First of all, are you thankful for your covenantal friendship with God? Are you thankful for his love? Are you thankful that he chose you from before time? Do you give daily thanks for the blood of Jesus Christ? The blood that cleanses you from all sin and removes your guilt. The blood that made you and me children of God through adoption. Are you thankful for the Holy Spirit? The Spirit, sent by Jesus, dwelling in your heart to renew you and assure you that you are an adopted child of God.
Newlywed Christians, you must give God thanks for the wonderful, amazing, delightful gift of marriage. In this most intimate human relationship, God calls you to reflect his intimate spiritual relationship with the church. Give thanks for the gift of your marriage in particular; for his sovereignty in preparing you for each other from before time and for bringing you together in his perfect timing. Thank him each morning that you wake up with your beloved, each night that you go to bed together, and the companionship you now enjoy throughout each day.
The second reason that prayer is necessary is that Jehovah God is pleased to give his grace and Holy Spirit to you and me through the gift of prayer. You depend entirely upon the grace and Holy Spirit of our God. Our Reformed form for marriage begins with these appropriate words: “Whereas married persons are generally, by reason of sin, subject to many troubles and afflictions.” The honeymoon will end, and trouble will come. We will hurt and sin against each other. In these moments, we will need God’s grace to repent, confess, forgive, and reconcile with each other. Marriage is an adjustment. It brings a new set of changes and challenges for each couple. When we face challenges, we need grace. The grace to grow together in these challenges and not become bitter towards each other. We need grace to keep God as the central focus of our marriage.
God’s grace is given through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity, whom Jesus Christ now gives to us. Jesus sends the Spirit into our hearts and minds to sanctify us. We need the Holy Spirit to give the grace of God to us, daily. Thus, we need the communion of prayer, daily.
Building a Prayer Life as Newlyweds
Your prayer life together begins before you tie the knot. It begins even before you are dating. It begins while you are single. Prayer needs to be the center of your life. Pray for contentment in your singleness. Cultivate a vibrant life of communion with God; your private prayer will strengthen your spiritual life in marriage. Take the time to invest spiritually in the relationships God has providentially placed in your life already. Your relationships with your parents, your siblings, and your friends. These spiritual relationships you build before marriage will not cease when you get married. God will use these same people to strengthen and encourage you spiritually in marriage.
I encourage you in four things that should belong to your prayer life as a newly married couple.
First, pray constantly, “without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Q&A 116 says that God gives his grace and Holy Spirit to those who “continually ask them of him” (emphasis added). Set aside specific, regular times of prayer and devotions.
Second, pray together. Together, thank God for your marriage. Together, beseech God for his grace and Holy Spirit to live together holily in marriage. Come to the throne of grace as “heirs together of the grace of life” (1 Pet. 3:7).
Third, include more than prayer in your devotional times together. 1 Timothy 4:13 says, “Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine.” Paul’s personal admonition to Timothy may be understood as the Father’s admonition to all of us, including newlywed Christians. Give attendance to reading! Read and discuss Scripture regularly and with intention. Choose portions that are easier to understand or more practical. The book of Proverbs is a good place to start. You may also find it helpful to use a devotional. My wife and I regularly read, and recommend, Charles Spurgeon’s classic “Morning and Evening.”
Fourth, work to cultivate spiritual conversations in your marriage. Don’t forget that prayer is communion with God. This is a deliberately broad definition to encourage us to think of prayer as more than the “formal” activity of bowing our heads and closing our eyes at a specific time. Rather, we should think of prayer as a continual conversation with God. We can encourage each other to have this continual conversation with God when we are continually conversing about the things of God. Here are a few effective ways we have cultivated spiritual conversations. Listen to and discuss sermons or podcasts when you are in the car together. Read edifying books together. The RFPA has a “Reformed Spirituality” series that you may find encouraging. Two books that my wife and I read recently which have inspired conversation are “Made for Friendship” by Drew Hunter, and a commentary on the Song of Solomon by Douglas Sean O’Donnell.
My wife and I pray together that this article may benefit you in reading it; it benefitted us to talk about this subject together. We wish you the blessing of our covenant God as you cultivate prayerful marriages that reflect truly (if imperfectly) his covenant friendship with us.

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