3:1-5 Naomi tells Ruth what to do (📖).
One day Ruth’s mother-in-law Naomi said to her, “My daughter, I must find a home for you, where you will be well provided for. Now Boaz, with whose women you have worked, is a relative of ours. Tonight he will be winnowing barley on the threshing floor. Wash, put on perfume, and get dressed in your best clothes. Then go down to the threshing floor, but don’t let him know you are there until he has finished eating and drinking. When he lies down, note the place where he is lying. Then go and uncover his feet and lie down. He will tell you what to do.”
“I will do whatever you say,” Ruth answered. So she went down to the threshing floor and did everything her mother-in-law told her to do.
Obedience is something which is not fashionable in today’s culture. But obedience has never been easy, it is not a coincidence that the Bible, both in the Old Testament and the New, speaks about and commands obedience.
One of my favourites has always been Exodus 18:24 ‘So Moses listened to the voice of his father-in-law and did all that he had said’. My sons-in-law aren’t overly fond of it though!
Seriously, let’s consider this subject, WHY is obedience important?
Our example: “and Jesus grew …”
If we read Luke 2:51ff, which tells us about how Jesus (a child at this point) went home withHis parents and grew up obedient to them. Jesus is the Son of God, yet He obeyedHis parents. A 12 year old boy, one who v49 reveals knew God was His father (didn’t you know you’d be in my father’s house?) grows up obedient in the home. In today’s society, this is one of the most volatile periods of growing up, where everything is questioned and every request or instruction by parents is ignored if at all possible (my older brother’s poster is a prime example).
Culturally, our modern society has issues with this concept of obedience. There is a belief in our society that ‘self-determination’ is a ‘human right’, that we have an absolute right to do exactly as we believe and not be told by anyone what to do or how to live, and that anyone who tells us otherwise is prejudiced and bigoted. We will go along with rules if they are for the greater good (laws etc), or if they are the ‘Rules’ of whatever game we’re playing, but even then we will push our luck and ignore them if we think we can get away with it (speeding), or we will contest them, denying that we have been disobedient (seen football players crowding around a referee?). There are all sorts of levels of obedience, and we respond in different ways. How would we respond when told we should obey …
- The Law?
- Authority figures (the King / Politicians etc)?
- Our Parents (if they’re still alive) or husband?
- Our Employer?
- Leadership – especially in our context, Church Leadership
I would be very surprised if most of us didn’t add caveats to our obedience, such as ‘only if it’s just’, or ‘as long as it’s not abused’. I am pretty certain that if a church leader were to stand in front of a congregation and say ‘it’s biblical for me to expect you to obey me as your leader’ (which, incidentally, it is), hackles would rise and people would leave the church muttering about things like heavy shepherding and pastoral abuse.
The question or issue in obedience is this: if we only obey rules or instructions we agree with, we’re not actually obeying anything but ourselves. So — how do we react if obedience calls us to do something we don’t want to? Do we truly obey or do we do it only when you have no choice – for example under threat of loss of employment, or the likelihood of arrest or prosecution if we don’t obey, but we’ll disobey if there’s a very high probability of getting away with it. In other words, many are only pretending when it comes to obedience – in reality they’re only committed to themselves. Most people will only obey something if they can see it is in their interest to do so. People who are obedient by nature and not rule “breakers” are so often viewed negatively – they are classed as unimaginative, or without drive, having no initiative, not leaders and so on—I know because these judgements have been made about me in the past.
People who refuse to follow the rules are generally looked up to and celebrated, they are seen as having “drive” and looked up to as pioneers, or groundbreakers, entrepreneurs and so on. They are exalted as leaders to emulate, and they say things like ‘rules are made to be broken’ to great applause.
Yet, the Bible teaches that obedience is not the negative thing that we see it to be. This passage is not the only place Jesus is described as being obedient …
- Philippians 2:8: And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross!
- Romans 5:19: For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.
We might not like obedience, but my obedience to Christ reveals that He truly is my Lord. It shows the world (and me) that I am His.
Our faith: Obedience reveals faithfulness
It is surprisingly simple: the Gospel is intended to be something which works out practically in our daily lives. One question I usually ask a baptism candidate during the baptism is ‘do you commit yourself as far as you are able to try to live your life As Jesus would want you to?’
