Sermon: Abounding in steadfast love

READINGS:

  • Psalm 145: 8-14
  • Romans 7: 15-25a
  • Matthew 11: 25-30

SLOW TO ANGER AND ABOUNDING IN STEADFAST LOVE

I titled this sermon “slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” as a reminder of the nature of Christ and the ideal version of every Christian. What would this world look like today, if that were a true description of every person in the world that called themselves a “Christian“? Imagine if every evangelical, every conservative, every progressive, every fundamentalist, every liberal, every Catholic, every 7th Day Adventist could say, in spirit and in truth: “I am slow to anger and abounding, overflowing, exuding steadfast loveI love God and I love my neighbor.” What would the world’s experience of Christians be if we truly followed in Christ’s footsteps?

Did you know that the word “Christian” is used 3 times in the Bible? Three times, in all of the Bible. Twice in Acts and once in 1 Peter.  Christians in this first century after Christ’s death were called such because their behavior, activity, and speech were like Christ. The word Christian means, “follower of Christ” or “belonging to the party of Christ.” One of the better known followers of Christ was the Apostle Paul, who wrote many of the letters that we now have in our Bible. These letters were directed to different communities of faith, and often were in response to specific questions that they raised in their letters. Paul was probably a more prolific writer than the disciples, as he was originally a Pharisee, a well-educated man, with an advantage that they did not have for writing.

Nevertheless, we find that Paul still struggled with some basic spiritual issues.  I want to take a moment, and read for you Romans 7, verses 15-25a from the Bible version “The Message”, because it seems to me that this version is very practical and easy to understand:

ROMANS 7:15-25 THE MESSAGE (MSG)

14-16 I can anticipate the response that is coming: “I know that all God’s commands are spiritual, but I’m not. Isn’t this also your experience?” Yes. I’m full of myself—after all, I’ve spent a long time in sin’s prison. What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. So if I can’t be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God’s command is necessary.

17-20 But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.

21-23 It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.

24 I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question?

25 The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.

When Paul wrote Romans, he was already 20 years into his ministry! This was no longer a young, zealous man, battling with temptations of his youth.  This was a man that had lived through trials and tribulations, who had spent most of his adult life as a missionary.  And yet, he writes to us “I know that all God’s commands are spiritual, but I’m not.”

What hope is there for you and me if Paul cannot get it together? Paul had many advantages over you and me: as a Pharisee he knew the 621 rules for righteousness and was well- versed in keeping them. But, just like each one of us, Paul had an ego. I imagine his ego also responded to pride, self-centeredness and selfishness!

God's grace: free & unmerited favor
God’s grace: free & unmerited favor

Paul comes back to GRACE as the solution for his battle! Knowing the law and doing his best to keep the law was not enough. Without grace, Paul was just as lost as the next person. In verse 25 of Romans 7, Paul says “Christ can and does”: it is not I, but Christ that lives in me that allows me to live out a holy life.

Last week, I used the example of the worm inside the apple, an egg laid inside the apple blossom that hatches inside the apple when it is maturing. Sin can be like that in our lives: we are growing and maturing and suddenly find that a bad habit or attitude has been growing and maturing inside of us as well.

Yes. I’m full of myself—after all, I’ve spent a long time in sin’s prison. What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise.

God is looking on the inside: Your Heart!
God is looking on the inside: Your Heart!

Right now, I am at my heaviest weight ever! Even at eight and a half months pregnant, I weighed less than I do now! The weight was distributed differently then, and I felt much healthier than I do right now! And six months after my daughter was born, I was at my perfect weight! Then life happened! I excuse myself with the sleepless nights, the busy lifestyle, and the responsibilities that I have chosen to assume. The unfortunate reality is that I dislike, okay… it’s a little stronger than dislike… I despise getting up at 5.30 in the morning to do exercise!

I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.

It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good (get fit and eat healthy), sin (food, laziness, lack of motivation) is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands (having my ideal weight and feeling healthy), but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge (and there I am, sitting down with a cheesecake!).

