Dear radio friends,
Last week we began a series of messages on the book of Ruth, in connection with the celebration of the church of Jesus Christ in the birth of Jesus Christ. We did so because the book of Ruth is going to show us the wonderful grace of God in bringing the Savior, by grace alone. For Ruth, in the Old Testament, did not belong to the people of God. But God is going to graft her in, bring her into the people of God. And she will become one of the mothers of the Lord, that is, she stands in the line of believing women out of whom came our Lord Jesus Christ according to His flesh.
We saw that the book began by telling us about Elimelech and Naomi, two members of the kingdom of God in Israel, and their sons Mahlon and Chilion, who in the days of famine left the land of Judah and Bethlehem to go to the land of Moab.
Elimelech and Naomi backed up into the world. In reverse, slowly, they distanced themselves from where they should be: among the people of God and under the Word of God. They backed up out of the church into the world. That is often the way it happens. In fact, most often that is the way it happens, is it not? We say, as children of God, “Oh, I won’t join the world!” But our hearts begin to cool for Christ and for His Word and for the church, and we begin to think in terms of “What are we going to eat? What are we going to own? We need more.” And slowly we step backwards out of the church into the world.
But we saw that God did not forget His people. Not for one moment had God lost sight of His purpose in Jesus Christ. God will bring Naomi back through severe chastening, chastening that would cut down to the depths of her heart.
Today we are going to look at how God brought Naomi back in verses 6-18 of Ruth 1. Because of the length of that passage I’ll not read it at this point. But I would ask that you read it yourself. It is a familiar passage. It is the passage which speaks of Naomi (who now is a widow, having lost her husband in the land of Moab, and having two daughters-in-law who also had lost their husbands, Naomi’s two sons) deciding that she must go back to the people of God, back to the land of Judah, because she has heard that the Lord had remembered His people and had brought food to the land of Canaan. As she goes back, she tries to convince her daughters-in-law not to come with her but to stay in the land of Moab. One of them, Orpah, finally concedes and goes back to live in the land of Moab. But the other one, Ruth, does not do it. She will not leave Naomi, because God had worked His grace in her heart, and she would be loyal to God and to Naomi; loyal to God’s people and promise; loyal to the core.
Let us look at that for a few moments today.
As I said, Naomi has decided that she will return to the land of promise, the land of Canaan. She sets out with her two daughters-in-law to return to the land of Canaan. However, she soon begins to try to persuade them that they should not return with her. She says, “The Lord deal kindly with you, as ye have dealt with the dead, and with me – but remain in the land of Moab.”
Now, one of them, Orpah, as I said, finally consents to this. That is because Orpah had never received in her heart the grace of God, and she really did belong to the land of Moab. Moab served the heathen idol, Chemosh, and that idol reigned in Orpah’s heart. The world reigned in her heart. As long as Naomi stayed in Moab, Orpah could live with her, not opposing Naomi’s religion, but not accepting it as her own either. But she could come to a point where she would show her true colors, that she really had only natural love for Naomi and nothing more.
But Ruth refuses to leave Naomi. She wants to go with Naomi back to the land of Canaan because of a spiritual tie, because of something that God had done in her heart, because her tie to Naomi was the tie of the love of God. That is an important word. Young people, you need to hear that. We all need to hear that. You must know that it is not the love of the flesh that counts, the emotional love, the being-swept-off-your-feet love, of a handsome, nice young guy or of a beautiful young woman. But what counts is this: will he or she go with you to worship God as He must be worshiped in the truth? It is not enough for you if you simply get along and feel attached to each other. But your relationship in marriage, as you prepare for marriage, must be the sincere desire to walk together in the love of God.
As Naomi returns she is burdened under the chastening hand of God. I can well imagine some of the thoughts that went through her mind. It must have done her heart good to see Ruth so adamant, saying that she would never forsake Naomi. But, at the same time, I think that that stabbed at her heart, too. For she could only think of her own inconsistencies before Ruth. Evidently Naomi had been faithful to both of her daughters-in-law to testify of the truth of Jehovah, the truth of the promise of Jesus Christ, that the people of Israel were His chosen people and that to live in the promises of God was to live in life eternal even now. But as she gave that testimony, her own inconsistencies had to stab at her heart. Perhaps she thought, “As I speak of Jehovah my God to my daughters-in-law, they are going to be asking me, ‘Well, if He is so great and glorious, why did you flee from His worship? If He is so powerful and almighty, why did you not trust Him to supply your needs in the land which was under famine?'”
