Ruth 1:16-18 But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me.” When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her.
Ruth is one of the most attractive, feminine and godly of the women of the Bible. She is one of two women in the Bible about whom books have been written and after whom those books have been named. Perhaps she also is one of the many characters in the Scriptures of whom no sins are recorded. If God himself doesn’t believe it to be necessary to dish the dirt on many of his followers then our love will hide the sins of others. It is certainly unnecessary in Christian biographies or in obituaries to parade or even hint at the weaknesses and falls of the subjects. Occasionally acknowledging a frailty can be helpful, but it is not essential. Ruth was a sinner who needed the mercy of God like all women do, but our attention is not drawn to what she’d been but rather to the way she turned to the Lord and became a lady of great godliness and privilege. She became the great- grandmother of David, and she is mentioned in the first chapter of the New Testament as one of the ancestors of our Lord Jesus. She is revered and honoured still today. Children are named after her. The words of our text are one of the most moving utterances of the Bible, quite sublime. In them her earnest consecration is displayed, her determined friendship with her mother-in-law, but above all her faith. We are going to ask today what they show us about being committed to serving God.
- RUTH RENOUNCED MOAB AND ITS GODS.
Naomi, Ruth’s mother-in-law, was desolated at the loss of her husband and sons. She has lost faith in the God of Israel, and she urged Ruth to go back to Moab as in fact Orpah her other daughter-in-law already has returned, but Ruth rejected her counsels. She chose to stick to her mother-in-law, her God and her people. Her choice certainly entailed an act of renunciation; it was a declaration of her separation from what she had once believed. Ruth was bidding farewell to an old life-style, to her former values and associations. She was waving good-bye to all the idols of Moab; she was turning her back on every single one of them.
You find such separation in every kind of crucial choice. When a man takes a wife then he has her alone until death separates them. He says no to every other woman. When we become the diplomat of our country we serve our motherland only and we don’t aid her enemies. When a football club buys a player then from that moment on his commitment is to that club alone. When he has a game with his old club he does all he can to make sure his new club wins. He has broken all his old loyalties.
So it is in the Christian life; Jesus said, If any man follow me let him deny himself – there is self-renunciation – take up his cross and follow me. No longer does self rule, but the Son of God rules over us. Peter said to Jesus, We have left all and followed you. We find the same thing with Paul; he tells us that the things that once he considered to be a tremendous attainment – all his Jewish status and achievements – he now counts as loss. He placed those things for ever behind him – those things he once prized were now like a pile of cow dung which he stepped across without glancing back at the steaming heap. For to me to live is Christ, he said. Think how Isaac Watts takes that up when he writes, “My richest gain I count but loss and pour contempt on all my pride.”
That attitude is absolutely indispensable at the moment of our faith in the Lord, and then in the life of faith. There is a constant element of renunciation; that is the first general principle of true conversion. Whenever there is trust in the living God then at the same time there is a refusal to be taken up by anything that would draw us from God. The old gods? Sport . . . money making . . . drinking?
“The dearest idol I have known, whate’er that idol be,
Help me to tear it from the throne and worship only Thee.”
Is there some great prize that is too precious for us to leave, about which we are saying we are not prepared to let it go, even to answer the call of God? It is becoming increasingly common for friendships to end when a girl tells her circle that she has become a Christian. Some parents also get angry with their children when they start attending church. Some careers are terminated the moment people become true Christians; promotion can go when we will no longer cheat even a little, or lie a little to please the boss. I am asking whether perhaps, at a much smaller scale, whether there is a price we are not prepared to pay for the salvation of our soul? Is there something to which we are so unequivocally and totally attached that we will never let it go?
Let me put it in another way. Let me address those who have made a profession of faith but have moved into a situation where that commitment seems to be qualified, where they have set conditions before God, where they are saying that they are now in a position of some influence and they cannot be open about their faith as once they were. Perhaps they are in complex friendship, or there may be family connections in their business, or they are conscious that the eyes of the media or the eyes of politicians are upon them, whatever the reason is they’re saying that things have changed and now they can’t obey this call to discipleship. I am asking whether you have some burden that is preventing you running for God, something that competes with Jesus Christ for your affection?
There is a great word of the Lord Christ, that if your eye makes you stumble then pluck it out. I must say to myself – indeed I must say everything to myself before I preach it to you – but having searched my own life I must then say to you that it is perfectly lawful and very desirable to have both your eyes, and to go through life with them both is ideal, but if an eye makes you fall and fall again and again, and if that eye betrays you into sin, if that eye becomes a hindrance and a cumbrance to Christian service are you prepared to pluck it out?