Everyone has an excuse and a scapegoat! This past week, I blamed it on Betsy for showing up with a gluten-free cheesecake. But the reality is that I have a sugar-tooth, and suffer from insulin resistance. I can either choose to take medications and live a healthy lifestyle, making diet choices that take me back to optimal health; or I can cheat and double the medication and not do the exercise and diet; or I can do nothing at all as I have been doing for the past 12 to 18 months! Last week, I decided to do 21 days of getting up at 5.30 and doing a 30-minute workout and stretching!

Doing right is a titanic struggle and an uphill struggle; doing wrong is a short step or a minor slip. The Chinese says, “Doing right requires ten years, doing bad requires just one minute.” The previous Chinese generation says, “Kids take three days to learn bad, three years to learn good.” Some have modified to say kids take three minutes or even there seconds to learn bad.

In truth, practice what you preach is easier said than done. The good you intend to do ends up not just merely bad, faulty or short, but evil (vv 19, 21) – sin’s Murphy’s Law equivalent: If anything can go wrong, it will. Not only wrong, but wicked and wasted.

For me, the solution to this issue lies in keeping my eyes focused on what I what I want my life to look like. Each morning when I arrive in the office, I look at my vision board: it reminds me of the different areas of my life and what I would like my life to look like if I were living to my fullest. There’s a heading “my best body” – showing healthy food, running, resting, stretching, and fitness! And I have been ignoring that section of the board since January!

Spiritually, there’s also a vision: plugged into the power of prayer! Paul says in Romans 7: 25 that the answer lies in that Christ can and does: Paul thanks God for being patient with him. As David says in Psalm 145, verse 8:

“The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”

This grace allows us to say:

“Thank you that even though I’m a mess, you still love me and you are still striving with me and you want to make me something more today that I was yesterday.”

We are loved by God and God is willing to take us just as we are! With Christ within us, God works from the inside out to transform us. We are forgiven from the inside out! If God has forgiven us, we can forgive ourselves.

Keep this small image in mind:

How did you learn to walk? Have you ever seen a little one learning to walk. They don’t get up and just start walking the first time they try. They crawl for awhile. They pull themselves up and take one step and fall back – up again and fall forward. Soon they are taking a couple of steps before they fall. And they walk, and they fall, and they pull themselves back up again, and they totter and they fall.

Life as a Christian, with each new step of the way, is a new learning. As you overcome one challenge, there will always be something new. Paul reminds us to “work through our salvation”, because it is a constant process of growth. We are free from the penalty of sin, but we need Christ in us to be free from the power of sin.

But we remember and we meditate on Psalm 145, verse 8:

“The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”

And if Christ is in us, then each of us should be able to look in the mirror and say: “I am gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love!” Imagine a world in which that were the description of each of us!

Sermon: International Women’s Day

Today, March 8th, is International Women’s Day, and I would like to take this time to celebrate women in the Church!

I realise that throughout Church history, we have had leaders who have said:

“What is the difference whether it is in a wife or a mother, it is still Eve the temptress that we must beware of in any woman… ”

– Saint Augustine of Hippo, Church Father, Bishop of Hippo Regius, 354 – 430

Or even Luther who stated:

“No gown worse becomes a woman than the desire to be wise.”

Throughout the history of the Church, we have found philosophers, scholars and debates about the role of women in society & the Church.  The very idea that women might participate actively in the Church received support in the early years of the Church, but over time, this fell out of favor.  We find the following decision issued by the Synod of Carthage (398 AD).

“A woman, however learned and holy, may not take upon herself to teach in an assembly of men.”

These types of attitudes lead Elizabeth Cady Stanton to comment:

“The Bible and the Church have been the greatest stumbling blocks in the way of women’s emancipation.”

Shirley Williams said:

shirleywilliams

But then there are also celebrations of women in the Church also.

“These people do not know that while Barak trembled, Deborah saved Israel, that Esther delivered from supreme peril the children of God … Is it not to women that our Lord appeared after His Resurrection? Yes, and the men could then blush for not having sought what the women had found.”

