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Author:Rev. Stephen 't Hart
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Baldivis
 Baldivis, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/baldivis/
 
Title:The LORD blesses the virtuous character of His covenant children
Text:Ruth 3:11 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Marriage
 
Preached:2012-09-02
Added:2012-09-02
Updated:2012-09-02
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Liturgy from 1984 Book of Praise.
Bible translation used:  NKJV

Psalm 105:1,2

Psalm 119:4,5

Psalm 107:1,3,4,12

Psalm 119:13

Psalm 84:6

 

Read:  Ruth 3; Proverbs 31:10-31; Titus 2.

Text:  Ruth 3:11

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Dear congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

In your Bibles, the book of Ruth is found between the books of Judges and First Samuel.  It has been there, between Judges and Samuel, for a long time, ever since the Old Testament was translated from Hebrew into the Greek language about 200 years before the birth of Christ.

It is appropriate that you can find the book of Ruth there, since the story of Ruth is set in those days.  In the days of the Judges there was no king in Israel, and every man did what was right in his own eyes.  And in those godless days, there being a famine in the land, Elimelech and Naomi took their two sons, they left Bethlehem and settled in Moab.  But things did not turn out the way they had hoped, and Elimelech and his two sons died.  Nevertheless, in His mercy, the LORD did not abandon His people, but worked through the sin of Elimelech and Naomi, to bring Ruth the Moabitess into the covenant community of Israel.  And it would be through Ruth that the LORD would bless not just the house of Elimelech but all His people, in giving them a king after His own heart. 

So it is appropriate that the book of Ruth is to be found between the books of Judges and First Samuel.  However, the Old Testament was originally written in the Hebrew language, and in the Hebrew Bible, the book of Ruth is found somewhere else:  after the book of Proverbs!  The Hebrew Bible was divided into three sections:  the Law, the Prophets and the Writings.  And while the books of Judges and Samuel were counted as a part of the Prophets, the book of Ruth was found in the section called “the Writings”.  And so still today, the Hebrew Bible places the book of Ruth not after Judges, but immediately after the book of Proverbs.  And that is also an appropriate place for us to find the book of Ruth, for you can learn much from the book of Ruth when you read it with Proverbs in mind.  The book of Proverbs teaches us the way of wisdom and concludes with a description about a virtuous wife who walks in that way of wisdom.  And in the book of Ruth we can see a practical demonstration of what it is like when God’s children follow the path of wisdom and virtue.  In Proverbs 31:10 the question was asked, “Who can find a virtuous wife?”  and in Ruth 3:11, Boaz had found such a woman in Ruth.  When Ruth had asked Boaz to marry her as a kinsman redeemer, he said to her,

“I will do for you all that you request, for all the people of my town know that you are a virtuous woman.”

But what was it that made Ruth a virtuous woman?  What can we learn when we read the book of Ruth in the light of the book of Proverbs?  And what is it that can make you a woman, or a man, of virtue?  And what can we learn when we consider this not just in the light of the Old Testament, but also in the light of the New?  How does the gospel, and being joined to Christ in the covenant of God mould and shape you to be a man or a woman of virtue?

I preach to you the Word of the LORD under the following theme:

The LORD blesses the virtuous character of His covenant children.

1.    Virtue displayed.

2.    Virtue repaid.

1. Virtue displayed.

One of my roles as minister is to conduct weddings for those members of our churches who seek to be married in the Lord.  Before the actual wedding takes place, I like to meet with the couple to be married and we talk about what a Christian marriage is all about.  And one of the first questions I will often ask the young man is, “Why did you ask this young lady to marry you?”  And I’ll ask the young lady, “Why did you say yes?”  Now these questions are not simply to pass the time of the day, nor do I ask them because I want to be nosy:  the reason why you choose to marry someone is of great importance and you really should know why you choose to marry a person before you actually do so.

Now the question “Why did you ask this young lady to marry you?” might sound like an easy one to answer, but to put your feelings into words is not always so simple.  And part of the reason for that is that we are not accustomed to do so.  Love is a feeling, an attraction, we are told.  Love is something you fall into – it just happens!  If it feels right and you enjoy the other person’s company, you go from liking someone to loving him or her.  And then the desire to marry grows and so the conversations begin to change until the day arrives when, preferably in some romantic sort of a way, the man gets down on his knee and asks his lady for her hand in marriage.  But the question still needs to be asked:  Why do you want to marry this person?  What makes this young woman a suitable marriage partner for you?  What makes this young man the one whom you wish to marry?  In fact, why should you get married at all?

