Then she arose with her daughters-in-law to return from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the fields of Moab that the Lord had visited his people and given them food. So she set out from the place where she was with her two daughters-in-law, and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah. But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go, return each of you to her mother's house. May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. The Lord grant that you may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband!” Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept. And they said to her, “No, we will return with you to your people.” But Naomi said, “Turn back, my daughters; why will you go with me? Have I yet sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? Turn back, my daughters; go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. If I should say I have hope, even if I should have a husband this night and should bear sons, would you therefore wait till they were grown? Would you therefore refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, for it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the Lord has gone out against me.” Then they lifted up their voices and wept again. And Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.And she said, “See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. 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.” And when Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more.
There is much of what is called gospel preaching today that leaves me more me than a little concerned. There is so much emphasis on style, equipment, venue, and what to me has become a watered-down message. Evangelists or gospel preachers seem to need to be slick, often decked in gold with manic grins and whiter than white teeth. There seems to be great faith in the messenger but little faith in the power of the gospel to which the Apostle Paul says it is the power of God for the salvation of sinners!
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
It seems that this vital truth is being eroded in our day of friendship evangelism, I must at this point defend myself and say that I am most certainly not against friendship which for the believer must always be about evangelism. How can we possibly have a friend that we are not concerned that at death we will go separate ways. I would suggest that the church is not called to friendship evangelism but is called to equipping the saints to befriend people in order that they might declare the gospel in the most natural of ways within the context of the situation.
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?
Churches today are falling over themselves to be “seeker sensitive” so much so that it is not unusual for some to survey their “targets” in order to discover what they might want a church to be. We find no such license in all of scripture! In fact the opposite is true, the church is to trust only in the declared Word of God, firstly for the believer for their own edification and understanding but also for gospel presentation to a lost and dying world outside of our own four walls. Our problem is that we believe that we must bring people into the church in order that they be saved and that the evangelist is the resident preacher therefore we need to be attractive in order that they come and join us.
This account in the book of Ruth turns all of this thinking on it's head, it is not all about popularity and perceived attractiveness but all about God's call upon the lives of those whom He has chosen to save.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
The church must return to faith in the power of the gospel in order that there might be true gospel blessing within our land. But there is hope, even through hopeless preaching God by His grace is pleased to save those to whom He is calling:
Therefore we need to understand the call to faith.
From our passage we will consider:
- Naomi's gospel.
- God's calling.
- Ruth's response.
If we allow our minds to wander a little in order that we understand something of what was going on in Moab on that day then we will see something of a paradox. Naomi was guilty of preaching something that she did not believe. She was guilty of playing the hypocrite and was saying with her mouth something that she did not believe in her heart. There she was at the beginning of her journey back home to Bethlehem. Naomi was a well taught Jewess who clearly was open to the work and leading of the Lord. The very reason that she was heading back home was because she had heard that God had once again visited His people in blessing and now the famine was over. That was enough for Godly Naomi, she wanted to be home again.
Ruth and Orpah have made the decision to follow Naomi, they are in effect going to church with her! The Old Testament nation of Israel is the forerunner of the church (a massive subject for a blog somewhere down the blogging line!!!) and so as Ruth and Orpah decide in their own spirits that they will go with Naomi that in itself is a good thing but it is not evidence of God's call to faith for either of them as we shall soon see.
They go a little further and this is where we observe Naomi's hypocrisy, she fully believed that there was only hope of salvation in the Lord God but was willing to persuade her foreign daughters-in-law to return to the false gods of Moab. Naomi was guilty of sending sinners back into their sin and leaving them with no hope. At this point both Orpah and Ruth are displaying more love to Naomi than she was to them. But through this we observe something that is both outstanding and most helpful to us as we present the gospel.
Gospel preachers are not in any way effective in the call to faith!
If they were then both Orpah and Ruth would have returned to Moab.
However Naomi's spoken gospel may have been somewhat pathetic but as we have previously seen her lifestyle was impressive in that it caused both Orpah and Ruth to love and respect her greatly and as we shall see from Ruth's confession it was much more than simple friendship. Naomi's friendship was vitally important but as far as gospel effectiveness it was totally impotent!
