Faithfulness is no longer a highly regarded virtue. In my profession the teachers who get on are those who change schools frequently. Teachers who stop at the same school for most of their career do not often get promoted. In business the reward for loyalty is often enforced redundancy. Marriages break down because personal happiness is valued above faithfulness. Young Christians rarely seem to consider that they have a debt to discharge to the church in which they were nurtured and converted. A pastor may have children who become Christian. They go off to college. I wonder how many feel any obligation to return to their home church to assist their father in the work once their university course is finished. In many small churches the departure of the pastor's Christian children often has a devitalising effect. Faithlessness is usually the product of selfishness and displays sheer ingratitude. If we wish to be like God we shall be faithful. Paul writing to the Corinthians says, God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful. 1Cor1v9. Ruth's relationship with her mother-in-law, Naomi, is a wonderful exhibition of faithfulness and an example to us all in:

(A) Its Declaration. Ruth1v16. "Don't urge me to leave you or to turn back from you."

Ruth's declaration is one of the most moving passages in the Old Testament. It has a fine poetic ring about it. But more than that it reveals the nature of faithfulness. It is:

    (a) Unconditional. Ruth says, "May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me."
    Ruth does not say to Naomi, "I will go with you mother so long as.... ." Ruth's commitment is disinterested. It also simplifies her life. There is no tension between her interests and the interests of her mother-in-law. They are bound together.

    (b) Submissive. Ruth promises Naomi, "Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay."
    Ruth is not the leader - Naomi is. Naomi will make the decisions and Ruth promises to accept them. I have been going bird watching now for something like 25 years with my friend Tommy. He is the expert and so I invariably submit to his decisions - about where to go and how long to stop at any location.

    Faithfulness is not influenced by events. The way that Naomi takes may be difficult for Ruth but she will be faithful in all things - submissive to the judgment of the older women.

    (c) Sacrificial. Faithfulness accepts hardship. Ruth says, "Your people will be my people."
    There is no guarantee that Naomi's people will accept Ruth. She is a Moabitess after all. The Jews were instructed by Moses not to marry foreign women. Ruth might not have been welcomed into the harvest field. What protection then would she have if the young men decided to molest her? Ruth was prepared to pay a heavy price to remain with Naomi. She did not expect the way ahead to be easy.

Today faithfulness, that great but neglected virtue, is needed in:

    The unconditional, submissive and sacrificial aspects of faithfulness are all recognised in the magnificent language of the marriage vow: to take and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love, cherish and obey till death us do part.

    I read recently that a growing number of Christian women in their late 30's and early 40's get bored with their husbands. The romance has gone out of their relationship. Nothing exciting ever happens. They ask, "Can I really put up with another 30 years of this? Surely I deserve better!" To improve the quality of their lives they leave their husbands. Men and women do not promise in the marriage service to, 'love cherish and obey until the day I get bored with it all'. My friend Eric was faithful to his wife, in spite of her many failings, until death parted them. See the Burnished Brasses.

    I can understand a woman leaving her husband because he is tedious. I knew a Christian couple where the husband was a monumental bore. He would take an hour to recount an incident in minute detail which was of no real interest to anybody but himself. He had many good qualities. He was very loyal, caring and kind. However, his brothers and sisters in Christ did their best to avoid him such was the sheer tedium of his conversation. He was not the sort of man you could advise having something of the obduracy of granite. He badly needed advice because his wife eventually left him - exasperated and irritated beyond endurance by the excruciating banality of his monologues. I certainly understood why she could stand it no longer but I did not admire her for her decision. I did admire Mrs Seymour of whom I read in the Daily Telegraph on Saturday March 4th 1995. I will quote selected parts of the report that moved me so much:

    Senior members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary paid tribute yesterday to the devotion of a policeman's wife who kept a 22-year hospital vigil after her husband was shot and paralysed by an IRA sniper.
    RUC Constable Jim Seymour, 55, who died on Thursday, had to be tube-fed and could not speak or move after he was shot in the head at an observation post outside Coalisland police station, Co Tyrone, in 1973.
    Never a day went by in more than two decades without a visit from his wife, May, to his bedside in a side room at South Tyrone Hospital, Dungannon. "He could not sit up or move but I think it was the sound of his family's voices that motivated him for so long," said Supt Basil Kerr, RUC sub-divisional commander at Dungannon, Co Tyrone. "He knew they were there and he would smile."
    Mrs Seymour's brother said, "Her love for Jim seemed to grow stronger when he became ill. You could not put into words the affection she had for that man. It was her life's duty. She looked forward to it. She would hold his hand and talk away to him about family problems, marriages, deaths, all the news. Sometimes he would smile, sometimes he would cry and that was all the response she ever got in all that time."