1 John 2 says a number of things about what our obedience to Christ looks like:
1 John 2:3 ‘We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands’.
The first thing John says is that if we keepHis commands, we can KNOW that we have come to know him. John 14:15 says something similar, John records Jesus saying: ‘If you love me, keep my commands’, and Romans 2:13 says ‘it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous’.
So I know my faith is authentic when I actually do the things that God requires of me.
1 John 2:5 ‘But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him’
There are two possible interpretations as to what ‘his word’ is. 1 John 1:1 is a reference to the Word. When we read it with John 1:1 in mind, we can see that Jesus is seen as the “logos” (or word) of God. Yet we also understand the Scripture itself as being the ‘word of God’, so for example, Luke 11:28 records Jesus saying, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” and in John 10:34,35 He calls the Law the word of God. In Hebrews 4:12 we read that the Word of God is alive and active and sharper than a two-edged sword.
So should we obey Christ (Luke 6:46 “why do you call me Lord Lord and not do what I say?”), or the Scriptures (Luke reference above), which are also the Word of God? Is there really a distinction? Doesn’t obeying the one really amount to the same thing as obeying the other? Is this a both/and kind of scenario? If our faith is shown by how we obey His word (and, for example, not modern fashions), then we need to be sure that we get into the word, that we study it, that we understand it. But it also means having the kind of relationship with God such that if we sense he is saying something to us, we have the courage to put our money where our mouths are and we actually act on the faith we profess to have.
Our faith means obeying God. In everything.
3:7-15 Ruth Visits Boaz on the threshing floor (📖).
When Boaz had finished eating and drinking and was in good spirits, he went over to lie down at the far end of the grain pile. Ruth approached quietly, uncovered his feet and lay down. In the middle of the night something startled the man; he turned—and there was a woman lying at his feet!
“Who are you?” he asked.
“I am your servant Ruth,” she said. “Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a guardian-redeemer of our family.”
“The LORD bless you, my daughter,” he replied. “This kindness is greater than that which you showed earlier: You have not run after the younger men, whether rich or poor. And now, my daughter, don’t be afraid. I will do for you all you ask. All the people of my town know that you are a woman of noble character. Although it is true that I am a guardian-redeemer of our family, there is another who is more closely related than I. Stay here for the night, and in the morning if he wants to do his duty as your guardian-redeemer, good; let him redeem you. But if he is not willing, as surely as the LORD lives, I will do it. Lie here until morning.”
So she lay at his feet until morning, but got up before anyone could be recognised; and he said, “No one must know that a woman came to the threshing floor.”
He also said, “Bring me the shawl you are wearing and hold it out.” When she did so, he poured into it six measures of barley and placed the bundle on her. Then he went back to town.
Boaz recognises Ruth’s good reputation. He also takes steps to protect their reputations—both hers and his.
So she lay at his feet until morning, but got up before anyone could be recognised; and he said, “No one must know that a woman came to the threshing floor.”
This threshing floor was not a quiet room out of the way, it was a very public place, and had she waited until it was light, she would have been recognised. If she had been seen lying at his feet, people would have assumed she was a prostitute. It was vital she wasn’t seen to protect both them both. If she’d been seen and recognised, the good report Boaz had heard about her would have been completely demolished, and he himself would have been vulnerable to accusations of impropriety (not to mention that they would be vulnerable to stoning!).
One of the ‘qualifications’ for an elder is found in 1 Timothy 3:7 where Paul says: ‘He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap’. Paul also tells in Titus 2:7-8 that he should set an example for people, ‘by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us’.
I am not going down the rabbit hole of whether these ‘qualifications for eldership’ are a series of ‘tick boxes’ for us. I am merely recognising that reputation is important. Other references to and examples of a good reputation are:
- 1 Peter 2:12 tells us to ‘live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us’. Our reputation validates our actions. Or rather, if we damage it, our witness is damaged as well. This is the heart of integrity.
- Cornelius – a Roman with a good reputation. So much so that an enemy of the Jews was heard by God and the account of his salvation marks a step change in the proclamation of the gospel (it marks the opening of the proclamation of the Gospel to the gentiles). We read several things about him which reveal who he really is …
- Devout and God-fearing (Acts 10:2). In fact, he led his family in this.
