Session 3: Ruth Takes the Risk - Radical

Secret Church 24: Ruth

Session 3: Ruth Takes the Risk

The story of Ruth has come to a head. She’s emboldened by Naomi to take the risk that will define the rest of their lives. In this session of Secret Church, Pastor David Platt describes the picture of love that Ruth 3 clearly portrays. The kind of love that pays the price, takes risks, makes sacrifices, and goes out of its way to show extravagant kindness to others.

  1. What can we learn from Ruth’s risk-taking?
  2. Are you sometimes afraid of taking the risks God is calling you to take?
  3. In what ways are you loving the people around you?
  4. Is your love patient and pure? Does it protect, provide, and pay the price?

I want to welcome you back together for this third session. It’s starting to get late into the night for many of you, so feel free to stand up, walk around, do whatever you need to do to stay in tune, because you do not want to miss the drama that’s about to unfold in these last two chapters. 

Let’s dive into Ruth 3. Love is a strange thing and love makes you do strange things. I’ve shared this before but I can’t remember if I’ve done so during a Secret Church. If so, I still think it’s worth resharing again here at the beginning of Ruth 3, and all the more so in light of the burgeoning love story between Ruth and Boaz. 

My wife is the only girl I ever dated, which sounds noble until you realize that I was so socially awkward growing up that I was afraid to talk to girls. So when God provided a girl who would talk to me, I held on to her. On one of our anniversaries, she gave me a scrapbook that contained a variety of letters that I had written to her over the course of our relationship. Keep in mind, this is when we used to use these things called pens and paper. We actually used to write to each other instead of texting or any other digital form of communication.

So Heather made up this scrapbook and I was looking through it. There’s one letter I want to share with you, at the risk of ruining any reputation I might have had. For context, she had just moved off to college; I was still in high school and missed her. We were technically just friends at this point, but I definitely wanted to be more than friends. Apparently we had just talked on the phone when I wrote this letter to her. So this is what it says. 

“Dear Heather, Dude, I am so glad you called tonight.” Are you serious? Dude? What kind of opening is that? I know that when you write a letter like this to a girl, you pore over every word. I have no clue what compelled me to think that the first word out of the chute should be ‘Dude.’ 

Then I continued, “Dude, I’ve wanted to call you tonight. I have wanted to call you Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday and today, but I just figured you were too busy.” You’re not supposed to say that. You’re supposed to say you’ve been really busy. But apparently I was not. 

I wrote, “When I heard your voice it was so awesome that I can’t explain how I felt. You sounded so awesome.” Is this not the most lame thing you’ve ever heard? Awesome twice? It got worse. It got three pages of worse, like this, over and over again. But I’ll go ahead and jump to the end. 

So here was my rousing conclusion: “Dude, I’m not just wasting ink when I say this.” Like, dude again? And wasting ink? Can you tell I’d never had a girlfriend? Is it obvious? Then I wrote, “My life isn’t the same without you around. I miss having you to talk with and spend time with. I miss you something fierce.” Fierce, really? “Praying for you, dude.” So for those counting, that’s three dude mentions in the total of eight lines. “Praying for you, dude. In Christ…” Don’t blame this on him. This is not his fault. “In Christ, David.” So that was the letter I wrote, by God’s grace, to my future wife. Love is a strange thing and love makes you do strange things. 

What I want to show you now is a picture of love in Ruth 3, in what is the turning point of the entire story between these three main characters: Naomi, Ruth and Boaz. We see biblical love in all three of them, a kind of love that makes you do strange things. Along the way, I want to encourage you to consider how this kind of love might grow in your life, in your relationships—in your marriage, in your parenting, for students in your relationship with your parents, for all of us in our friendships. This love might grow in our relationships with other brothers and sisters in Christ, as well as in our love for people in need of Christ. So let’s dive in. 

I’ll go ahead and warn you that things are about to get dicey. Ruth is about to turn up the temperature on the romance in a way that introduces tension and emotion. If you’re hearing this in the original language, you’re going to be squirming in your seat. This chapter contains some of the most surprising, even sensuous, language that we see in the whole book, and in a sense in the whole Bible. And the pace of the story slows down dramatically. 

