1 Corinthians 16
This last chapter reminds me of that this isn't just a book in the Bible, but it was a real letter, written to real people, with real lives and real stories. I know we can read Scripture at times and feel detached from it, but when Paul mentions all the names of people and places like this, it sort of connects me to the fact that these were ordinary people, whose ordinary lives were interrupted by an encounter with Jesus. It reminds me that we're not all that different. We have our own stories, and our own lives, and we live in our own places and generation. And like them, we have been captured by the love Christ and are trying to figure out how to be faithful to him amidst real challenges and struggles and temptations.
I love how this text humanizes Paul and the early church. We have been caught up in something massive, something cosmic, but it's something real and personal. We are a part of the same gospel movement that these people were part of. We belong to the same family they belong to. God use using our ordinary lives to continue the extraordinary work of redemption just as he was using their ordinary lives. This chapter could seem boring or mundane I suppose, to some, but what I see here is so exciting because it reminds me of how much our every day activity and ordinary lives matter because of Jesus.
v. 8 stuck out to me today... "Like a bird that strays from its next is a man who strays from his home." This is simple but really important, both for men and women. Are we in any way drifting from our homeward responsitilities and most important relationships? This could be physically spending more time away, staying later and later at work, neglecting family for friends, burying ourselves in electronics and other forms of escape etc. Or it could be a drift that is more inward. Maybe you are weighed down by responsibilities at home, or discouraged, and so you are fantasizing about a different life, an easier life, competing pleasures.
We have opportunities to stray from our homes and families every day in a myriad of ways. In fact, the world is almost set up to draw us away from our homes. Brothers and sisters...
- what drift do you subtle or obvious drift to you need to aggressively combat?
- How will you oreint your heart homeward today?
A little in keeping with yesterdays theme of real people, I wanted to read through Ruth as a setup to reading through 1 Samuel. Ruth lays the groundwork for the life of David, who is this towering figure in the Bible. As a stand alone narrative, David can seem larger than life. But the roots of David's story are traced back to the more unremarkable and even tragic story of Ruth and Naomi. Chapter 1 introduces us to some gut wrenching circumstances.
1) Famine - there is a famine in the Judah that drives an Israelite man and his family to Moab. Economic realities have always had major impact on people's lives and it was no different then.
2) Isolation - The reality of moving like this was isolation. To leave your homeland and family and community and move to a foreign land has massive implications.
3) Loss - Elimelech, the family patriarch dies there, further complicating Naomi's life. Now she's a single mom uprooted from her home and family and friends. She now has no husband to provide, but even returning home would be to an ongoing famine. There is an incredible loss personally and lack economically.
4) Joy - There is some hope and excitement around her sons marrying. The family is enlarged, the future looks a little brighter.
5) More Loss - Then her sons both die within 10 years. And Naomi is left with the overwhelming grief of a dead husband and two dead sons, the only things tying her to the other two relationships with her daughters-in-law.
In chapter 1, I just feel the weight and heaviness of life. There is struggle everywhere, loss all around and a persistent sense of futility. It can feel dark and hopeless.
But Ruth surprises us. Rather than leaving and starting a new life, she commits herself to Naomi, and to a future together. She commits to walking with her, caring for her and even worshipping with her. And this is one of the things that makes life's pain and difficulty worth enduring... Meaningful, life-giving relationships. We all need this kind of connection.
Who are those people for you? Who are the most life-giving people in your life? Take time to thank God for them today. ANd maybe reach out to express gratitude to them as well.
Who are you a life giving person for? Are there people in your life who draw life and hope and energy from your friendship?
If you don't have relationships like this, what can you do to pursue and cultivate them? What step can you take in that direction?
v. 13 says "Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy."
Integrity is not about perfection but honesty. Integrity isn't about being impressive, it's about being known. Before the Lord we are free to honest about who we really are, including the things that embarrass us and we wish weren't true about us. Solomon speaks here about the importance of confession and repentance as integral to our integrity. It's not transgression and sin that ultimately lead to our demise, it's the hiddenness and denial of transgression, the pretense of not having sin that brings judgement. Mercy is readily available to those who have integrity and walk with honesty.
v. 6 and 18 also give insight into integrity. I'll be brief on them. v. 6 reaffirms the worth of integrity and gives it a valuation far above rich's and wealth. v. 18 points out something obvious but overlooked. When our ways our crooked and underhanded, when we deceive and hide, we may get away with it for a while. And the longer we get away with things, the more convinced we are that we either right or safe. But we only get away with things until we don't. And the way life works is that typically, we get found out at the worst possible moments. We don't get to pick the moment of our fall.
One of the things that I notice in this chapter is the extraordinary kindness of humility of both Boaz and Ruth. There is nothing so remarkable about either of them I guess, but their several small things that stand out to me in a world dominated by cyncism, criticism and entitlement:
For Ruth, it's her work ethic first. Gleaning is when people come behind the harvesters and collect the leftover crops. In their culture, it was a way of providing for the poor in a community. Ruth wasn't looking for a handout or expecting someone to take care of them, she took initiative, got her hands dirty and just went to work. Gleaning was not a glamorous gig.
Her sense of gratitude and appreciation is clear too. She was genuinely thankful for Boaz' help and protection. And what also is clear is that Ruth's character and loyalty became her reputation. People thought of her in these ways and she was known by her integrity. Kindness beget kindness.
For Boaz, we see his generosity and protective instinct. He is a man of honor who appreciates what he's seen and heard of Ruth and he wants to reward her in some way. He even pronounces a blessing over her. These are aspects of their interaction I find worthy of imitation. But ultimately, we aren't just looking for examples to follow.
v. 13, Ruth says, “I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, for you have comforted me and spoken kindly to your servant, though I am not one of your servants.” This is the very heart of Christ, from whom we have received grace and mercy, comfort and kindness, though we were not his servants, but his enemies. And what Ruth demonstrates is a humble recognition and response to profound grace. She doesn't demand anything, expect more, complain of not having enough or manipulate the situation. She simply recognizes her need, vulnerability and limitations to care for herself adequately, and she just receives and the grace shown by Boaz as just that, Grace. She receives it, not as a cause for boasting, or a blind eye to her undeservedness, but she receives it as a gift to be stewarded. She could not earn the grace shown, but the grace shown does not diminish her hard work either... in fact, grace enhances her efforts. I wonder if you understand and respond to grace with this same depth?
This chapter has all kinds of cultural things embedded in it that could be more closely examined if I was studying or teaching through this. But we're reading devotionally, and so I don't want to get into all that. Suffice it to say that Ruth and Boaz are both very honorable in their conduct, and honoring of each other. We'd do well to follow that example in our own relationships, particularly those of romantic interest.
From a devotional reading, I want to zero in again on one verse in this chapter. In verse 9, Boaz asks Ruth, “Who are you?” And she answered, “I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer.”
Ruth was in a desperate, needy, vulnerable place. There was not a whole lot Ruth could do to change her situation. Apart from the intervening of someone more powerful than herself, she was stuck in isolation and poverty. Death, loss, disappointment and hopelessness would define her life if someone did not act on her behalf to change the narrative. What's more, Ruth wasn't pretending her situation was better than it was. She had no problem acknowledging the depth of her need and the scope of her weakness. And she asked for Boaz, the redeemer, to spread his wings over her and cover her.
Brothers and sisters, this is the posture we all need to take every day toward our Redeemer, and it's the only legitimate hope we have for our futures.