Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Struggle To Overcome

So how many of us enjoy a good struggle? You know, not just some inconvenience, but rather the kind of problem that taxes us to the point of exhaustion? The sort of thing which causes us to worry, question, and often lose sleep at night? Unfortunately many of us at one time or another have held the opinion, or considered the thought that as believers we should somehow be immune to struggles, but in reality the Bible is full of examples of believers who had their fair share of problems. Paul talked a lot about our struggles against our sinful nature, and his own personal struggle with sin prompted him to say this about himself;

O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?
Romans 7:24 NKJV

Obviously if someone like Paul struggled to the point of calling himself “wretched'”, where am I? We all struggle to do what we know God expects from us, but speaking for myself, I fail a lot. So how can we cope with a life that seems at times to be a struggle rather than a worry free existence?

In the New Testament, the word overcome is used almost exclusively by only two people; Jesus and Paul. In fact, both use this word solely in the context of letters to the churches. Paul, when writing to the churches, is concerned with addressing the problems they are experiencing and giving practical advice for "overcoming". Jesus, when writing His letters to the churches in Revelation, is giving a warning concerning their performance and revealing the rewards that will be received only by those who "overcome". Obviously this concept is a very important one, so I want to explore it a little in our study to see what insights we might find concerning God's expectations from us.

First of all, the idea of overcoming something gives us a clue that it might be a struggle, or something not easily achieved. Paul tells us that as Christians, we do have a struggle to endure. In his letter to the Ephesians he tells us this;

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual [hosts] of wickedness in the heavenly [places].
Ephesians 6:12 NKJV

If you look at the context of this letter, we find Paul is comparing the difference between an immature and mature believer. Here he tells us that a mature Christian understands that the true nature of our struggles in this life are not from people, but the powers of darkness authored by Satan himself. How often in this life do we look at the troubles we face and personalize them? It's all because so and so did this to me, or said this about me. etc? The problem is the people I have to deal with! Paul says that is an immature view of life. We need to understand that these people and situations are authored by the forces of darkness that surround us. The mature Christian who has learned to overcome knows where the struggle is; in our minds! Our attitude towards our struggles determines our success or failure.

Understanding our fight is against this world, and the temptations we find in it is the key to achieving victory in our walk with God. So how do we overcome these temptations? Well, Paul also says this;

Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.
Ephesians 6:10 NKJV

What does it mean to be "strong in the Lord"? It simply means that the mature Christian knows he cannot rely on his own power but must walk in the spirit of God through fellowship with Him. You see, many Christians today may appear to be mature because they go through the motions of going to church and getting involved in some aspect of service, but this is "spirituality", not maturity. You see, you can do these things without ever walking in fellowship with God and growing in your relationship with Him. In several of the letters to the churches in Revelation Jesus says that He knows what they are doing, but what they are doing is not enough. He specifically says in every letter that the rewards only go to those who "overcome".

So how do we become mature and overcome? Look at what we are told by John;

I write to you, fathers, Because you have known Him [who is] from the beginning. I write to you, young men, Because you have overcome the wicked one. I write to you, little children, Because you have known the Father. I have written to you, fathers, Because you have known Him [who is] from the beginning. I have written to you, young men, Because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, And you have overcome the wicked one. Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that [is] in the world--the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life--is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.
1 John 2:13-17 NKJV

Simply put, the mature Christian who overcomes knows to turn his back to the things of this world. He knows that victory comes from making his focus growing in his relationship with God, rather than spending his time pursuing the "lusts" of this world. In a sermon about this struggle, Ray Stedman, late pastor of Peninsula Bible Church had this to say;

The key to growth is fellowship with the Son of God, spiritual health. You want to be a mature Christian, able to take whatever comes, able to keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you? Then, give yourself to the conditions that make for health: Eat Christ, eat his Word, grow in the knowledge of him, think, talk, communicate with him. And sleep, i.e., rest in Christ. Learn how to rely on his strength, not yours, and live in constant expectation that he is working in you to do his good pleasure. And exercise! Serve him, obey him, move out, take on things to do, open your eyes and step out to meet the needs that call out all around you, the cries of suffering and anguished hearts, the lonely and discouraged. When you do, you will discover that you have overcome the evil one, he cannot get at you. And bit by bit you become like Christ, the most attractive, the most fascinating, the most compelling personality that ever lived.

Do you really want the victory you can have in Christ? Do you want to be an overcomer? Make your relationship with God the thing you work at most, and you will achieve the victory.

Keep watching.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Looking Sideways

Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality.
Romans 12:10-13 NKJV

I have often wondered if my experiences as a family man were unique to me, or actually common to others who choose to leave the single life and assume the responsibilities of a husband and father. Looking back as I can now, having completed the task of raising my family, one of the things I can truthfully say I was unprepared for was the extent to which I was “needed”. Like many, I assumed and was comfortable with the idea of attempting to provide for the material needs of a family, but I was certainly mistaken in believing that was all I would need to do.