Up to this point we’ve seen over a decade—years of working and waiting—in two chapters. Now everything is going to change in a matter of 24 hours in the next two chapters. Specifically in chapter three, all of the events happen here between sunset and sunrise on one single day.

So remember the set-up. Ruth 2 ended with Ruth living with her mother-in-law and Boaz doing nothing. They have food, but they still need family. They’re alone, with no husband, no heir, no one to ensure their wellbeing going forward. So Naomi, the mother-in-law, decides it’s time to take some action. 

Let’s pick up the story at Ruth 3:1: “Then Naomi her mother-in-law said to her, ‘My daughter, should I not seek rest for you, that it may be well with you?’” Translation, “Ruth, you need a husband.” The word Naomi uses for ‘rest’ here literally refers to finding the security and happiness that are found in marriage to a loving husband. So in the original language of the Old Testament, this means, “You need a man, dear.” The problem is, Ruth is a foreigner. She’s a Moabite in an Israelite world. Sure, she’s been working in Boaz’s field, but it’s not like Ruth is going to go up to Boaz in the middle of the field one day and say, “Marry me.” So Naomi comes up with a plan

Look at verse two: “Is not Boaz our relative, with whose young women you were? See, he is winnowing barley tonight at the threshing floor.” Pause there. Two notes. First, Naomi reminds Ruth that Boaz is a relative from their family. In Israelite society, he had the right, even responsibility, to provide for Ruth. This basically meant that Boaz was an eligible bachelor. 

Second, that night he was going to be winnowing barley. Basically, that means the harvest has been collected, the men would work, oftentimes in an isolated area, where they would separate the grain from the chaff. They would toss the threshed grain into the air, the wind would catch the chaff and blow it away, then the grain, being heavier, would fall to the ground. After the men finished doing that, they would oftentimes sleep at the threshing floor in order to guard the grain.

So basically this would be a time when Boaz would be alone and Ruth could approach him in a secluded place. This sets the stage for two of the shadiest verses in the book of Ruth, verses three and four: “Wash therefore and anoint yourself, and put on your cloak and go down to the threshing floor, but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking.  But when he lies down, observe the place where he lies. Then go and uncover his feet and lie down, and he will tell you what to do.” 

Okay, let’s follow this. Naomi starts by saying, “All right, Ruth, get yourself cleaned up.” But this is more than just, “Hey, Ruth, you smell bad now. If you’re going to go see Boaz, you need to smell better.” There’s an interesting parallel to this over in 2 Samuel 12:20. Look at this. After David learned that his baby son through Bathsheba had died, he was in mourning. Then verse 20 says, “Then David arose from the earth and washed and anointed himself and changed his clothes. And he went into the house of the Lord and worshiped.” 

David does the exact same thing we see Naomi encouraging Ruth to do. He washed, he put on lotions and fine clothes, signifying that he was finished mourning. So back here in Ruth, this is basically a symbol. Wash yourself, anoint yourself, put on your cloak—a symbol that this childless widow was now putting behind any sense of mourning and putting herself forward as available for marriage. In addition to that, she’s going to smell better.

So Naomi says, “Get washed, put on perfume, your best clothes, then go to where Boaz is at the threshing floor. Stay out of sight until he has finished eating and drinking; you want him in the best mood possible.” The implication here is in no way that Boaz would be drunk. It’s just a picture of a guy who’s happier once he’s had a nice meal.

Then Naomi says, and the language is euphemistic—it’s almost like, “Okay, listen. This is crucial. Here’s what you’re going to do. Wait until he lies down. When he does, then go over to him and uncover his feet and lie down.” If you are listening to this story in its original language, you are totally blushing right now. If your kids are sitting nearby, you are covering their ears. This is intense. The way the author does this is so breathtaking in the Hebrew because the language is intentionally ambiguous and suggestively erotic. The three main Hebrew words here—“uncover…legs or feet…lie down” —are Hebrew words that are charged with sexual overtones. Basically the effect they have is to send the mind of readers racing. Just listen to the words and think of the overtones that come to a hearer’s mind here: “Uncover a man, see his feet, lie down next to him.” When you’re listening to this, you’re probably thinking, “Man, what is Naomi thinking?”

