What’s It Worth to You?

A HARMONIZATION of MATTHEW 19:16-30, MARK 10:17-31, & LUKE 18:18-30 (NIV)

Context = Jesus instructed a crowd on the east side of the Jordan River, His last teaching before going to Jerusalem for the final time.

As Jesus started on his way, a certain ruler ran up to Jesus and falling on his knees before him, asked, “Good teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”

“Why do you call me good or even ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied.  “There is only One who is good – God alone.  If you want to enter life, obey the commandments.”

“Which ones?” the man required.

Jesus replied, “ ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’ ”

“All these I have kept since I was a boy,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”

Jesus looked at him and loved him.  Jesus answered, “One thing you lack – if you want to be perfect, go, sell all your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.  Then come, follow me.”

When the young man heard this, the man’s face fell.  He went away sad, because he

had great wealth.

Then Jesus looked intently at his disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.  Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?”

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; with God all things are possible.”

Peter answered him, “We have left everything to follow you! What then shall be there for us?”

Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man is on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.  And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields – and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, will inherit eternal life.  But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.”

(Inspired by John MacArthur’s book, One Perfect Life.)

An example of faith not found.

          Although he didn’t ultimately get it, the rich young man had a good focus: he was fixed on ETERNAL LIFE and how to possess it. Part of his failure can be accounted for by the fact that he didn’t understand what it was.  It is access to God in this life and in the life to come.

The intensity of his focus is seen in how he ran up to Jesus, knelt before him, and spoke in a deferential tone. I can picture this guy having gone to numerous “experts” with this question. As he’d never been satisfied with their answers, he kept looking. Jesus was probably just the latest rabbi to come across is “radar.”

He also didn’t understand Jesus’ simple statement, “OBEY THE COMMANDMENTS.” His question “WHICH ONES?” may indicate he was looking for the one thing that made heaven a sure thing.

When Jesus singled out some of the Ten Commandments and added one, the rich man made the paradoxical comment that he’d kept all those but was still sure that he lacked something.  This is at once both ridiculously confident and insecure, a mixture of hubris and humility you don’t see.

One thing he understood clearly about ETERNAL LIFE; he was sure that he had didn’t have it.  He was convinced there was some GOOD THING that he’d left undone, but couldn’t figure it out to save his soul.

Instead of focusing on ETERNAL LIFE, Jesus offered him the best focus instead: focus on GOD alone. This is why Jesus said, “THERE IS ONLY ONE WHO IS GOOD – GOD ALONE.” He effectively said, “Why bother yourself with anyone’s goodness – yours or mine?  Only God is truly good.  Focus on Him.”

The man’s question “WHICH ONE?” might reveal his search for the path of least resistance. That’s human nature isn’t it? The path that leads to God is NOT that path.

Could he have kept all the commandments and still be unsure about his salvation?  Of course.  Because of the New Testament, we understand that keeping the commandments is not a means of salvation. God offers eternal life as a gift.  It is His grace that makes it possible.

Jesus exposed what held him back: his WEALTH.  Let’s analyze Jesus’ reply.

  • “IF YOU WANT TO BE PERFECT” means having undivided loyalties. The source of the rich man’s “eternal insecurity” was that he’d placed his trust in his wealth. All his talk about commandments was a red herring.  He believed he could earn or buy anything in this world and the next.  At a deeper, subconscious level, he knew that was wrong but he wouldn’t admit it even to himself, hence his insecurity.
  • By “SELL ALL YOUR POSSESSIONS AND GIVE TO THE POOR” Jesus meant to refocus his attention on God. Any kind of self-sufficiency can come between us and God.  It can be a subtle idolatry. The world prizes independence and self-sufficiency, but God’s will is for His people to depend on Him and find Him sufficient for all needs, esp. ETERNAL LIFE.
  • “YOU WILL HAVE TREASURE IN HEAVEN” looks forward to heavenly rewards.  Jesus taught this up on the mountain; “DON’T STORE UP FOR YOURSELVES TREASURES ON EARTH, WHERE MOTH & RUST DESTROY, & WHERE THIEVES BREAK IN & STEAL.  BUT STORE UP FOR YOURSELVES TREASURES IN HEAVEN, WHERE MOTH & RUST DO NOT DESTROY, & WHERE THIEVES DO NOT BREAK IN & STEAL. FOR WHERE YOUR TREASURE IS, THERE YOUR HEART IS ALSO.” (see Matthew 6:19-21) This is a matter of priorities.
  • “THEN COME, FOLLOW ME” teaches that priorities precede discipleship. Eternal life is received by true faith manifest in discipleship. When we put God first, it is a life-long commitment, one that continually develops and deepens.