In hindsight, I suppose I was naive in thinking that my family would be comfortable with what I could provide, when the reality soon became apparent that it was not a question of what I could give, but rather could I give them what they needed? Fortunately the material needs of my three daughters were mostly reasonable, but the truth is that I was totally unprepared when it came to providing for their emotional needs. Now I can truthfully say I gave it my best shot, but in all honesty I wish I had known then what I know now so that I could have done a better job. The only thing I can say I got right was the fact that, after God, I always put my wife and children first; somehow knowing instinctively that they were always to be my priority.

In this passage from Romans, Paul is basically telling believers that we have a responsibility to our “spiritual family” just as we do with our physical ones. In these four verses Paul makes four points about the needs we should be aware that all of our brothers and sisters in the Lord have. I'm going to call it a blueprint for a healthy spiritual family.

One: Family first. “Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another”. I think when it comes to service, our first reaction is to look to the unsaved and try to find a need that we can fill, yet Paul tells us here that we should first “look sideways” at our own family and provide the “affection” that is needed for a healthy relationship between family members. The word for affection here is “philostorgos” which means “ the mutual love of parents and children and wives and husbands”. One of the first things I found I was unprepared for as a father was the affection needed and expected from my daughters. The situation I found myself in when I married my wife is most often described as “instant father”. My oldest daughter was three, and my second was 18 months old when I became their father, and it is no exaggeration to say I was a fish out of water to go from single to Dad in one day. One day I'm eating pizza and watching a ball game and the next I'm holding two little girls and wondering just what to do? Fortunately for me, they answered that by showing me right away that the first thing they really wanted was hugs. That's right, affection. The knowledge that they were not alone and someone cared for them. Here Paul is telling us the same thing about our spiritual family. The first thing we need to do is look around and let our fellow believers know they are not alone and someone cares for them.

Let no one seek his own, but each one the other's [well-being].
1 Corinthians 10:24 NKJV

Two: Hot, not cold. “ not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord”. The word for “fervent” is “zeō”, which translated means “to boil with heat, be hot”. The second point Paul makes is one about attitude, specifically ours! I can tell you no one knows you better than family, and my daughters would know immediately if I wasn't “into” whatever I was doing for them. Let me count the times I heard “Daaad” all drawn out and knowing I was being called up short. Have you ever experienced the feeling that someone else was doing something for you more out of some sort of “obligation” rather than from genuine affection? Paul here makes it clear that we serve the Lord not only by what we do, but how we do it, and we are to be serving our brothers and sisters diligently and fervently with the genuineness we would expect from someone who says they love us.

Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart,
1 Peter 1:22 NKJV

Three: No matter what. “ rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer”. Family life can easily be described as a series of up and downs, with the hope that in the end there are more ups than downs. I can certainly attest to the roller coaster of family life, and there were many times when all I could do was fall to my knees and pray that it would all work out in the end. Yet looking back, I can see it was the hard times that provided some of the best feedback as to how I was doing as a husband and a Dad. Something my family has told me about our relationship is that “no matter what” happened, they always knew I loved them. I know for a fact that the single biggest reason for that is the fact that not a day ever passed where I did not pray for them, and my relationship with them. In this verse Paul tells us that our relationship with our spiritual brothers and sisters will involve both highs and lows, but the key to success is “constant” prayer.

praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints--
Ephesians 6:18 NKJV

Four: Feed the hungry. “distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality”. Does it surprise you that taking care of the physical needs comes last in Paul's list? When I became a family man, my “perceived” priority was the physical. Time certainly taught me the wisdom of this passage because although important, the physical really does not belong at the top of the list. It does, however, make the list so it seems obvious you cannot separate what you might feel and say from what you choose to do. I certainly would have a very different relationship with my family if I had told them how much I loved them but never did anything to show it! Paul here says if we are going to talk the talk we need to walk the walk. When we see a brother or sister in need, our obligation is more than just a hug and a promise to pray. If we truly care, we provide what we are able to provide in a physical sense as best we can. I think it important to remember Jesus' teaching on this subject as well.

"Then the King will say to those on His right hand, 'Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: 'for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; 'I [was] naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.' "Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed [You], or thirsty and give [You] drink? 'When did we see You a stranger and take [You] in, or naked and clothe [You]? 'Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?' "And the King will answer and say to them, 'Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did [it] to one of the least of these My brethren, you did [it] to Me.'
Matthew 25:34-40 NKJV

Here we are told simply that when we serve the needs of our brothers and sisters, it's as if we were serving Him as well. The body of Christ must be healthy to accomplish it's purpose on this earth, and when it comes to that health, Paul tells us without question we have responsibilities to help insure that it is, and remains so. This week as you go about your daily lives, be sure to look sideways at your spiritual family to check their health and well being. Take the time to tell them you love them and are praying for them, and see if there is a need you can fill to show them you really care.

