Ruth: Gracious caring! – Ruth 1:15-17; 2:2-7; 2:10-12; 4:13-17
By Pastor Lee Hemen
April 29, 2012 AM
She loved him until the day he died. She loved him in spite of his demanding and perfectionist ways in dealing with just about everything. In 35 years she had had very few nightmares—because she rarely had a full night’s sleep. His illness often made reality worse than a nightmare. His persistent calls demanded immediate attention. Today, nearly 10 years after his death, she remembers his life and times fondly, as if they were still occurring, even as if they were the good old days. They had been married in a private family ceremony. The couple had stood before a preacher who would, upon the ceremony’s completion, become the bride’s brother-in-law. She had held flowers and clutched hopes of finally enjoying the sort of home life she had never known as a child. Such a dream was not to be, however. Multiple sclerosis struck her husband soon after their first child—a daughter—was born. MS began strangling life from his legs, even in its early stages fighting a relentless battle as vicious as it was ruthless. Somehow, though, her love for her husband remained as determined as the disease. Her life was an example of gracious caring.
Many adults function as caregivers for others—people such as an elderly husband, a grandchild, a disabled spouse, and special needs individuals. From demanding life-moments represented by stories like this one, we can enter the Bible’s gallery and recall the elegant portrait of Ruth’s life story. A growing relationship with God will lead believers to graciously care for others, including people who haven’t been stricken with an illness or some other special challenge. One simple question remains. How? Today we will be near the fields around Bethlehem, the graveyards of Moab, and the nursery of Ruth’s new home to show how real love for God always is reflected in our love for other people. Let’s discover how we can live a life of gracious caring…
In Judah’s agrarian culture, a famine meant the fields were barren. Judah was fed and satisfied from Bethlehem’s waving and tender wheat fields—Israel’s “house of bread.” Hebrew families plowed fertile dirt and planted enough grain so that one day their ovens would emit the soft, warm aroma of freshly baked bread. But then “there was a famine in the land” (Ruth 1:1). Ruth lived “in the days when the judges ruled” in Judah (Ruth 1:1) when “every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6; 21:25). But Ruth, like a rose among thorns, nurtured and grew a graciously caring heart for Naomi, who could do little for her in return. We can be like Ruth and…
I. Commit to care for others! (Ruth 1:15-17)
1. You care to commit when you commit to care!
1) Elimelech moved his family away from the ravaged fields of Judah. Elimelech’s search for bread came to mean that he, his wife Naomi, and their two sons Mahlon and Chilion, had to leave Bethlehem for a new land. While they were there, Mahlon married Ruth and Chilion married Orpah. Eventually tragedy struck and Elimelech and his sons died. Naomi, Orpah, and Ruth must have soaked the earth near their gravesites with tears. Still grieving, Naomi turned back toward Bethlehem where the famine had come to an end. After dismissing her daughter-in-law Orpah to go back home to her family, she tells Ruth, “Look, your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her.” Yet, we see that Ruth replies by telling her mother-in-law, “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.” Like Abraham Ruth decided to leave her ancestors’ idolatrous land to go to the land of promise. And Ruth did it without the support of a promise. In fact she made her decision despite Naomi’s strenuous encouragement to do otherwise. Ruth replied from a graciously caring heart and in doing so made a commitment to care for others!
Ruth pledged lifelong love and allegiance to Naomi. She promised to die where Naomi would die and to be buried near the place of Naomi’s burial. Only death would be able to separate them. God loves the whole world, but Christian love starts one person at a time. The Bible gauges love for God against love for others. God requires patience toward family members in need, whether the need is spiritual, physical, or emotional. Sometimes, because of following through on our commitment to love, we suffer long. Such is the way of love. From Ruth’s example we discover that we should…
II. Take the initiative to care for others! (Ruth 2:1-7)
1. Actions speak louder than words!
1) Naomi and Ruth journeyed from Moab to Bethlehem and we see that “all the city was moved” when they arrived (Ruth 1:19). Because of their immediate need for food, Ruth said Naomi, “Let me go to the fields and pick up the leftover grain behind anyone in whose eyes I find favor.” Actions usually speak louder than words, but passionate words plus hard work give testimony to a caring heart. In Ruth’s eyes, Naomi was worthy; so Ruth graciously sought to care for her. Naomi responded, “Go ahead, my daughter.” Ruth began to glean in the field after the reapers and apparently showed no shame over her condition as a poor Moabitess. God directed Ruth, and she began “working in a field belonging to Boaz, who was from the clan of Elimelech.” That which “happens” doesn’t really “just happen.” A sovereign God orchestrates it and uses it for His purposes. As Boaz surveyed the field and the workers, his eyes fell on Ruth. He asks his foreman, “Whose young woman is that?” He learns that Ruth is “is the Moabitess who came back from Moab with Naomi.” But more than that the foreman immediately speaks of her character, that she had asked politely to glean behind the harvesters, and that she had “worked steadily from morning till now, except for a short rest in the shelter.” Ruth saw the need at hand, and knowing grain wouldn’t just appear at the doorstep, she took steps to secure what was needed. Like Ruth, believers today should take the initiative in taking care of others!
