Tim Riordan, pastor
SonRise Baptist Church, Newnan
“We want the façade of a relationship, but we don’t want the work of a relationship.”
Is this cultural position really true? One female in her 20s posted this question on an open forum: “Does anyone even want a normal relationship?” She eventually summarized her interests with these words: “I just think a good relationship constitutes two people helping each other reach their goals, supporting one another, basically making each other better people.” Her summary sounds like a longing for commitment.
People today are a little “commitment shy.” The average person will change jobs 12 times in their career, and as many as 60 percent of Americans will have extra-marital relationships. Grocery store chains have had to create “loyalty cards” in an attempt to buy commitment. Americans are no longer doing a good job at sticking with anything – especially each other.
Ruth reminds us of the value of commitment. The situation in the opening pages of this short story focuses on the loyalty of a daughter-in-law to her mother-in-law, and the abiding principles apply to all relationships.
True commitment to others is not always easy.
Life is filled with challenges that threaten the strength of our commitment to others. In this passage, Naomi’s family went through a great deal of struggle as they faced the prospects of physical hardship brought on by famine and then the heartbreak of the death of loved ones. Naomi’s one bright spot in her life was the love of her two daughters-in-law.
Even while facing the prospect of dealing with the struggles of facing life without husbands, Ruth and Orpah insisted upon staying with Naomi. It was nearly impossible in that ancient culture for women to survive without husbands.
God led the Israelites to establish the practice of the kinsman redeemer, which offered support to a widowed woman (see Lev. 25:25-28 and Deut. 25:5-10), but Naomi urged her daughters-in-law to return to their people. Ruth’s level of commitment surpassed the pleading of Naomi and the threat of being destitute.
Relationships are important to humanity, and God calls us to a significant level of commitment to one another. Regardless of our challenges, God places a high value on relationships. This commitment should not just be seen in our marriages and families, but also in any relationship we have with other people. Ephesians 4:3-4 reminds us of the importance of unity within God’s family and Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12 uses the imagery of a body to emphasize the importance of functioning together as God’s church.
The story of Ruth reminds us that true commitment to others always has a price tag, and the price is rarely cheap. Ruth conveyed that it did not matter what Naomi had to experience, Ruth planned to stay by her side. In a world of throwaway relationships, this kind of commitment needs to be modeled for the world.
What relationships are … and what they aren’t
True commitment to others is reflected in every aspect of life.
Ruth’s reply to Naomi is a classic statement of commitment and covenant love. This level of commitment seems strange in our culture because many people enter into relationships as if they were contracts.
Relationships are covenants, not contracts. A contract is built on expectations while covenant is built on relationships. A contract is self-centered but a covenant is other-centered. A contract is about receiving but covenants are about giving.
Ruth indicated that no matter what happened in life, she was not going to leave Naomi. With these memorable words, Ruth defined for the world the meaning of total commitment.
There’s no such thing as partial commitment. You either are, or you are not, committed. One problem with people in our society is they believe they can change a definition if it is not convenient. Even though the word “commitment” means “long-term,” many people have chosen to limit the timeframe related to the concept.
A few years ago, I read where Mexico entertained the idea of temporary marriage licenses. The idea was that when a happy couple came to get their marriage license, they could choose the length of time they planned to be married. The minimum amount was two years. This license was renewable in case the couple chose to continue fulfilling their nuptials. What a sad day it will be if we redefine the meaning of commitment to have term limits.
True Commitment to others grows out of a committed heart to Christ.
What is the source of the kind of commitment seen in Ruth’s story? We may be able to read between the lines a little and see the role of Naomi’s faith upon leading to this kind of decision. In verse 16, Ruth said Naomi’s God was my God. In verse 17 she referenced the Lord. We can assume that conversations about faith were common in this Jewish family, and Ruth chose the God of the Jews.
Galatians 5:22-23 reminds us of the character qualities Christians enjoy as a result of God’s Spirit living in us. These qualities make possible the kind of commitment taught in the story of Ruth.
The key is that the fruit is of the Spirit and not of us. We cannot manufacture this fruit. It comes as a natural by-product of our growing relationship with Jesus Christ. While we can try to generate selfless love that is central to commitment, it actually comes as we deepen our relationship with Christ.
While our world struggles to understand and define commitment, it is critical that the church of Jesus Christ presents to the world a model of true, relational commitment. This kind of loyalty to one another will help define for the world the immeasurable love of God.