I love this. Look at how Naomi started this whole thing. She said, “When he lies down, observe the place where he lies.” In other words, “Ruth, make sure you know where Boaz is. Do not do this to the wrong guy.” Wouldn’t that just royally mess up the story? “Ah, wrong feet. Sorry.” This picture that Naomi is painting is highly suggestive. Lie down at his feet? It doesn’t just mean make his feet your pillow. Some think this means to lie down parallel with his legs, or even with your head in or near his lap. Whatever it is, this is a clear sign that Ruth will be giving to Boaz that she desires him. Talk about forward and risky, even dangerous. 

Think about what would happen if Boaz doesn’t respond favorably. Boaz could scold Ruth immediately. He could make a mockery of what she’d done and send her back home, never to come back to his field. Or Boaz could take advantage of her in a way that would be hurtful for her. This is highly risky. A woman proposing to a man? A younger person proposing to someone older? A field worker proposing to the field owner? A Moab proposing to an Israelite? This is daring, to say the least. With all that’s hanging in the balance, it could be disastrous. 

But watch Ruth’s commitment to Naomi, her mother-in-law, in verse five: “She replied, ‘All that you say I will do.’” Huh? Just like that. In 55 words, we have this exquisite plan from Naomi. Then in five Hebrew words, Ruth says, “Okay.” 

Then verse six says, “She went down to the threshing floor and did just as her mother-in-law had commanded her.” This leaves the audience hanging on the edge. What happened? The author begins to tell us the story. “And when Boaz had eaten and drunk, and his heart was merry, he went to lie down at the end of the heap of grain.” Can you imagine this? Just put yourself in Ruth’s shoes at this point. She’s snuck into some hiding place near the winnowing floor. She’s sitting there, quietly watching. This is intense. You can almost hear her heart beating nervously. It’s romantic. There she is, watching her man winnow. As his work draws to a close, he goes far to the end of the grain pile where it just so happens no one else is. He lies down, looks up at the stars, then quietly drifts off to sleep. Ruth sits back. Waiting. Watching for clues to know when he’s fallen asleep.

I think about nights when my kids have been sick or have had a hard time sleeping. I’ve gone into their room with them and rubbed their backs until they fall asleep. I’ll watch them and think, “Okay, I can make my exit now.” So I stop rubbing, take my hand off his or her back, then all of a sudden a head pops up, as if to say, “Where are you going?” I go back and do it again.

So Ruth does not want to move too soon. “Then she came softly and uncovered his feet and lay down.” Whoa. There it is. She has done it. She has uncovered his feet, which means she’s laying down, either parallel or perpendicular, right next to Boaz. Her heart is really beating now. The audience is squirming with fear and excitement and anticipation. What is going to happen next? 

Then we read. I love this verse: “At midnight the man was startled and turned over, and behold, a woman lay at his feet!” Something startled him. Maybe a cool breeze on his legs kicked in and woke him. So he reaches over to cover himself, but to his amazement he sees a woman there. The language is literally, “Behold, a woman!” Undoubtedly Ruth was awake, right? It’s not like she falls asleep there, lying next to Boaz. She’s laying there, looking at him, just waiting for the moment that he wakes up.

I think of times when, as a dad, I have either fallen asleep on the couch or in bed, then all of a sudden I sense something wake me up. My eyes open and I see two little eyeballs right in front of me. One of my kids is just standing there, two inches from my face. As soon as I open my eyes, they say, “You want to play with me?” That’s what I’m picturing here. Boaz rolls over, opens his eyes and two eyes are just staring back at him.

Listen to what he says in verse nine. I love this. “He said, ‘Who are you?’” Well, at this point, I wish we had a little more information. I want more on the tone here, the sound of Boaz’s voice. There are all kinds of ways he could have said this. Was it a confused, “Ah, who are you?” Was it a shock and awe, “Who are you?!” Was it a simple whisper? This question is so significant because it is the whole question of the book: who is Ruth, this Moabitess. She’s looking a whole lot like an Israelite in this story. Who is this woman? 

Then Ruth responds, “I am Ruth, your servant.” The word she uses for servant here is not the same word she used to describe herself back in 2:13 when she said, “You have spoken kindly to your servant.” They’re both translated ‘servant,’ but back here in chapter two, that’s the word for a worker on the lowest rung of a social ladder. This word here in 3:9 is used in reference to a woman who’s eligible for marriage. “I am Ruth, your servant.” 

