On the Pilgrim Way (Part Three)

Hebrews 6:12

So that you won’t become lazy but will be imitators of those who inherit the promises through faith and perseverance (CSB).

I grew up in northeast Ohio. Summers there are very warm to hot, filled with thunderstorms, and mosquitos. I enjoyed going fishing with my dad in the evenings. When we went, we made sure we used mosquito repellant. Our “bug spray” of choice was “6-12”, which was pulled off the market in 1991. Without it, we could not have gone to the ponds and small streams that are ubiquitous in northeast Ohio. So “6-12” is ensconced in my memory.

Our text is a “6:12” that we need to remember, though it is much neglected. It sounds too difficult to our self-indulgent flesh: So that you won’t become lazy. Laziness is pandemic; only a few escape it. Few desire to avoid its embrace. Laziness can feel very appealing, especially when we’re stressed, tired, and aging. Exertion is difficult. Diligence (6:11) is hard work, as said in the previous article on these verses. We tend to view it as the opposite of comfort. I have an alarm set on my fitness watch to tell me to get at least 250 steps an hour to avoid sitting for too long. It just went off to remind me to get up and walk. We need this part of Hebrews 6:12 as an alarm to avoid spiritual laziness. We need to pray, rather than to be lazy. We ought to read and meditate on God’s written words instead of being lazily distracted. We need to turn off the television or similar media devices and exert ourselves to be with people.

You see, laziness disrupts a pilgrim way of life. Laziness soothes us with smooth words. “You work so hard; you have so many responsibilities. ‘Couch potato Christianity’ is very acceptable for someone like you who is so overwhelmed.” I write these words, not as a workaholic, but as a pastor who wants us to grow in diligence about our own souls and the good of others. We will not help others if we are lazy. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers (Galatians 6:10 NIV). This requires prayer, time, and work, all of which are contrary to laziness.

Certainly, we all need to make proper investments in rest and relaxation. But I rarely have to convince people about their need to have “R&R”. The writer of Hebrews warns us all about being careless and overinvolved is ourselves. What will we do? Will we look for opportunities to serve one another in love? Or will we excuse ourselves yet again from the partnership with other believers? “Spray this 6:12” on your soul; it will help keep the mosquitoes of spiritual laziness off you.

Grace and peace, David

A Godly Example

IMG_0939Ruth 2:1-7

A core matter of the Christian way of life is to follow Jesus Christ (Matthew 4:19; 8:22; 10:38; 16:24; etc.) We are to imitate his way of life and think his thoughts, have his attitudes, speak with grace and truth, and do good as he did. The Lord knows that it is beneficial for us also to have people that we can see as examples that we can imitate. Each of us ought to be living in such a manner that we can say “follow my example” or “imitate me” because we follow the Lord Christ (1 Corinthians 4:16; 11:1; Philippians 3:15, 17; 2 Thessalonians 3:7, 9; 1 Timothy 4:12; Titus 2:7; Hebrews 6:12; 13:7; 1 Peter 5:3). In the story of Ruth, next in the story is a man called Boaz. God has an important purpose in his plan for Boaz and Ruth. What kind of a man was Boaz? He was a godly man, a man of integrity, goodness, and action.

First we see an example of Boaz’s active oversight. Surprise! Who should arrive to inspect his fields except the “man of standing”, Boaz! And when did he reach his fields? He came to one of his fields after Ruth had been gleaning for a while. This was perfect timing; it was beyond coincidence.

  • Boaz greeted his workers in a godly manner. He brought God into his workplace by blessing his workers in God’s name. Not everyone has the opportunity that Boaz had to act so boldly. Most followers of Jesus must act and speak cautiously, since they neither own the company nor are they paid to evangelize. Some Christians become overzealous and brash when they ought to be humble and quiet. The Lord expects us to be wise and gentle among our coworkers. We need to make friends from our coworkers and then tell our friends the good news, but not on company time. Having been in management, I know it is not appreciated when any worker wastes time for which they are being paid to work. So then, Christians need to show the example of diligent work.
  • Boaz was a man of influence and wealth (2:1). He was in a position to help the poor. This is the view that we should take of our lives. God gives to us generously, so that we might help others, and in this way show his kindness and compassion. The Lord wants us to work, so that we can give to care for others in their needs (Ephesians 4:28).
  • Boaz was also a godly man, as the whole book makes clear. He spoke in conformity with his world and life view. God was in his thoughts, and there could be no better greeting than to wish them God’s presence of blessing. Many times in the Old Testament Scriptures, this is emphasized by saying that “God was with” someone.
  • Boaz noticed who was working in his fields. This shows that Boaz knew what was going on in his workplace. He wasn’t oblivious. He paid attention to his workers. He knew that people were a very important part of his business. Other things being equal, the business that cares for its employees will prosper more than others that do not. More importantly, God cares very much about people! Part of your responsibility as a member of the local assembly you attend is to know everyone who worships with you. That gathering is your spiritual family, and it is unthinkable that you should fail to pay attention to people that God the Father brings into your assembly. Engage everyone in kind and godly conversation.
  • Boaz noticed Ruth. Hmm, this also showed that he was a real man. Men do notice women—in about three-tenths of a second or less. What made him notice her? Was it her good looks? Was it her foreign appearance? Was it her youthfulness? (Yes ladies, men do look at younger women first. Don’t get upset at your man or men in general. Men noticed you first when you were the younger woman.) Whatever the reason, Boaz did notice her and decided he ought to have more personal information about her.