    I think most people would have understood if Mrs Seymour had abandoned her husband and found someone else. However I am sure we are glad that she did not! Her faithfulness was a beautiful thing - as was Ruth's.

    (b) The local church.
    In many small, rural, nonconformist, churches in Britain there is a faithful remnant of old people who have worshipped in those churches all their lives. They may have moved away from the village in which their church is located but they retain their membership and travel to support the fellowship in which they were converted, baptised and strengthened. This faithfulness is not often shared by younger people who view the church as a service rather than a family. Too many act like Christian consumers and go where they get the best deal. Sadly rural churches are going the way of the village shop. They are abandoned for much the same reason. The large church in the town offers a superior product at a lower price. The services are more inspiring, the range of activities is greater and the need to take on responsibility that restricts freedom of choice is less. If it is wrong to opt out of marriage when it is no longer exciting it is also wrong to leave a church for the same reason. A church is not a service. In the New Testament it is likened to a family or the body. Just as faithfulness is vital to the health of the family so it is crucial to the health of the local church. It is down right cruel when young Christians abandon their older, vulnerable, brothers and sisters.

    (c) Discipleship.
    I have listened to many talks to young people on, 'What is a Christian?' The emphasis in these talks has been on what you get as a Christian. A Christian receives forgiveness, has joy, peace and a purpose in life; a Christian loses their fear of death and goes to heaven when they die. Now most of this might be true but the emphasis is wrong. A Christian follows Jesus Christ. The old Sankey hymn puts it thus:

    Down in the valley with my Saviour I would go,
    Where the flowers are blooming and the sweet waters flow;
    Everywhere He leads me I would follow, follow on,
    Walking in His footsteps till the crown be won

    Down in the valley with my Saviour I would go,
    Where the storms are sweeping and the dark waters flow;
    With his hand to lead me I will never, never fear;
    Dangers cannot fright me if my Lord is near.

    No Christian can stick with Jesus without faithfulness.

(B) Its inspiration. Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law good-bye, but Ruth clung to her. v14.

Faithfulness doesn't just happen. There must be something to inspire it. Intense faithfulness or loyalty exists amongst fighting men in time of war. The loyalty is strongest in the platoon where men are determined not to let their comrades down. The men in a platoon have a shared experience; they have got to know and respect each other.

Ruth had more than affection for Naomi. Orpah had that. She wept aloud at the thought of parting from her mother-in-law and in the first instance said with Ruth, "We will go back with you to your own people."v10. Orpah did love Naomi and was very, very, sorry to say, "Good-bye." Naomi and Ruth were friends. Ruth admired Naomi and did not want to let her down. Admiration depends upon two things: (1) There must be something to admire. (2) It has to be perceived.

I wonder what it was that bound Ruth and Naomi together. They actually had three qualities in common. Naomi was very unselfish. She does her best to persuade both her daughters-in-law to return back to their natural mothers with her blessing: "May the LORD grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband." Naomi puts absolutely no pressure on Orpah and Ruth to accompany her. She makes it easy for them to stop in Moab. The unselfish life can easily be taken for granted. I am reading the autobiography of Frank David Robinson, 'The Lord's Pocket'. In it he describes his mother:
Mother, nevertheless, was a splendid manager; a superb and meticulous cook, and an untiring worker in the community. She arranged concerts - there being no shortage of talent in the district - printing her own posters and programmes.
Fetes, Christmas parties, and Sunday school outings were organised with practical efficiency, and no-one ever gave her any credit or thanks, to my knowledge. She was just taken for granted, especially by the family.

Ruth was herself very unselfish as will be seen as the story unfolds and so she recognised and admired this quality in Naomi.