Well someone might respond by saying, “Because we are both Christians and we love each other and so we want to get married.”  That is a good answer – to a point.  But if you were in my office wanting to get married, I would not let you off the hook so easily but would want to press things further than that.  Because the reason why you want to get married and your choice of who to get married to has a lot to do with what you think marriage is all about.  And this in turn will influence what sort of a husband, what sort of a wife, you wish to be.

Young men and women, when it comes to love and marriage, you are receiving many mixed signals.  You live in a very sensual and sexualised society where physical attraction, outward beauty and charm, receives almost all the attention.   Further, the culture you live in encourages you to be very selfish, to think almost exclusively of your own pleasure and satisfaction.  When it comes to love you are encouraged to follow your heart, to do whatever it is that makes you feel good, what makes you happy.  And if marriage fits in with all of this, then it is promoted as another potential rung on the step ladder for you to achieve a happy and fulfilled life.  But such a view on love and marriage is not what God, the One who instituted marriage in the first place, teaches us.  If you listen to all that the world has to say about love and marriage, the danger is that should you want to get married, you will be doing so for all the wrong reasons.  But in His Word the LORD teaches us to look less at outward charm and beauty and instead to focus on the godly virtues of the one you wish to marry and to understand what it means to marry in the Lord and to His glory.

We can also see this in the book of Ruth.  Sometimes the book of Ruth is presented as some sort of modern-day romance where in chapter 3 Ruth turns on her feminine charm and comes to Boaz at the threshing floor under the cover of darkness, seductively tempting him to take her, a poor Moabite girl, to be his wife.  Sometimes Ruth is presented as a woman who is less than honourable, who was prepared to do whatever it took to get her man.  But that is not what the Bible says!  Indeed it is true that the events of Ruth chapter 3 are surprising to our modern day ears, and quite out of the ordinary even for those days.  It was a risky thing for Ruth the Moabitess to go to the threshing floor at night.  It was a bold move for her to uncover Boaz’s feet and then lie down, waiting for him to wake up.  It was most unusual for her, a poor young foreign lady to ask Boaz, a rich and well established man of Bethlehem to take her under his wing.  But that does not take away from the fact that her intentions were pure and honourable!  And that is why Boaz, himself an honourable and godly man, a man of virtue, was so pleased with Ruth’s request.  And so when she asked him to taker her under his wing as a close relative, a kinsman redeemer, he said in verse 10,11

“Blessed are you of the LORD, my daughter!  For you have shown more kindness at the end than at the beginning, in that you did not go after young men, whether poor or rich.  And now, my daughter, do not fear.  I will do for you all that you request, for all the people of my town know that you are a virtuous woman.”

Boaz was delighted with Ruth’s request for in her request he saw the pure and godly motive that was behind it.  Boaz did not have to ask Ruth why she wanted him to marry her, because she told him – “for you are a close relative.”  Was there love, was there a mutual attraction between Boaz and Ruth?  Did Ruth want to marry Boaz – also for herself?  And was Boaz attracted to Ruth’s physical beauty?  In all likelihood the answer is Yes: both Ruth and Boaz appear to have been more than willing to be married, and Boaz noted that Ruth had the makings of being quite a popular girl, one who could have gone after any of the young men, whether rich or poor.  But their reason for marriage was not based in the first place on physical attraction: their reason for marriage was because Ruth saw Boaz to be a virtuous man and Boaz saw Ruth to be a virtuous woman. 

Boaz understood why Ruth had sought him out – and he was pleased!  It was not his money that she was after, nor his looks (he wasn’t kidding himself about that!).  But she came to him because he, a relative of Elimelech, was able to perform the duty of a close relative.  In Ruth chapter 1 Naomi had told Ruth to go back to her mother’s house and look for a husband among her own people.  Ruth, however, had refused to do so, but bound herself to Naomi, to the people of Naomi and the God of Naomi.  And Ruth had done so to the point that all the people of Bethlehem spoke highly of her, seeing that she was a virtuous woman.  And now to add to this, Ruth came to Boaz asking that they be married not just for her sake but for the sake of Naomi and the house of Elimelech, so that the house of Elimelech might once more have a rightful place among the people of God.  And that is why he said to her that Ruth had shown more kindness at the end than at the beginning.  It was out of kindness that Ruth sought out Boaz on the threshing floor that night.  But not just any kindness, it was the kindness that came from belonging to God.  In Ruth 2:20 Naomi had said “Blessed be the LORD who has not forsaken His kindness to the living and the dead”, and now Boaz sees that same kindness, that covenant loyalty and steadfast love, that hesed in Ruth!  It was from a heart of faith, out of a love for God and a love for Naomi and the house of Elimelech that Ruth had come to Boaz. 

