This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.
Scripture: Ruth 4:1-12
A lady answered the knock on her door to find a man with a sad expression. "I'm sorry to disturb you," he said, "but I'm collecting money for an unfortunate family in the neighborhood. The husband is out of work, the kids are hungry, the utilities will soon be cut off, and worse, they're going to be kicked out of their apartment if they don't pay the rent by this afternoon." "I'll be happy to help," said the woman with great concern. "But who are you?" "I'm the landlord," he replied.
If we serve only when there is “something in it for us,” our actions soon lose that “loving feeling!” As followers of Jesus Christ, we are given a better way - to serve others selflessly. We’ll see this type of service in action as we learn more about Boaz’s redemption of Ruth in Ruth 4:1-12. May the Lord add his blessing to our reading and application of His holy Word.
(Read Ruth 4:1-12)
The time of the Judges (the setting of the book of Ruth) was very different from our time. This was especially the case with respect to widows. To be widowed was a terrible plight. To be widowed without any sons was even more terrible. Husbands and sons were the main providers of income and protection. A woman who had no husband had no income and no safety. Out of his love and mercy for widows, God established the role of the kinsman-redeemer.
Through the kinsman-redeemer, God provided for women who had lost their husbands. A kinsman-redeemer had the responsibility to marry the widow, have male children with her if possible, and manage the deceased man’s property. However, when the male heir born from this union was old enough, he had the right to claim his deceased father’s land. God used the kinsman-redeemer to provide for widows, continue family lines, and protect family property.
Boaz wanted to marry Ruth, but there was another relative closer in line than him. Not willing to give up on Ruth, Boaz decided to take the initiative and seek out this nearer relative.
Early the next morning, while the people of Bethlehem were making their morning commute to work, Boaz took a seat at the city’s gate. As the people flooded past, leaving the city to go to their fields, Boaz “just happened” to see the kinsman-redeemer passing by. Our God was working behind the scenes to make sure the kinsman-redeemer was there at the right time! Boaz called out, “Come over here, my friend, and sit down.” He then found ten elders of the city to join them in the legal proceedings.
When they had found their seats, Boaz began to plead the case: “Naomi, who has come back from Moab, is selling the piece of land that belonged to our brother Elimelech. I thought I should bring the matter to your attention and suggest that you buy it in the presence of these seated here and in the presence of the elders of my people. If you will redeem it, do so. But if you will not, tell me, so I will know. For no one has the right to do it except you and I am next in line.” (Ruth 4:3-4).
We might ask Boaz, “What are you doing?” From his speech it sounds like he’s trying to talk the kinsman-redeemer into buying the land. If he does buy it, Boaz loses Ruth! Sure enough, the kinsman-redeemer says, “I will redeem it.” (4:4). And why wouldn’t he? Naomi didn’t have any sons and she was too old to have any more. He could buy this field and profit from it without ever having to worry about a male heir of Elimelech coming of age and taking it away. This was a slam-dunk real estate deal! Granted, he would have to take care of the aging Naomi—but that was a small price to pay for the long-term payoff he would receive from the property.
This man, who remains unnamed, was perfectly happy fulfilling his duty as kinsman-redeemer as long as there was something in it for him! He made a “cost versus reward” analysis in his head. And he found that he would come out ahead in the reward column. So, he did the “honorable” thing by agreeing to purchase the land. After all, he was “helping” an old widow.
Soon, however, we see his true colors. Boaz continued his case: “On the day you buy the field from Naomi, you also acquire the dead man’s widow in order to maintain the name of the dead with his property.” (4:5). There is a catch! The field isn’t going to be the sure investment the kinsman-redeemer thought he was getting. It came with a new wife; a wife who could expect him to produce a male heir. This heir would continue the name of his deceased father and take the property back some day. All of the sudden this sweet deal turned sour.
“In that case,” the kinsman-redeemer said, “I cannot redeem it because I might endanger my own estate. You redeem it yourself.” (4:6). His duty as kinsman-redeemer would cost him more than it would profit him. Like his potential for profit, his desire to serve Naomi as kinsman-redeemer vanished. He is an example of serving selfishly—serving only if he stood to gain something for himself.
