“Do not slander a servant to his master, lest he curse you, and you be held guilty.” – Prov 30:10
This is one of those places where it feels like the Bible gets unnecessarily specific. Why not say: “Do not slander,” and leave it at that? Spreading false, harmful reports about anyone at any time would constitute as a bad move. But here, this proverb zeroes in on slandering a servant to his master. Why?
At stake here is the fragile relationship between employee and employer. In its broader scope, the concern is over the dynamics of authority structures between a subordinate and her boss. The lesson is: Stay clear. Or at least, have a very good reason and very detailed facts before you bring a bad report about someone else to their boss.
When we understand the principle in terms of dynamics of authority, it should be easy to sympathize. We are all under authority. Everyone has someone he or she is answerable to. That relationship is important. Org charts and hierarchical structures matter, and the interplay of those relationships are fragile, precious, and borderline sacred, even if we would prefer that they weren’t there, or we try to pretend we’ve transcended power dynamics.
God is the ultimate authority in this world, and there is even a hierarchy of subordination within the Trinity. That means that God has baked in the architecture of authority into all his creation. There is no such thing as a lawless land or flat equality. A power vacuum will always be filled. We need to begin by acknowledging that reality as a gift of God’s grace intended to build order and stability, which are prerequisites for flourishing.
The applications of this proverb are most readily apparent horizontally; from there we can reason out its spiritual force. For starters, we can all do a better job of respecting existing authority structures. This is one of the reasons why people with military experience tend to make great employees. They learn early on that you take complaints up the ladder, and you don’t try to skip rungs, or jump to another ladder. As I begin recognizing existing chains of authority, it may slowly dawn on me that other people have an authority they are accountable to, and usually that isn’t me. We need to respect chains of command, and operate with the humility of servant leadership when dealing with those under us.
The spiritual implications of this proverb peel back hypocritical pride. We may not slander someone to God, but our moral comparisons can amount to the same thing. We are all under one boss, God, and He doesn’t ask us for our input on anyone else’s report card. “Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.” (Rom 14:4) Just like Peter after Jesus’ resurrection, or Shasta meeting Aslan at the end of The Horse and His Boy, Jesus tells us: You don’t need to see or hear anyone else’s evaluation but your own.
It’s human nature, and exceedingly easy to weigh another person’s moral performance compared to ourselves. God wants us cry out to him about hurts and injustices we see and experience, but this proverb tells us to be careful within our own hearts about how we do this. We don’t get to eavesdrop on the one-on-one conference someone else has with God. We don’t get the whole story, and God, as the authority, is the one responsible. Our focus needs to be on our own faithful service.