This leads directly into her next statement, which is a massive statement: “Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer.” All right. Things just went to a whole other level. Did you notice that Ruth just left Naomi’s game plan behind? Naomi had said, “Uncover his feet and he will tell you what to do.” The audience is listening, and after they hear Ruth identify herself, they’re waiting for Boaz to have the next word. But Ruth speaks up and says more. She says, “Spread your wings over your servant.” Talk about bold! The audience is wondering, “What in the world has gotten into Ruth?” 

Just in case Boaz isn’t getting the hint, Ruth is leaving no room for misinterpretation. She uses a phrase that was common in that day for the protection a husband would give his wife within their marriage. We’ll just put it this way: A man only spread his skirt over his wife. Ruth just said, “You are my redeemer, so you have the right to marry me.” This is extraordinary—a servant telling her boss that he should marry her? A Moabite telling an Israelite what to do? A poor woman giving instructions to a rich man? This is bold on every level. 

Do you see that word “wings”? Spread your wings over me? Think back to 2:12 when Boaz prayed, “The Lord repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!” Under the wings of the Lord. That’s the same word that Ruth uses here. It’s almost like Ruth is saying, “Remember when you prayed that the Lord would protect me? Well, now it’s time for you to be the answer to that prayer. Take me under your wings as your wife.” Guys, you’ve got to love it when your wife uses Scripture on you. 

The picture here is bigger than just Ruth, because Ruth says, “Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer.” You’ll remember that word from the end of chapter two. Ruth is saying, “You are able to protect, provide for, help, deliver and rescue, not just me, but Naomi and our family, from the destitute situation that we are in.” Ruth is appealing for redemption here. So the audience waits to see what in the world Boaz is going to do. You can almost imagine the shock on his face and the thoughts running through his head as Ruth speaks to him. 

Then he responds in verse ten: “And he said, May you be blessed by the Lord, my daughter. You have made this last kindness greater than the first in that you have not gone after young men, whether poor or rich.’” Wow. We breathe a sigh of relief. He speaks to her again in kind, affectionate terms—“my daughter.” It’s clear, even amidst the intense suggestive overtones of this scene, that Boaz has no intention of taking advantage of Ruth in any way. He is struck, now for the second time, by Ruth’s kindness, first shown to Naomi and now to him. She could have tried to pursue a younger man, but she’s come to him. 

He’s struck that she would basically propose marriage to him, so he says in verse 11, “And now, my daughter, do not fear. I will do for you all that you ask, for all my fellow townsmen know that you are a worthy woman.” Want to see something really interesting here? The original order of the Hebrew Bible is different from the order of our Old Testament. There’s some debate over exactly how the Hebrew Bible was ordered, but most believe Ruth came much later in the Old Testament, after the history and the prophets in the section of writings. Many believe the book of Ruth came right after the book of Proverbs. So imagine reading through the Hebrew Bible, coming to the end of Proverbs where you read Proverbs 31:10: “An excellent wife, who can find? She is far more precious than jewels.” That’s the exact same wording that’s used to describe Ruth in Ruth 3:11, when she’s described as a worthy woman. Then you listen to the rest of Proverbs 31. Think about Ruth, concluding with these words in Proverbs 31:31: “Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates.” We could jump to the end of Ruth 4, which we’re not going to do just yet, where we would see Ruth’s praise in the city gates. The book of Ruth is a perfect follow-up to Proverbs 31.

Back to Ruth 3. This is going too well, until we get to verse 12. Man, we are ready at this point to see this marriage happen. We can almost hear the wedding bells in the background. But listen to what Boaz says. “And now it is true that I am a redeemer. Yet there is a redeemer nearer than I.” What does that mean? Basically, according to Old Testament law, there was a line of succession for redemption, and in this situation, there was somebody else in the clan who had the first right to redeem, protect, provide and care for Ruth and Naomi. In other words, it’s not a sure thing that this is going to happen. 

