The UK was once marked by a spirit of duty under God and love. Men and women would go to great lengths to do the right thing for others, even at great personal cost. This spirit has been replaced in recent years by an atmosphere of risk and reward. What’s in it for me? These two attitudes are contrasted in Ruth chapter 4 and only one of them leads to blessing and happiness for all.
Israel in Ruth’s day had two laws which prevented the rich from getting richer and which protected widows and orphans. The first law concerned land. When a man died, his land could be sold to provide for his widow and children. But, at the year of Jubilee, every forty nine years, the land had to be returned to the family who sold it. A family member, kinsman-redeemer, could buy the land. As he did, he also had to marry his brother’s widow so that his late brother’s name would be preserved with the land, securing it for future generations. These laws were good and brought blessings to the people of Israel.
Ruth was a widow, from a foreign land, a Gentile. Her first kinsman-redeemer wanted Ruth’s land (Ruth 4:4) but he didn’t want to risk marrying Ruth (Ruth 4:6). He calculated the risk and reward and decided that there was not enough in it for him. This was a shameful act of selfishness (Deut 25:7-10).
Boaz is a complete contrast. He knows his duty under the law of God and he loves Ruth, and so he makes a great sacrifice for her. His land goes to his biological children, but they take the name of Ruth’s late father-in-law, Elimelech, the man who ran from God and disobeyed the law. The name of the man who died young, under God’s curse, continues in perpetuity whilst Boaz’s name is lost.
In the UK today, there is plenty of media and public angst when public service institutions pay top-end salaries and massive redundancy severance deals worth millions out of the tax pot which is contributed to by lots of other, less well paid, hard-working folk. But this should not surprise us when the nation has begun to think like Ruth’s first kinsman-redeemer. What’s the risk and reward, what’s in it for me? This thinking pervades almost every level of life in the UK. So, I find myself asking, what’s in it for me more than I should, because this is both the natural man in me, selfish, but also what my culture conditions me to think.
We need a revival of godly thinking, “what is my duty under God and am I filled with love for God and for my neighbour?” Men and women who love God and want to do what’s right in his eyes will deny themselves, and make sacrifices for the common good. Both duty and love are required. A sense of grudging duty is no good, and neither is love for people that does not result in selfless action.
But where can we find the source of motivation and example? It’s the cross of Jesus Christ, stupid. The eternal Son of God, who gave up everything in heaven and on earth, to do his duty under God the Father, taking the curse of the law on his young shoulders, because he knew his duty and loved his Father and loved his people. He rescued condemned sinners from hell by his loving act of self-sacrifice. When we know the model of the Son of God and his love fills our hearts, then no sacrifice is too great for the eternal and temporal benefit of others.
For more on this subject listen to my sermon on how duty and love lead to sacrifice Ruth 4.