- Generous giver. Particularly for those in need (Acts 10:2,4)
- Prayed to God regularly. (Acts 10:2,4)
- Righteous and God-fearing (10:22)
- Respected by the “Jewish people” (Acts 10:22),
Note also that among the people he sent to people was “a devout soldier who was one of his attendants” (Acts 10:7) — so Cornelius encouraged and almost certainly led people around him.
Shows the importance of integrity in every walk of life. It also shows us that when we live our lives righteously before God, people will notice and some will follow your lead.
- Paul writes in Philippians 2:7 that, ‘Jesus made himself of no reputation’ (the KJV / NKJV translation of ‘made himself nothing’) : IMPORTANT — beware!! It is often a good thing to look at several different English translations of the Bible to get a sense of the breadth of meaning of the original language. However. If you have to go to only one specific translation because it’s the only one which says what you want, you’re probably on very thin hermeneutical ice. Nevertheless, the text tells us that Jesus ‘made himself nothing’ and became a servant, both of which speak to status in society and therefore reputation.
- In Acts 16:2 we are told why Paul saw Timothy as being suitable to accompany him on his journeys: ‘the believers at Lystra and Iconium spoke well of him’.
One of our main priorities must be to live with all the integrity we can muster. People watch us. They don’t only watch the TV, or well-known Christians (like Billy Graham used to be). Those who know you have a faith will be watching YOU. The consistency between your confession and your life will directly impact your reputation as a Christian. It will also directly affect the efficacy of your witness.
We must hold this in tension with the fact that … Protecting your reputation must NOT descend into fear of man.
Proverbs 29:25 ‘fear of man will prove to be a snare’. I heard this on a podcast the other week and I think it is so true :
‘if you live by people’s praise, you will die by their criticism’
If we allow how others see us, or what they say about us, to impact how we live and what we do, we will become slaves to our fear. One of the characteristics of today’s society is what is called ‘cancel culture’. The mobs round on and try to do everything they can to hurt people they don’t agree with, are sacked, overlooked for advancement, they are even arrested and prosecuted. People who don’t hold the ‘right’ opinions are cancelled, from the Oxford Union through all the universities, public buildings, you might find yourself not able to speak out. I suspect that sooner or later Christian churches will not be allowed to rent public buildings for their meetings (that will include us). We must fight against censoring ourselves because of fear about what might happen to us.
We read in the gospels that some of the Jewish leaders became believers—but they did it secretly because of fear. John 12:42-43, ‘many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees, they would not openly acknowledge their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved human praise more than praise from God’.
When told by Samuel that God had rejected him as king, Saul’s main concern was what people would think: ‘I have sinned. But please honour me before the elders of my people and before Israel; come back with me, so that I may worship the LORD your God’ (1 Samuel 15:30)
In John 5, Jesus is talking to the Jewish leaders, and among other things, in John 5:41-44 He says this: ‘I do not receive glory from people. But I know that you do not have the love of God within you. I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive me. If another comes in his own name, you will receive him. How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?’ Jesus wasn’t interested in glory from people. His sense of worth came from His relationship with Father God, not from how others saw Him.
One of the keys for me comes from Nehemiah 7:2, the description of Hananiah, which describes him as ‘a more faithful and God-fearing man than many’.
So, there is a tension we must live in. That between protecting our reputation and fearing what people might think of us.
In the 1980s, I worked for Bristol City Council. During that time, an old Victorian swimming pools demolished in some waste ground right beside the main shopping area. It was demolished, but the rubble was just left on the ground. The broken bricks and stones were taken by vandals and gang members and used as projectiles to throw at each other, at the police and at the shops and office buildings. This derelict land became known as the ammunition dump. My point is that we must not gift the people around us with ammunition to dismiss our witness and the Gospel.
We know that people will speak ill of us, the Bible tells us that in various places, but we must not give them ammunition! Romans 8:31 ‘if God is for us, who can be against us?’
3:16-18, Naomi tells Ruth to wait (📖).
When Ruth came to her mother-in-law, Naomi asked, “How did it go, my daughter?”
Then she told her everything Boaz had done for her and added, “He gave me these six measures of barley, saying, ‘Don’t go back to your mother-in-law empty-handed.’”
Then Naomi said, “Wait, my daughter, until you find out what happens. For the man will not rest until the matter is settled today.”
Waiting is something which we all find very difficult to do. We live in an instant society which feeds our desire for instant everything, and waiting is not something we are very good at nowadays.
‘God give me patience and do it NOW!’
