Vol. XI — No. 29 July 19, 1970
And Ruth said, Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me.
In Christ Jesus, who would have us learn and live by the paradox that loss is gain and gain is loss, Fellow Redeemned:
The words of our text are a favorite selection for a wedding sermonette. They express a love that is simple and tender, pure and deep, and romantic in the noblest sense of the word. But when these words are used on the occasion of a wedding, they are used in an applied sense. For they were not originally spoken to express the love of a woman for a man, her man—but rather to express the love of a younger woman for her aging mother-in-law. That love, moreover, was but the human side of a more deep and much richer love of a woman for the God of her salvation. Ruth was a Moabitess. She had been trained in a heathen culture. Her god was Chemosh, the god who could only be satisfied by human sacrifices encased in his glowing bosom. At the right moment in her life Ruth did what comes naturally for a young woman. She fell in love—but not with a Moabite boy, but rather with a stranger, a Jewish boy, whose parents had moved to Moab because of the famine in the Bethlehem area. She loved her husband and was taught by the Spirit of his God to love his God also. This love she expressed so simply and so beautifully, in part, with the commitment: “Thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.”
These words, spoken so beautifully in love, express a decision that Ruth had made. It was a decision which she made knowingly, voluntarily, and after careful consideration. It was a decision that accepted a loss in faith and in hope of gain. What I am saying is that Ruth acted according to words that our Saviour spoke centuries later. These are those words: “Whosoever will save his life shall lose it; and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.” Our Lord must have considered these words extremely important for He spoke them on at least three different occasions. They are sort of a chart and compass by which a child of God is to make decisions in life. Jesus spoke these words to His disciples when He began to tell them of His coming suffering and death—after Peter had objected so violently. His disciples had to know and understand what was involved in following Him. He spoke to them again when He was telling them how to be prepared for the unknown day and hour of His coming again. And He repeated them once again on the day He entered Jerusalem as King. Some Greeks wanted to see Him. Jesus could envision the flow of the Gentiles to Him, but they also must learn one of the paradoxes of discipleship, namely that—
What did Ruth stand to lose when she decided to go along with Naomi? In a word—some values that society has always considered very important and necessary for human happiness: a home, family, friends, security.
When Naomi decided to return to Bethlehem, both of her daughters-in-law packed their few belongings and started to accompany her. It was a noble gesture on the part of these young widows, and Naomi appreciated their tenderness and love. But she was a practical woman. She knew what every woman knew in those days and many still learn today—that the lot of a widow in a strange country is not easy and that their best hope of remarriage would be in remaining among their own people. So Naomi paused by the side of the road and wished them rest in the home of a future husband. Naomi meant it well with them. She didn’t want to impose herself upon them. She didn’t want to become a burden unto them. But still they were determined to go with her. Naomi was insistent that they count the cost carefully before making their final decision. According to the law of the levirate marriage any future sons of Naomi would be obligated to marry her daughters-in-law and raise up seed unto their departed brothers. But Naomi frankly told her daughters-in-law what they knew—that she was too old to find a husband and bare sons who could become their husbands. They all wept again, and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law and turned back to her own people. “But Ruth clave unto her.” What beautiful love! She knew that her chances of remarriage to a man of Bethlehem were nil because Jewish men did not marry non-Jewish women in the land of Israel. She knew that she would not fit into the closely knit social circles of little Bethlehem. She knew that she was assuming responsibility for providing for her mother-in-law and then for herself as she lived out her years alone and a stranger in a foreign land. Her decision meant the loss of the hope of remarriage, of having children and a home of her own, of fitting into society, and having security in old age. Yet she made the decision to accept that loss because she had found the one thing needful—the God who had promised to send her a Savior from her sin, from death that lay ahead of her, and from damnation that would be her eternal fate without divine help.
Before long Ruth began to learn that the Lord God never lets down those who put their trust in Him. She went out to glean, and the sacred record reports in what is for us quaint old English that “her hap was to light on a part of the field belonging unto Boaz.” As far as she was concerned, she just happened to glean there. But behind that “hap” was the hand of the Lord, leading her to the field of the man who was to become her husband. Boaz was a kinsman of her departed husband. When a nearer kinsman refused the obligation of taking Ruth, Boaz redeemed the land of Naomi’s husband and married Ruth, and in due time Ruth became the great grandmother of King David and an ancestress of Jesus Christ. Ruth opted for loss, and she received gain in time and for eternity. She found a husband and family, security and even prominence in the social circles of Bethlehem. She became one of the two heathen women who were accepted into the blood line of Jesus. Her faith was nourished and strengthened in the society of godly men and women, and when she died, she entered into her eternal rest. She lost her life only to gain it again with interest compounded on earth and in heaven Loss for Christ’s sake is gain, while gain in things earthly is so frequently loss of things spiritual.