So then, God had Ruth and Boaz in the same place at the same time, and Boaz had some level of interest in her. This was beyond coincidence. God would use all this to accomplish his purposes in Jesus Christ. Since we are also part of the story of God’s glory, we must be ready to be used by the Lord.

Grace and peace, David

Beyond Coincidences

IMG_0910Ruth 2:1-7

Once in a while, you might see a movie or read a novel that presents both sides of a story. The main characters function as both protagonists and antagonists. An example would be the movie Gettysburg, which attempts to tell the story of the battle of Gettysburg from both the perspective of the Union and the Confederates. In this section, we encounter something similar occurring. As we see Ruth take center stage, we see two sides of the story. On one side we find Ruth, her significant choices, and random or chance events. But on the other side the story is about the invisible but true God, directing her life so that it moves beyond coincidences.

Ruth exercised a bold initiative; she decided to act. Ruth knew that having a house and a table is insufficient. They needed bread on the table, if they were going to survive. She was not afraid to work for that goal. The Bible teaches that we both pray for God to supply our food (Matthew 6:11) and actively fulfill our responsibility to work for it (2 Thessalonians 3:10). Ruth overcame the temptation to laziness and the apparent depression of her mother-in-law. When Naomi agreed to Ruth’s action, she gave a two-word answer in Hebrew. So then Naomi was not in a good emotional or spiritual condition. If you are in a depressed condition, you need to return to active service for Jesus. To do this, look to his cross and see a better covenant made with you by his blood. The Lord is on your side and he is committed to help you, regardless of your present circumstances.

Ruth used a provision in God’s old covenant law for her good (Leviticus 19:9-10; 23:22; Deuteronomy 24:19-22).  To glean means to gather or collect. God allowed those who were in need in the specified circumstances to provide food for themselves from the property of others, since the land belonged to God ultimately. We should see more than the law; we should see the kindness of the Lord who gave the law to his people. God’s commands flow out of his nature, all revealing his glory as God in some way.

We need to see all that we have as coming from the kindness of our Father in heaven. Whatever we give is his anyway, and by giving we reflect God’s kindness. Observe carefully that Ruth was not guided to glean by some nighttime vision or dream, by hearing voices from heaven, or by an angelic escort. She simply walked according to the word of truth, the Bible.

Ruth took a risk. There was danger because of her ethnicity. People have many prejudices in regard to people of other ethnic groups. Many of these arise from differences in skin color, language, customs, and religion. Though the Lord had given the law of gleaning to provide for the aliens in Israel, not everyone would be willing to obey God’s law. The law of God reflected God’s character and will, but it did not achieve it. Grace comes through the gospel, not the law.

There was danger because of her gender. The time of the judges (cf. 1:1) was marked by open sexual immorality, like our time. (Sexual immorality is always a human problem in this world, cf. Mark 7:21; Romans 1:24-27.) Without a strong central government committed to God’s law covenant, outward expression of the heart’s sexual immorality was not hindered as it should have been. It could have been risky for a woman to go out to the fields alone. We will notice more about this in the next section. Israel had become more like the nations that she was to be separated from. Having forsaken God and the good news of Jesus, our nation will become increasingly sexually immoral and violent, which is the companion of sexual immorality. (Read Romans 1:18-32.)

There was also a risk because of her limited knowledge. All people face this in various ways and degrees. Ruth was not sure about who would show favor to her. Would they treat her as a needy person or as an unwelcome, troublesome foreigner? She simply didn’t know. But she took the risk. God expects us to live by faith according to the Scriptures. In his providence, Ruth was a widow, an alien, and poor. In his covenant law, he had provided for her provision in the law about gleaning. By faith she had to act on God’s revealed will and to trust God to provide.