But, nevertheless, through all of her inconsistencies, God had blessed her word and God had worked faith in the heart of Ruth. Now Ruth stands before Naomi with a firm, beautiful faith, resolved that she will not be separated from Naomi.
Naomi, as I said, tries to shoo them away. She says to them as they are departing, “Go back, return, turn again, go your way,” as if she is trying to push them away. She says to them, “You must examine what you are doing. Do you really want to go back with me? I have no more sons to be your husbands. And I am only going back to the life of a widow in a strange land for you. Do you want that? Look at what you have to forsake. Ruth, think of what you have to leave behind now. Your own land where you are attached, where you were born. Your mother. You’ll never see her again. Your brothers and sisters and relatives and loved ones. The gods of this land. And what are you going to leave all of that for? For an unknown people and an unknown land. And, don’t forget, Ruth, that it is going to be very difficult for us as widows. We will not have protection and care. Ruth, you had better go back.”
Having those words heard in her ears, Orpah does go back. But Naomi paints a very dark picture for Ruth and tries to convince her to go back. But Ruth was resolved. Orpah kissed her mother, we read, and said goodbye. But Ruth clave to her, and Ruth said, “Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge … where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, if aught but death part thee and me.”
Those were words of resolution and firm resolve. There is no doubt left of her intentions. She was saying much more than simply, “Stop pleading with me to go back.” In effect, she was saying, “Naomi, don’t get in my way. Don’t oppose me. I have an unshaken determination that I will go to Canaan. I’m going to go with you, my mother-in-law. And I’m going not because of a mere earthly attachment to you or out of any human reasons, but I’m going because I have the same faith that you have. That’s why I am going. You must not stand in the way of my faith.”
There was something very sacred taking place there. Ruth was saying to her mother-in-law, “I’m acting out of sanctified motives, not out of human motives. The gods of Moab be dashed to pieces. Moab be forsaken. Even my own loved ones, if need be, I will turn my back upon them. I’m going with you because we belong together. I’m not going with you simply because I was married to your son. But I am married to you in one faith, and in one promise in Jesus Christ. Your God is my God, your people are my people. Nothing but death will ever separate us. Nothing is going to stop me, Naomi, from walking with you in faith to Canaan.”
That was a glorious confession. Is it yours? Do you possess that faith, that love for God, for His truth, for His cause, for His Son, for His church?
That is a very wonderful thing, is it not? Ruth says to Naomi, “Thy people shall be my people, and thy God, my God.” She is saying, “God is my God. The true and living God that you confess is the God that I confess.” That is very important. She is not going in the hope that in the land of Canaan Naomi’s God will become her God. But because Naomi’s God is her God, she will go back.
Note that well. Very often when a person is about to get married he will think this way, “Well, after we get married, she will come to understand, hopefully.” No, do not do it that way. That is folly. Do it this way: Get married because your God is her God, because you serve the same God and the same faith and the same truth. Do not wait for religious issues and issues of faith to be resolved after the decision, after the marriage. Those things must be the basis upon which you get married. That is what Ruth is saying. “God is glorious and He is my God. I have been brought to know and love, trust and serve Him. My life, as to its direction, is settled. My life will be directed this way; I will be loyal to God and His church. And I will forsake the world. I will take up my place among the people of God. Why will I do that? I will do that because God is my God. For no earthly consideration, but only out of faith.”
God, then, must be the reason for the decisions of our life. We must be able to say, “This is why I live, because God is my God. This is why I choose to live where I do, this is why I choose to work where I do, because the infinite and the eternal God who has given His Son to shed His blood for my soul is my God. That determines how I will live.”
How do you make your decision? Do you first look and see what others are doing? Do you simply follow your friends? Do you gauge the economy and judge what the economy will bear? Is the bottom line for you the dollar? Or is your decision and decision-making in life made upon this principle: unashamedly you confess that God is your God and you will obey Him and live before Him? That is faith.
God must be the reason for the decisions of our life.
