Whoever tends a fig tree will eat its fruit,
and he who guards his master will be honored.
This seems strange. Shouldn’t we be watching out for the little guy? Can’t the big guy (the master, so to speak) take care of himself? Why does Proverbs admonish the wise person to watch out for (to guard) his master? And how is it that such guarding of the big guy brings honor in a way that is analogous to the way that a person who cares for a fig tree gets to enjoy the fruit of that tree?
This Proverb does not suggest that we should not look out for the little guy. There are many indications throughout Scripture that the godly person expends time, energy, and resources to benefit those in need. In the Old Testament, statutes that required a portion of the field to be left un-harvested are one example. In the New Testament, James’ harsh rebuke of the rich who oppress the poor is another example. This Proverb, however, is getting at something else. As is often the case, the wise person does “both/and” not “either/or.”
All authority comes from God and there is no authority that does not ultimately derive from him (Romans 13). The Lord places severe responsibility upon those who have authority. They must exercise it wisely, justly, and compassionately. Those under authority have responsibility as well. Paul in Romans 13 warns Christians not to resist the authorities that God has installed. The flip side of that “not resisting” is honoring, even guarding (in Proverbs language) the one in authority—the master. Further, just as Romans 13 extends a promise of freedom from fear to those who submit to authority, Proverbs 27:18 holds out the promise of enjoying the fruit of one’s labor to those who guard their masters.
Now, of course, all of this is not to say that those in authority are always right or righteous. The master’s sin, however, does not excuse sin on the part of his subjects. This has a number of applications in the world in which we live. Bosses may be inept and self-serving, but the Christian employee will not make a point of saying so at the lunch table. Teachers may be unfair in their grading, but students will gratefully learn from them what they can. In the Church, shepherd-leaders will fall short of the high calling with which they have been called, but the word of God preached has power and authority that transcends the weaknesses of the instrument through which that word is preached and the faithful will receive that with joy without maligning the instrument through which the message comes.
Jesus was the personal embodiment of this Proverb. It is true that he got into some pretty fierce debate with the religious establishment of his day. He had some choice words for them. Yet, when it came time for him to go to the cross, he did not revile or accuse. His passive obedience before even unjust rulers crowned his life’s work of active obedience. And, of course, without fail, he guarded the honor of his Heavenly Father, according to whose will he came into this world. What was the fruit to be enjoyed by him? For the joy set before him, he endured the cross despising the shame, so that he could bring to the Father all that he had entrusted into his care. The Church, the people of God, is Jesus reward for his watching out for, his guarding, his Master, the One who sent him into the world to save sinners. We are the tasty figs in the garden of the Lord.
So, do not chafe at being under authority. Instead, rejoice in it. Look out for the big guy, for in so doing there is great reward.