If someone was to describe you using one word, what would it be? Would it be kind, compassionate, joyful, thankful … or would it be ungrateful, fearful, critical, angry, or bitter?
Bitterness can make us self-focused rather than focused on the spiritual good of others. A lack of thankfulness can blind us to God’s blessings. Anger and criticism can destroy a relationship, a life, and a testimony.
Ruth 1 & 2
Ruth 1 & 2:
Famine and loss
We’re beginning the book of Ruth, a beautiful little story of God’s mercy and His redemptive work even in the midst of great sin and evil. This story takes place during the time of the judges when, as you remember, “everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”
The story starts out talking about a famine in Bethlehem where Naomi and her husband Elimelech live. God often uses famine to discipline His people, but He also uses it to prune and grow and test them.
Because of the famine Elimelech takes his family, Naomi and his two sons, and moves to Moab where he dies. The boys marry and then die prematurely, too. Naomi hears that there is bread—prosperity—once again back home so she decides to return.
Dr. Amy Baker, a teacher and counselor at Faith Baptist Church in LaFayette, Indiana, paints an interesting picture of this story. She pictures Naomi and her daughters-in-law packing and cleaning and getting the house ready to sell and finally loading the wagon and getting on the road headed for Jerusalem when Naomi says to the girls, in effect, “Why don’t you just go back home to your families? I’m not going to be any good to you.”
They obviously love Naomi. Both of them weep and tell her they want to go with her, but Orpah eventually heads back to her family. Ruth does not, instead, she insists on going with Naomi.
What is going on here? We don’t know all the details, but we can glean a great many truths—some of them sad and some beautiful.
Return to your gods
One of the saddest things to me is what Naomi says to Ruth after Orpah headed home, “Look, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law” (1.15). Think about that statement, Orpah has returned “… to her gods!”
It seems obvious to me that Naomi struggled with her decision to send the girls back to their families. Otherwise, why would she have waited until they were actually packed and on the road? But where was the concern about their souls? Did she think the best thing for them was to send them back to worship heather gods?
As believers, we should always look first to what God might be doing spiritually. Our first concern should not be the physical. How about you, dear sister or brother, what do you base your decisions on? When you are considering a job change, do you think first about how it might affect your family spiritually? How about a move to another city? Have you checked out the churches or just the schools? How about pursuing a friendship? Is this person going to challenge you spiritually or possibly pull you down?
What about a dating relationship or marriage? What about the person your son or daughter is dating? Are you concerned that he or she is a child of God or are you more concerned about whether or not he or she is “going somewhere” or has “career possibilities” or “comes from a good family”? Just being willing to attend church with you does not make them a believer. Many a young man has attended church with his girlfriend only to refuse to set foot in a church once they were married. Jesus said that we are to seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and He’ll take care of the other things (Matt. 6).
Your God shall be my God
Back to our story … how does the other daughter-in-law, Ruth, respond? She refuses to go back to that old life. She says your God shall be my God! What a beautiful picture of a changed life! She had obviously come to know the One true God.
This would be a great story to share with your teenager about the kind of man or woman they should want to date and someday marry. Don’t be fooled into thinking he or she can date one type of person and someday marry another! Dating brings emotional attachments that are difficult to break off. Too often, “the god” that boyfriend or girlfriend worships ends up being their god, too.
Call me “Bitter”
Now what about Naomi? Where was her focus? Why might there have been so little concern about the spiritual well-being of these two young women? Look at verse 1.20, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me.” Mara means “bitter.” Can you imagine meeting an old friend after a long absence and when she calls you by name, you say, “Don’t call me Donna or Diane or David … call me Bitter.”
When we’re focused on ourselves, how life has not been fair, how things have not turned out the way we planned, we have very little energy left to be concerned about God’s agenda. What we are really saying is, “I don’t like the plan God has for my life.” Bitterness can make us self-focused rather than focused on the spiritual good of others.
All of us have those thoughts and struggles from time to time. But if we stay there very long, self-pity and bitterness can become what we are known by, too. What are you known by? Could someone call you “Joy” or “Patience” or “Faith” or could they easily call you “Bitter” or “Fearful” or “Critical” or “Angry”? What are you known by?
An age of grace
Sometimes when we read the Psalms it’s easy to wonder why David and others called for God’s judgment on those who sinned against them while Jesus said, “love your enemies.” We live in an age of grace. God is graciously offering the free gift of salvation and mercy to all who will receive it. He asks us to extend that same grace to others, but there will come a time once more when even the martyrs in heaven will cry out for God to judge the wicked (Rev. 6.9-11).
A wholesome tongue
Verse 4, “A wholesome tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.” The Bible has much to say about the power of the tongue. A tongue submitted to God and His Word brings life to those who hear it, but a deceitful tongue can wound deeply.
The road to the cross
As the events leading up to His Crucifixion continue toward their ultimate climax, Jesus is hailed as the Messiah (19.38), further inciting the religious leaders. Their plan to destroy Him is in full force. In the plan and purposes of God, they will soon get their way.
What about you?
What characteristic are you known by? Take an honest assessment and ask God to help you change those things that are not Christ-like.