We are strugglers. Sometimes we struggle financially. Sometimes we struggle emotionally. Sometimes we struggle in relationships. We struggle to do what is right. We struggle to arrive at truth. We struggle against addictions. We struggle against sin. We struggle to share with others. We struggle to be a part of something that matters. We struggle to pay bills. We struggle when we experience loss. We struggle to do well at work. We struggle to please others. We are strugglers.
When we experience the hopelessness that comes along with struggle, I have to wonder why this life is often so difficult. Why is there hopelessness and how can I possibly deal with it well? Who is here to help me with my hopelessness? What can I do when I feel like cursing God instead of praising Him? How can I make it through?
Ruth 1 (HCSB)
During the time of the judges, there was a famine in the land. A man left Bethlehem in Judah with his wife and two sons to live in the land of Moab for a while. The man’s name was Elimelech, and his wife’s name was Naomi. The names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They entered the land of Moab and settled there. Naomi’s husband Elimelech died, and she was left with her two sons. Her sons took Moabite women as their wives: one was named Orpah and the second was named Ruth. After they lived in Moab about 10 years, both Mahlon and Chilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two children and without her husband.
She and her daughters-in-law prepared to leave the land of Moab, because she had heard in Moab that the Lord had paid attention to His people’s need by providing them food. She left the place where she had been living, accompanied by her two daughters-in-law, and traveled along the road leading back to the land of Judah.
She said to them, “Each of you go back to your mother’s home. May the Lord show faithful love to you as you have shown to the dead and to me. May the Lord enable each of you to find security in the house of your new husband.” She kissed them, and they wept loudly.
“No,” they said to her. “We will go with you to your people.”
But Naomi replied, “Return home, my daughters. Why do you want to go with me? Am I able to have any more sons who could become your husbands? Return home, my daughters. Go on, for I am too old to have another husband. Even if I thought there was still hope for me to have a husband tonight and to bear sons, would you be willing to wait for them to grow up? Would you restrain yourselves from remarrying? No, my daughters, my life is much too bitter for you to share, because the Lord’s hand has turned against me.” Again they wept loudly, and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her. Naomi said, “Look, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her god. Follow your sister-in-law.”
But Ruth replied:
Do not persuade me to leave you
or go back and not follow you.
For wherever you go, I will go,
and wherever you live, I will live;
your people will be my people,
and your God will be my God.
Where you die, I will die,
and there I will be buried.
May Yahweh punish me,
and do so severely,
if anything but death separates you and me.
When Naomi saw that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped trying to persuade her.
The two of them traveled until they came to Bethlehem. When they entered Bethlehem, the whole town was excited about their arrival and the local women exclaimed, “Can this be Naomi?”
“Don’t call me Naomi. Call me Mara,” she answered, “for the Almighty has made me very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why do you call me Naomi, since the Lord has pronounced judgment on me, and the Almighty has afflicted me?”
So Naomi came back from the land of Moab with her daughter-in-law Ruth the Moabitess. They arrived in Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest.
I remember when I was in high school. I dated a girl for three years. I was committed to her and I wanted to ask her to marry me. The time came when I graduated and moved to further my education. While I stayed entirely committed to her, I found out that she was not so faithful. Over the three years I spent with this girl, I became addicted to her. She was my drug. I invested so much in the relationship that I had with her. When things ended, I didn’t know how to breathe.
This is a picture of hopelessness; the same type of hopelessness that Naomi and Ruth felt as all the men in the family died and they were left alone to return to Naomi’s homeland. This is the same type of hopelessness that we all experience in this life. No matter what our addictions in this world are (drugs, alcohol, relationships, entertainment, religion, power, money, etc…), there will come a time when whatever it is we are addicted to is gone. There will also be a time when we are separated from those we love or are hurt by those we love. When I gave my life to Christ at fifteen years of age, I realized that anything in this world I choose to place my identity in will ultimately perish and I will be left alone. There is nothing on this earth that I can invest in that will not someday fade. My possessions will be gone. People that I know will pass away. One day someone younger, with more passion and energy, and who loves God will take my place as a preacher. One day we will all reach the point where we are no longer fit or qualified to serve in whatever position we serve in at work, church or at home. One day we will not be able to take care of ourselves or provide for ourselves. There will be a day when the education that we worked so hard to achieve no longer benefits us. All of our money will one day be spent or given to someone else. Our voice will one day fade and we will no longer have the influence that we have today. One day all of the books that I have written will return to dust, as will my body.