Boaz tells her, “Remain tonight, and in the morning, if he will redeem you, good; let him do it. But if he is not willing to redeem you, then, as the Lord lives, I will redeem you. Lie down until the morning.” Boaz says, “Stay here by my side. You don’t need to be out in the middle of the night alone at this point. Wait here. Then the first thing in the morning, I’m going to go and see if this other man wants to redeem you, which he can.” See the character of Boaz here. He’s a man of standing, of noble character, a worthy man. But he says, “If he won’t, I’ll do it in a heartbeat.” With that, they fall asleep. Or maybe not. 

I’ve got a feeling both of them just lie there thinking, “Whoa, what just happened?” Boaz thinking, “Wow, she came after me. She wants to marry me.” Ruth realizing, “Tomorrow, I’m going to find out who’s going to marry me—either Boaz, or this other guy I don’t even know.” What she does know is that tomorrow, everything is going to change in her life. She just doesn’t know what it’s going to look like. The two of them lie there, looking up into the stars, wondering what is going to happen next. 

Verse 14: “So she lay at his feet until the morning, but arose before one could recognize another. And he said, ‘Let it not be known that the woman came to the threshing floor.’” So they get up and Boaz says, “Okay. Let this be our little secret.” 

Verse 15: “And he said, ‘Bring the garment you are wearing and hold it out.’ So she held it, and he measured out six measures of barley and put it on her. Then she went into the city.” He’s going to make sure she’s provided for, again. He gave her six measures of barley. We’re not sure exactly what the ‘measure’ was. Likely, though, this was another load. Some think this could be up to 75 pounds. We know it was heavy, because verse 15 says he lifted it up and put it on her. Again, Ruth is one strong woman. Then she heads back to Naomi. 

As a side note, Naomi is another person who has not slept much that night. You can only imagine Naomi pacing back and forth across the floor, praying, occasionally peeking out the door, looking to see if something has gone wrong, to see if Ruth is headed back. The Bible says, “When she came to her mother-in-law, she said, ‘How did you fare, my daughter?’” Now this question is interesting because in the original language, this phrase is literally, “Who are you, my daughter?” The meaning is, “How did things go?” But we’ve got to catch the significance here. Again, this is the question of this book: who is Ruth? Not just, “How did it go?” The question is, “Are you going to be his wife, or not?” 

Ruth replies: “Then she told her all that the man had done for her, saying…” Now listen closely to what she adds here. This is really significant because Ruth is about to mention something that Boaz said, but we as the audience didn’t hear Boaz say it. So the narrator is waiting until Naomi is there to hear what Boaz said. Listen to verse 17:“These six measures of barley he gave to me, for he said to me, ‘You must not go back empty-handed to your mother-in-law.’” Do not go back to your mother-in-law empty. Here’s why that’s significant. We’ve seen that word ‘empty’ one other time in the book. Do you remember when it was? Back in 1:21 when Naomi said, “I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back…” What? “…empty.” There’s a clear picture here that, by the hand of God, the Lord Almighty, Naomi is not actually empty. Instead, she is full. She has stood with Ruth by her side, telling the townspeople, “I have nothing.” Little did she know standing right beside Ruth now was a picture of the fullness of God to come.

Even the picture of grain here is twofold. It’s definitely a picture of fullness in food, which we’ve seen is one of the main issues in this book. But it’s also a picture of seed, of a promise from Boaz, a fullness and a family that they’re hoping is still to come. So Naomi replied, “Wait, my daughter, until you learn how the matter turns out, for the man will not rest but will settle the matter today.” In other words, “Sit tight, Ruth. It’s not going to be long. Today is the day.”

So in what is without question a dramatic conclusion to this chapter, the curtain closes on the scene with the picture of these two women, sitting in their home, waiting, while somebody else works on their behalf. It’s fascinating that these are the last words we will hear from either Ruth or Naomi in the entire book. We won’t hear either of them speak a word in chapter four. Instead, Boaz is about to take center stage, but as we’ll see, the action is even out of his hands. There’s this other guy in the picture. Ultimately only God knows what lies ahead. This story is so good.

So what do we take away from this chapter? There are so many things we could take away, but for the sake of time, I want to hone in on one thing—the picture of love we see here in Ruth 3 and how it applies specifically to our lives, relationships, marriages, parenting, families, friends, in the church, outside the church. 