Keep watching.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Attitude Check

Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.
Jude 1:3 NKJV

Something I have often wondered when studying scripture , especially the New Testament, is the possibility that the closer we get to the book of Revelation as we read, we are getting specific advice addressed to those who live in the time closest to the fulfillment of those prophecies. Now understand, I fully believe that as the Bible says; all scripture is “profitable”, but I can't help but wonder as I read the book of Jude, is he speaking about the time which immediately precedes the tribulation? Are we being told something we really need to hear and understand? Is Jude describing what life will be like immediately before Christ returns for His church?

When my children were small, I can remember times when I especially wanted to make a point I would say something like “you really, really, really, need to listen to me now!” Have you ever used that type of language to get someone's attention? This is exactly what I thought of when I first read this verse from Jude. So as always, the first thing I did was do a word search trying to understand exactly what point Jude was trying to make here. The words that stood out to me were “exhort” and “earnestly contend”.

exhort: parakaleō... to beg, entreat, beseech

earnestly contend: epagōnizomai...two words, epi and agōnizomai which used together means to take a deep breath, to endeavour with strenuous zeal, strive: to obtain something.

Now I don't know about you, but when I had to “exhort” my children to do something, it was because whatever I asked them to do in a normal tone of voice wasn't getting done. So the result was resorting to other methods of persuasion in order to convince them of the necessity of performing the task given to them. The subject in this passage is obviously sharing the gospel message with an unbelieving world, and apparently we are being told that first of all, Jude had to resort to “exhorting” believers to do this. What a sad commentary of the times when believers for whatever reason are having to be “begged” to share the gospel!

I think most of us as well, understand that the natural reaction of the body before attempting to perform a strenuous task is to take a deep breath. Unfortunately for me, as I get older I notice myself taking deep breaths before doing just about anything! But I think you understand what Jude is trying to say here. The time has apparently come where sharing the gospel is a difficult, strenuous undertaking, and believers are obviously becoming hesitant to share their faith with an unbelieving world! So a situation has appeared where Jude must resort to begging believers to perform their responsibility to share the gospel because it has become a difficult, if not discouraging thing to try and do.

Last week God used a situation in my life to illustrate this passage to me in a way that even I could understand. I have mentioned before that I like to fish, and although not very good at it, fishing is the sort of sport where you don't necessarily have to be successful to enjoy it. Fortunately for me I have a good friend who is very good at it, and likes to take me along with him in his boat and show me the right way to do it. ( I actually think he takes me along so he can laugh but that's another story. ) So there we were trying to catch bass during spawning season and while he was pounding them I was getting skunked.

After awhile he asked me exactly how was I retrieving my lure? I thought that was a funny question because don't you just throw it out there and pull it back? His answer was that during the spawn, the fish are on the bottom guarding their nests, and in order to get a strike I needed to let the lure go to the bottom and drag it along so the bass considered it a threat. Now my answer was that was a good way to snag and lose a good lure, but his answer was if I fished where the fish weren't, I wasn't going to catch anything anyway.

So admitting to myself he knew what he was talking about, I tossed my lure out and began to drag it across the bottom, and wouldn't you know it, first cast and bang! In fact, guess who caught the most fish? That's right, he did, but I was a close second. The point God made to me was this; how often do we continue to try and share the gospel in a way that seems “safe” to us? If it becomes difficult do we take a deep breath and do what needs to be done, or do we retreat and put ourselves in a position where God must “exhort” us to do what He needs us to do?

Now more than ever, we see the world becoming hostile towards the gospel of Jesus Christ. Rejection, scorn, and even persecution are the orders of the day when trying to spread the good news. Many are becoming discouraged with all that life is throwing at us right now, and how easy it is in circumstances like these that we tend to retreat rather than press on. Jude gives all believers what I would call an “attitude check” in this passage. What exactly is your mindset right now as the world approaches the return of Christ for His church? Are the difficulties causing you to back off, or become more aggressive? God, through His servant Jude, gives us the direction and advice we need as believers living in these troubled times.

Our goal is to take a deep breath and press on with the knowledge that very, very soon we will have our reward. Rather than sitting back and doing what we have always done, let's all try to find new ways and new places to share the Gospel that was “delivered” to us.

Keep watching.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Fulfilling the Law

"Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.
Matthew 5:17 NKJV

This is one of those verses in the Bible that many simply pass by or take little notice of because it doesn't seem to reveal anything new or exciting that would relate to the church. Rather it makes reference to the “law” of the Old Testament, which we all know is considered the “old covenant” as opposed to the “new covenant” made with us, right? The trouble is, if that is what you think you are missing one of the most important points Jesus makes in His time with us, and something which does in fact have everything to do with His church!