–Saint Jerome, (the 2nd most prolific writer after Augustine in ancient Latin Cristianity) after criticism for dedicating his books to women

Most recently, Pope Francis said

“We have to work harder to develop a profound theology of women within the church. The feminine genius is needed wherever we make important decisions.”

We know that some of Jesus’ earliest followers were women – Mary Magdalene, Joanna, & Susanna.  We find women at the foot of Jesus’ cross, and women were the first to see Jesus after his resurrection.

“When [the women] came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven… But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.”

–Luke 24:9-11

We find the importance of women in Paul’s ministry: women were important members of the early christian church movement.  Homes of believers were where groups of Christians met and held meetings.  Those who could offer their homes for meetings were obviously considered to be important in this setting, and often went hand in hand with leadership roles.  We find Lydia of Philippi (a wealthy dealer in purpose cloth).  Acts mentions that “she and her household” were baptised.  (Acts 16: 11-15).

Although we may consider that the 1st century woman’s role was in the home, turning her home into a public religious setting opened up for these women opportunities for religious leadership.  These women were given leadership roles, dignity and status in return for their patronage, receiving a renewed dignity within Paul’s movement.

Even in Titus 2 we find:

Similarly, teach the older women to live in a way that honors God. They must not be malicious gossips… spending their time tearing others apart…  Instead, they should teach others what is good.

The role of women was that of active teachers… But striving for unity, not division.  There was no room in the early church for women who caused division.

Given that Paul is supposed to have said in 1st Corinthians things like:

  • Every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head–it is the same as having her head shaved
  • Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered?
  • Women should be silent during the church meetings. It is not proper for them to speak. They should be submissive, just as the law says. Women should be silent during the church meetings. It is not proper for them to speak. They should be submissive, just as the law says.

But, funnily enough, he then finishes this paragraph with

  • So, my dear brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy, and don’t forbid speaking in tongues.

So… women were to be eager to prophesy, but were not supposed to speak?

Of course, the most quoted scripture regarding the role of women in the Church is probably 2 Timothy 2: 12:

“I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man.”

woman-1197111_1920And yet this appears to conflict directly with so many of Paul’s letters and greetings, and the women that he mentions in his Epistles.  I’m just going to list for you the women that Paul sends his special greetings to, and some of the circumstances in which he greets them:

  • Prisca (or Priscilla) and her husband Aquila, mentioned six times in the Bible, as missionary partners with the Apostle Paul (and in the craft of tent-making). The author of Acts states that they were refugees who came first to Corinth when the Emperor Claudius expelled all Jews from Rome. I’ve always noticed that when Paul referred to this couple, he always mentioned her first – so that some scholars suggest that she was the head of the family unit.
  • Mary and “the beloved Persis” are commended for their hard work.
  • There is then the greeting for Julia, who worked and travelled as a missionary with her husband.  He also sends greetings to Tryphena, Tryphosa and to Rufs’ mother, who “labour for the Lord’s work”.
  • Phoebe, a leader from the church at Cenchreae, a port city near Corinth is commended for her hospitality. Paul attaches to her three titles: diakonos meaning a deacon (lit. “servant”), sister, and prostatis meaning “a woman in a supportive role, patron, benefactor”.There is no difference when the title of deacon is used for Phoebe and Timothy. Diakonos (Gk.) is grammatically a masculine word, the same word that Paul uses in regards to his own ministry. Phoebe is the only woman to be named “deacon”. In Romans Phoebe is seen as acting as Paul’s envoy. Phoebe is named as a Patron of Paul, meaning that she would have been financially contributing to Paul’s mission. Phoebe was especially influential in the early Church seen in Jerusalem from the 4th century inscription: “Here lies the slave and bride of Christ, Sophia, deacon, the second Phoebe, who fell asleep in Christ.”