I didn’t camp out on this when we were reading through the chapter, but I’m guessing some of you, maybe many of you, noticed it. Let’s go back to Ruth 3:10, read it again. As Boaz realizes that Ruth is pursuing him, he says, “May you be blessed by the Lord, my daughter. You have made this last kindness greater than the first in that you have not gone after a young man, whether poor or rich.” What word in that sentence sounds familiar? “May you be blessed by the Lord, my daughter. You have made this last kindness….” There it is again. Remember what Hebrew word this is? Chesed. We talked about it in chapter two, and here it is again in chapter three—this loyal, faithful, loving, good, go out of your way to care for someone extravagantly kind of kindness. Boaz says, “You’ve shown chesed to me.” 

Think about this. If you’re married, don’t you want your spouse to say that about you? Don’t you want a marriage marked by chesed? Don’t you want to enjoy chesed in marriage? What about your relationship with your kids or your parents? Don’t you want the relationships in your family to be marked by chesed, lovingkindness? And not just in your immediate family, but in your extended family, your friends, even your coworkers, your neighbors? Think about the beauty of this kind of love in our everyday relationships. Think about how this is evident in Ruth 3. 

I’m just going to quickly list five biblical characteristics of love that are on display in Ruth 3. I trust we all want to experience this kind of love and for it  to be on display in our lives.

1. Love is patient.

Patient. Now, you might think, in light of Ruth’s forwardness in this chapter, that she wasn’t being patient, but think about the big picture. She’s walked through years of tragedy, pain and loss. She has stuck with Naomi through it all. Then, she’s come to Bethlehem and week after week after week, she’s worked from sunup to sundown, gleaning in the field, day after day, in the heat of the harvest, providing for her and her mother-in-law. 

After years in chapter one and months in chapter two, when we get to the beginning of this chapter, nothing has happened. Then at the end of this chapter, she’s told to wait, to sit still. You say, “What is waiting? What does patience have to do with love?” The answer is everything. 

Think about the love chapter in the Bible—1 Corinthians 13. What is the first description of love that God gives us? Verse four, “Love is patient.” Let’s keep reading. “Love is…kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” How do you love people around you? Well, in a lot of ways, but starting with kind patience. Never with anger, never with harshness. Always with kind, tender patience.

2. Love is pure.

Now, this patient love is pure. This scene at the threshing floor is pretty remarkable in its purity for a couple of reasons. First, this happened in the time of the judges. It was a time in Israel of great immorality. You can’t help but think of someone like Samson in Judges with all his escapades, then realize this was a time in Israel when all kinds of things were happening in situations just like this one. The author deliberately contrasts this picture of purity with the picture of impurity that was so commonplace in that day. 

Do you want to see something even more fascinating? Go back to Genesis 19 with me. You’ve got to see this. So Ruth is a Moabite, right? Well, remember how we read the start of the Moabites? That story with Lot and his daughters has some strikingly similar parallels with Ruth 3. Look at Genesis 19 again: 

30 Now Lot went up out of Zoar and lived in the hills with his two daughters, for he was afraid to live in Zoar. So he lived in a cave with his two daughters. 31 And the firstborn said to the younger, “Our father is old, and there is not a man on earth to come in to us after the manner of all the earth. 32 Come, let us make our father drink wine, and we will lie with him, that we may preserve offspring from our father.”

Catch the similarity. You have two women plotting to preserve their family. “So they made their father drink wine that night.” They wait until he has finished drinking, although the emphasis here in Genesis is on Lot getting drunk. “And the firstborn went in and lay with her father. He did not know when she lay down or when she arose.” The woman goes in and lies with him. Again, not the same as in Ruth, but the picture there is lying down. Then verse 34: 

34 The next day, the firstborn said to the younger, “Behold, I lay last night with my father. Let us make him drink wine tonight also. Then you go in and lie with him, that we may preserve offspring from our father.” 35 So they made their father drink wine that night also. And the younger arose and lay with him, and he did not know when she lay down or when she arose. 36 Thus both the daughters of Lot became pregnant by their father.