Boaz, on the other hand, stands in stark contrast to the man who was never named!
Before all the people gathered there and the elders, Boaz proclaimed his intentions to buy Elimelech’s property, care for his surviving family and marry Ruth. He was willing to take over as kinsman-redeemer, even though it would come at a cost. He would have to provide food and shelter for both Naomi and Ruth. He would have to make sure their interests were looked after and they were safe. You know the surprising thing about Boaz—he was already doing these things! He had been providing for both Naomi and Ruth since the time they returned to Bethlehem—even before he had the responsibility to do so!
Boaz is a model of what selflessness looks like. And should there be any doubt about his motive in caring for Naomi and Ruth, verses 9 and 10 testify to his God-honoring character. He says in those verses that as the kinsman-redeemer he would “maintain the name of the dead with his property, so that his name will not disappear from among his family or from the town records.”
By redeeming Naomi and Ruth, Boaz obliged himself to continue Elimelech’s family name and standing! This would happen through the first son born to him and Ruth. The child would be considered one of Elimelech’s sons and would have the right to his father’s property. By acting as Ruth’s kinsman-redeemer, Boaz selflessly restored wholeness to Elimelech’s family tree and cared for his surviving relatives.
Boaz was a living illustration of serving others despite the personal cost he would incur. His motivation for acting as kinsman-redeemer was not driven by what he could gain. It was exactly the opposite; it was about what others could gain! This is the type of selflessness God desires from his people. It’s the kind of selflessness he gave to his people through Jesus Christ.
In many ways, Boaz modeled the type of selfless love and sacrifice we would eventually experience through Christ.
If we consider our spiritual condition when we didn’t know Jesus we can make a connection between Ruth’s situation and our own. We were both destitute. Ruth lacked the basic necessities of life: food, shelter, and safety. Spiritually, we lacked the necessities of life: a life-giving relationship with him, an eternal home in heaven, and the security of belonging to a covenant-keeping God. We needed someone to make the first move to save us! Like Boaz going to the city gate to initiate Ruth’s redemption, our Savior Jesus took the initiative to bring us into the wholeness of life in God.
He came for us when there was nothing we could do to help ourselves. Paul gives the reason for our helplessness in Ephesians 2:1, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins.” Our “death” led us to satisfying the cravings of our sinful nature, thus pulling us farther and farther from God. It was during this time that “God, because of his great love for us…made us alive with Christ even while we were dead in transgression—it is by grace you have been saved.” (Eph 2:4). Jesus took the initiative to redeem us when we were helpless to do it alone! Plus, he redeemed us at great personal cost.
Redeeming Ruth cost Boaz. Redeeming sinners cost Jesus dearly. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor…” (2 Cor. 8:9a-c). Christ experienced poverty from the moment of conception to his death on the cross. He knew firsthand the trials of being destitute. But more significant than being poor financially, our Savior experienced poverty by taking on our flesh to live in our sin-cursed world. Yet he traded his heavenly dwelling for an earthly one; that’s becoming poor despite being rich! In heaven the angels and saints of God offered him constant praise and adoration. Here he suffered, was rejected, and was murdered. To say it was a downgrade is an understatement. He paid dearly for redemption.
Though he had to bear that cost himself, he did so willingly in order that, “you through his poverty might become rich.” (2 Cor. 8:9d). Jesus was not driven by what he could gain, but by what we would gain through his death: salvation. Because he paid the price for our sins, he acquired our forgiveness and redemption with God. There is now no more cost to be paid! The only thing that remains is faith: trusting that Jesus paid the price for our eternal salvation with his own blood. Faith is the only way to gain the riches God offers us in Jesus Christ.
If you, right now, are what Paul describes as “dead in your sins,”—and you feel the overwhelming poverty of a life without God—put your faith in Jesus this moment! He is ready to receive anyone who trusts in him and to bring you into a never-ending relationship that brings new life, wholeness, restoration, and all the riches available in Christ. He has never said, “No,” to any who have asked him. He never turns anyone away who is looking for him. Jesus gave himself selflessly to redeem us eternally!