Ruth’s risk was rewarded by God (2:3). Here we see the hand of the invisible God silently at work. From the human perspective, Ruth simply made her choices. “Let’s see; that looks like a nice field and the workers seem happy. That might mean that the owner is generous. So, I’ll try my luck there.” But Ruth might not have even thought that much. The Hebrew text literally reads, “Her chance chanced upon.” She might have simply wandered into the field with a sigh and a shrug of her shoulders and started to glean.

However, what people call chance or luck is not simple random occurrence. Instead, this is God’s sovereign providence. God guided her steps to her destiny that he appointed for her (Proverbs 16:9). God directed her steps, so that she walks seemingly “by chance” into the fields of Boaz.

My whole life has been shaped by various chance happenings, like a computer picking my college roommates for my freshman year, randomly sitting next to someone in my first class at a new college, and a man suddenly recalling at the right moment that he had my phone number on a scrap of paper in his Bible. Those are three examples from what I do know, and God alone knows in how many other ways he has guided my life through “chance” happenings.

The life of faith is an adventure. It’s exciting to think of what God might do; that is, if you’re trusting him! Are you?

Grace and peace, David

Workers Together

IMG_1920Judges 1:1-7

We serve a very generous God. He richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment (1 Timothy 6:17; cf. Acts 14:17). We ought to enjoy and give thanks for every good gift that comes from our Father in heaven. However, the possession of wealth and what it can acquire is not an invitation to self-indulgence. God made us to work and to do his will. And he made us to work with one another to reach people with the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ. Christians may say they want to do this, as long as it doesn’t inconvenience them by having to work with other believers. Far too many are on a lonesome quest to satisfy their own needs. What we have in our text is an example of the people of God working together for his purposes.

The Lord caused Israel to prosper when they cooperated with one another (1:3). The tribe of Judah made a godly request for their brother’s help. Since God in his providence had placed the two tribes together in their inheritances (Joshua 19:1-9), the tribe of Judah rightly saw this as a task on which they could join together. God’s people are to seek to help one another (1 Corinthians 12:7, 21-26). Paul also teaches this to the church at Rome (Romans 1:11-12; 15:24, 30-32).

We see a godly response in helping their brothers. The tribe of Simeon did not shrink back from its brotherly duty. They went to war with Judah! The New Testament Scriptures show Christians helping each other (Philippians 4:14-19). God honored Simeon’s assistance to Judah, for they were preserved with Judah many years after the other tribes fell into apostasy and then into captivity. This was beyond anyone’s knowledge at that time, but there were future benefits. God’s blessing comes as his people give and receive help one to another. Don’t allow pride to keep you from either activity. In Pilgrim’s Progress, Christian couldn’t get up when he fell until his brother Faithful helped him. (By the way, if you haven’t read Pilgrim’s Progress, I encourage you to do so.) The life of faith is not meant to be walked alone; in fact, it cannot be.

The Lord caused Israel to prosper when they obeyed his will (1:4-7). In this event, God gives an example of the defeat of the world. This is actual history, and all events had meaning in the history of redemption. God was acting for the future prosperity of Judah and providing for the line of the Messiah. We must not fail to recognize the historic importance of this event. God was acting in history to prepare for the sending of his Son in human flesh through the tribe of Judah. But the Lord also has lessons for us from it. When God is in our warfare, the armies of the world go down to defeat. “The Lord gave….” Though the leaders of people style themselves as “lords”, they have no power against the all-power of the Lord. A king with his army around him has a high opinion of himself and acts accordingly (Proverbs 30:29-31). But no person has power against the Lord (Proverbs 21:30-31).

God gave an example of divine vengeance. Some question the destruction of the Canaanites, but they were justly condemned for their wickedness (cf. Genesis 15:16; Deuteronomy 7:10; 18:9-12; 20:16-20). Some question the treatment of Adoni-Bezek, but he received what the Law required—justice (Exodus 21:23-24; Leviticus 24:19-20; Deuteronomy 19:16-21). He acknowledged God’s justice against him. The church is not a physical nation charged with carrying out physical justice. We live in the new covenant age. The mission of the church is to extend grace to the undeserving (Matthew 5:38-42). However, the real problem that people have with this topic is that they hate God’s holiness, and they don’t want God’s judgment to fall upon them for their sin (rejection of God as God, refusal to love God, and rebellion against God and his ways. But how are we living? Do we want to work with other followers of Christ for the glory of God and the good of people? Let us learn from the good example of these two tribes of Israel.

Grace and peace, David