That flies in the face of much of what the church is trying to do today. We need to encourage friendship with all that we rub shoulders with but always with an eye to the truth that friendship or social concern are not sufficient for the salvation of souls they are simply evidence of our faith in Jesus Christ as Lord. They are signposts to those for whom God is calling to Himself. Therefore we must now consider:
This is where many get upset with gospel truth but from what happens next in our passage we cannot deny the truth. We have considered how Ruth and Orpah heard the Word of truth through Naomi over the years but it is what God was doing that is of vital importance.
Naomi's gospel preached to Orpah was effective, she heard the call to return to Moab and her own way and followed. Thankfully we do not know what became of Orpah but if she remained in that condition then she has gone to a lost eternity, but she may have at some time repented. Thankfully that is God's work.
Ruth on the other hand displays perfectly what Paul taught in the passage from Ephesians 1:
In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time.
God is sovereign over all things, there is nothing that is not under His control and supervision and that includes the salvation of all of His people for whom He has a plan and purpose. We know that God had a clear plan for Ruth which has great implications for the whole world. She was great grandmother to King David and as such is in the direct birth-line of the Lord Jesus Christ. You cannot get much more important than that!
God had predestined that Ruth would at this very moment have a different faith to that of Orpah. Ruth would see beyond the inconsistencies of Naomi and her poor gospel presentation and see the Lord Almighty and that she would in faith make the greatest declaration of faith that is possible.
God was effectually calling Ruth!!!
God's plan for the future of mankind was one notch closer to completion and all in a time of uncertainty and wrong decisions. It was a time that was completely in God's perfect plan, a time when discipline of the nation was completed and God was working His purposes out.
None of this was about either Naomi or even Ruth but it was all about God. Ruth as we shall see became a wonderful servant of God and she was instrumental in finally being a Godly blessing to Naomi.
We have much to learn about God's working out of His purposes but one thing which we can see is that even though we might get much wrong God never makes a mistake. Therefore when the Lord Jesus Christ tells us that He is building His church then that will remain true even in days of wrong understanding and poor gospel presentation. That does not give us the license to carry on but it ought to humble us enough to take off the bling and the spin that comes with popular evangelicalism and trust wholly and only in the power of the gospel.
This goes down in history in much the same way that the Apostle Paul's conversion does. There is much that we learn from what Ruth declares but it is all in the context of what has gone before. We have just learned that God had effectively called Ruth and so now she can believe.
- Where did that faith come from?
- Orpah never experienced it! Why did she not respond as Ruth did?
Paul teaches in Ephesians 2: 8-10 the reasons why:
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
With this in mind consider Ruth's words to Naomi:
But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. 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.”
God's grace had clearly worked in her heart, it was a gift to her personally and one for which Orpah was not party to. Ruth was not only willing but her whole hearts desire was for a completely different life. She wanted the life that Naomi had. It was not the call to poverty but to wholehearted trust in Naomi's God. She now belonged to Him and also to His people. At that point she did not know them but she knew that she belonged. Now she really wanted to go to church where she had blessings to come beyond what she could ever imagine.
But what of Orpah?
This is a problem for us as mere humans. We are conditioned by our fallen nature and by education and culture. Modern man believes so much in himself and his own ability and goodness that he will never understand that before God we are all desperately wicked and so nobody deserves grace to be extended to them. That is absolute and we simply have to believe it. God is perfectly good and all that He does is perfectly right therefore when Paul (and the rest of scripture) teaches us that God by grace chooses whom He will to be saved then He only makes right decisions. Orpah allowed Naomi's persuasive words to influence her decision, she chose not only to return home but to her gods also. She deliberately chose to stay in the comfort zone of false religion rather than follow the more difficult way of faith. The reality is that she was lost from grace because she was not one of God's elect. His decision was right concerning Ruth and also for Orpah. This whole episode helps those of us that witness to others in that salvation does not depend upon our clever and persuasive arguments but entirely upon God's grace. Naomi was a poor preacher but her message was used effectually for the salvation of Ruth and for Orpah's decision not to follow the Lord.
We learn so much from this passage:
- We must be better proclaimers of the truth both in life and in word.
- We must trust wholly in God's Word which is more powerful than our clever ideas can ever be.
- We must understand and believe that God is Sovereign in all things, even the salvation of those whom He loves.
- We must believe that He effectively calls all whom He chooses to salvation.
- We must believe that faith is a gift given in order that we can be saved.
- We must when believing become a part of the local community of believers which for Ruth was Naomi's people and for us are Jesus' people who are better known as the local church!