The women walk away with seed from the man. Listen to Genesis 19:37: “The firstborn bore a son and called his name Moab. He is the father of the Moabites to this day.” I’m pointing this out because the author—not just the human author, but the divine Author, the Holy Spirit of God—is showing the clear contrast between the impurity of Genesis 19 that led to Moabites and the purity that marks this Moabite in the book of Ruth. 

The point is, Ruth 3 is a provocative scene that could have led to sin and sensuality, much like it is with the founding of the Moabites. But here, with a Moabite—a people known for sexual immorality—and an Israelite, lying together on the threshing floor, you have a picture of purity. They cannot be compromised or shaken.

This is what I love about the book of Ruth that is so radically different than any other love story we might see in our culture. Every love story in our day is marked by a man and a woman who give way to passion, almost always outside of the context of marriage. We sit in front of screens hardly even acknowledging the impurity and sexual immorality before God of the scene being depicted in front of us. We’re actually entertained by it. No, brothers and sisters, no. Love is pure. Love looks in the face of passion, especially physical passion, and says, “Integrity and honor before God, above everything else.” That’s love. So brothers and sisters, let’s be vigilant to guard our purity in love for others, specifically our sexual purity, from temptations with phones to temptations with people. Be vigilant about pure love. Flee sexual immorality—any sexual thinking, desiring or acting outside of marriage. Flee it. Don’t flirt with it, don’t rationalize it. Run from it. 

Single brothers and sisters, do not buy the lie that love pursues sexual activity outside of marriage. Trust God, not yourself. Not a world that’s set up against God. And to the married as well, guard your purity in your relationships with others. Love is pure.

3. Love protects.

Speaking of guarding, this is the next picture of love here in chapter three: love protects. Think about it. This whole scene in Ruth 3 is about protection. Naomi wants to protect Ruth from a life of widowhood in that day, with no home, no rest, no security. Ruth makes a plea to Boaz for protection over herself and Naomi. Boaz vows that she will be protected. She and her mother-in-law will be taken care of. Love protects. Love protects the people around you. Don’t just think physically; think spiritually. 

I’ve told this story in various settings, but I’d like to share it again. There was a time in my life, as a pastor when things on the outside were going great. The church I was pastoring was growing. I had written a book that a lot of people were reading. I was getting a lot of attention. I was getting invited to preach in all kinds of different places. Yeah, on the outside, it looked like things were great. On the inside, my relationship with God was functionally non-existent, meaning, yeah, I had a relationship with God, but I never spent time with him. I could turn on a public prayer any time, but I never got alone with God in prayer, just to be with him. I would study the Bible in order to preach sermons, but I never studied the Bible just to know God, just to hear from God. 

There was one point when I asked Heather, “How can I love you better?” I try to periodically ask her that and usually she’ll be like, “Oh, you’re doing fine. Maybe you can work on this, but you’re doing great.” Well, this time there was no, “You’re doing fine. You’re great.” She looked at me and said, “You are not healthy.” Now keep in mind, I wasn’t lazy during that time. Things were going great and I was working hard. But she said, “You stay up all night. You get up early in the morning. You don’t eat healthy. You never exercise. I don’t know when you have a quiet time.” Then she said, “If you don’t make some major changes very soon, you’re not going to be around to love me very long.”

It was a wakeup call that I needed from my wife, in a way that led to massive changes in my life. I am so thankful. I think of all the different directions that those days could have gone, in such a way that I would not be here right now. I’m so thankful for a wife who protected me from myself. 

I share that just to say that we don’t love each other well if we let each other drift away from intimacy with Jesus. Love protects. So what does that kind of protecting love look like in your life? It actually leads to the next picture of love.

4. Love provides.

Again, just think about Ruth 3. All the characters here show provision. Naomi is looking to provide a home for Ruth. Ruth speaking up at the threshing floor, making sure Boaz knows he had an obligation, not just for her, but for her family including Naomi. Boaz providing for Ruth and Naomi, giving them his promise, sending Ruth on her way with the grain. 

Love provides. Love does not leave people empty. Obviously God is our ultimate provider. He’s Jehovah Jirah. But he has designed our relationships with each other—in marriage, in family, in the church, in the world—to show his provision. We need each other. 