This command is given nowhere else in the New Testament.  It was an individualized response to this one man because Jesus LOVED HIM and knew the condition of his heart.  It was exactly appropriate to him personally.  Jesus exposed the condition of the man’s heart; the man’s reaction verified Jesus’ verdict.

  • HE WENT AWAY SAD. What an awful, dramatic picture that must’ve made.
  • BECAUSE HE HAD GREAT WEALTH. We are given no other reason.  For all the enthusiasm he’d shown earlier, this is a step he was unwilling to take.

An example of faith found.

          Jesus explains WHY the rich man’s WEALTH caused his dejection when He said, “IT IS HARD FOR A RICH MAN TO ENTER THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN.” It is not that poverty is automatically more spiritual – the problem is the self-sufficiency, the idolatry that was based on his wealth. The word HARD is key.

  • HARD, not “impossible.”
  • HARD for us, not for God.
  • HARD to focus God because the world has distracted us so thoroughly.

Jesus’ statement about the camel and the needle is an exaggeration and is intended to make us appreciate t difficulty.  Forget about pseudo-scientific ways you could reduce a camel to a medium that could be shot through the eye of a needle.  Forget about a “Needles Eye” gate that has no basis archaeological fact; it’s a persistent medieval legend.  Jesus is exaggerating for effect, a teaching device He sometimes employed (i.e., moving mountains by prayer).

The disciples were surprises because Jesus’ explanation challenged their assumptions. They assumed that wealth was a sign of God’s favor and poverty His curse.  This was a popular belief, not a biblical one. So what Jesus said and what the disciples heard were two different things.  What they heard was something like, “It’s impossible for the people whom God blesses to get ETERNAL LIFE!”  Shocking!  If this were true, then what chance did they, as middle and lower class folks, have?

What we learn through the New Testament is what the disciples eventually understood; ETERNAL LIFE can’t be earned or bought because it is God’s grace. It really is humanly impossible, not just improbable or inconvenient.  Like putting a camel through a needle’s eye, we just can’t do it.  (This is why the whole camel thing must be a metaphor of impossibility or we dilute the radical nature of grace along with the shock value of Jesus’ statement.)

Jesus answered Peter’s plea with a promise and a principle.

  • Peter’s plea is heard in his answer to Jesus.  He’s saying, “What about us?”
  • Jesus’ promise assures Peter that those who sacrifice everything to put God first will not be disappointed with what God gives them, both in this life and especially in the next.
  • Jesus explains a principle in His last statement. Worldly thinking ends in a confusion that is a complete reversal of heavenly truth.  The worldly person has got it completely backwards. What’s first and most important in this world is least in heaven.  People whom this world despises most  – because of their faith – are going to be first to receive God’s love.

Taken together, the promise and the principle assure Peter – “Keep your eyes on God and trust Him to handle what’s fair.  He has His eyes on you and will not forget your faith and sacrifice.”

NEW and IMPROVED!

(Please read 2 Corinthians 5:16-6:2.  Quotations below are from the New International Version.)

        Tribal wisdom of the Lakota people, passed from generations immemorial, says that when you discover that you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount. Our modern bureaucrats, however, have a set of more advanced strategies such as:

  • Buy a stronger whip.
  • Find lighter riders.
  • Harness several dead horses together to improve performance.
  • Arrange an overseas visit to study dead horses.
  • Reclassify the horse as “living impaired.”
  • Rewrite the performance requirements for dead horses.
  • Provide additional funding to improve the performance of dead horses.
  • Promote the dead horse to a supervisory position.

