There was a local church that was having a very special, special event. It was advertised well and the church spent money to create what they thought was a good event that people would enjoy and that would keep people coming back. Before the event two people, who will be named Ben and Jerry for the purpose of our conversation, discussed the very special, special church event when they met. The conversation sounded a little like this:
- Ben, “Hey, Jerry. Are you going to this very special, special event later?”
- Jerry, “No, it’s pointless.”
- Ben, “What?”
- Jerry, “Last time I went they didn’t even pray. All they did was play games, eat and leave.”
- Ben, “Yeah, I guess you’re right. I don’t think I’ll go either.”
Sadly, this is the way many ministries in many local churches look. It is no wonder that, on a mass scale, churches are failing to reach people with the Gospel and failing to meet real needs. Many of the ministries in today’s churches are pointless and people notice. People are not fooled by cool games, food and entertainment and, frankly, people in our communities are hungry for something deeper when it comes to being a part of a church family. They don’t like for lures to be dangled in front of them only to show up and experience a meaningless get-together that is based more on tradition or entertainment than it is on Christ and they are not fooled by it. Here is my question: Are we being the church or are we only trying to dangle a lure in front of unsuspecting victims just to try and fill our auditorium or our classrooms? Are we benefitting those who come or are we selfishly looking out for our own reputation and church size? Are we a genuine family or are we some sort of religious organization that only hopes to grow in size without doing much good at all?
Today we are coming back to the story of Ruth and Naomi. If we remember, they previously lived in another land. Ruth is Naomi’s daughter-in-law. Naomi lost her husband and her son, Ruth’s husband. Through this difficulty, Ruth decided to stay with her mother-in-law even though there was no promise that things would ever get better. The two travelled to Naomi’s homeland, Bethlehem, together.
Ruth 2 (HCSB)
Now Naomi had a relative on her husband’s side named Boaz. He was a prominent man of noble character from Elimelech’s family.
Ruth the Moabitess asked Naomi, “Will you let me go into the fields and gather fallen grain behind someone who allows me to?”
Naomi answered her, “Go ahead, my daughter.” So Ruth left and entered the field to gather grain behind the harvesters. She happened to be in the portion of land belonging to Boaz, who was from Elimelech’s family.
Later, when Boaz arrived from Bethlehem, he said to the harvesters, “The Lord be with you.”
“The Lord bless you,” they replied.
Boaz asked his servant who was in charge of the harvesters, “Whose young woman is this?”
The servant answered, “She is the young Moabite woman who returned with Naomi from the land of Moab. She asked, ‘Will you let me gather fallen grain among the bundles behind the harvesters?’ She came and has remained from early morning until now, except that she rested a little in the shelter.”
Then Boaz said to Ruth, “Listen, my daughter. Don’t go and gather grain in another field, and don’t leave this one, but stay here close to my female servants. See which field they are harvesting, and follow them. Haven’t I ordered the young men not to touch you? When you are thirsty, go and drink from the jars the young men have filled.”
She bowed with her face to the ground and said to him, “Why are you so kind to notice me, although I am a foreigner?”
Boaz answered her, “Everything you have done for your mother-in-law since your husband’s death has been fully reported to me: how you left your father and mother and the land of your birth, and how you came to a people you didn’t previously know. May the Lord reward you for what you have done, and may you receive a full reward from the Lord God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge.”
“My lord,” she said, “you have been so kind to me, for you have comforted and encouraged your slave, although I am not like one of your female servants.”
At mealtime Boaz told her, “Come over here and have some bread and dip it in the vinegar sauce.” So she sat beside the harvesters, and he offered her roasted grain. She ate and was satisfied and had some left over.
When she got up to gather grain, Boaz ordered his young men, “Let her even gather grain among the bundles, and don’t humiliate her. Pull out some stalks from the bundles for her and leave them for her to gather. Don’t rebuke her.” So Ruth gathered grain in the field until evening. She beat out what she had gathered, and it was about 26 quarts of barley. She picked up the grain and went into the town, where her mother-in-law saw what she had gleaned. Then she brought out what she had left over from her meal and gave it to her.
Then her mother-in-law said to her, “Where did you gather barley today, and where did you work? May the Lord bless the man who noticed you.”
Ruth told her mother-in-law about the men she had worked with and said, “The name of the man I worked with today is Boaz.”
Then Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, “May he be blessed by the Lord, who has not forsaken his kindness to the living or the dead.” Naomi continued, “The man is a close relative. He is one of our family redeemers.”
Ruth the Moabitess said, “He also told me, ‘Stay with my young men until they have finished all of my harvest.’”
So Naomi said to her daughter-in-law Ruth, “My daughter, it is good for you to work with his female servants, so that nothing will happen to you in another field.” Ruth stayed close to Boaz’s female servants and gathered grain until the barley and the wheat harvests were finished. And she lived with her mother-in-law.
What we learn from Ruth
We arrive at this point in the story when Ruth asks to go and harvest in the fields of a family member, a practice that was common at the time. See, people were able to own land according to the law, but they were to also give what they had to anyone who was poor and in need. We can read that in Deuteronomy 15:7-11. God felt so strongly about his people taking care of the poor among them that He declared guilt on those who were stingy and would not provide for those in need and promised to bless the work of those who did provide for those in need.
This means something significant as we continue to think about church family and it will be represented almost perfectly in Boaz as we think together about the text above. First, while it is good for us to provide for the poor in the world, it is necessary for us to provide for those in need who are our brothers and sisters in Christ. If we do not provide for our brothers and sisters, we are guilty in God’s eyes and we fail to be His church. If we resolve to provide together for our brothers and sisters who are in need, God promises blessing in all of the work that we do.