What we are seeing in these great words of Ruth is the impossibility she saw of keeping in a relationship with the Moab world and in a relationship with the Lord. She found that she could not have the values and philosophy of Moab and also do the Lord’s will. She had to make a choice, renouncing the one and cleaving to the other. I am not saying that in these particulars we can exactly follow Ruth but I am saying that in terms of this great principle we must ourselves turn our backs on every relationship and association that pulls us back into unbelief and away from following the Lord. We must turn out backs on Moab and face the place where God is all in all and where we move unashamedly among the people of God.
- RUTH CHOSE THE PEOPLE OF GOD AND JEHOVAH THEIR LORD.
There was a great decision that she came to, as we confront the world with an identical choice. Let us see the various elements of this decision:
i] Ruth chose Naomi’s God as her God.
It was a tremendously personal choice. It is not as a Prime Minister is chosen in the United Kingdom. We vote only for a local candidate in a General Election, and the party with the most elected members of parliament in London becomes the government. Then that party chooses its leader and prime minister and they tell the country who it is. We don’t get to choose him; we choose our local representative. Ruth did not decide to migrate to Israel in order to join the people of God. It was not that when she was there she was told she had to swear her allegiance to the national God of Israel. It was nothing like that; it was the very reverse. She was first presented with the Lord who claimed to be the Creator and Sustainer of the heavens and the earth. He is the one who identifies himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God who has acted in human history and brought this people out of the land of Egypt and into the land of Canaan. This God watched over his people like a husband watches over his bride, and when the people persistently defied him and chased after idols he finally sent drought and famine to bring them low. It is this Lord whom Ruth chose, the God who is a great, objective, active and living reality, and Ruth made a decision that she would follow him.
In the Christian faith that is the beginning of our relationship with God. There is the choice of God in Christ to become our teacher, our leader, our keeper and our mediator. His death is the all sufficient answer to our guilt before God. His blood cleanses every one of our sins away. We choose him, and in that choice we become disciples; we become worshippers; we become witnesses, and we become believers. We submit naturally to his teaching; we follow implicitly his guidance; we turn automatically to him for help because we choose the Lord as our King, our Prophet and our only Mediator with God.
At that very point lies the reproach because Moab has its own attitude to the Messiah who is the hope of Israel. The nations rage at God; they are utterly unsympathetic to this one who claims to be their Creator and Judge. They are hostile and contemptuous; they have little but grudging acknowledgement of our faith. They say to the church, “We don’t see him. Where is he, this great living reality? We’d like to believe in him but we can’t.” They are indifferent and then when you press them they are hostile. “Your Christ is so concerned about sin. Your Christ keeps on and on about guilt and forgiveness and atonement, this Jesus of the Sermon on the Mount of this immensely stringent ethic, the one who says we must love God with our whole hearts, and love our neighbours as ourselves, this Christ of the narrow gate and the narrow way.” They don’t want this Christ. “Your Christ is so other-worldly,” they say, “this virgin-born Saviour, this one who has risen from the dead, this one who is going to return to this world on the clouds of heaven, this supernatural Christ.”
You go right back to Ruth’s time and the Moabites were hostile to the whole Messianic hope of Israel, and what they considered the arrogance of the claim that salvation was of the Jews, and then you come down through the centuries and millennia and you enter the world of our day. You listen to the words of Kingsley Amis the famous novelist; he said that it was not so much that he disbelieved in God as that he hated God, and his son Martin Amis takes the same position today. He puts Christians in the same category as the Islamic suicide bombers, as hateful ignorant fundamentalists. Where does Christ stand in the esteem of the politicians and the educationalists and the media men? Where does God stand in the best selling lists on both sides of the Atlantic? You look at the world’s scholarship and scientists laughing at Christ.
I tell you a sad thing, a very sad thing, that you look at many bishops and theological lecturers and area superintendents of the different denominations and they are laughing at Christ. They do not want this virgin-born Saviour; they shake their heads at this rabbi who taught there was a hell to avoid and a heaven to win; they reject this Christ from another world; they are embarrassed by this returning Saviour, and so they join the majority and the experts and with the nations they reject this Christ, but here in the passage before us we are told that Ruth chose this kind of Saviour, and she was steadfastly minded. She had made up her mind to go to him. Her heart was fixed on him and she would not be put off by all the scorn of Moab. Though this Jehovahist Naomi set all these obstacles in her way and urged her to go back, “Return! Turn again!” she had made up her mind to make him her God. She chose Jehovah the Lord of Israel to be her Saviour in the teeth of all the scorn of Moab.