So when I first read the Matthew passage, my first thoughts were about what “law” did Jesus come to fulfill that would apply to us in this present age? Now I'm sure you could make the point that Jesus did in fact fulfill the law in it's entirety, but one law in particular jumped out at me and that is the law of redemption which we find so beautifully explained in the story of Ruth. If by some chance you are unfamiliar with this story, I encourage you to read the book of Ruth and see for yourself how beautiful it is. Today, however, I want to let you read a commentary by Ray Stedman on this book which I believe is one of the best ones I have ever come across. It will explain much better than I could about the Law of Redemption, and how it is a picture of what Jesus has done for us. Enjoy.

Ruth: The Romance of Redemption

When Benjamin Franklin was United States Ambassador to France, he occasionally attended the Infidels Club -- a group that spent most of its time searching for and reading literary masterpieces. On one occasion Franklin read the book of Ruth to the club when it was gathered together, but changed the names in it so it would not be recognized as a book of the Bible. When he finished, they were unanimous in their praise. They said it was one of the most beautiful short stories that they had ever heard, and demanded that he tell them where he had run across such a remarkable literary masterpiece. It was his great delight to tell them that it was from the Bible, which they professed to regard with scorn and derision, and in which they felt there was nothing good.

The book of Ruth is certainly a literary masterpiece. It is a beautiful story of a romance. I wonder how it would be featured in some of our romance magazines today. I can almost see the headline; it would be something like HOW ONE WOMAN FOUND HAPPINESS -- in the arms of second husband. It is a book that inflames the imagination, because all through it is entwined the captivating theme of love and romance.

Although it is a beautiful story in itself, it is the story behind the story -- its meaning and significance -- that is simply fascinating. The book of Ruth is one of those beautiful Old Testament pictures that is designed by God himself to illustrate the dramatic truths of the Christian faith expounded in the New Testament. It is a word picture in the Old Testament illustrative of the truth we find in the New Testament, as I Corinthians tells us:

Now these things happened to them as a warning [literally, as a type] but they were written down for our instruction, upon whom the end of the ages has come. (1 Corinthians 10:11)

It is the story of the romance of redemption.
The four divisions of this book trace for us the four major steps of the work of redemption. The book begins with an introduction of the characters:

In the days when the judges ruled there was a famine in the land, and a certain man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons. The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion; they were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there. But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. These took Moabite wives; the name of one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. They lived there about ten years; and both Mahlon and Chilion died, so that the woman was bereft of her two sons and her husband.

In those five short verses we are introduced to a series of personalities who are the keys to this book.

One of the clues to making the Old Testament a living book is to learn the meaning of the names of the characters who are featured in prominent places. God has hidden away great truths in these names. The story of Ruth begins with a man whose name was Elimelech. Elimelech means "my God is king." In that one name the whole doctrine of man -- " My God is king" -- may be comprehended. This book begins with God, just as the Bible begins with God -- "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." (Genesis 1:1) The Bible never argues the existence of God. The God of the Bible is the God who is, the God who exists. From beginning to end you will never find any apologetic dissertations on whether or not God exists. The Bible starts with the fact of God. The existence of God is a matter that rests wholly upon the innate revelation given to the human heart.

Man either admits that God exists or he denies that God exists -- one or the other. He is built to recognize the existence of God. There is no hope for him if he doesn't, because as Hebrews 11 tells us, "For whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists." (Hebrews 11:6) God is. And it isn't difficult to believe that God is. Light from God is streaming to us from all around. It is more difficult to believe that God isn't. Only those who are educated beyond their intelligence finally talk themselves into believing that there is no God. The whole story of man begins with that great fact that God is.
But there is more: "My God is king." It is the "God who is" who is my God. That means that the "God who is" is available to me as a man. The God who exists and created the universe has made himself completely available to man. Hebrews 11:6 goes on to say "whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him." Jesus said, "Seek and you will find." (Matthew 7:7) If a man never finds God, it is because he never bothered to seek. Any man who wants to come to God -- discover the realities of God, grasp the fact of God, and experience the person of God -- needs simply to begin to seek God, because God makes himself available step by step to the man who begins to look. Then he becomes "my God" and this is the relationship that man in his innocence had with God. In the eighth Psalm we read David's remarkable statement:
When I look at thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars which thou hast established; what is man that thou art mindful of him and the son of man that thou dost care for him? (Psalm 8:3, 4)

Then the Psalmist answers his own question:

Thou...dost crown him glory and honor. Thou hast given him dominion over the works of thy hands... (Psalm 8:5, 6)

Here is the third facet of that name "my God is king." Man was given dominion over all the universe that God had made, but only as he himself was subject to the dominion of the God who made him. As he subjected himself to the dominion of "my God" (all that you are is available to me ), he began to exercise dominion over all the rest of the world. As he was subject to dominion, he was given dominion. This was exactly the relationship into which Jesus Christ came. After quoting the verse from Psalm 8. the writer of Hebrews said.