Then, you see, if God is our God, then God’s people become our people. That is what Ruth says, too. “Thy people shall be my people.” That was a glorious confession. She had not yet met these people. “Yet,” she says, “the believers in Canaan are my people. They are truly mine,” because she had been united to them by God.
God had chosen them, but God has also, says Ruth, chosen me. God has pardoned them, but He has pardoned me. God is become their salvation, but He has become my salvation. They are preserved by God. So am I. No one can condemn them as they stand in Jesus. That is true also of me. Thy people are my people.
The unity that we feel with the people of God is due to the work of God, due to the work that God has performed in them and in us. So we will live with the people of God.
What a wonderful confession. Ruth is indeed loyal to the core. She says, “I am spiritually a member of the body of Jesus Christ. I am prepared to make a clean and complete break from Moab. I’m not going back to Moab. I will, and I must, go with you, Naomi. I’m going back to the land of Canaan because your God is my God and your people are my people.”
There are a number of lessons here. One for sure is this: We are taught the impossibility of dual spiritual citizenship. We are taught the impossibility of being both of the world and of the church. We are taught the truth of the Scriptures that a great gulf is fixed between the church and the world. We are, as believing people of God, in the world. There are not physical boundaries any more as in the land of Moab and the land of Canaan. We are in the world. We are to live in the world. The calling of the church is not to flee the world in a physical isolation. That will not work any way, because the sinful world is carried with us in our hearts. But our calling is not to be of the world, to join the world in its pursuits of sin, but to be a people separated and holy unto the Lord God, to be the light of this world. The boundaries are the lines of grace. The boundary is that our hearts have been claimed in love for God, and our lives are to be spent in the service of God. To be of the world would mean that we would take upon ourselves their values. We would take their system of thought and judgment. We would mimic their way of living. We would follow them and seek their acceptance and approval. We would live thinking that the pleasures of sin are the things that matter. We would drink the cup of our own lust. But we learn in this passage from the book of Ruth that one cannot be of the church and of the world. We cannot be of both. Sometimes we try. Sometimes the Christian is embarrassed of Jesus Christ. And sometimes we are afraid to be thought that we are different. Our nature wants the approval of this present world and we do not want to be shunned. When that happens to us, then sometimes we cool our affections toward the church and begin to back away from the truth of God’s Word. The world begins to appeal to our pride. The world begins to say to us, “You make your own decisions.” The world wants to paint the claims of the church and of Jesus Christ as oppressive, tyrannical, restrictive, and boring.
The boundaries are the lines of grace.
But the Word of God is this: By His grace we are no more of the world, though we live in it. But we are of Jesus Christ. God is our God. We belong to Him in this world. Therefore, we must not blur the lines. We must live by faith. And faith must be decisive. By faith we must confess in our life that we are a companion of all those who fear God and keep His commandments. By faith we must live our life out of the church.
But there is also another lesson here. That lesson may be called the impossibility of partial love. If we love God, then we must also love God’s people. Sometimes the Christian adopts this twisted mentality that, “Well, I can love God and have my relationship to Jesus Christ, but I don’t like God’s people and I can harbor resentment toward them and have accusations and bad thoughts about them.” That is not the way it works. Ruth knew that. She did not say to Naomi, “Thy God will be my God and we’ll just wait and see about the people over there whether I’m going to embrace them and throw in my lot with them. We’ll just wait on that because, after all, you know, Naomi, religion is this personal thing – just between me and God – and it really doesn’t involve anybody else but me and God.” That is not the way she talked! She understood that if Naomi’s God was her God, then Naomi’s people were her people. If she were united to God, then she was also united, by that very fact, to God’s people.
It is impossible for you to have a partial love – to love God and not His church and people. If you do not love God’s church, and if you allow yourself as a child of God to live with suspicion, jealousy, envy, accusations against your fellow church members, the problem is that you fail to love God. That is the problem. When we love God, we will also love His people.
What a wonderful faith is evidenced in Ruth. May God work that in our hearts. May we be loyal to God, to His church, to His kingdom and cause.
May God bless this Word to our hearts.
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee for Thy Word today. We pray that we may study Thy Word. We pray that that same faith worked in Ruth may be worked daily in us, that we may cleave to Thee, the only true God, to Thy Word, and to Thy church and people. In Jesus’ name, Amen.