Sermon series: Building Lasting Relationships - Ruth
In James Dobson's book, Love Must Be Tough, he tells of the grave impact that is occurring as families disintegrate. He writes, " . . . the most vulnerable victims of family instability are the children who are too young to understand what has happened to their parents.
"That tragic impact on the next generation was graphically illustrated to me in a recent conversation with a sixth-grade teacher in an upper middle-class California city. She was shocked to see the results of a creative writing task assigned to her students. They were asked to complete a sentence that began with the words, 'I wish.' The teacher expected the boys and girls to express wishes for bicycles, dogs, television sets, and trips to Hawaii. Instead, twenty of the thirty children made reference in their responses to their own disintegrating families. A few of their actual sentences were as follows:
"'I wish my parents wouldn't fight and I wish my father would come back.' 'I wish my mother didn't have a boyfriend.' 'I wish I could get straight A's so my father would love me.' 'I wish I had one mom and one dad so the kids wouldn't make fun of me.' 'I wish I had an M-1 rifle so I could shoot those who made fun of me.'"
Some of the attacks on the home are obvious – such as attempts to redefine the definition of marriage to accommodate and legitimize homosexual unions.
But other hidden dangers exist. Over the next few weeks we will address issues of the home and relationships. We will study an old book about a love story.
Look at v.1:1 as we discover some hidden dangers we must correct.
I. The problems that will stress the home
Today, just as in Bible times, the home is being pressured from all sides. Consider the pressures that threaten to harm the home.
A. Problems from cultural sources
Ruth 1:1 "in the days when the judges ruled"
Judges 21:25 provides the best commentary on that time: " . . . everyone did that which was right in his own eyes." That day was not unlike today. Even then the world struggled with moral relativism and rampant immorality, excessive individualism, unrestrained self expression, and inconsistent role models. Their message of morality was simple: conform to non-conformity, and tolerate everything except intolerance.
B. Problems from natural forces
Ruth 1:1 " . . . there was a famine"
Many of the pressures that impact our lives and homes are neither moral nor immoral. Some things just happen. They occur because we live in a fallen, sinful world. These things are part of the nature of living. We can recognize these problems by two qualifiers.
1. They strike indiscriminately.
No one, including believers, is immune from these types of problems.
2. They are beyond our control.
Take this family, for example. One day a good man named Elimelech, which means "God is my king", marries a sweet young lady named Naomi, which means "pleasant one" or "sweet one". It seems like a marriage made in heaven. Then, "God is my king" and "sweet one" have two children. On the surface, this appears to be a typical, functional family. But things are not as seem. You see, when the first son, Mahlon, was born he looked sick. Of course, they gave him an appropriate name: "sickly". The second born, Chilion, was born small and weak so they named him "pining" or "wasting away" (v.1:1-2).
Now, why were two sickly children born to such a nice couple? And why did famines come? For that matter, why do any natural disasters occur? Why does anyone face a long-term illness? Or, why does any hard worker lose his/her job? Why does the market take a downturn?
Apart from specific occasions where God indicates that He sent or allowed adversity for a specific purpose, we don't know exactly. However, we must guard against blaming anyone for the things we don't know. For the most part, these stressing circumstances happen because we live in a sin cursed world.
C. Problems from personal choices
Ruth 1:1 " . . . went to dwell in the country of Moab"
Consider Elimelech's circumstances. He had four mouths to feed during a time of famine. Surely the responsible thing to do is to take matters into your own hands and find food and employment anywhere you can. But what if doing so means you have to sacrifice your faith?
Although it sounds innocent enough, going to Moab was like going to Sodom. According to Genesis 19:37, when Lot left Sodom his daughters got him drunk and became impregnated by him. The name of the child born of the oldest daughter was "Moab." For Elimelech to leave his inheritance in the land of promise and move to Moab was the moral equivalent of backsliding. This one poor decision had a greater impact on his family than all outside problems combined. Notice the full consequence of this decision.
1. He disobeyed a direct command of God
Have you ever considered the negative impact of your disobedience in the eyes of your children? Further, this disobedience led to a state of ongoing disobedience (v.2 "remained there", and v.4 "about ten years").
2. He devalued his spiritual heritage in the sight of his family
The land he owned was more than just the "family farm". It was a spiritual inheritance that God gave his forefathers who farmed it before him. He didn't discern the spiritual significance of this "faith inheritance." He passed on the message that the material and momentary matter more than the spiritual.
3. He positioned his family for great and grave temptations
Listen to Judges 2:2-3: " . . . But you have not obeyed My voice. Why have you done this? Therefore . . . I will not drive them out before you; but they shall be thorns in your side. And their gods shall be a snare to you." One of the consequences of his disobedience was this threat of "thorns" and "snares" from the pagan culture. Surely, the wives of Mahlon and Chilion brought unbiblical views of God and morality into their marriages (v.4).
4. Though well intended (moving to feed his family), his disobedience did not alleviate their problems but aggravated them
After his death (v. 3, 5), they were left to struggle on their own without the help of close relatives.
Instead of looking to blame others for the problems we face, perhaps we should re-examine the choices we have made and their true impact on our families.
Consider the big promotion that takes you out of church. We rationalize this by saying that we will go back as soon as things calm down. But we have forgotten that disobedience leads to a state of disobedience. And then comes the other temptations that newfound affluence affords.
II. The premise that will test the home
Behind the choices of Elimelech is a premise that has taken a serious toll on families: You can leave God out of the home and still have it all. We apply this premise several ways.
A. Totally disregard God
The lost world suggests, "We are getting along just find without God" (see Ruth 1:1, Judges 21:25). That's the way the lost world views God. Some are convinced that their home is better off if God stays out of their lives.
B. Limit your commitment to God
These confess to know God. Yet, they would have to admit, "We possess faith but just don't practice it." This was Elimelech. He believed he was a citizen of the celestial city but chose to live in the suburbs of sin. Like him, many simply have more important commitments than their relationship with God. Those commitments might include some good things like working overtime to give your family the finer things of life.
C. Compartmentalize God
These live in the promised land. That is, they go to church sometimes but leave church at church. They don't, however, bring their faith into their homes. They don't want to sound too religious or churchy. They have forgotten Deuteronomy 6:6-7, which instructs moms and dads to pass on their faith "when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up."
III. The promises that will bless the home
Hidden in this story about a man who believes he can leave God out of his life without consequences to his family are two redeeming promises.
A. The Promise regarding God
He has not moved and still desires to have an intimate relationship with you. When we leave God for Moab, He waits for us where we left him. Like the Father of the prodigal son, God has not moved. Perhaps after we have discovered the futility of living without God, we will realize that it's better to have less in Canaan with God than to have more in Moab without God.
b. The Promise regarding your inheritance
Remember this: When one leaves the promised land (fellowship with God) for a land of empty but attractive promises, he may find fullness but will not find fulfillment. Elimelech thought that leaving God and moving to Moab would solve his problems. But it simply created different problems. Here's the good news: You may leave your inheritance from God but you cannot lose it. I'm not suggesting you can leave God then come back and everything will be just like it was. No, if Elimelech returned to his inheritance he would have to pull the weeds from the fields, fix the fallen fences, and repair the leaky roof. But in time it could be completely restored.
With God, and only with God, can you have a full and satisfying life. And then, when you die, your true inheritance will await you.
Compare Abraham and his nephew Lot. While the elder chose to live on the Judean hillside, Lot moved into the cities of the plains (Sodom). In a very real sense, Lot believed the same false premise that Elimelech held. But, in the end, Lot lost his family spiritually. Meanwhile, Abraham, despite his personal failures, became the father of the Israelites.