Paul in his letter to Timothy discusses the criteria for Deacons in the early Church which is explicitly directed to both male and females. Women flourished in the deaconate between the 2nd and 6th centuries. The position required pastoral care to women, instructing female candidates and anoint them at Baptism. They were also required to be present whenever a female would address a bishop.

  • And in Romans 16: 7 we find “Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews, who were in prison with me. They are highly respected among the apostles and became followers of Christ before I did.”  Junia was in prison with Paul – and possibly the only female apostle we will find mentioned in the New Testament.  Junia may have been an evangelist and church-planter, just like Paul.  Some translations made her name into “Junias” – i.e. a man.  But it appears that this has since been corrected into the feminine version.  I can only ask, How inspiring and wise must this woman have been to have been deemed by Paul worthy of the title “apostle”?

We also find

  • Chloe, a prominent woman of Corinth.
  • Euodia & Syntyche, Paul’s fellow workers in the gospel (mentioned in Philippians).

I find it difficult to relate these instances of respect and high esteem to the concept of a Paul that hated women and put them down.  These messages of thanks were to women (and men) who had played a vital role in Paul’s ministry.

But what do we do if two thoughts or passages seem to conflict? This is where the heart of the gender debate begins…  On one hand, we have those who say, “well if the Bible says to do it, then we ought to do it.”

Well, Leviticus 19 says that “You shall not put on a garment made of two kinds of materials.” If you’re wearing a cotton polyester blend or any other blend for that matter, you’re disobeying Biblical command this morning.  Well, you may be saying that’s an obscure Old Testament command. And you’d be right.

But five times, Paul and Peter tell Christians to “Greet one another with holy kisses.” Done any kissing in church lately?

Oh! That verse is historical & cultural…

So what if in Timothy Paul wasn’t talking about women generally, but some particular & specific women that Timothy was having problems with?  We may never fully know or understand the circumstances of this particular verse in Timothy.

I think it’s a fair conclusion that the testimony found in the bulk of Scripture, including the Pauline texts, speak plainly for women to be able to fulfill any ministry or position that the Spirit of God places upon them, whether it be teacher, prophet, pastor, evangelists or apostle.

When we look at the church, more times than not, there will be more women than men in church. Often times this is seen as a failure on the part of the church. In reality it may be the success of women being in MORE tuned with the Spirit of God. If there is to be a great awakening in the church, it will take place because we, the women in the church will see begin to see ourselves as God sees us. Women may hold the key to unleashing the power available in the church.

As we read in this morning’s Epistle, God is wiser than the wisest of human plans, and God’s weakness is stronger than the greatest of human strength. We may not fully understand the power of Jesus’ sacrifice, but we should whole-heartedly believe and cling to it.

Let us pray:

Creator God,

We give you thanks for the ministries that you have given to each one of us. We give you thanks not only for those women who have served you over the centuries, but also for those who serve you in whatever capacity today.

Today we specifically ask for your protection and peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where over six million people have died in the conflict so far.  We pray for the 40,000 women & children each day that are raped and tortured… asking for your healing hand over their lives.  We pray for justice for them – that even thought their country may not have anything of economic interest to the West, that you enlighten our leaders to see the needs of these people and intervene.

Today we ask that the lines of gender, race, wealth, and status completely disappear as we are transformed by your Spirit to be the “new creatures” in Christ we are called to be. May your church truly become the place where there is “neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female” for we are indeed all one in the grace and mercy of Christ Jesus our Lord.

Amen.

The Submissive / Obedient Woman

Lectionary Readings (November 11, 2012):

Our lectionary readings, both last week and this week, include the story of Ruth, King David’s great-grandmother.  We didn’t touch on this last week, so this week I thought I would go ahead and give you a short look at the story of Ruth.

We may ask ourselves, as we might with the story of Esther, “Why was Ruth included in the Bible at all?” Where is God mentioned in this book – apart from Naomi’s grieving comment “the hand of the Lord has gone out against me?