And that is what impressed Boaz, for in Ruth he saw a woman of virtue.  Proverbs 31 had not yet been written, but if it had, Boaz would have seen Ruth as being such a virtuous wife, one whose worth was far above rubies.  She would be a woman whom he would be pleased to marry, and she would be a woman with whom  he would be delighted to raise his children.  For Ruth was godly, a woman of virtue.  Proverbs 31:30 says,

“Charm is deceitful and beauty is passing, but a woman who fears the LORD, she shall be praised.”

And it was this that made Ruth a virtuous woman.  Yes, she worked hard – from morning to night.  Yes, she was the model daughter in law.  Yes, she was selfless in her kindness and love towards Naomi and the house of Elimelech.  But all of this came out of a heart that had turned to the LORD.  It was the character of godliness, that covenant loyalty, that steadfast love for God and His people that Boaz saw in Ruth and that prompted him to call her a virtuous woman.

And it is this godly virtue that should be seen in each one of us, and the godly virtue that you, young men, should look for in the woman you wish to marry and you, young women, should observe in the one who asks for your hand.  We read together from Titus 2, and in this chapter the young women are called to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, home makers, good and obedient to their own husbands and the young men are called to be sober-minded, men of integrity, reverence and incorruptibility.  And the older men and women also were to be equally godly in all that they said and did.  But the reason for this is to be found in verse 11-14 of Titus 2, where it says,

“For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.”

What this all means is that it is because you are joined in a covenant relationship to God in and through Jesus Christ that you are called to be men and women of virtue.  And then living out of His grace He calls you to live not for yourselves but in Him and through Him and for Him.  Ruth’s attraction to Boaz was not because of his money or his looks – and certainly not his age! –  but because she had first declared herself bound to God and to His people.  And Boaz would be the one who would not push her away but draw her closer in to God and His people.

2. Virtue repaid.

So, young men, what should you look for in a prospective marriage partner?  And you, young women, what should you be convinced of before you say Yes to the man who proposes to you?  And brothers and sisters, you who are married, what does it mean to be married in the LORD?  And for all of you, what does it mean to be a man or a woman of virtue?

The book of Proverbs says much about the way of wisdom and virtue, and much about the type of marriage partner who assists you in the way of wisdom and of virtue.  And Proverbs 31 in particular describes the qualities of a virtuous wife.  But if you read Proverbs 31 as no more than list of all the things a good Israelite wife was to do, not only will you, sisters, feel terribly inadequate, but you will not understand the full meaning of this chapter.  The way to understand Proverbs 31 is to realise that what you do needs to come out of who you are!  The virtuous wife is the one who fears the LORD, and who then lives out of her relationship to Him!  And the virtuous husband is the one who not only fears the LORD himself, but who also encourages his wife and leads her in the ways of the Lord. 

And that was the case with Ruth and Boaz.  In the book of Ruth, Ruth is presented as a woman who seeks to be joined to the LORD and His people above all else.  Boaz had seen this already in chapter 2, and so he had said to Ruth in chapter 2:12,

“The LORD repay your work, and a full reward be given you by the LORD God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge.”

No, Boaz is not saying that Ruth’s virtue demands repayment as if the LORD owed this to her, but it was his prayerful wish that Ruth would be blessed for her godliness and her covenant commitment.  And now Ruth has come to Boaz at the threshing floor.  She had come seeking that reward, seeking the blessing of living in the covenant of God.  It was in obedience to God and His law that Ruth had come to the threshing floor that night.  In coming to Boaz that night, she was faithful to Naomi, to her dead husband Mahlon and to the family of Elimelech.  She was faithful to God and His covenant by not going after younger men for personal gain but by coming to Boaz.  It was her desire to belong to God and His people, living in the blessings of the covenant that motivated her to do what she did.  And that is what Boaz saw, and that is why he called her a virtuous woman. And that is why he was eager to do what she requested.

But Boaz too was a virtuous man.  He would not take on the threshing floor that which did not yet belong to him.  He agrees to be the kinsman redeemer, but only if the closer relative refused to do so. 

And so Ruth receives the blessing of living a virtuous life in the fear the LORD and under the shelter of His wings in His covenant of love. 

But it was still unusual for a virtuous woman to approach a virtuous man at a threshing floor in this manner.  And if the not-so virtuous people of Bethlehem heard it whispered to them, they might have had other ideas.  And so in order to protect her honour and reputation, Boaz sent Ruth away just before dawn, while it was still dark, saying,

“Do not let it be known that the woman came to the threshing floor.”