Everything in this world will fade. Whether we realize it at this moment or not, there is a hopelessness that comes along with life. In this world we will experience hopelessness and we will experience it often. Scripture does not hide this from us. Naomi lost her husband. Then her sons died and her daughters-in-law also lost their husbands. Ever since Adam and Eve rebelled against God in the Garden, people have experienced great hopelessness.
Here is one thing that we can take absolute comfort in: We are not alone in our hopelessness. Naomi was not alone because Ruth so graciously chose to suffer with her. Naomi was to the point where the only thing she felt like she could do was curse God, yet Ruth stayed with her. The local church body is filled with people who have experienced hopelessness, and not one person is exempt. I have experienced it. The people we pass at work or at school have experienced it. The people we sit next to at church have experienced it. The other members of our small groups or Sunday Schools have experienced it.
Importance of family in Christ
There are two things that we were not designed to do. The first was live life on our own. In Genesis 1 and 2 we read that God created male and female together and we read that it is not good for man to be alone. God created us for partnerships and He created us for community. The second is deal with hopelessness. God created the world in perfection. It is not until Genesis 3 that we read of humankind’s rebellion against God and the hopelessness that came as a result.
If we try to deal with the hopelessness that we experience on this earth by ourselves, we only compound that hopelessness because we were not designed to deal with hopelessness and we were not designed to live life on our own.
While hopelessness will come because there is sinfulness in the world and we have rebelled against God, we do not have to deal with it alone. God created us for community and has given us a community of believers that should help us to deal with hopelessness when we experience it in life. In our text for today, Ruth chose to stay with Naomi through the difficulty, even when Naomi cursed God.
Here is what I learn as we think about this text together: The faithfulness of God’s people to one another is perhaps just as important as the faithfulness of God’s people to God. In fact, it seems that we cannot be faithful to God if we refuse to be faithful to one another as members of God’s forever family. When one of us suffers, we all ought to suffer with the one. When one of us is in need, we all ought to offer to help however we can.
This is what being a family in Christ means: We are absolutely committed to one-another. No matter what struggles this body of believers endures in the future, I am in this for the long haul. When my brother or sister falls into sin, I am helping however I can for their benefit. I am willing to suffer with you and you with me. This cannot be accomplished in a worship service. Being a member of a local church is not about the style of worship or preaching. It cannot be done in a program or a ministry or a class. This is done only as we live with one another in order to serve one another genuinely. The style of music or preaching, whether we stand or sit, whether we sing hymns or not, the time of the service we choose to pass the offering plate are all unimportant compared to us actually being a church family: suffering with one another, giving to one another anytime there is need, encouraging one another, holding one another accountable, and being so faithful to one-another that nothing any one of us does could ever separate us from the love of the others. I am sick and I am tired of seeing so many churches focus only on the worship experience and fail to actually be the church. It distracts from the Gospel and it causes the people of God to be so shallow and so trivial. Let us never get to the point where we are ‘playing church’ like this. We are a family. Let us act like a family. Let us treat new members and visitors from the start like family. Let us genuinely care for one another. Let us have one-another’s backs. Let us consider the opinions of one-another rather than just pushing for what we want.
As we encounter believers who are in need and are not part of a local church family, we do everything we can to provide their needs in wisdom and invite them to be a part of our family. As we give money to the church offering plate, we realize that all of this money is, or should be used for the benefit of our church family as a whole and the work of the Gospel.
We all struggle financially enough to come up with an excuse not to give. We all struggle emotionally. We all struggle with some relationships. We all struggle to make a difference. We all struggle against some addiction. We all struggle with loss of a loved one or a job. We all struggle with our health sometimes. The challenge is this: Let us all struggle voluntarily with one-another because we are family. This is both a challenge and a comfort to those who are a part of this great family.