This truth Jesus taught. Its truthfulness He revealed in His whole life. Loss is gain, while gain is loss—
From a human point of view Jesus consistently made wrong choices which humanly speaking led to His death. At the very beginning of His ministry He refused to take the devil’s suggestion that He make use of His divine power to satisfy his personal need—in that case, hunger after forty days of fasting in the wilderness. He refused to compromise His faithfulness to His Father by bowing down and worshiping Satan in exchange for all the kingdoms of this world. He thereby violated one of the basic rules for success in politics and in life in general—that compromise is necessary for success. On His first visit to Jerusalem He cleansed the temple and thereby made enemies of the religious leaders. All through His ministry He seemed to antagonize important people. After the feeding of the five thousand the multitudes were enthusiastic, His disciples also. They wanted to escort Him to Jerusalem and crown Him King, but He constrained His disciples to depart and dismissed the multitudes. He refused to ride the wave of popular enthusiasm to the top. When the situation became critical for Him personally at the gate of the Garden of Gethsemane, He refused to use His divine power even to save His own life. In one situation after another, at one time after another, with perplexing consistency our Lord chose what an unbiased observer would have to consider loss. He seemed determined to lose His life.
Why? Because Jesus was living the principle that He repeatedly proclaimed to His disciples that one must lose his life in order to gain it, while the gaining of life here on earth involves the certain loss of it eternally. The prophet Isaiah had proclaimed the necessity of the coming Messiah to lose his life. Having lost His life he would gain it, for the Lord God promised: “Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death.” (Is. 53:12) St. Paul emphasized this same truth in his letter to the Philippians when he spoke of Christ’s having emptied Himself of His divine power and majesty in order to work out our salvation. “He humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name.” (2:9-10) He chose to lose His life so that there might be gain for us—forgiveness, sonship, life eternal with the glorified Son of God.
In choosing loss in the hope of gain through faith in the promised Savior to come Ruth rested her faith on Jesus who suffered the loss of all that there might be gain for mankind. Truly He became poor that we might be rich! Christ’s life was one that reveals the great truth that loss is truly gain, that there can be no real gain without loss.
Some ten years ago some seventy pastors, professors, and Christian Day School teaches chose the loss of all the security, which is considerable, that a major church body can and does provide for its clergy. At the same time some five thousand lay men and women chose the loss of their church property in many instances, the loss of personal friendships, and the loss of material blessings. In the same way you here some five years ago chose also the loss of church property, of friendships, of the approval of your former spiritual leaders. Why? You and we hoped for gain. To gain what? The same blessing that kindled such a love in Ruth’s heart, the same blessing that Jesus Christ suffered the loss of all to gain for us—salvation. Salvation is wrapped and delivered to us twentieth century people in the Gospel. But when that Gospel is corrupted or polluted but the least bit, our salvation is endangered. For error tends to permeate the whole Gospel as does leaven a lump of dough or gangrene the human body. Error always and unceasingly attempts to strangle faith. These are simple truths, but yet truths that so many refuse to face. It is natural for us to think that we can compromise a little with error, that we don’t have to suffer the loss of all to retain the truth, that we can remain faithful in the midst of those who are unfaithful, that we can keep on clinging to the truth in the hope that the church body will eventually right itself. Always we are tempted to think that grasping at and clinging to earthly benefits will not endanger spiritual blessings. And ever and again the words of our Savior should ring in our ears: “Whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.”
The very mobility of our modern way of living combined with the small number of childern of God who are committed to the whole truth of God’s Word on this earth combine to cause the loss of many blessings that we count so dear. The Psalmist cries out, “I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord.” (Ps. 122:1) But so many children of God are today isolated. There is no House of God within driving distance where they can worship in the unity of the spirit. Others must travel a hundred or more miles to such a House of God. Servicemen find themselves in strange lands and among strange people and with fellow Americans who for the most part are total slaves of carnal and spiritual sins. The joy, the strengthening that come with the worship and fellowship of like-minded hearts in the House of God is denied these people. That is a loss, a severe loss for a child of God. But it is a loss that will become more and more common in the days lying ahead. We need to remind ourselves and our young people that though they may not have the opportunity to go to church in the conventional way, yet their God is always ready to commune with them in His Word and that any child of God can and should commune with His God in prayer. It isn’t easy to be isolated and alone spiritually, but it is possible to survive and to become in a given area a light that leads others to the Truth that alone saves. The paradox always remains true: Loss for Christ’s sake is always and unfailingly gain! Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.