But he did not send her away empty handed:  he poured six measures of barley into her shawl, laid the heavy weight on her, and then she went into her city.  And when Naomi saw it and heard all that Ruth told her, she was glad.

“Sit still, my daughter, relax.  We can not be sure yet how it will all turn out – if you will marry Boaz or that relative closer will ask for your hand in marriage.  But we know this:  the man will not rest until he has concluded the matter this day.”

And so Ruth’s virtue was repaid.  The LORD heard the prayerful wish of Boaz in chapter 2, and Boaz’s exclamation of “Blessed are you of the LORD!” in chapter 3.  How the matter would turn out was not yet fully determined, but the blessing of the LORD had come upon Ruth and the household of Elimelech.

And so it is true: the LORD blesses the virtuous character of His covenant children.  However while the LORD does bless, He does not guarantee that the way of virtue is easy, nor that it is without sacrifice.  To the contrary, Jesus calls you to deny yourself, to take up your cross and follow Him.

On the 26th of May of this year a young woman wrote an article called “Today was supposed to be my wedding day.”[1]  This is how the article begins:

“It was supposed to be a momentous occasion---the day I would walk down the aisle in my mother's lace wedding gown, peonies in hand, best friend at my side, family and friends looking on with joy. It was supposed to be the day I started a new chapter, the day my dreams would be fulfilled. Little did I know, God had other plans.

“We met in the winter of 2010---me and God, that is. He always had his eye on me, but I barely even knew who he was. Once I began spending time with him, our relationship blossomed into something special. He cared for me and loved me like no other. He filled a huge void in my heart.

That's how I came to know God. It's also how I came to know the man I thought I would marry.”

The woman who wrote this article was in a relationship and engaged to be married but the man she had hoped to marry did not share her faith in God.  Then as she grew in her faith and learned what the Lord required not just of her but also of a godly marriage.  She wrote,

“…I had come to love Jesus and make my decisions based on him; my fiancé had not. That discrepancy became poison in our relationship---barely noticeable at first but eventually corrupting nearly every aspect of our lives. As I grew closer to God, I grew further from wanting to marry someone who did not have a relationship with him.”

And to quote further,

“I came to understand that God intends for marriage to mimic Jesus' selfless love for his people. I was awestruck. My husband is supposed to lead me closer to God? I immediately broke down crying. I kept digging, trying to understand how I got so far off base. "He's a good man," I argued. "Yes, but is he a Christian? Does he know Jesus?" people asked me in response. "But if I leave him, won't I be going against what God says, by not loving the unbeliever?" Surprisingly, no. I was not yet married. I had not made a covenant with him before God. I was not bound to him. As much as it would hurt to say goodbye, I knew this was not the relationship God intended for me. He promises much more, and I wasn't going to find it in a marriage with an unbeliever.”

And so the relationship ended and the wedding planned for May 26 never eventuated.  To be a woman or a man of virtue, one who fears the Lord, means to deny yourself and to seek His will above your own.  Sometimes that comes at great cost.  Sometimes it brings pain.  But beloved in Christ the LORD, God is always faithful to His promises and He does bless the virtuous character of His covenant children.  In Luke 18:28 the disciple Peter said to Jesus,

“See, we have left all and followed you.”

To which our Lord replied,

“Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or parents or brothers or wife or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who shall not receive many times more in this present time, and in the age to come eternal life.”  (Luke 18:29,30)

And when you walk in the paths set out by God, walking with Him day by day, then you will see that His ways are good, and He does bless the virtuous character of His children.  The woman who was to be married on May 26 concluded her article as follows:

“Marriage and family are still the two things I want most in life, but I know that they're in God's control---not mine. Before I knew God, I tried to control my relational life by making poor decisions and sacrifices that brought little reward. Now, I find fulfilment in God. He is my rock, the one who deserves my love and attention. While it is a daily struggle to trust him with the things I care about so deeply, he has proven that he's looking out for me. I leave my future in his hands.”

And your future too is secure in His hands!  For He is your God and you are His people.  And the God who calls you to deny yourself and take up your cross and follow Him is the same God who before has given up His only Son for us.  And

“He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?”  (Romans 8:32)

Therefore turn to God in Jesus Christ and live out of your love for Him.  Trust Him and walk in His ways.  And you too will be filled with the blessing of the LORD.  Amen.



[1] http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2012/05/26/today-was-supposed-to-be-my-wedding-day/




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2012, Rev. Stephen 't Hart

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