        Any similarity between the above and what happens in government is intentional. It is intended to serve as a great example of why there’s no use trying to fix up the Old Creation. Let it stay dead. Trying to keep the old creation is the source of a lot of frustration and disappointment in our Christian life.

THESIS = A new life in Christ includes a new attitude toward God, others, and self.

CONTEXT = 2 Corinthians is the Apostle Paul’s defense of his ministry.  One set of his critics blasted him for not being Jewish enough.  Part of his response to them was to show that the Good News he preached offered a new and improved means of relationship with God.

You are new and improved (16+17).

        Verse 17is key to what we are discussing and central to our identity:  we are new creations! Our new standing with God is possible because of Jesus Christ; that’s why Paul wrote, IN CHRIST. 

        It is a way of describing our new relationship with God.  According to Romans 5, our old relationship with God needed improving.  Verse eight reads;

BUT GOD DEMONSTRATES HIS OWN LOVE FOR US IN THIS: WHILE WE WERE STILL SINNERS, CHRIST DIED FOR US.  Verse ten makes it worse;

FOR IF, WHEN WE WERE GOD’S ENEMIES, WE WERE RECONCILED TO HIM THROUGH THE DEATH OF HIS SON, HOW MUCH MORE, HAVING BEEN RECONCILED, SHALL WE BE SAVED THROUGH HIS LIFE. Paul elaborates; THE OLD IS GONE, THE NEW HAS COME!

        Thank God!  Being a NEW CREATION means we cease being sinners and enemies of God.  Another thing to note about this term is that the scope of our new life includes all aspects of our personhood. Jesus similarly taught Nicodemus: “NO ONE CAN SEE THE KINGDOM OF GOD UNLESS HE IS BORN AGAIN” (JHN 3:3). This is a “total makeover!” Accordingly, we must think and act in NEW CREATION modes.

        Now we backtrack to verse sixteen to find the application of verse seventeen (and verses eleven through fifteen): our new attitude toward one another (i.e., toward Christ).

        One aspect of being new creations is that we reject a WORLDLY POINT OF VIEW. FROM NOW ON we look at people from God’s point of view.  When we do we see…

  • Victims of the Enemy, not the enemy.
  • People in need.
  • Brothers & sisters; in fact or in potential.

Where worldly eyes see barriers, godly eyes see bridges God has built.

        Paul offers Jesus as an example.  He and others once viewed Jesus from a worldly point of view and saw only a Galilean troublemaker.  Later, with acute vision bestowed by faith, Paul saw Him truthfully, as the Great Reconciler.

 

God did this for you (18-21).

        The old creation did not come about by human will, nor has the NEW CREATION.  Instead, as verse eighteen asserts, ALL THIS IS FROM GOD.

That fact rules out our intellect, willpower, & imagination: we don’t make it up.

        God did it by reconciling US TO HIMSELF THROUGH CHRIST (18).  “Reconciling” means restoring our relationship with God which had been

broken by our sin.

        THROUGH CHRIST means that Jesus is the universal solution to the universal problem of sin.  But God doesn’t force His solution on anyone; only those who receive it willingly will be restored.

         Verses 19-21 reveal that God reconciled us in three steps.

    • 19 = GOD WAS RECONCILING THE WORLD TO HIMSELF IN CHRIST. God joined us & identified with us in the human life of Jesus Christ.  His blood paid our penalty.
    • 21 = GOD MADE HIM WHO HAD NO SIN TO BE SIN FOR US… Jesus suffered our guilt and shame. Because He was innocent He was the perfect sacrifice for sin.
  • Imputation is found in v. 19 NOT COUNTING MEN’S SINS AGAINST THEM. The solution is to impute (assign) righteous status to all who accept Him
  • Delegation .
    • 19 = AND HE HAS COMMITTED TO US THE MESSAGE OF RECONCILIATION. God has delegated to us the responsibility of making Him known to people we encounter.
    • 20 = WE ARE THEREFORE CHRIST’S AMBASSADORS… We represent our homeland & act w/t authority of our Leader.