Naomi was a thoughtful women who showed real concern for Ruth. It is significant that when Naomi realised that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her. v18. Now I know several good Christian women who are so independent and unwilling to be in the debt of another that they would never have let Ruth accompany them out of the land of Moab back to Bethlehem. This is a curse. My mother could never receive a gift without trying to pay it back. She certainly found it more blessed to give than receive. Naomi realised that Ruth would be happier settling with her in Judah than stopping in her own land and so she accepts the sacrifice that her daughter-in-law makes. We know, too, that Ruth was thoughtful. She saved some of the roast grain that Boaz gave her for Naomi's supper. See Ch2v18.

Finally Naomi was a competent, decisive, person. As soon as she knew that the famine was over in Judah and the people were gathering in good harvests she makes up her mind to return to her native land. We see later in the story her resourcefulness in providing a husband for Ruth. Ruth was like Naomi in this respect as well. As soon as she gets to Bethlehem she goes out into the harvest field to glean. She works from dawn till dusk - even threshing out the grain she has gleaned before returning home.

It is no wonder Ruth was faithful to Naomi - they shared three fine qualities. I wonder what it is you admire in others. Several years ago I used to teach a girl called Kate. We did not always get on! When she was a little girl she would always run to get onto her bus. She suffered from compulsive run disorder! Whenever I was on bus duty, the main purpose of which was to stop small, stropy, girls running for their bus, Kate invariably ran faster than usual. "Katie Kittle; don't run," I bellow. No response. "KATIE KITTLE; stop running." No response - she hopes she can make the bus before realising the consequences of her disobedience. "KATIE KITTLE: COME HERE." "I won't," she shouts. But she does! In spite of these occasional clashes of will I admired Kate. She never did bad work. I can remember visiting her on work experience. She was placed with a rather disreputable horse dealer. He bought unbroken mares and stallions, broke them in and sold them on. I can see Kate now with her long, dark, hair falling down her back - grooming one of these huge, half-wild, animals as I watched from a safe distance. Very nice she looked, too, in her jodphurs! After finishing grooming the horse she walked him round the yard. It was a lively animal - tossing its head, prancing and rearing. Kate was totally fearless. I knew her better and marvelled at her cool competence.

If we are to remain faithful to Jesus we need to know and admire him. The more we know him the easier it is to follow where he leads. I admire Jesus for his integrity. As the prophet says, nor was any deceit in his mouth. Is53v9. Jesus was never politically correct. He made many enemies by his forthright condemnation of stupid tradition and hypocrisy. When the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, "Why don't your disciples live according to the traditions of the elders instead of eating their food with 'unclean' hands?" He replied, "Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:

'These people honour me
with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
their teachings are but rules.
taught by men.' Mk7v6and7.

I esteem Jesus for his approachability. So many found their way to Jesus - a young lad with his loaves and fishes, mothers with their little children, the prostitute in Simon the Pharisees' house and a dying thief on a cross. I love the way Jesus, on the resurrection morn, submitted to the embrace of Mary Magdalene.

What a teacher he was! A high risk teacher who used humour and irony and thereby risked being misunderstood through the centuries. He was such a star! The more I admire Jesus the easier it is to follow my star and remain faithful to him.

(C) Its resolution. when Naomi realised that Ruth was determined to go with her. v18.

When Orpah set out with Naomi on the road to Judah she acted on impulse. So when Naomi pointed out the folly of her behaviour she decided to return to her own people. Ruth did not make her decision to accompany her mother-in-law on impulse but on reflection. Faithfulness is never born of impulse.

Ruth had come to realise that she was in Naomi's debt. It is no coincidence that Naomi says to Ruth, "Look, your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her." And Ruth replies "Your people will be my people and your God my God." v15 and 16. Naomi had introduced Ruth to the one true God and the words of Boaz were indeed true: "Under whose wings you have come to take refuge." Ch2v12.

The men of Jabesh Gilead did not act on impulse when they rescued King Saul's body from the wall of Beth Shan and buried it under the tamarisk tree at Jabesh. See 1Sam31vs11to13. The men of Jabesh were discharging their debt to Saul. They remembered when Nahash the Ammonite besieged their city and they offered to be subject to him only to be told, "I will make a treaty with you only on the condition that I gouge out the right eye of every one of you and so bring disgrace on all Israel." 1Sam11v2. It was Saul who rescued them from their predicament. They would never forget receiving his message, "By the time the sun is hot tomorrow, you will be delivered." 1Sam11v9. The men of Jabesh Gilead's faithfulness to Saul was born of the debt they owed him.

