Choosing Loyalty over Self-Interest

If you’re familiar with your Bible, you know that the poster child for suffering in the Bible is Job. In a rapid succession of tragedies, he lost his children, property, and health.

If Job is known as Mr. Calamity, then my nominee for Ms. Calamity would be Naomi. After relocating to a foreign land, her world fell apart. First her husband died. Then her two sons died. It was more loss than anyone should have to bear.

Widowed and childless, she decided to return to her hometown. She encouraged her two daughters-in-law to return to their homes. She had nothing to offer them. Stating the obvious, she told the two young women that she’d never produce new husbands for them. And besides, would they really want to hang around someone consumed with grief?

The joy was gone from her life. To make it official, she changed her name from Naomi, meaning pleasant, to Mara, meaning bitter.

Should people start calling you Mara? At certain times in our lives, for any of us, the name might fit. You feel like you have nothing left to offer. In your circumstances, you might feel that God has given you a bitter cup to drink.

Or like Naomi, you may feel depleted, like you have nothing left to give.

When your name is Mara, your sentiment is, “Stick a fork in me, I’m done.”

When your name is Mara, the joy has dimmed and you don’t see any hope for it to return.

Enter Ruth, one of the most remarkable people in all of the Bible. How blessed each of us would be to have a Ruth in our lives. When the other daughter-in-law, Orpah, kissed Naomi and headed for home, Ruth did the exact opposite. The Bible says she clung to her.

The Hebrew word translated “clung” is the same word used when God tells His people to “love the Lord your God, listen to His voice, and hold fast to Him.” (Deuteronomy 30:20 NIV) It’s the same word used to describe a man leaving his father and mother and holding fast to his wife. Most fittingly, the word appears in Proverbs 18:24: “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.”

That’s the kind of friend Naomi had in Ruth. Ruth had every reason to part from Naomi. This was Ruth’s chance for a fresh start. She was single and unattached. Why be tied down to a grieving widow?

Because that’s the kind of person Ruth was: loyal to the end.

Her words are some of the most beautiful ever spoken: “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” (Ruth 1:16-17)

Ruth was committed to the end. She would not leave Naomi’s side. She would not abandon Naomi. What a true friend.

By God’s grace, it all worked out wonderfully for Ruth. She moved to Naomi’s hometown. She ended up meeting a wealthy landowner named Boaz. Boaz and Ruth married. She bore a grandchild for Naomi. If you have grandchildren, you know what joy they bring. Ruth became the great-grandmother to Israel’s greatest king, David. And most notable of all, Ruth became a part of Jesus’ family tree, listed in the genealogy of Matthew 1. She joins the list of women referenced in the genealogy, along with Tamar, Rahab, Bathsheba, and Mary.

Like the other woman, there’s an element of scandal in Ruth’s inclusion in Jesus’ family tree. Her character is impeccable. But she was a Moabite. The Israelites despised the Moabites, judging them for their shameful origins and godless practices. Ruth came from this culture.

However, of all the women in Jesus’ family tree – and perhaps the men, too – Ruth stands out for her Christ-like qualities. Her devotion to Naomi resembles Jesus’ devotion to us.

Naomi, at least in her own eyes, had nothing to offer Ruth in exchange for her companionship. We, because of our sin, have nothing to offer God to deserve His favor. Isaiah 64:6 (NIV) says, “All our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” 2 Corinthians 3:5 says, “Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God.”

You and I are in the same position as Naomi – broken with nothing to offer.

Jesus is in the position of Ruth – holding nothing back to come to our aid. Where you go, I’ll go. Jesus came into this world as a human being. Where you lodge, I’ll lodge. He made His dwelling among us. Your people shall be my people. Jesus became a part of a people group, a family. Where you die, I’ll die. He died the death we deserved so that nothing will part us from God.

Ruth insistently accompanied her grieving mother-in-law to Naomi’s hometown. Do you know where Naomi’s home was? Bethlehem! The book of Ruth takes place in Bethlehem!

The closing verse of our text says Ruth was a “determined” woman. (Ruth 1:18) Ruth was determined to accompany Naomi to Bethlehem. God was determined to save us from our sins beginning with the birth of our Savior in Bethlehem.

Bethlehem is a reminder of God’s loyalty to you and me – and His unyielding commitment to our salvation.

Last Sunday was the Rock ‘n’ Roll marathon here in San Antonio. It takes commitment to run 26.2 miles. A few people within our church and school family competed in the full or half marathon. One of them posted a paragraph on her Facebook page after completing the full marathon. She said her husband and son surprised her by visiting at mile 14. Then as she rounded the corner to the finish line, her best friends were waiting for her. What a loyal group of supporters.

I haven’t run a full marathon, but I have run some half marathons. At the end of a long race, you’re spent. You have nothing left to give. You’re depleted. Your supporters don’t show up because you have something to offer them. You’re done. They show up because they’re loyal to you. They want to be there in those crucial moments.

Ruth is a role model to all of us. She teaches us about loyalty. It’s a matter of commitment. What a statement it makes to others when we stick by them through thick and thin. What a Christ-like gesture it is. What a witness. What a comfort.

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Author: Christopher Kennedy

Senior Pastor at Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church, School, and Child Care in San Antonio, Texas. Husband to my beloved Ashley. Dad to the four most wonderful children in the world.

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