This means that as a church we need to be able to make this commitment since there are so many who have great need in this community: If you are a genuine part of our local church family, we will always make sure you have what you need because we are a community of sharers and not takers. Every local church needs to be committed to this stance today. We are not takers, and we do not put ourselves first. This is how the Gospel of our Lord, Jesus Christ, will permeate our city and our nation through us. We must be sharers and must be committed to filling the legitimate needs of our local church family members.
This stands in direct opposition to the way many churches today operate. Many will say, “We have fun, entertainment for the whole family,” “You will love our worship experience,” “Our preacher is so funny and so talented, and you will always walk away being filled.” So many churches try to draw people in with cool events, relevant ministries, food, and even the personalities of their leadership. These things are not bad, but they are not the objective of the local church. We resolve to meet real needs that members of our church family have. Everything else, no matter how exciting, is secondary and we cease to be a decent church when we put those things first. We must constantly provide for one another even if it is a burden to us. Let that be our promise to people in the community who need to be a part of a local church family.
This is what Ruth is doing for herself and Naomi. They are in need and they are struggling, so Ruth asks Naomi if she could go to someone else’s field and harvest. She takes the lowly position of walking behind those reaping the field in order to harvest the leftovers for herself and Naomi. If we have to put ourselves in a lowly position in order to provide for one another, let us not be afraid or ashamed to do that. We can give up some of life’s pleasantries and give up keeping up with the Kardashians or the Jones’ (whatever that means), in order to meet one another’s legitimate needs. It is more desirable not to live in excess.
What we learn from Boaz
Boaz notices this pretty young lady, and we should not forget that the book of Ruth is ultimately a love story and a story of redemption. After he notices Ruth, he begins asking around to see if anyone knows about her. It is almost like when, as a young man, we noticed the pretty young ladies and we would talk about them and try to get information about them from our friends and theirs. This was especially true when there was a new girl in high school or even at work. I remember one of my first jobs as a dishwasher/waiter in a small family restaurant. One day a new girl started on the wait staff and she was pretty. One of the guys that worked in the kitchen kept asking about her. He would not talk to her, but he did talk about her and try to get her attention. This is sort of what Boaz does at this point in the story. He tried to get all the information he could before talking to Ruth.
After this, Boaz took the time to bring Ruth up from the lowly position she placed herself in. He gave her more than she would be able to glean lawfully and He did more than what was required by law for Ruth. Boaz was generous above and beyond what was required. So, while it is required of us to provide for one another’s genuine needs, it is Christ-like of us to be even more generous toward one another when we can be.
When a guest comes in, we resolve to notice him or her and to make him or her feel absolutely welcome, just as Boaz did with Ruth. We are required to practice hospitality, but we have the freedom to represent Christ well by going above and beyond mere hospitality. Don’t just welcome guests, but also sit with them. Get to know them. Take them out to lunch after service. What we learn from Boaz’s example is that we are not limited to provide only strict needs, but we have the freedom to be more generous with one another!
What we learn from Naomi
Naomi has some life experience behind her. She sees what is going on and she knows that Boaz is a close family member qualified to redeem Ruth. Redemption essentially meant that he could take her as his wife and provide the necessities and happiness to her and give her a place in the community. Naomi begins scheming, like mothers often do to encourage a good relationship, and advises Ruth to stay close to Boaz’s maids so that no one else “falls upon her.”
Naomi will encourage this budding love more as we move through the story, but here I want to notice something important. Naomi was seeking what was best for Ruth because Boaz was a good man and a good provider and an eligible bachelor and family redeemer. Not only should we provide one another’s needs, and be even more generous to one another, but also seek to do what is best for one another in the long run.
This means we don’t simply provide one another’s needs. We do what we can to help one another provide for ourselves so that everyone can become a contributor. If someone needs a job, we can help our church family members find work. If someone needs training, we can provide that training or get that person somewhere where they can have that training. We can teach each other how to spend money wisely and how to plant our own gardens and how to catch our own fish. These are skills that some of us have and that we can poor into younger generations. There are so many opportunities when we begin thinking about the things that we can teach others and the things that we can learn about living well on this earth and becoming a contributor to the community and the church. These are things that, many times, cannot be self-taught. I learned how to spend money wisely by watching my mom balance her checkbook. I learned how to cook because I had to growing up. I learned how to use the internet well because I grew up in a time when the internet became the method of communication and the marketplace of ideas. I learned how to lead worship because I had others to mentor me. I do not know how to keep a garden. I am not a good salesman. We can all teach something and we can all learn something in order to better prepare others and ourselves to live well on this earth. We don’t simply provide, we also prepare. This is the purpose of offering any specialized ministry.
- Youth ministries ought to prepare middle and high schoolers to live well in the world by teaching God’s word and by being honest about the condition of the world and the skills needed to make it.
- Children’s ministries ought to prepare children with the same goal in mind but designed specifically for a different maturity level and age group.
- Senior adult ministries ought to prepare senior adults to engage younger generations well by teaching new trends in the world and by helping senior adults to continue to live well in a world that is always in flux.
- Women’s and Men’s ministries ought to bring up specific issues relating to each gender in today’s world and help people to think about how to engage the world in light of those issues, which are always changing.
- Any specialized ministry can be developed, but if it does not meet these needs, it is pointless. Ministry leaders and Sunday School/Small Group teachers should keep these things in mind, as should I.
So, we resolve always to take care of the members of our church family. We commit to generosity, and we strive to prepare one another to live well on this earth for the sake of the Gospel. We do not concern ourselves with earthly prosperity, but with meeting real needs that are present and will be present amidst our church family.