Have you ever sent a text to someone and been irritated when they didn’t respond straight away? If you said no to that, then you are extremely unusual, and probably older! Have you ever got frustrated because you’re in a queue of heavy traffic and the person in front of you is so slow off the ball that someone cuts in front of them? If either of these two things irritate you, most likely you need more patience!
In our modern, western, culture generally speaking we get what we want, when we want it, and if we don’t we think we should. We see it as “a right”. Waiting seems to be unfashionable nowadays, we have a society where instant everything fills our lives. I recently did an Amazon search for things that were described as ‘instant’ in some way. So, quite apart from next day delivery (which is itself a symptom of impatience), they have a rake of stuff which promises we can do things without waiting. Here are some of my favourites …
- Instant Facelift and Eye Tuck Serum,
- Instant Coffee,
- Instant Eyebrow Tint,
- Instant Cold Ice Pack,
- Instant camera,
- Instant grab adhesive,
- Instant Snow Powder,
- Instant diarrhoea relief,
- Instant Gasket,
- Instant tan cream, and,
- Instant love handle remover!
But it’s not just Amazon, people won’t even wait to be served in a busy supermarket, so we have queue busters. We don’t even have to wait 24hrs for photo developing, smartphones mean instant picture review.
In a recent poll, 47% of web surfers indicated that they would navigate away from a desktop site that didn’t load in 2 seconds or less. Computers and phones have to be faster and faster at processing. And everyone all falls for it, 15 years ago, people were pleased with internet speeds of 56kb/s, now our broadband at home delivers over 70mb/s.
But we need to learn the benefits of waiting, quicker is not necessarily better. Instant is not generally the way of God.
Frequently, the Bible describes a season of waiting and preparation before anything happens. Jesus in the wilderness beforeHis ministry starts, David spending years a shepherd, Joseph in prison in pharaoh’s palace, Moses was 80 when he went in front of Pharaoh. We also have passages like Isaiah 40 and Psalm 40 which tells us:
“they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31 ESV).
“I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry” (Psalm 40:1).
Just from these two verses, we can see that waiting on God does several things for us:
- We gain new strength,
- We get a better perspective (the eagle’s perspective),
- We are energised physically (Perhaps the solution to my current sense of feeling tired and weary is not more rest, but a period of waiting on God?),
- God hears us.
Secondly, Jesus makes several statements about persevering in prayer, so for example, we have the parable of the persistent widow in Matthew 18. Being persistent at its core means we are waiting for something. We seem to think that waiting is often in vain, and that nothing will change.
Impatience both flows from and feeds into a hate of inaction and a belief that things will only change if we act. This is particularly visible in modern society, Extinction Rebellion, Insulate Britain, Black Lives Matter, Stonewall, and other “pressure groups” are following that exact ideology. To change society, they say, we have to DO something.
Christians should note that there is a difference between the actions of these groups and the actions we should take.
Our action is rooted in the will of God, their actions are rooted in fear about the future.
Our action is taken on a bedrock of waiting on God, often with prayer and fasting, their action is driven by impatience and frustration.
If we have to take any form of action, especially if it is a drastic thing, we must be sure our actions are Godly and not worldly. The best thing we can do is spend some time waiting on God and fasting and praying before we act.
Waiting reminds us of the importance of the task. Noticeably, when we have to wait for something, we value it more than if it comes to us instantly. I remember my Dad saying “nothing with any value in it was ever gained in one short minute” which speaks to this point. Very often the longer you wait for something to happen, the longer you wait for God to move, the greater value you will give to that thing.
Waiting prepares US for the future. We have time to consider and prepare ourselves for what might come. We may train in some way, either physically or spiritually. Too often, people rush into doing something, and they are not ready. Waiting frequently includes preparation.
It re-focuses us on God and reminds us of His importance in our lives. The most precious commodity, many of us has, is our time. We have a set number of days on this world, and every minute that passes for us is gone. We can never get it back, we can never replace or redeem it. Every moment is precious. So, what we people give their time to is one of the most telling ways of seeing what is important to them.
The thing to take away from this is that we mustn’t be too hasty. Bernard Cribbins once had a hit with a song titled “Right said Fred”, one of the lines was “You see the trouble with Fred is, he’s too hasty — You’ll never get nowhere if you’re too hasty”. We must learn and start to exercise the discipline of waiting on God before we do things.