RUTH4:THE IMPORTANCE OF CONTINUITY
Ch4v13. This then is the family line of Perez:
There may be some repetition of points made in the three previous expositions in what follows. I do not make any apology for this as the important thing in any Bible study is to draw lessons that are relevant for today. Much time could be spent on the interesting ancient customs attending land purchase and playing the part of kinsman-redeemer. This would not profit us unless we could see some present day significance in them. So some of the themes from the earlier studies will be reinforced and developed in this one.
(B) Boaz believed in the importance of continuity.
When Boaz awoke in the night and Ruth declared herself, "I am your servant Ruth. Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a kinsman-redeemer," (Ch3v9) he could have said, "Don't you worry about that; I'll look after you and Naomi," and taken her. Boaz didn't act like this but, instead, kept to the old ways. He followed the correct procedures because he considered it was important that Mahlon's name did not disappear from among his family or from the town records. Ch4v10.
The old ways, the correct procedures, are necessary for the continuation of a local church like my own. It is vital that people believe in Jesus, witness to that belief through baptism, join the church and then actively serve it. If any of the links in this short chain are broken the survival of the church is threatened. Sadly there are Baptist churches where Christians resist baptism. In other fellowships a significant minority of believers do not join the church - they remain aloof from the governing and decision making body. There are larger causes where members attend the services but undertake no real work for the church. Every Christian should follow the old ways.
Boaz did more than follow the old ways. He used his head to secure the best outcome for Ruth, Naomi and himself. He was shrewd and stacked the odds in his favour. He didn't let the correct procedures stifle initiative. He arranged with Naomi to offer the family land for sale. The deal was that whoever bought the land also married Ruth to raise up a son to inherit the land. Now Naomi's nearest kinsman might well have been willing to either buy the land or marry Ruth - but not both. He probably already had a family. By using up capital on behalf of a son born, in effect, to Mahlon, he would be reducing the inheritance of his own family. So the kinsman-redeemer waives his right to the land and the widow. He does so by taking off his sandal and giving it to Boaz. This is not quite as it should be according to the Law of Moses. If a kinsman-redeemer refused to carry on his brother's name in Israel the widow should, go up to him in the presence of the elders, take off one of his sandals, spit in his face and say, "This is what is done to the man who will not build up his brother's family line." That man's line shall be known in Israel as The Family of the Unsandalled. Dt25v9and10. It is very significant that the sanction attending an unwillingness to act as a kinsman-redeemer had almost disappeared. There are two reasons for this. It is humiliating for a man to be spat at by a woman and, secondly, people were less concerned about a man's name being blotted out from Israel than when the law was introduced. Many New Testament teachings have lost their force or their emphasis in the church today. Satan has, for example, done his utmost to distort New Testament teaching on baptism.
Sometimes it is not enough to just follow the old ways. Jesus expects us to be shrewd and to make the most of our opportunities. Jesus' parable about the talents is all about using the opportunities that we are given to carry out his interests. Boaz was enterprising because he wanted Ruth as his wife. We shall be a lot more enterprising if our love affair with Jesus is real. Pioneer Camp, a camp for young people from Grace Baptist churches, was a Christian enterprise. I was glad to belong to it for twenty years because it was there I saw young people regularly coming to faith in Jesus.
Boaz showed how important he considered continuity was by involving others. He wasn't secretive. He fully rehearsed the matter before ten elders from the village of Bethlehem. He also made it quite clear what his intention was if the nearest kinsman-redeemer did not redeem Naomi's land and marry Ruth. He would.
'Only Fools and Horses', is a very popular comedy programme in Britain. One of the most famous episodes is where the wife of the hero, Del boy, gives birth to a son. Del is insistant that on such an important occasion; at the prospect of the continuance of the family name of Trotter - all the family should be present. So brother Rodney and Uncle Albert are there to show family solidarity and to rejoice at another addition to the Trotter dynasty.
That is why baptism is so important. It is when the family meets together to rejoice at another life given. Conversions, baptisms and new members ensure the continuity of the church. The church wants to celebrate a new life as much as a family wishes to celebrate a baby boy or a baby girl. If a person becomes a Christian it should not be a secret thing. The right and proper thing is to be baptised. This is Jesus' way of witnessing to the new life enjoyed in him. We must involve others in the joyful event of new birth. I can remember my own baptism. My father baptised my brother Paul and I and one other, Trevor Vincent. He and my mother were so happy. My dear Uncle Steven came down from London to sing a solo to God's glory and grace. How pleased he was to be there. The whole church was just so very thankful that three of its young men were from now onwards followers of the Lamb.
I am afraid that the method by which Grace Baptist churches secure a pastor leads to discontinuities of leadership that can be very damaging. Our pastors are called or invited to a pastorate by the church membership. They tend to remain in a pastorate until they retire or get called to another church. So the onus is on the call of the church without a pastor. Very little is made of a church being willing to release a pastor. In fact, if a pastor decides to go there is nothing that the church losing their leader can do about it. Not a great deal of effort is made to ensure that churches have continuity of leadership. It is also very strange to me that once a pastor leaves a church he seems to lose all interest in it. How is continuity achieved when a man retires from his church, remains in the area and worships elsewhere? Family businesses manage their affairs better than the church. The head of a family firm is able to hand over the day-to-day running of a business to his son and yet remain available for consultation and advice. Why is it so difficult for the family of God to behave in a similar fashion? Is there so much pride in the church that an old and a new leader cannot work together? It is pathetic!
(C) Ruth shows what it takes to ensure continuity in practice.