..we do not yet see all things in subjection to him. But we see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels...that by the grace of God he might taste death for every one." (Hebrews 2:8b-9 RSV)

We see Jesus. When Jesus Christ came, he came not to act as God. but as a man. subject to the dominion of God. All dominion was given to him. As he said:

"All power in heaven and on earth is given unto me." (Matthew 28:18 KJV)

Why? "Because," he said, "I am totally subject to the dominion of my father." That is the true relationship of man with God. Thus when Adam walked in that relationship, all the universe w as subject to his dominion because his "God was king." That is man in his innocence.
Now Elimelech married a woman whose name was Naomi. which means "pleasure." In the joining of these two names you have the entire doctrine of the fall of man. When Satan came to Eve in the Garden of Eden, he said to her, "Did God say, 'You shall not eat of any tree of the garden'?" (Genesis 3:1) In the clever phrasing of that question he suggested that God was denying that which would bring pleasure to her. Then he dangled the fruit in front of her and said. "It looks good, doesn't it? I'll tell you something. It tastes better than it looks. And if you will take of it, you will find that it will make you wise."
The devil in his cleverness did not lay before Eve a temptation which she could obviously see through. He offered her a very delightful proposition. He suggested to her that if she would take of this fruit -- which God in his sovereignty had forbidden them to take as a test of their obedience -- she would be given the ability to become like God. She would be entering into a new domain where she could step out into her own independent activity and be "god" without God. Satan offered man pleasure.
When "my God is king" married "pleasure" he stepped outside of the limits God had placed upon him. He sought his own pleasure before he sought his own God. We read in the New Testament that such are lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God. This is the spirit of the age and has been through the centuries. In the marriage of Elimelech to Naomi we have a picture of the fall of man.
Now this couple had two children whose names were Mahlon and Chilion. Mahlon means "sick" and Chilion means "pining away." Imagine naming your children that! How would you like to go visit this home and ask about the boys. Mahlon and Chilion? There is little Mahlon lying in the corner, sick, pasty-faced with a temperature, hovering between life and death. Little Chilion is nothing but skin and bones wasting away. When these boys grew older they went into the country of Moab. While they were there (we read) the boys married girls who were Moabites. Their names were Ruth and Orpah. Now Orpah means "fawn" -- a little young deer. We also use the word in English to mean a superficial kind of love -- fawning upon someone -- a kind of surface love or attention. Ruth means "beauty."
The next thing we read is that Elimelech died, Mahlon died, and Chilion died. All three died -- and this is exactly in line with the picture in scripture of the results of the fall. After Adam and Eve were excluded from the Garden of Eden we read that they had a son, Abel, who was murdered by his brother Cain. Then we read of the generations of Adam. Adam had a son whose name was Seth. Seth died. Seth had a son whose name was Enos. Enos died. Enos had a son. He died -- and he died, and he died, and he died. All down through that chapter the bell of death rings out again and again. When "my God is king" marries "pleasure" the result is death. Here in the land of Moab these three men died and left behind three heartbroken, lonely widows.
Now the heart of the story really begins with these three widows in the land of Moab. We read that Naomi decided to return to her home in Bethlehem in Judah. Both of these girls made a promise to accompany her back into the land. As they started out along the road and got further from Moab, Orpah kept dropping behind. At last Naomi saw that Orpah's heart was really not in this journey -- that she longed to go back into Moab. So Naomi kissed Orpah good-bye and sent her back. Naomi said to Ruth, "Do you want to go back also?" Then Ruth said those wonderful words that we often hear a bride say to the groom during the marriage service, standing at the altar together:
"Entreat me not to leave you or to return from following you; for where you go I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God..." (Ruth 1:16b RSV)

In these two girls there is a beautiful picture of the two kinds of commitments that are made to Jesus Christ. Many, many times you will find that two people who at the very same moment and under the same circumstances, being confronted by the same truth, will make a commitment to Jesus Christ -- but one of them is a soulish commitment. Such people are emotionally stirred for the moment. They are drawn by some superficial view of our Lord's person or his glory, or something that they hope to gain from their commitment. They do not actually meet the Lord in the sanctuary of their spirit. At the moment you can't tell the difference between this and a true commitment -- they both look alike. But as the two walk on in the Christian life, one begins to hang back and at last, like Orpah, comes to the place where, as she says. "I can't go on any longer." We read that Orpah turned and went back to her own people and her own gods. It was only a superficial change that had occurred; they had always been her own people and her own gods.
But in Ruth you see that marvelous commitment that says, "Where you go I will go." I am wholly yours -- body, soul and spirit. "Where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people and your God shall be my God. I will die where you die. I will never go back." We read in verse 19:
So the two of them went on until they came to Bethlehem. And when they came to Bethlehem. the whole town was stirred because of them; and the women said, "Is this Naomi?" She said to them, "Do not call me Naomi, call me Mara..." (Ruth 1:19-20a RSV)