 

Get busy and receive His grace today (1-2).

        Paul was concerned that the church live according to this message of reconciliation. He demonstrated his concern by using emphatic language: AS GOD’S FELLOW WORKERS WE URGE YOU.  His expression, FELLOW WORKERS, shows Paul’s identification with the church in Corinth and reminds us today that we are responsible with and for one another. Use of the first person pronoun (WE) connects God & Paul.  (See 1 Corinthians 3:9 where Paul describes himself as “God’s fellow-worker.”) So in a sense, Paul is also pulling rank, telling them to get in line!

        Chapter six, verse one presents some difficulty to the interpreter.  The call to RECEIVE GOD’S GRACE is not the hard part.  In fact, RECONCILIATION is the subject of the passage.

        The challenging bit is when he urges them not to receive GOD’S GRACE IN VAIN.  How is that possible? Apart from the egotistical use of the word, VAIN means fruitless, ineffective, unsuccessful, or frustrated. How could that happen?

Paul urged them to avoid a superficial commitment to Christ.  A sign of inauthentic discipleship: a lack of godly fruit. He quoted Scripture (Isaiah 49:8) to reinforce his point, emphasizing it is God’s will to act, decide, choose Him.

Borrowing TIME and DAY OF SALVATION from the Isaiah quote, Paul urged a timely, even immediate response = NOW IS THE TIME OF GOD’S FAVOR, NOW IS THE DAY OF SALVATION.

        If that alone doesn’t motivate you, consider a couple other things. One, the Second Coming of Jesus Christ is imminent.  Until He comes again, we’re in a season of grace, where reconciliation can happen.  After He appears, there’ll be no more opportunity.

        Second, our own death is also immanent.  As today could be our last, we must bear fruit. Thus, in addition to the command of God, we have two additional excellent reasons to act NOW, not wait.  Whether we’re talking about accepting Christ as Savior or obeying Him as Lord, now is the moment; the door of opportunity has been swung open.

 

        God made us new creations so that we will choose to be agents of change.  We are entrusted with a ministry of reconciliation, helping the world to turn back to God. 

        I came across a negative example of reconciliation in Today in the Word, July 5, 1993.

        “One New Year’s Eve at London’s Garrick Club, British dramatist Frederick Lonsdale was asked by Seymour Hicks to reconcile with a fellow member. The two had quarreled in the past and never restored their friendship. ‘You must,’ Hicks said to Lonsdale. ‘It is very unkind to be unfriendly at such a time. Go over now and wish him a happy New Year.’

        “So Lonsdale crossed the room and spoke to his enemy. ‘I wish you a happy New Year,’ he said, ‘but only one’.”

        That’s not going to get it done, will it?

        God gives us an entirely new life to live in Christ.  We are made new creations to serve as ambassadors from the Kingdom of God to this poor, sin-sick world.  We have a lot of work to be done in an uncertain but ever-shrinking amount of time.  Let’s get started!

Hugh Otter B. Fruitful

(Read Acts 2:42-47.)

        A woman in Alabama was to bake a cake for her Baptist Church ladies’ bake sale, but entirely forgot about it until she awoke on the morning of the sale.  Rifling through her cupboards, she found an old angel food cake mix and threw it together.  While it baked, she dressed for work.

        When she took the cake from the oven, the center had dropped flat and the cake was horribly disfigured.  There was no time nor resource to bake another.  Not wanting to lose face among the church ladies, she hurriedly looked around for something she could use to build up the center of the cake.

        She settled on a roll of toilet paper which she put in the droopy center of the cake and then covered the whole thing over with icing.  Standing back to admire her handiwork, she pronounced it “Beautiful!”

        Before leaving the house to drop the cake off at the church on the way to work, she woke her teenage daughter and told her to be at the bake sale precisely when it opened at 9 am, buy t cake & bring it home.