Scholars find that the book of Ruth was written as a historical novelette (theological and didactic historiography – in that it reconstructs historical events to some degree, but it tells the history by means of imaginative literary devices for the purpose of religious instruction and inspiration), and so it is both entertaining and instructive, and composed either during or shortly after the reign of King David.[1]

But the actual story which is told takes place during the time of Judges, in the final decades of that turbulent age, while there was yet “no king in Israel”, in the middle of a famine.  In stark contrast to the book of Judges, with scenes of crimes against God and man: treachery, brutal wars, massacres, cities in ruins – Ruth sheds a ray of light, piety, fidelity, social responsibility and rural tranquility.  It’s the story of a normal person, facing everyday domestic crises which frequently arise in the everyday life of an ordinary person.

And so

  • Elimelech (meaning, interestingly enough, “my God is King”),
  • his wife Naomi (whose name means “favour, delight, loveliness, beauty, and is regarded as having favour with God and man”),
  • and their two sons (Mahlon and Chilion) emigrate to the nearby country of Moab.  Clearly these two names are simply metaphors – Mahlon means “sick” and Chilion means “weakening or pining”.  Would you really name your children “sickness” and “wasting”.

They settle there, Elimelech dies, and the sons marry two Moabite women.  Mahlon marries Ruth and Chilion marries Orpah.

Little is known of the Moabite language, and so it is difficult to determine the precise meaning of the names Ruth and Orpah.  And yet, Orpah is related to the Hebrew word for neck, as used figuratively in the phrase “stiff necked or stubborn”; while Ruth, on the other hand, appears to be a contracted form of a noun, which in Hebrew means “companionship, friendship, fellowship”.

Unfortunately, in a tragic series of events, Mahlon and Chilion both die, leaving Naomi without her sons or husband.  Naomi’s pain is evident when she tells her daughter-in-law: “it is exceedingly bitter to me… that the hand of the Lord has gone out against me.”  There will be times in our lives, like Naomi, when the hardest four words for us to pray will be from the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy will be done.”

And so Naomi decides to return to Israel, and she tells her daughter-in-laws to return to their own families and remarry.  Under their mother’s case and direction, the two young widows would have assumed their premarital status, making them eligible to remarry.

Orpah reluctantly agrees, while Ruth begs Naomi to allow her to stay and to return to Israel with her.  In a passionate declaration, Ruth says to Naomi:

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.  Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried.  May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.2

Naomi, who had left Bethlehem with the name “my gracious one”, returns and asks to be call Mara “the bitter one”, in sorrow for all she had lost, perhaps too caught up in her sorrow to realise that she had brought her blessing back with her (as we will see later).

And so we find Ruth, gleaning in the fields, after the reapers.  Under the law, the sojourner, the fatherless and the widow were allowed to gather the stalks of grain which the reapers had missed or dropped – it was a simple part of the everyday life, which ensured that the poor were cared for out of the abundance of the nation’s wealth.

But Ruth was given a special treatment.  Boaz, the land owner, asked about her, and then came and said to her:

Now, listen, my daughter, do not go to glean in another field or leave this one, but keep close to my young women.  Let your eyes be on the field that they are reaping, and go after them.  Have I not charged the young men not to touch you? And when you are thirsty, go to the vessels and drink what the young men have drawn.[3]

When Ruth asks why he is being so kind, she receives a very simple reply:

All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told to me… the Lord repay you for what you have done, and full reward be given you by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge![4]

And Boaz goes further than this – he even instructs the reapers to intentionally drop more sheaves for Ruth to pick up, letting her work among the sheaves, not behind his maidens, and ensures that she is given bread and wine during the lunch.

Naomi is pleasantly surprised with the outcome, as Ruth has had a very successful day gleaning.  And upon learning of Boaz’s special interest in Ruth, Naomi then contrives to get Ruth married to Boaz by invoking her kinship with him.  She tells Ruth what to do and where to go, and Ruth follows her instructions.