Naomi means "pleasure" but Mara means "bitterness." She goes on:

"...for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me." (Ruth 1:20b RSV)

Elimelech married "pleasure," but the result was "bitterness." When "my God is king" marries 'pleasure," "pleasure" is turned into "bitterness." Why had the women come to Bethlehem? We read that they "had heard in the country of Moab that the Lord had visited his people and given them food." (Ruth 1:6) The Lord Jesus was born in Bethlehem, and he said, "I am the bread of life." (John 6:35) So they had come to the place where God visited his people and gave them bread.
From the bitterness in chapter one, we come to the working of grace in chapter two, verse one:
Now Naomi had a kinsman of her husband's, a man of wealth, of the family of Elimelech, whose name was Boaz. (Ruth 2:1)

The name Boaz means "strength" -- a man of strength and of wealth.

And Ruth the Moabitess said to Naomi, "Let me go to the field, and glean among the ears of grain after him in whose sight I shall find favor[or grace]." And she said to her, "Go, my daughter." (Ruth 2:2 RSV)

They arrived at Bethlehem. in the bitterness of their widowhood, with no help, or home, or hope. The only thing left to them was to take the place of destitution and bankruptcy. But somehow Ruth knows what to do when they go there. for she says to her mother-in-law, "Let me go to the field. and glean among the ears of grain that I might find grace." She is looking for grace. On the long, weary road back these two women must have been talking about what they would do when they got to Bethlehem. Ruth must have said, "Naomi, we are both widows and we don't have any husbands to watch out for us. How are we going to support ourselves when we get there? We have no money. We have no property that we can turn into money. What shall we do when we get there?" Naomi must have remembered the provision that the God of Israel had made for the destitute and the bankrupt in the law:

"When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field to its very border, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the Lord your God." (Leviticus 19:9, 10)

God had made provision for the poor. When Ruth and Naomi arrived in Israel, they took the place of destitution. They didn't say to themselves, "We have been away and people will expect that we made our fortune in Moab. Perhaps we ought to open an account down at the store and live on credit for awhile. If we can act like we are rich, everybody will take it for granted that we are really rich and maybe we can work out some kind of a scheme to get by." If they had done this, they would have faced catastrophe. But instead, Ruth took the place of destitution and went out looking for grace. And because she looked, she found it. If you seek for grace, you will find it.

So she set forth and went and gleaned in the field after the reapers; and she happened[Just happened?] to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz... (Ruth 2:3a RSV)

Have you ever discovered the glories of God's "happenings" in your own life? How many times have you thought something just happened by accident and then you discovered that it was by divine appointment that you were where you were. Remember little Zacchaeus up in the sycamore tree? (Luke 19:2) It just "happened" to be the tree that the Lord Jesus chose to stand under. And little round, fat, bald Zacchaeus, clinging to the branch of the sycamore tree, looked down and congratulated himself because he didn't want anyone to see that behind the businesslike facade he had built up was a seeking heart. And it just "happened" that the Lord Jesus looked up, saw him there, called him by name and told him to come down. Did it just happen? Jesus knew his name. Zacchaeus was there by divine appointment.
When the woman of Samaria came to the well, she just "happened" to come at the noontime hour to find Jesus sitting there (John 4:7). It just happened -- by divine appointment. When Nicodemus came at night, he just happened to find the Lord Jesus still up (John 3:1). He was probably very surprised to find him, not realizing that the Lord knew that he was coming and was waiting for him by divine appointment.
Then we have this wonderful story of "boy meets girl," and it never gets old, does it? Ruth was gleaning in the field and Boaz saw her. He said to his workmen, "Who is this maiden?" They told him who she was, and Boaz went down to meet Ruth. Now it doesn't tell us how it happened, but if you use your sanctified imagination you can see that it must have been a bit awkward at first. She was working away (picking up the grain here and there) and along comes this handsome fellow -- evidently a wealthy man by his clothes. She drops her eyes, afraid to look up at him.
He stands on one foot and then the other, clears his throat a couple of times and finally says, "Shalom." She looks up and says, "Shalom." Then he says to her, "Listen, my daughter, do not go to glean in another field or leave this one, but keep close to my maidens." She is encouraged by this. He goes on, "Let your eyes be upon the field which they are reaping, and go after them. I have charged the young men not to bother you." She wonders what is happening. So finally she asks:
"Why have I found favor in your eyes, that you should take notice of me, when I am a foreigner?" (Ruth 2:10b RSV)

Boaz says,

"All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told me, and how you left your father and mother and your native land and came to a people that you did not know before..." (Ruth 2:11b RSV)