        You may be surprised to find that the drowsy daughter didn’t make it to the church exactly at 9 am.  When she did arrive, she found that her mother’s cake had already been sold!  She called her mother to deliver the horrifying news.  The woman spent the entire day and a sleepless night worrying about who had purchased the faux cake.

        The next day an elegant bridal shower was being held at the home of a fellow church member.  While she wasn’t particularly friendly toward the hostess – she considered her a snob – the woman felt obligated to go.

        She was horrified when her cake was presented as dessert!

        She was about to take the hostess aside and confess when one of the other guest exclaimed, “What a beautiful cake!”

        The snobbish hostess grinned with pride and said, “Thank you, I baked it myself!”

        The woman thought to herself, “God is good.”  She sat back and watched as her hostess grabbed the cake knife…

        We naturally think god is good when the other person gets their “just desserts,” but are less likely to think that way when it’s us.  Getting what we deserve is what Jesus called the “fruit” of our character.  Decisions made repeatedly become character and the outcome of all that reveals the character within each of us.

        What’s true on an individual level is also true on a church level.  What we look like on the outside does not determine what fruits we bear, it’s what really exists under the icing. We must choose Christ to bear Christian fruit.

(George Goldtrap, as quoted in The Joyful Noiseletter, Vol. 27, No. 4, July-August 2012.)

THESIS = The First Church enjoyed fruitful ministry because they were faithful followers.

Vs. 46-47 (NIV) = Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts.  They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.  And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

WHERE they met reveals a lot about the First Church.

        They met publicly in the TEMPLE.  Because the temple courtyards provided a large open space where their mega-church could gather.  The courtyards were accessible to Gentiles and frequented by Jews.

        Originally they saw themselves as practicing the Jewish faith completed by Jesus.  Therefore the temple was still God’s house; it was still sacred in their lives, their faith and practice.  They shared the pride godly Jews felt about the Temple and all it represented.

        It was a familiar place and a physical focus of their faith. When in Jerusalem, a godly Jew went to the Temple three times a day to pray.  Living elsewhere, a godly Jew faced the direction of the Temple to pray.

        The courtyards of the Temple were the customary place to meet for teaching.  Later, as the Church was dispersed from Jerusalem, they took this practice with them and met in the local synagogues.

        They also met privately in their HOMES.  They held services in courtyards  of private homes (see Philemon 2; Colossians 4:15; 1 Corinthians 16:19).  This was a practical solution and good stewardship.  Buildings require resources.  the practice kept the local churches smaller & more personal, like our “cell groups” today.  It was customary for Jewish feasts (i.e., the Passover) to be observed in homes.

        This “multi-site plan” is a comprehensive approach to ministry we can find useful and worth copying.  The temple gatherings were primarily evangelistic in nature, but also met worship and service goals.  The “living room” gatherings in private homes had a primary purpose of discipleship, but also met worship and fellowship goals.  Of course, the extraordinary stewardship exhibited in the First Church empowered both.

WHAT they did AS they met reveals more.

        The text informs us they BROKE BREAD and ATE TOGETHER.  BROKE BREAD refers to both a meal and the Lord’s Supper: the eucharisto.  This Love Feast was THE means of worship and service, & feeding the underclass.

        They were PRAISING GOD daily.  Every activity of the church should be a service of worship, celebrating God before all people.  If not for God we wouldn’t be here!

        They enjoyed THE FAVOR OF ALL PEOPLE.  I wonder what that feels like.  It might mean that people know where we’re located, at least!  This was a church full of joy: because they spread it about, they enjoyed wide favor.

HOW they did it sets an example for us to follow.

        They met EVERY DAY.  Any mention I make of daily worship falls on blank stares and deaf ears.  “Not realistic,” people inform me gravely.  Both clergy and lay people alike think the notion of daily worship is as quaint as togas.

        Let me provoke your thinking on this subject with two questions.  Is it possible that we are over-invested in our personal, private lives?  If we restore balance by investing more in God will it result in a better blessing?  If the answer to either of those questions is “Yes,” we’ve got to re-prioritize.