I am saying to you that we are living in the 21st century and that human society hasn’t moved one yard beyond that point. In Pakistan today, and Saudi Arabia, and India, and Israel, and Turkey, and many other places people are taking their lives in their hands to make a confession of faith in the Lord like Ruth. This last year has witnessed the martyrdoms of hundreds of people for the sake of Christ, many of them dying lingering horrific deaths. We are living in the age of beheadings, and stabbings, and rape, and burning people alive, where Christ is held up to reproach.
I am asking all you ordinary young people, so immersed in your peer group’s authority, so hating to be different, to make the same choice that Ruth made, to take this Christ, despite the world’s reproach, in spite of the vast indifference of the masses and the media, the experts and their scorn, the scholars and their ridicule. I know the situation; I am aware of what they think of my Saviour. I would still choose him. I know the statistics. You go to France in its vastness and there are 40,000 towns without any pulpit where Christ is preached. You consider India with its centuries of missionary outreach. It has over a thousand million people living in that vast sub-continent and if you added together all the branches of the Christian church – the Catholic, the liberal, the cults – then there would be 2% of that nation that is nominally Christian. You come to this land of ours and is 2% of ours really Christian? Is one teenager in every fifty making a credible profession of faith? Is one man in every fifty confessing Christ as his Saviour and Lord? We don’t think so. Would that it were so! There can be 8,000 students at a university and a hundred attending the Christian Union meetings. 7,900 don’t attend. I am saying to you that that is the reproach of following the Christ of the Bible. I am telling you that if you go to many a theological seminary or should you study Biblical studies in most universities you would be patronized and evangelized by the staff to change your faith. They’re out to buy you to preach their gospel, which is not the gospel of historic Christianity, and if you reject them they consider you to be an obscurantist, and a fundamentalist.
I am saying to you that that’s where we’re at today, and yet you choose Christ! This Saviour, with all today’s Moab calling you a fool, you choose him! I have chosen him though the people of Wales imagine a vain thing, and the kings of the earth and all the opinion makers are reproaching us for being ‘homophobic’ and ‘Islamophobic’ and a hopeless ‘creationists’ still you choose him! You choose him today. You make this decision. Ruth made her choice in the knowledge that it was totally unacceptable to her contemporaries.
ii] Ruth chose Naomi’s People as her People.
Ruth said, “Your people will be my people.” She chose that too. It was among them she would live and move. She would choose them to become her closest friends. She would be identified with them, and with their practices she would be involved. She said to Naomi, “Where you go I will go, and where you stay there will I stay.” Let me apply that to ourselves at a number of different levels.
A] THE CHURCH. I will tell you something, that in this building tonight we have a bunch of very ordinary and very odd people. That is what we are. We are very a-typical, and we are that not simply because we are church-goers and church members, but we are a-typical because for us to live is Christ. That is the distinctiveness of our being so odd. We are not looking at the things that are seen and temporal. Our eyes are set on things above. That is where our affections are and that makes us appallingly odd in today’s Wales.
Ruth looked at them and they were a funny lot, those Hebrews. Their whole worship revolved around the tabernacle, that is, a tent, and it was their one holy building in the entire land. The Moabites had hundreds of such buildings. Inside that tabernacle there was no image of their God at all, not a single statue. Then outside of the tabernacle they had erected a large altar and none of the people ever got anywhere nearer the tabernacle than that. They handed over their sacrificial animals to a priest who cut its throat and dismembered it and offered some of it, and sometimes all of it on the altar. That was the only way they could find forgiveness to the Lord. That was the only way they could offer thanksgiving to God, via that altar and by the priest. That was what confronted Ruth.
Again she looked at the people worshipping there and she thought of her mother-in-law, and what did she see? A woman who was critical in her spirit against God; a resentful and depressed woman who yet knew God. Naomi didn’t rejoice when Ruth said she was going to follow her back to Judah and live with her there. Rather she set out all the problems of that choice. She raised a series of obstacles to prevent Ruth going with her. Naomi was a believer in the Lord but she had no contentment, no joy and no peace. Yet still Ruth chose these people
Would you choose to be identified with such a community as ours? Some of us have a past that doesn’t hear examination. Some of us have a present characterized by the most bizarre behaviour. Some of us dislike other people in the congregation, Christians grumbling and complaining about other Christians. Some of us are like Naomi with a hard spirit against God, resentful and depressed, seeing all the problems that come to those who believe in the Lord.