"I may be a stranger to you. but you are not a stranger to me." You wonder how this all happened. but I have found out about you. This is the old. old story of a lost and guilty sinner meeting Jesus Christ. He may be a stranger to us, but we are not strangers to him.
As you trace through this wonderful chapter you find that Boaz tells his men to drop a little grain here and there so as to increase the bounty that she is gleaning out of the field. To her amazement she discovers that these workmen are undoubtedly the sloppiest workmen in the whole kingdom of Israel, because they leave huge quantities of grain on the ground. When she goes home that night with her apron full, she beats out the grain and comes to Naomi with a whole ephah. An ephah is probably a little more than a bushel of barley. Naomi greets her and says, "Where have you been working today?" Ruth says, "I gleaned in a field of a man whose name is Boaz."
Naomi's response was:
"Blessed be he by the Lord, whose kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead!..The man is a relative of ours, one of our nearest kin." (2:20)

The Hebrew word for nearest kin means literally "one who has the right to redeem." If you look back at Deuteronomy 25, you will see what she is referring to:

"If brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the dead shall not be married outside the family to a stranger; her husband's brother shall go in to her, and take her as his wife, and perform the duty of a husband's brother to her. And the first son whom she bears shall succeed to the name of his brother who is dead, that his name may not be blotted out of Israel." (Deuteronomy 25:5-6 RSV)
In other words the right of redemption is the right to bring life out of death; to restore life to that which was dead. Here is one who had the right to redeem.
Now in chapter three we read of the clearing up of the debts. In reading this through it appears that Ruth acts in a way that to us may seem presumptuous and very unmaidenly. But she is really acting quite strictly in accord with the law of Israel. When Boaz lies by his threshing floor at night, she comes, uncovers his feet and lies down at his feet. He discovers her there and asks who it is. She identifies herself and then he says to her:
"May you be blessed by the Lord, my daughter; you have made this last kindness greater than the first, in that you have not gone after young men, whether poor or rich." (3:10)

In this way she has laid claim to his right to redeem her, an action that is perfectly right within the law of Israel. So Boaz says:

"And now, my daughter, do not fear, I will do for you all that you ask, for all my fellow townsmen know that you are a woman of worth. And now it is true that I am a near kinsman..." (Ruth 3:11-12a RSV)

This is what she made clear by this act on her part. But Boaz knew something else:

"...yet there is a kinsman nearer man I. Remain this night, and in the morning, if he will do the part of the next of kin for you, well; let him but if he is not willing to do the part of the next of kin for you, then, as the Lord lives, I will do the part of the next of kin for you..." (Ruth 3:12b-13a RSV)

There is an obstacle that needs to be cleared away before he can act as a redeemer. Turn to the opening part of chapter four and you will see how he demonstrated his interest and how he removed the obstacle.

And Boaz went up to the gate and sat down there; and behold, the next of kin, of whom Boaz had spoken, came by. So Boaz said, "Turn aside, friend; sit down here"; and he turned aside and sat down. And he took ten men of the elders of the city, and said, "Sit down here;" so they sat down[as witnesses]. Then he said to the next of kin, "Naomi, who has come back from the country of Moab, is selling the parcel of land which belonged to our kinsman Elimelech. So I thought I would tell you of it, and say, 'Buy it in the presence of those sitting here, and in the presence of the elders of my people.'" (Ruth 4:1-4a RSV)

The court is now assembled.

"If you will redeem it, redeem it; but if you will not, tell me, that I may know, for there is no one besides you to redeem it, and I come after you." (Ruth 4:4b RSV)

Can't you just see Ruth and Naomi hiding behind a bush listening to what is happening and wondering what the man will saw? (I don't know what he looked like, but I rather think he had a long red beard and was probably about 75 years old. And Ruth was holding her breath, because if this man redeemed the land, he also bought the right to her.) To her chagrin and dismay the man replies. "I will redeem it." Poor Ruth -- her heart doubtless sank within her. Then Boaz stepped in and played the card he had been holding in reserve:

"The day you buy the field from the hand of Naomi, you are also buying Ruth the Moabitess, the widow of the dead, in order to restore the name of the dead to his inheritance." (4:5)

When the kinsman learned that, he said:

"I cannot redeem it for myself, lest I impair my own inheritance." (Ruth 4:6b RSV)

And Ruth's heart grew light again. Now what does this picture? Remember that we are told the law has been given to men as an apparent redeemer (Romans. 7:10). Moses had said "If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God...then you shall live" (Deuteronomy. 30:16). So the law has the nearest right of redeemer, because it is something inherently involved with mankind. But there is one trouble with the law. It can only redeem outwardly and never inwardly. It can only control our outward affairs and activities; it never touches the motives of the heart. When the law is charged with the task of changing the inner nature of man -- changing his motives so that he wants to do what is right -- the law must say "I cannot do it." In Romans 8:3-4 we read:

For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh. could not do: sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin he condemned sin in the flesh in order that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us... (Romans 8:3-4a RSV)

So that the righteousness that the law demands might be ours in Jesus Christ.
When the obstacle was removed. Boaz moved to redeem Ruth:
Then Boaz said to the elders and all the people, "You are witnesses this day that I have bought from the hand of Naomi all that belonged to Elimelech and all that belonged to Chilion and Mahlon." (Ruth 4:9 RSV)

All of it.