        They had GLAD and SINCERE HEARTS.  Every Christian ought to have a GLAD heart.  When done right, the Christian faith is fun.  Joy is an inevitable result of true discipleship.  If church is boring, uneventful, or unfulfilling, the fault is not with God.  In the original language, the word  SINCERE means “without stones to trip on.”  With nothing false in their character, they gave no excuse to trip others up.

WHY did God do this?  Simple: to build His Church.

        The phrase THE LORD ADDED TO THEIR NUMBER is a needed reminder that it is God who saves.  Our part is to create a space where God is made known.  If we are faithful, God will make us fruitful.

        This is also a way God shows His approval of a church.  If a church is worthy of His trust, He will place new believers in their care.

        It also reinforces the necessity of true faith being the qualification for membership. This phrase summarizes New Testament teaching that makes a distinction between those who are converts in appearance only & those who are a new creation.  Human eyes can’t always telling the difference, but God knows.

        I hope I’ve clearly placed an emphasis on the sovereignty of God.  That doctrine is no excuse of inactivity or even passivity, however.  God calls us to be more than consumers.  We are to be producers as well.  One part of discipleship is producing fruit.  The outcomes of a faithful life are two-fold:

  • See Matthew 28:19, where Jesus identifies disciple-making as our mission. That includes producing new converts and maturing existing ones.
  • See John 15, where Jesus teaches that LOVE is both a means and an end to discipleship. Real disciples love more often and more deeply. 

        OK, I admit to being guilty of making this word my soap box.  Don’t miss the word DAILY in the text. Does anyone really think it is a coincidence that they met daily and the Lord added to their number daily?  I’d suggest we are seeing a spiritual principle at work: “Whatever you sow, you shall reap.  If you sow sparingly, you shall reap sparingly.”  The greater sacrifice opens the door to greater blessing.  That’s biblical.

        Who was the Lord adding to the First Church?  THOSE WHO WERE BEING SAVED.  “Being saved” is a curious phrase.  What’s that imply?  A Greek word for “church” means “the called-out ones.”  Who is doing the calling?  God.  We don’t  call ourselves.  So again we are reminded that salvation is 99.9% an act of God.  It is not by any work that we are saved, but only by a faithful acceptance of the work of God.

        I believe that phrase is also meant to throw us back upon our dependence on the Holy Spirit.  It is God’s Spirit who empowers everything we do that is godly.  For a wonderful and unique description of this, see Judges 6:34, where it is written, THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD CLOTHED HIMSELF WITH GIDEON.  The Bible also says that the Spirit is within us, but I prefer this reading because it places the emphasis squarely on the Holy Spirit.

        While we may be assuming too much from a single portion of a sentence, I believe this oddly passive-voiced verb without a clear temporal reference is also meant to remind us that salvation is a life-long process.  BEING SAVED is like saying, “Under Construction.”  Kind of like the streets and highways of our land during the summer months…

        “A wealthy lawyer walked along a crowded sidewalk in London when he felt a hand slip into his pocket.  He whirled around and seized the thief by the wrist.  ‘Why did you try to rob me?’ James Henderson demanded sternly.

        “‘Because, sir,’ the would-be pickpocket said, ‘I am out of work and hungry.’

        “‘Come along with me,’ Henderson said.  He took the penniless man to a restaurant and ordered two meals.

        “When they had finished eating, the man told how he had been in prison and found it difficult to obtain a job because of his bad name.  ‘I have no name,’ he said.  There is nothing left to return but to return to the old life of crime.  What can a man do without a name?’

        “The man’s story and question greatly impressed the lawyer.  After some thought, he said, ‘For forty years I have borne the name of James Henderson unsullied.  You say you have no name?  I’ll give you my name.  Take your new name out into the world and keep it clean and honorable.’

        “‘Do you really mean it?’ cried the thief brokenly.

        “‘Of course I mean it,’ said the lawyer.  ‘And to prove it, I’ll recommend you, in the name of James Henderson, to a manufacturing firm with whom I have some influence.’

        “The lawyer found a job for the former thief and kept in touch with him for many months.  However, through travel and a change of residence, he lost contact with his namesake.

