By Mark Proctor
Pastor, Highland Park Baptist Church, Columbia
In seminary we learned to think in terms of “doctrines.” When we studied a passage, we were asked, “what doctrine is being taught here? Is the doctrine of God? Perhaps of atonement?” It’s a helpful approach when studying Ruth 1. We often zero in on verses 16 and 17 with their forceful commitments and conclude that “God is love.” Of course that’s true but there’s a more resounding doctrine. Ruth 1 tells us about the doctrine of sanctification — how God uses time, trouble, and tenacity to create in us a heart that can be used for His purposes.
In Ruth’s case the purpose was messianic in character. Her remarriage to Boaz produced Obed, the grandfather of King David who was in the line of Jesus. Such purpose is never assigned lightly by God. When God has a noble purpose for His children the assignment usually comes with a preparation period — time — that is followed by trouble. Those things prepare us for the tenacity required to achieve God’s purpose.
Time is the hardest of all to deal with for some. British novelist E.M. Forster said once that, “We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” We don’t like letting go of our plans. Ruth did not know her great-grandson who would be king. She knew only her homeland, her husband, and her home for 10 years (Ruth 1:4). Left alone, she would have settled for those. But God doesn’t leave His own alone. Time gives way to the cadence of God’s will for the believer. And the next step of sanctification isn’t any easier.
“In this world you will have trouble” Jesus said (John 16:33). Trouble indeed. As sure as verse 5 follows verse 4, trouble found Ruth and Naomi both. Ruth’s husband died but it was reported only that Naomi was “left without her two sons and her husband.” The loss of a child and the loss of a spouse are two of life’s sharpest pains and here God uses both to prepare these ladies. God used the pain, the trouble, to move them from Moab back to Bethlehem, closer to His purpose. That’s why when pain comes into the life of any believer we are often justified to ask, “what do you think God is trying to do?” It’s a fair question. And the answer is undoubtedly that God is trying to push them closer to His purpose. Remembering time and remembering trouble helps develop a tenacity in us that is required for sanctification.
Ruth’s refusal to abandon Naomi showed tenacity in its finest form. Notice how many times the two went around on this issue. Faithfulness was now part of Ruth’s fiber, embedded deeply by the time and trouble of the years past. Fear not, troubled Christians. Sanctification requires these very things. He who started a good work in us will complete it — in time, with trouble.