Now the marriage of Ruth and Boaz was of a type known as a Levirate marriage.  Since there is no heir to inherit Elimelech’s land, levirate custom would have required her husband’s brother (but since he was dead also, then the next of kin), to marry the widow in order to continue the family line.  It was particularly important in Israel for the land to stay in the family.  If the family mortgaged the land, a kinsman was required to purchase it back into the family.  So, in this case, whoever married Ruth would pay Naomi for the property, but the property would then be inherited by Ruth’s child, in the name of her original spouse.  So there was a financial cost involved in this kinsman’s redemption.

Naomi sends Ruth to sleep at Boaz’ feet, after he’s had his wine and celebrated that the crops are in, taking a chance that Boaz may take advantage of her, but instead, Boaz helps Naomi and Ruth through the rituals of the inheritance, after which he marries Ruth.

Ruth ends with “and they lived happily ever after” –

… she bore a son. 14 Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without a redeemer, and may his name be renowned in Israel! 15 He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.” 16 Then Naomi took the child and laid him on her lap and became his nurse. 17 And the women of the neighborhood gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi.” They named him Obed… which means “servant”)

What’s interesting is that the book of Ruth is in stark contrast to the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, which demanded that the Jews divorce their foreign wives.  If we consider that the book of Ruth was originally placed next to Ezra and Nehemiah, we can understand how petty and short-sighted this policy of racial purity was.  More importantly, Ruth showed that not only could a foreigner be fully assimilated, but more importantly they might be God’s instrument for a higher good.

You may be wondering at this point, why did I put the title of my sermon as “the Submissive/Obedient Woman”.  All I’ve done so far is shared with you this historical novelette we find in Ruth.

Lessons:

So, let’s consider the lessons we can learn from Ruth.  I’ve grouped these into:

  1.  The general lessons applicable to all of us
  2. The lessons from Naomi’s life
  3. The lessons from Boaz; and finally
  4. The lessons from Ruth

Let’s start with the general lessons:

  • God’s love applies to everyone – there is no distinction of race, gender, marital status or religion. Ruth teaches us inclusivity, when a young woman voluntarily embraces another people, land, culture and, most importantly, God.   It is the perfect example of a true belief in the Creator God, even in the ancient world of the Israelites where separation is made obvious between the Israelites and the Gentiles.  This inclusivity transcends all cultural and racial boundaries, with the objective of unity the human race: Unity under God.
  • No one is beyond the reach of God’s grace – whenever we turn to God, we will find our Creator there, with His arms open wide to receive us.
  • God knows and provides for the needs of His people.  The book of Ruth reminds of His merciful providence for all who fear and trust in Him.  Our Creator knows who we are and where we came from.  No part of our life, however minute, escapes His notice.

How about the lessons from Naomi’s life?

  • How to relate with your daughters-in-law – there is obviously a lot of love between the three women.  When the girls had come to live with her and her sons, they were obviously welcomed into the home and became like daughters to her.  Her love for these two women is obvious in the tears cried when she decides to leave and return to Bethlehem.
  • We can’t overlook the fact that God is working in our lives, even when we are unaware of His activity.  We may choose to be miserable and feel that God has abandoned us, but even then God is working in ways that we can’t see for our benefit.
  • This story of broken hearts shows just how important the events of our lives are in God’s eyes – important enough to become a book of the Bible.
  • Even in Naomi’s grief, it’s obvious that before this she must have had an amazing testimony of belief in God – strong enough to convince Ruth to say:  “where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge.  Your people shall be my people and your God my God.” Even if in her grief Naomi had forgotten her faith in God, her life had been a testimony of her faith.
  • From Naomi we learn of God’s providential care: from destitute widow, to holding her foster-child in her arms.

Lessons we can learn from Boaz:

  • Boaz ensured that his fields were available to the sojourner, the widows and the fatherless – he was his brother’s keeper in the widest sense of the word.  He didn’t know who was gleaning his fields after the reapers went through, but he accepted that this was his responsibility and charity.
  • Boaz is a model of altruism – as Christians we usually use the term “loving-kindness”.  He promoted the well-being of others.
  • We also learn from Boaz integrity – his high stature is not only based on his wealth, but also on his benevolence.  While having the opportunity to take advantage of Ruth, he treats her with respect and sends her home knowing that he will deal with the issue formally with his kinsman.  He acts with authority at the town gate, providing his kinsman with the opportunity to purchase the family land.