Yet still Ruth chose people like these. Would you choose to lodge amongst these limping, staggering Christians? Would you decide to get involved in such frail and fallible men and women as you see us to be? Would you take your friends from this kind of community? Let me as you whether you wish to be identified with our kind of practices and beliefs. We believe the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation. We believe that Jesus walked on water, and that the hammer head floated. We believe in heaven and hell. We believe that redemption comes only by the dying of Jesus Christ on Golgotha. Our worship is terribly simple. A man called by God to declare his word and pastor his people, set apart to that end, leads the worship. We do not believe God calls women to this vocation. Our worship is terribly plain; there is in the New Testament little emphasis on music when the church gathers together and we reflect that biblical proportion. There is an emphasis on prayer and preaching the word of God in the Bible and we do emphasise those things. We celebrate two ordinances, credo-baptism and credo-communion. We are ruled by elders; we all meet half a dozen times in the year to discuss aspects of the state of the cause. We are different from much of the professing church in Wales. In many parts of the world such a congregation is considered contemptible, and there are places where it is harassed.
Yet Ruth chose that people. She chose a people without a king. She chose a people coming out of a long famine which Jehovah had given them for years of defying him. They were a weak people who did what was right in their own eyes, often unattractive, hypocritical, and occasionally shaken to its borders by scandalous acts of immorality. But Ruth chose them, and loved them, and engaged in their practices, and worked among them, and lived in their midst.
B] FRIENDSHIP. Friendship is not known exclusively in Christian circles. There have been great and moving friendships, and stable friendships, in the world about us and throughout history, but our Christian faith ought to elevate and sublimate our friendships. There ought to be friendships in the Christian church to which these words apply in all their commitment; where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me. You see many contrasts to that in Scripture; there was King David and Abner who was his most intimate companion and his favoured counselor and yet he went and betrayed him. We have the same thing in the case of Christ himself when Judas betrayed him – with a kiss! Peter denied him, and all the twelve forsook him and fled. Yet wherever there is true friendship it will operate precisely as Ruth says to Naomi, that there will be a refusal to go back on it, and a commitment to a life-long loyalty.
Maybe even the youngest of us ought to pay attention to that. Perhaps I could say, “Do not expect too much from your friends, and yet at the same time I would say, “You give yourself to them with utter and total loyalty.” It may sound an advantage to be a man’s friend, but sometimes it is no advantage. But wherever there is true friendship there will be steadfast loyalty even in the most distressing circumstances. I would hope that you might form warm friendships, and that distance and disadvantage would not modify your affection so that after long breaks you pick up exactly where you last were with one another, and devotion and loyalty and wisdom shines through. Though our life may place the relationship under all kinds of strain yet your friendship will be strong enough to bear it. Ruth loved Naomi, and she held her in high regard, but notice this, she didn’t always do what she wanted. There came times like the one before us now when she did not follow her advice, because older as she was, she was not always wiser and not always right, and sometime she was a fool. It is enormously important to realize that we can have this attitude of total friendship and yet that doesn’t mean that our own opinions are swallowed up by what our friend tells us.
In Christian marriage we make our commitment to one friend and for what that person is. That is what marriage is; it is not accepting a person for what he or she might become, or what you might make him, or for the potential that person has to move and develop along the lines that you like. Do I accept that person exactly as he or she is at this moment? That is the question, because that person might never change, but do I take him for what he is at this moment? This is a commitment that must last as long as life itself. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me. There is no room for experimentation in the Christian view of marriage, and there is no back door to escape through if things don’t work out as we desire.
- THE TIME RUTH MADE THESE CHOICES.
It was not in a highly charged atmosphere when she was surrounded by thousands of other religious people. It was not when people were claiming miracles were being performed and cripples were throwing away their crutches and walking, or blind people were shouting out that they could see. It was not when an evangelist had asked for the lights to be dimmed, and the choir was singing a sweet hymn for the tenth time and the speaker announced that he was not going to stop until more people walked to the front, and he asked the audience were they ashamed of taking their stand. It was not when all kinds of emotional pressures were brought to bear on Ruth, fear of hell, love for her mother, promises of health and wealth if she only came forward. There was absolutely nothing like that.