"Also Ruth the Moabitess, the widow of Mahlon, I have bought to be my wife, to perpetuate the name of the dead in his inheritance, that the name of the dead may not be cut off from among his brethren and from the gate of his native place; you are witnesses this day." (Ruth 4:10 RSV)

The Lord Jesus left his glory in heaven and came to earth as our redeemer to die upon the cross. He bought all the fallen estate of Adam for every inhabitant of the earth, without exception. Every man woman, and child in this world has been redeemed already by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. He has bought back all the fallen estate of the sons of Adam -- whoever they might be -- Mahlon and Chilion and Elimelech. But where was Orpah in this picture? Ruth was ready to enter into all the value of Boaz's activity for her, and Orpah could have had it too. But because Orpah turned and went back to her own people and to her own gods, she is never heard from again -- she has no part in the inheritance. Though Boaz bought the entire inheritance of her husband as well as Ruth's, Orpah is lost in this picture because she turned and went back to her own people and to her own gods.
But of Ruth we read:
So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife; and he went in to her, and the Lord gave her conception, and she bore a son. Then the women said to Naomi, "Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without next of kin; and may his name be renowned in Israel! He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age;" (Ruth 4:13-15a RSV)

The boy who is to be born of this union, of the "strength" of the redeemer and the "beauty" of humility, is to be a restorer of life. This is the ministry of Jesus Christ, our restorer of life: he takes the dead, and the things of death in our life, and replaces them with vitality and life. Then we read:

Then Naomi took the child and laid him in her bosom[like any good grandmother] and became his nurse. And the women of the neighborhood gave him a name, saying, "A son has been born to Naomi." They named him Obed; he was the father of Jesse, the father of David. (Ruth 4:16-17 RSV)

And of the Lord Jesus! It is written that Christ was David's son. Ruth is one of the forebears of the Lord Jesus Christ. and her name becomes great in Bethlehem. as the people predicted that it would.
This child's name, Obed, means "worship" -- making our story complete.
When Elimelech, "my God is king" married Naomi, "pleasure" he fell into the bitterness of death. Out of that comes Ruth, in the beauty of humility, taking her place as a destitute stranger, dependent upon the grace of Boaz, "the strong one, the one of wealth and strength." He redeems her and binds her to himself in marriage. When "beauty" is married to "strength," the house is filled with "worship." Isn't that a wonderful picture?
Now turn to the second book of Ruth. Oh, I forgot -- it's not in the Bible, is it? But it is written in many a life. Ruth was a woman redeemed by grace. But imagine this scene: One morning Ruth says to her husband Boaz, "Dear, I am going into the field this morning." She picks up her bundle and starts out for the fields. Boaz says to her, "Ruth, where are you going?" And she replies, "I am just going out to get a little breakfast from the fields. I'm going to pick up a little grain here and there that we might have something to eat for a snack."
How do you think he would feel? Here his wife whom he had redeemed out of bondage and slavery as a foreigner and taken into his house was saying to him, "Now I am going out to glean in the fields as I did before you redeemed me." This is exactly what we do to Christ, so many times. We are married to him who has given us everything. Christ is the one risen from the dead, the restorer of life, the one of wealth and strength, who has given us all our estate. Don't you think Boaz would say to her, "Ruth, what is the matter with you? Don't you realize that you are my wife? I have given you everything I have. You don't need to glean in the field. You own the whole estate right along with me. All that I have is yours. Why do you go out to glean?"
Don't you suppose that the Lord Jesus looks at us sometimes in amazement and says, "What are you doing? Why do you keep coming to me and asking for the thing that you already have? Why do you ask for health and strength and grace and joy and peace? I have given you all this. All that I am is all that you need. Why keep begging for that which you already have?"
If we would begin to walk out upon this mighty transforming truth that God has given us here in the book of Ruth -- that we are now married to him who is risen from the dead, married to the man of strength and of wealth, who has given to us all that he is and all that he has -- we would see the incredible folly of our gleaning for insignificant scraps. If we saw what we were doing by that, our lives would be transformed. And the ones we live with at home would be the first ones to see it -- then the ones at work -- then the ones we encounter in the course of our daily affairs. Soon everyone would know that something had happened to us, and that we had begun to live in the glory and fullness of our redeemed life. That is what I want for me. Won't you join me in the "beauty" portrayed in Ruth?
Copyright © 2010 by Ray Stedman Ministries —

One last fact you might enjoy is that because these events occurred during the time of the harvest, the Book of Ruth is always read in Israel on the Feast of Pentecost. We know Pentecost as the day the church was created when the Holy Spirit was sent to earth to indwell those who choose to believe in the redemption provided for us by Jesus. Pentecost also just happens to be this week, so as always, there is one thing we should all be doing.
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