Lessons we can learn from Ruth:

  • There is value in unselfish virtue in times of trial – we don’t know Naomi’s physical condition or what made Ruth decide to go with her. But there was obviously a feeling of needing to protect and take care of Naomi, and accompany her and ensure that she was going to be alright.
  • Ruth also teaches us the dignity and sacredness of what we may view as secular and commonplace in life – working in the fields… bringing home the bread or the bacon… All of this is an integral part of our spiritual lives.
  • We learn from Ruth that God commends the power of love to overcome alienation, hostility and prejudice.  I wonder how the people of Bethlehem first treated Ruth when she arrived back with Naomi.  And yet, when Boaz speaks with her, he has already heard, because it was the talk of the town: All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told to me… the Lord repay you for what you have done, and full reward be given you by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!

The submissive, obedient woman:

This is where I want to talk about the submissive, obedient woman, and what it means to me.  Many of us baulk at the words today “obedience” and “submission”.  When we read in Ephesians 5: 21-32:

Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife, ….   But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.

This is repeated again in Colossians 3:18:

Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord

For many of us, as one author states:

Submissive” now has a negative ring, causing women to cringe and run the opposite direction.  Most people picture a submissive wife as a woman with a soft, frail voice who runs around at her husband’s beck and call while he plops down in the recliner and hollers for another drink.[5]

But from the example we find in Ruth, I would say this is not so.  This submissive, obedient woman is strong, intelligent, hard-working and caring.  She is decisive, as Ruth was, DECIDING for herself, that she chooses to follow.  Her promise to Naomi: where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge.  Your people shall be my people and your God my God – this was a voluntary choice. She wasn’t blindly going to be at Naomi’s beck and call.  She was consciously making a choice to follow.
I am sure, some days when Ruth first arrived in Bethlehem and was discriminated against or when she was out there gleaning in the fields, with her back and arms and legs aching from the toil, that she had thoughts running through her head:

  • “Why did I choose to come back here with Naomi?”
  • “Why didn’t I stay back in Moab and marry that nice young man that my parents had lined up for me?”
  •  “Why did I follow Naomi, when she’s always so bitter and feeling sorry for herself; what happened to that gracious woman that used to be my mother-in-law?”
  • “What more can I do for Naomi, to bring back the joy and laughter in her life?”

But I’m also sure that there was a sense of satisfaction in Ruth’s life – she CHOSE this.  She wasn’t a victim.  Being submissive, choosing to follow Naomi’s advice was a voluntary status of behaviour – it’s not forced upon Ruth.

Women are not meant to be controlled by force of strength or economic hardship or guilt.  But rather, we are told to love our neighbours as ourselves, and to treat them as we would want to be treated.

To be submissive is not a FEMALE ONLY trait but should be the attitude of all Christians. We learn and grow from talking to each other and are told to keep a humble and contrite heart.

We are to develop relationships of trust and confidence and respect with all men so there is an element of submission in everything we do.

To understand the meaning of being submissive from God’s perspective we must first of all submit to God and do as he has instructed; even when we can’t see that “happily ever after”.

Our greatest example of this is Jesus, who submitted to the Father’s will until death, trusting fully that there was an ultimate reward for this sacrifice.

Charm is deceitful and beauty is fleeting, but a woman who fears the LORD, she is to be praised.  Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her own works praise her in the gates.[6] 

[1] http://bible.org/article/introduction-book-ruth

[2] Ruth 1:16-17

[3] Ruth 2: 8-9

[4] Ruth 2: 11-12

[5] http://www.everydaychristian.com/blogs/post/modern_submissive_woman_series_part_one/

[6] Proverbs 31: 30-31