        “Fifteen years later he was told a visitor awaited him in the reception room of his office.  He was startled to read the name ‘James Henderson’ on the man’s business card.  Entering the reception room, he met a tall, strikingly handsome man dressed like a gentleman. 

        “As they shook hands, the visitor said, ‘Sir, I have called to tell you today I have been made partner in the firm to which you recommended me fifteen years ago.  All that you see me to be, I owe to your noble generosity; and above all, to the gift of your name.  The name of James Henderson is still unsullied.  God bless you, sir, and reward you!’

        “The thief was offered a new name and made a new start in life.  We, too, have been offered a new name – Christian.  And it is the plan of the One who has given us this new name that we make a new start in life.”

(Desmond Hills, Signs of the Times, June, 2004.)

The Courage to Love

(Please read Ruth 1:1-18.)

 The Vocabulary of a Mother

  • Dumbwaiter: One who asks if the children would care to order a dessert.
  • Feedback: The inevitable result when the baby doesn’t appreciate the strained carrots.
  • Full Name: What you call your child when you’re angry with him.
  • Grandparents: The people who think your children are wonderful even though they’re sure you’re not raising them right.
  • Independent: How we want our children to be for as long as they do everything we say.
  • Puddle: A small body of water that draws other small bodies wearing dry shoes into.
  • Show Off: A child who is more talented than yours.
  • Whodunit: None of the children who live in your house.
  • Bottle-feeding: An opportunity for Daddy to get up at 2 am.

Dermot’s Story

          Dermot McCann forgot his lines in a Sunday school play. Luckily his is mother was in the front row especially to prompt him.

          She gestured and formed the words silently with her lips, but it did not help. Dermot’s memory was completely blank. Finally, she leaned forward and whispered the cue, ‘I am the light of the world.’

Dermot beamed and with great feeling and a loud clear voice announced, ‘My mother is the light of the world.’

          The time is generally set during the period of the Judges, the history of which is set forth in the book preceding Ruth.  “Bethehem in Judah” is distinguished from “Bethlehem in Zebulun,” which lay further north.  The name means “house of bread,” referring to the fertility of the land.  This was the place where Isaac buried his wife Rebekah and where King David and Jesus Christ were born.

          As farming methods were more primitive, they were even more dependent on proper weather in its season.  Unseasonable weather and wars naturally caused famine to be a too-frequent disturbance in the ancient world.  They left Bethlehem in search of a better life and intended to live temporarily in Moab.

          Unfortunately tragedy struck the family, and over time, all the men of the family were lost.  Left without a male head under which to organize her family, Naomi (whose name meant “pleasant” or “lovely”), naturally decided to return to her home town.  She was in grief and in trouble; she set her face toward home.

 

The paradox of pain: we want to be left alone and we want to be comforted.

          This is human nature and the source of a lot of our relational and psychological problems. We want to be alone because of pride, shame, tend to our own wounds, or because we hope to avoid further pain. On the other hand, and often at the same time, we want to be comforted and loved.  We need sympathy and a human touch. Because they’re contradictory, these two states cause stress until they’re resolved.  Truth be told, we need both in balanced amounts – mixed to suit our individual tastes – to deal with grief.

          You may not appreciate this example, but I understand dogs exhibit a similar behavior when they bark and whine.  The whine means “come here,” and the bark means “stay away.”

          Naomi is an example of this paradox. Naomi’s pain can be seen in her grief over the loss of her husband and sons, as any wife & mother would be. She shared this grief with her daughters-in-law; though they were foreign-born, Naomi had come to love them. The loss of all the men left their household destitute; these three women had no rights of ownership or inheritance.  Socially and economically, they had nothing. All this left Naomi understandably upset.  In v. 20, she said that no one should call her “Naomi” any longer, but to call her “Mara,” which means “bitter.”

          Naomi’s reactions to her pain demonstrate this two-fold dysfunctional situation that needs to be resolved. Her actions say “Leave me alone.” In our passage, she attempts to send her daughters-in-law away.  (True, this is economically sensible, but it’s also an attempt to handle grief through solitude.) Later, when she returns to Bethlehem, Naomi keeps her kinfolk at arm’s length.