Jesus lives and died selflessly to give new life to men and women, boys and girls.
This new life is a fountain fed by the Spirit of God, from which a new attitude and way of living burst forth to the glory of God! Believers are changed people who continue to change and to grow as God works to pattern their lives after the life of his Son, Jesus. A crucial part of that pattern is an attitude of selflessness. As people filled with the life of Christ, we have been empowered to imitate his selflessness in our love for and interactions with others.
Boaz and Jesus are both living examples of loving selflessly. They show us that love is not something we do to serve ourselves. Love points outward, not inward! So our goal is to serve other people without requiring anything in return. In other words, we serve others even when there is nothing in it for us. Loving service is a sacrifice we make for the good of other people! Isn’t that the kind of love that God has shown to us? Isn’t that what love is – a sacrifice? God could have kept Jesus from death. But it would have come at the expense of losing all of us! Love is a sacrifice; it’s selfless.
So that means it will cost us something! For example, loving someone selflessly may cost us time. We’ll have to carve out time in our week to serve someone who may need our encouragement or support. It may take away from the time that we had hoped to use for putting our feet up. Selfless love, though, looks to benefit others even if it costs some personal time. We may feel extra tired by the end of the week, but time spent loving others is a sacrifice! And we honor God through this type of sacrifice.
We can also practice selflessness in our interactions with other people. Interacting with other people can be challenging. This may be one area in which we can be glad to know that the selflessness we show comes from the power of Christ living in us! Through his life in us, we can deal with difficult people in godly ways. By remembering the initiative Jesus took to rescue us, we can put our interaction with others in the right perspective. He came here because we needed to receive the love of God. Without it, we would have been lost forever.
Sometimes the difficult people we interact with just need someone to show them genuine love. Maybe they don’t have the assurance of knowing that they matter to someone. Perhaps they are going through a difficult struggle at home and need someone to reach out to them instead of writing them off as “unapproachable” or “testy.” By the power of Christ in us we can make that first move!
Of course, we also will have many opportunities to be selfless toward people who are a pleasure to be around! Selfless actions can be as small as pouring another’s water at dinner and as big (or bigger!) than donating a kidney! No matter the size, God is pleased when his people are selfless in their interactions with others.
The Apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Philippi, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 2:3-5). His attitude was selfless.
So, we too, who belong to this selfless Savior ought to have the same attitude of selflessness. Boaz showed us that sometimes we have to make decisions that cost us instead of profit us. On paper his acquisition of Ruth—and everything else—didn’t make much mathematical sense. Kingdom math usually doesn’t! It’s the same “math” God used to redeem his people. Through the subtraction of his One and Only Son, he adds a people who belong to him—a kingdom of saints redeemed to live eternally!
And so, we follow Christ in loving others selflessly. In all of our interactions, through all of the words we speak, Christ empowers us to put the needs of others before our own, even if there is nothing in it for us.
Order of Worship
Call to worship: Psalm 89:1-2
Silent prayer for God’s blessing
The Lord’s Greeting: “Lord, we meet you here and ask that your mercy and your grace and your peace may be ours in abundance through Jesus Christ. Amen.”
Opening Hymn: “Amid the Thronging Worshippers” PsH #239
God’s Will for Believers: Exodus 20:1-17 (10 Commandments)
Assurance of Pardon: Romans 3:23-26
Hymn of Response: “Living for Jesus” PsH #292
Hymn of Preparation: “Breathe on Me, Breath of God” PsH #420
Scripture: Ruth 4:1-12
Message: “Living Selflessly”
Prayer of Application: “Our Father in Heaven, thank you for the selfless love shown to us in Jesus Christ! Please give to us what we need to live selflessly in the way we interact with others. As we show your love through our love, may many come to know you and your Son, Jesus Christ. We pray this in His name, Amen.”
Hymn of Response: “Jesu, Jesu, Fill Us with Your Love” PsH #601
Benediction: “May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit remain with us all. Amen.”
Doxology: “Savior, Again to Your Dear Name We Raise” PsH #319: 1,2