I didn't act on impulse to give up work and care for my father after my mother died. I was in my father's debt. He had worked hard in two low paid jobs to keep his boys. I remember him coming home after a day topping frozen sugar beet and putting his feet in the oven to warm them up! He had not only been my father but also my pastor. He and my mother, by their example, brought me to Christ. My faithfulness was firmly based upon what my father had done for me.

My cousin Hilda was good to our Uncle Joe. She too had a long memory. Joe told me once, "Hilda and I have always been close. She has never forgotten that I helped her when her mother died." Hilda's mother, the good-natured Iris, died when Hilda was a young teenager and at her most vulnerable.

I have made it pretty clear in these expositions that I am not a Grace Baptist by conviction. I strongly disagree with some of the Articles of Faith which are the doctrinal basis of fellowship amongst the Grace Baptist churches. However I am a Grace Baptist by obligation. One of the itinerant preachers who speaks at our little chapel often asks after my brother Peter. "How's Peter?" he will say. "Poor old Peter," he will go on, "He had a hard time of it as a youngster. I can remember when he was taken into Papworth hospital with a cist on the lung. The whole Association prayed for him." That is the sort of thing that keeps me faithful to the Association of Grace Baptist churches in Suffolk. There are many Grace Baptists that have done me good. I can remember the joy of the members of my own church the night my brother and I were baptised. It was a foretaste of heaven-

What a gath'ring! what a gath'ring!
What a gath'ring of the ransomed in the
summer land of love!
What a gath'ring! what a gath'ring
Of the ransomed in that happy home above!

I worked for 20 years at the Grace Baptist camp for young people and enjoyed happy fellowship and received many kindnesses during that time. So I have remembered my debt and remained faithful in spite of being tempted many times to join with Christians whose doctrinal position is nearer my own. I expect there are many in all denominations who would say the same.

Christians meet regularly around the Lord's Table to remember what they owe him. You are not your own; you were bought at a price. 1Cor6v20. The cross is our emblem. It is his shed blood that demands our faithfulness.

(D) Its consolation So the two women went on until they came to Bethlehem. v19.

Faithfulness is the only way that compassion can take. Ruth pitied Naomi - she had lost so much. It was Ruth's consolation to go with her mother-in-law and help her.

This is evident in God's relationship with mankind. He is faithful to the creatures he made in his own image. So he pitied us. The compassion of the triune God for sinners is seen at the cross.

In loving kindness Jesus came,
My soul in mercy to reclaim;
And from the depths of sin and shame
Through grace he lifted me.

It is God's consolation that he has, through grace, been able to lift so many from the depths of sin and shame.

It can be enriching to share misfortune. Sometimes we sing:

Bind us together Lord,
Bind us together
With cords that cannot be broken.
Bind us together Lord,
Bind us together
O bind us together in love.

We can be bound together by suffering together. Naomi and Ruth were - and that too, is a consolation of faithfulness.

I think Naomi was unduly pessimistic when she arrived back in Bethlehem. She said, "Don't call me Naomi. Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty." v20. Naomi may have returned empty but she did not return alone. In the end the women of Bethlehem said, "For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons." Ch4v15.

My father used to be a great worrier. He always worried about how he would manage financially in his old age. His fears were never, ever, realised. Strangely he never worried about the likelihood of his wife dying first and leaving him alone. It is something that I was very aware of. I asked him once, "Why didn't you worry about mother dying?" He just said, "I knew I would have you." His confidence was not misplaced!

It is a great consolation and comfort to have someone there for us. I shall never forget seeing poor old Len Vincent going home after chapel one lovely, sunny, evening. Chronic depression made havoc of Len's life. But as I watched him that Sunday, summer's evening he was going down the lane arm in arm with his faithful wife. They had been through it all together. Len had someone to lean upon.

The Christian always has someone there to help him.

How good is the God we adore,
Our faithful, unchangeable Friend!