          On the other hand, her actions say “Comfort me.” Returning to Bethlehem is as much an emotional decision as it is an economic necessity.  There was food there (verse 8), but there were also Naomi’s family and friends. While she allows Orpah to leave, Naomi allows Ruth to stay with her.  It’s not hard to imagine that she was glad to have her daughter-in-law’s company.

          Ruth’s actions reveal that she is utterly, stubbornly devoted to Naomi. In demanding to go with Naomi, Ruth gave up her family, friends, homeland, religion, & any serious prospects of remarriage. It was a big sacrifice.

          When it says that Ruth CLUNG TO Naomi, it uses a word that described the ideal state of closeness between man and wife in marriage.  It is not just a physical state, but also an emotional one.

          The climax of the book is 1:17-18. It is one of most profound expressions of love in any language. Ruth swears a covenantal oath to Naomi, making a very serious commitment.

 

We must have courage to work past the pain to offer healing and help to others.

          Naomi was right.  In that moment, she had nothing to offer her daughters-in-law. In terms of her circumstances, she would probably have to rely on the charity of others for the rest of her life.  There may have been a home for widows, but likely she returned to live with family. Emotionally, Naomi was consumed by her own pain and had little support to offer Ruth.

          But she did help Ruth later by bringing her and Boaz together. Eventually, Naomi chose to be better instead of bitter and found a way for the two of them to survive; for Ruth to marry Boaz and create a new home in which they could live. She advised Ruth and contrived ways to bring the two together until Boaz finally took the hint and asked Ruth to marry him.

          To choose to be bitter over what we suffer is to choose to remain helpless and alone. Bitter people refuse to let go of their hurt, they refuse to cope in positive ways.  Whether they seek solace in a bottle or fall into illness, their self-administered poison takes its deadly toll. The result is that our isolation deepens because our unwillingness to cope in a positive way pushes others away from us.

          To choose to be better because of what we suffer starts us on the journey to healing. The very first step toward victory is being willing to receive comfort.  Self-defeating notions that keep God and others at a distance keep us from making progress.

          We must keep our need for comfort and our need for solitude at our own personal balance, recognizing both are necessary for healthy living. We must, by faith, open our eyes to what God is doing in our world and join Him in it.  As Naomi found, giving sacrificially to benefit others is one of the best forms of therapy we can get.

 

          This account of Naomi and Ruth records one of the most beautiful relationships in Scripture.  We can learn a great deal from the examples both women set – positively and negatively – of how we’re to find healing in having the courage to love.  The loyalty and faithfulness and mutual devotion these women show one another ought to inspire us to be grateful for our family members and eager to love them.

          Edward, a big-game hunter, goes on safari in Kenya with his wife, Frances and his mother-in-law, Agnes. One evening, while still deep in the jungle, Frances awakes to find her mother, Agnes, has disappeared. Rushing to Edward, she insists on them both trying to find her mother.

          Sighing heavily, Edward picks up his rifle and starts to search for Agnes. Soon, in a clearing not far from the camp, they come upon a frightening sight.

Agnes, the mother-in-law is backed up against a thick, impenetrable bush, and a large male lion is standing facing her. Frances cries out in panic, Edward, what are we going to do?’

          ‘Nothing,’ explains Edward calmly. ‘Absolutely nothing, my dearest. The lion got himself into this mess, let him get himself out of it.’

          Why make all this fuss over what seems to be a minor incident in Old Testament history?  Well, apart from what we have learned from the example set by Naomi and Ruth, there is an importance to this story based on what follows.  Ruth, the Moabitess, is used by God.  She is part of the ancestry of King David.  And, after many other generations, part of the ancestry of Joseph, the man who raised Jesus as his son (see Matthew 1:5).

          This makes the story of Naomi and Ruth pretty important as well as very instructive.

 

(Joke retrieved from http://www.guy-sports.com/humor/saints/mothers_day_jokes.htm on May 9, 2014.)