Loyalty is a vital quality if continuity is to be achieved. We have seen that Ruth had abundant loyalty to Naomi. She followed her to Bethlehem, worked hard in the harvest field to support her and asked Boaz to play the part of kinsman-redeemer to raise up a grandson for Naomi. Boaz acknowledged that this was an act of pure devotion when he said to Ruth, "The Lord bless you my daughter; this kindness is greater than that which you showed earlier." Ch3v10. The women of Bethlehem also recognised Ruth's faithfulness when they said, "Naomi has a son." Ch4v17.
I have written of the Brockley Cricket Captain before in one of my short stories. Dean is a Bury boy. He joined our club at the age of 15. Since then he has been to university and worked in Norwich, London and Northampton. He has lived in Stowmarket and Huntingdon. During all that time he has kept playing cricket for Brockley. He has travelled thousands and thousands of miles to remain loyal to his club. He is an excellent cricketer and would be more than welcome at any other club in East Anglia. For the last 10 years he has been our captain ensuring that the club carries on. People like Dean are essential for the continuity of not only cricket clubs but churches. Yet I am bound to say that very few Christians would show the same commitment to their home churches as Dean has shown to his club. It seems to me that some young Christians are almost glad to break away from the churches of their upbringing. They make no effort to return to their local area after University. They do not even think of it. It doesn't cross their mind. You might say, "You can't blame them. That's life. It is understandable. Young people want to move on." This attitude leads to lack of continuity and the slow and miserable death of many churches.
Ruth was prepared to make a sacrifice to ensure the continuity of Elimelech's line. Boaz thought she was making a sacrifice by being prepared to marry him: "You have not run after the younger men - rich or poor." Ch3v10. However Ruth was even prepared to risk losing Boaz who was not the nearest kinsman-redeemer to ensure family continuity.
In the early 1990's there was a series of fascinating TV programmes on a small town in central China. One of the most endearing characters featured in those programmes was a small girl called Scamp. She lived in the hills. Scamp was one of those small, quick, deft, girls who could play five stones with a speed and dexterity the eye could not follow. I loved watching her go to market with her father to buy a horse. She was almost an equal partner in the transaction. Scamp had no fear extracting honey from the hive. Her father was the local schoolmaster. When the children in the hill school were asked what their ambition was Scamp said, "To go to university to study to be a teacher in our school." She wished to return to her impoverished hill community, to that ill equipped, battered, school and those ragged country children. Scamp loved her father, she loved her school and she would be back whatever the sacrifice. I hope, and I would love to know, that she is back there now ensuring the continuity of education in her home village.
There is a blessing for remaining loyal and making sacrifices. There was a blessing for Ruth. The women of Bethlehem blessed her. They said of her to Naomi, "Your daughter-in-law who loves you and is better than 7 sons." Her worth was recognised and this is a great blessing. I too have remained loyal and the blessing for me has been the assurance that I have been in God's will.
(D) Is continuity important to God?
It is obvious from what I have written that continuity is important to me but is it important to God? Does he care about it? He most emphatically does!
At the end of Ruth we have a little section that begins, This, then, is the family line of Perez. Ch4v18. It is a remarkable fact that in a family line the old is never lost. The old is continually taken into the new. The genes of Ruth were passed on and on through David, on and on to Christ. We sometimes see an older generation in the new. I am acquainted with a lady, Mrs Barnet, who only had to see me walk across a meadow when I was a boy of 14 to know that I was the grandson of Jake Hughes. I sometimes look at my nephew Joseph and see something of his great grandfather Reed.
This is a vitally important principle. It underlies the whole of creation. It also underlies God's unfolding revelation. Jesus said, "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them." Mt5v17. I think the following illustration may help us to understand what Jesus is saying. An artist makes a rough sketch of a scene for a painting. After he has completed the finished work he discards the draft. It is not, however, destroyed because it has been taken up and brought to completion in the painting. So the old rules and regulations that had to do with the temple sacrifice and diet can be torn up because Jesus has made one, final, all sufficient and perfect sacrifice for sin and by his death and Spirit he makes those who trust in him new creatures. The dietary laws were the rough sketch - the new life in Christ the finished masterpiece.
The principle of continuity also helps us to understand what happens at the resurrection of the body. Our old bodies are not destroyed but rather taken up and bought to perfection in the new. Our new bodies stand in relation to our old ones a bit as a vacuum cleaner stands in relation to a hand brush. The vacuum cleaner is so much more than the old hand brush but, nevertheless, inside every Hoover or Dyson there is a brush. The brush has not been lost. So it was that when Jesus appeared in his resurrection body to his disciples he retained the nail prints in his hand and the wound in his side. I believe at the resurrection we shall retain distinguishing features that will make us recognisable to our loved ones. Traces of the old draft will be visible in Jesus' finished masterpiece.
A second lesson to learn is suggested by: Ch4v21and22 Salmon the father of Boaz, Boaz the father of Obed, Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David. In the family line of Perez, the son of Judah, there are little know individuals like Salmon and Obed. Yet they were all essential to bring us to David - and eventually Christ. They are links in the chain. Just as no link is unimportant to a chain so no life is unimportant to God. This is particularly true of the great chains of new births. One person is converted through the witness of another and they in turn play a part in the conversion of someone else.
Lastly we should never underestimate the significance of a single righteous act. There would never have been a king David if Ruth hadn't said, "Let me go to the fields and pick up the leftover grain behind anyone in whose eyes I find favour." Jesus would not have been born of Mary without that act. We must never lose sight of the importance of what we do in the Providence of God - because God works on the principle of continuity. See Conclusion of An Unique Priesthood