Can I just encourage parents specifically here? I was speaking recently to a group of Christian NFL quarterbacks. I said, “You guys know what it means to train, to work hard, to strategize in a room with other quarterbacks and other players on a team, to devise the game plan. If I could be so bold. Let me ask you…” Now I would ask every single parent right now this same question: “What game plan have you devised to provide spiritually for your spouse? What specific things will you do every day? How will you  train to do well so you are encouraging your spouse in his/her relationship with Jesus? How are you going to pray with your spouse and nourish him/her with the water of God’s Word?”

Then, flowing from that, “What game plan have you devised for the spiritual provision in your children’s lives? What specific things you will do every day to train your kids to know God, to learn his Word, to love God with all their hearts, souls, minds and strength? How to know his love for them? Are you bringing them together for family worship, even at a young age? Are you setting aside time to pray and read God’s Word with them, singing and worshiping together? They need this from the people who love them most.” 

God designed them to get this from us as parents. Not just from the children’s program at church. I said to those quarterbacks, and I say to you, this kind of game plan is more important than anything we do at work. This is what our spouses and our children need most from us. We live in a culture that says the total opposite. A culture that says, “What your spouse and your kids need most from you is more possessions and more pleasures in this world. They need a great education. They need to be good at sports. They need to be good at what this world exalts.” We immerse our families in all these other things in this world, when the reality is all those things are going to burn up in the end. If that’s what we’ve led our families to seek and be satisfied with, we’re going to leave them empty in eternity. That is not love. Love provides for what matters the most. 

So if nothing else, in parenting, the ultimate goal of parenting is not to help kids get a great education, be a great athlete, go on great dates, have a great career, make great money. I’m not saying those things are bad in and of themselves, but the ultimate goal of parenting is to help kids love a great God and accomplish the Great Commission among the nations with their lives. That’s what’s going to matter most in the end. Love provides toward that end. 

So just think in your life, in your closest relationships—with your spouse, children, parents,  family. Then broadening out from there, what is love that provides look like in your friends’ lives, with other brothers and sisters in Christ, with people in need of the gospel?

5. Love pays a price.

That leads to the last picture of love we see here in Ruth 3: love pays a price. When you think about it, there are risks throughout this chapter. Naomi concocts a risky plan. Ruth carries out a risky plan. She puts her reputation and her personal safety in danger. She’s lying down at Boaz’s feet. She’s risking everything. And Boaz is taking risks in promising to take Ruth, a Moabite, as his wife—if he’s able. Tomorrow he’s going to make his intentions known, that he wants to provide for the Moabite. He could end up as a total social outcast. But love risks. 

Love pays a price, takes risks, makes sacrifices, goes out of the way to show extravagant kindness to another. In other words, love is a strange thing and makes you do strange, unnatural, countercultural things, in ways that lead to others’ good and ultimately to great glory to the God who embodies love. 

So in that light, we’re going to pray together right now. Let’s make the connection. We love one another by praying for one another, by praying with and for each other. This is one of the most loving things we can do, to speak to the God of love on behalf of others, to stand in the gap for them. 

So here’s what we’re going to do in this prayer time. We’re going to pray specifically for ministry that’s happening in these red zones. We’re taking up this offering tonight for ministry that’s going to happen in red zones, with this $900,000 goal. I want us to pray for the work that we’re giving to, in addition to all kinds of other work around the world in red zones. Again, specific prayer points will be on the screen to guide you, but ultimately let the Holy Spirit guide, because work in red zones will not bear fruit apart from the power of God in that work.

We’re going to pray for his blessing on this work. You can do it on your own or gather together with others. As we pray for these things, let’s pray that the love of God would spread through all this ministry happening in red zones. Go for it. 

O God, none of this work that we’ve just prayed for will happen with earthly might or earthly power. It all requires your Spirit, your power and your hand at work. So we pray, do it, O God. Glorify yourself by bringing eternal fruit from all these efforts we’ve just prayed for. For all that will happen with the money we’re giving, glorify your name among the nations. Cause people to be reached with and saved by the gospel. Cause your people, your church, to be built up, strengthened, encouraged, equipped and mobilized. Cause your Kingdom to advance in ways that can only be explained by your hand and only be attributed to your glory. O God, we pray all this in Jesus’ name. Amen. 


That means that the people with the most urgent spiritual and physical needs are receiving the least support. You can help change that!