The clock never stops ticking for people involved in caring for others. Ruth had worked so that she and Naomi would have enough bread. Ruth was without a husband and unaware that God was about to give her one. God’s good things often happen to us as we concern ourselves with meeting other people’s needs. After hearing the servant’s answer to his question, Boaz, perhaps later in the day, approached Ruth and spoke to her. When Boaz went to Ruth, he spoke kindly to her, saying she should harvest in his fields only, stay with the other young women, and feel welcome to drink water provided for all the harvesters. In Ruth’s example we learn about…
III. Sacrifice in the care of others! (Ruth 2:10-12)
1. Concern for others often takes advantage of our time, talent, and treasure!
1) When Ruth heard Boaz’s kind words, “she bowed down with her face to the ground.” Even after losing her husband and leaving her blood relatives in Moab, Ruth apparently had not grown bitter. Beautiful of spirit, Ruth asked Boaz, “Why have I found such favor in your eyes that you notice me—a foreigner?” Boaz and Ruth were still in the early dawn of their relationship, but Boaz had already known about Ruth and thought highly of her. Through the foreman’s report, Boaz had read Ruth like a book. In these moments at the threshing floor, Boaz spoke a biography about Ruth. He knew her past, “I’ve been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband—how you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before.” Sacrifice reaps its own reward in life. Ruth went out to glean leftovers and harvested much more! Boaz’s comments reveal how Ruth had grown in her relationship with God. He blesses her by saying, “May the Lord repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.” Indeed, the foreigner from the pagan land of Moab had grown in her relationship with the Lord to the point that noble Boaz could seek the Lord’s full reward for her as if she were one of His people! Ruth’s sacrifice in the care of others, challenges us to do the same!
Taking action to fulfill lifelong commitments remains profound but all too rare in today’s society. Sacrifice opens a loving heart as a key opens a door. For example, exercising a sacrificial spirit at home means paying the price daily to have a better marriage. Sacrifice means serving each other rather than wishing and wondering why your dreams didn’t come true. Who needs your sacrificial care and support? Picture Ruth working in the fields on behalf of Naomi, now, picture your “field” of sacrificial care—and get busy showing gracious care for someone in your life! When we do, we learn from Ruth that…
IV. God blesses those who care for others! (Ruth 4:13-17)
1. Happiness comes when we have shared our lives with others around us!
1) The famine is gone and life had renewed itself for Naomi and Ruth as well. They were in Bethlehem among friends, and for the two women an unexpected blessing had happened, “Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife.” Ruth did not know the road of providence would lead her to a wedding ceremony. God blesses His people, but not always in the same way every time. We surely can believe God blesses those who graciously care for others. And for Ruth, “the Lord enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son!” Boaz served Ruth intentionally and purposefully, just as Ruth graciously served Naomi. Together, they served each other. The Lord of the harvest grew a life of blessing for them all through their service for each other. Still, Ruth stands as a shining example of one who graciously cared. Even the women of Bethlehem acknowledged that Ruth’s love for Naomi was a love from God! They sing, “Praise be to the Lord, who this day has not left you without a kinsman-redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel! He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth!” In another Old Testament book, we learn that “The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the first!” (Job 42:12 NIV) Likewise, God blessed Ruth’s later years more abundantly than ever. Boaz’s home was now complete with God, Ruth, Naomi, and baby Obed. God truly blesses those who care for others!
We should keep in mind that Ruth, when she determined to stay with Naomi and remain faithful to her, could not have imagined all the ways God eventually would bless her. Moreover, we should remember that God’s blessings didn’t come overnight but over time. Are you willing to extend caring actions toward people who need your loving influence—regardless of how and when God blesses you for doing so? One of the key principles arising from Ruth’s example is this: Do what’s right and trust God with the results. We learn from Ruth to: Commit to care for others! Take the initiative to care for others! Sacrifice in the care of others! God blesses those who care for others!
Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 Biblica. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.
Pastor Lee Hemen has been the outspoken pastor of the same church for 25 years in Vancouver, WA. He writes regularly on spirituality and conservative causes and maintains several web blogs. This article is copyrighted © 2012 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.