Ruth made her decision when all God’s providences seemed against her, death in her family, her mother-in-law utterly depressed. If Ruth had said, “I have three good reasons for not trusting in God – Elimelech, Mahlon and Kilion,” then worldly-wise people would have said, “Of course. You don’t expect a young widow to trust in God do you?” The single Jehovahist she knew was telling her that it wasn’t worth trusting in God. At that time she chose the Lord and his people, and I am saying to you that there is no justification for unbelief, and your broken heart won’t save you from God’s scrutiny. God himself had a darling Son in whom he delighted, but there came a time when he put him to grief and still Jesus trusted in God. He loved his Father even when he deserted him, and so must you. Sometimes our losses show us reality, that fading is the worldling’s treasure. When other helpers fail and comforts flee, then he who changes not abides with us. There is no life in this world without God, and I am saying to you that in your frustration and heart-ache make this choice of the Lord! I will give you three reasons;
A] All the things you are giving up are transient. What Moab and the world has to offer is just for this life. You remember Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones in his late twenties accepting a call to pastor a church in South Wales on a Sunday night when he had preached for them. When he arrived in on the Monday morning in his hospital in London he had a note in his pigeon hole saying that the registrar wanted to see him. When he entered his office he and another senior medical man were pouring over the morning papers which had plastered the story of a man giving up medicine in London to become a preacher. They asked him if it were true. He apologized to them and told them that they were to be the first to know but that there had been a leak to the press and he was very sorry. Then they began to beseech him to change his mind, showing him all the good he would do by being a doctor and the limited nature of the help he would be as a pastor. They carried on with this theme for some time until finally, a little exasperated, he said to them, “but after we have done everything to them we can possibly do they are still going to die!” This world is transient. The Lord Jesus asked, “What does it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul? What shall a man give in exchange for his soul?”
How swiftly this life of ours speeds away, like a weaver’s shuttle shooting between all the parallel threads and then ready for another journey. Let me go to one of our infamous profligates, that man who so despised my faith and rejected the Saviour. Oscar Wilde said this,
“Pleasures are like poppies spread,
You seize the flower, the bloom is dead.”
And that is what governed Ruth’s choice. She had given up Moab and her links with that land and its gods, but all she had turned from was transient
B] You are choosing a life of protecting grace from the Lord. Boaz meets her (it is recorded in the next chapter) and he says to her, May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge, (Ruth 2:12). The incarnate God wept over the people of Jerusalem telling those indifferent sinners that if they had only come to him he would have spread his wings over them and protected them. That is the privilege of every believer. The psalmist says, He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.
We do not know what lies ahead of us, of our parents, or of our children, but we do know that this is a groaning world and that around us are enormous tragedies and immeasurable sorrows, and many of the people passing through them are alone. Why on earth are you alone? Here is a God who says that when we pass through the waters he will be with us.
Yea though I walk through death’s dark vale
Yet will I fear none ill
For Thou art with me and Thy rod and staff
Me comfort still.
Come to shelter under the protection of omnipotent love.
C] Know that there is a reward before us. God rewards those that diligently seek him. There is a place where God wipes away every tear. There is a place where we shall see those who have gone before us. There is a place where we shall see God as he is in Christ. There is a place where our hearts shall make eternal melody. That is the reward and I commend it to you.
There is a land of pure delight where saints immortal reign;
Infinite day excludes the night, and pleasures banish pain. (Isaac Watts)
What do you know of Paul’s response to this blessed hope? He said, I have a desire to depart and be with Christ which is far better. I am asking you whether you have some hope in the light of the certainty of death. Jesus rose on the third day; he was seen by his disciples over forty days in all sorts of places and his resurrection transformed their lives. They never thought that death was ultimate reality after that. After death there was going to be an open-ended encounter with God, and for them the God they’d meet would be the Saviour Jesus Christ who had died for them on the cross.
We are told of Ruth that she was determined to go with Naomi (v.18). Nothing would stop her. You say that your faith is small. It doesn’t matter; you exercise what faith you have. Use it! Focus it on Jesus Christ. Believe right into him and you will be saved. Confess him to your friends and family. Be baptized, and never miss a meeting here. Shelter under the wings of Jesus Christ, and nothing, not even death itself, will separate you from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord,
3rd February 2008 GEOFF THOMAS