We're still in chapter 2 of Ruth. Through this study of Ruth, we learn another way of reading the Bible, that is that narratives can be read again and again with an emphasis on different themes. Today we'll read through Ruth 2, choosing to focus on God's grace through the kindness of Boaz.
(A) Why be kind? God designed his people for mission as a society of kindness (Ruth 2:1-4)
Events in Ruth, such as the encounter between Ruth and Boaz, were started because Ruth went to work in the field. We might not know this, but there is a social background to this act of "glean[ing] among the ears of grain" (Ruth 2:2). God had written it into the law and structures of Israel. In Lev 19:9-10 and Deut 24:19-22 we see these provisions made for the sojourners. God told them not once, but twice. Given before they entered the promised land, and even continuing after they arrived into the promised land, it served as a constant reminder to the Israelites that they were sojourners, and what they had, was not entirely their own.
Why has God built it into the law and constitution of Israel? The preceding verses in Lev 9:1-4 and Deut 12 set the context for us. The law was to be followed, because it was given by a holy God. When the people of God obey his commands, they are able to reflect his character. The provisions for the sojourner, together with the other economic features built into the law of Israel to protect the vulnerable in society not only create a more harmonious society -- it points to the kind and compassionate God of Israel! He is a kind God, and in imitating Him, the people of God can show Him to a world that does not know Him.
In our narrative in Ruth 2, Ruth comes to the field of Boaz, a man of the LORD (Ruth 2:4). From his interactions with his employees, we see how Boaz runs his establishment for the LORD. It is not by any mistake that the LORD, the covenantal name of God is used in the exchange between Boaz and his servants ("The LORD be with you!", "The LORD bless you." ). Ruth did not just stumble into any field. She "happened to come" to a field of the Lord, owned by one who did not merely "know God", but knew Him personally, and sought to show His compassion to the widows and foreigners.
What does this mean for us today? God has always designed His people for mission -- to be a community of kindness and to show His kindness to the world around us. As Christians, most of us are generally nice people, and our communities are generally nice and friendly. But more than that, the Bible calls us to kindness. Are we kind? These verses in Ruth remind us that we are called to kindness not because we want people to like us, but because it is designed to bring Him the glory. God intends to reveal himself through our kindness, not merely in our words, but also in our deeds (c.f 1 John 3:18).
(B) What is kindness? Kindness is compassionately taking an active interest in others’ needs and meeting them selflessly (Ruth 2:5-9)
So what is kindness? Boaz helps us understand what kindness looks like. When Boaz sees Ruth, we see how he took the time to know who she is and took a proactive role in understanding her needs (Ruth 2:5-7). This clearly went beyond the requirements of Lev 19! He also invites her to dwell there, hires her, and ensured that her employment would be safe.
Boaz helps us see how kindness is proactive and not merely reactive and passive. He also went beyond the call of duty and the law to show compassion for Ruth at a cost to himself. Kindness is also simply summarised in Phil 2:4 for us -- "looking not only to our own interests, but also to the interests of others". Many of us are familiar with another pithy summary -- "loving our neighbours as ourselves". As Christians, many of us are used to thinking of kindness in an abstract manner, perhaps sometimes clouded in the general sense of being nice to people, creating a warm, friendly environment etc. But Boaz teaches us that thoughts of kindness also works itself out in practical acts and deeds.
But how do we get such kindness, kindness that is so selfless and boundless and above and beyond the expectations of the law? Let's read on to find out!
(C) Where to get the power for kindness? When we see and receive God’s kindness in Christ, it overflows out (Ruth 2:10-13)
In verse 9, Ruth calls Boaz’s actions to her ‘favor’ which can also be translated ‘grace’ (as in Ps 84:11, Prov 3:34, Jer 31:2, Zec 12:10). Boaz then praises her for her acts of ‘grace’ and kindness to her mother-in-law (v.11). But notice how Boaz explains his actions to her in verse 12. Boaz was fully aware that all the kindness shown to her were tightly bound up in the LORD, the covenantal God of Israel. Firstly, he told her that his actions were the Lord repaying her for her kindness shown, where he sees himself as a channel of the Lord's blessings. He also describes all the favour and grace as a "full reward", implying that she was shown something else beyond what she sacrificed. In Boaz's mind, he knows that He is the ultimate source of blessing -- both in the provision of the law, and the provision of agents of blessing to Ruth's life. And the wonderful thing is that Boaz also knows this God personally.
This is the secret to Boaz's kindness. Boaz knew this God of kindness, and he lived in light of this kind God. The law in Leviticus and Deuteronomy were not just a list of good things that good people did. In fact, the sacrificial system an the offerings that were to be offered regularly served only one purpose -- to remind them of the Holy God, before whom all are sinners. No one is righteous, no not one. The law, the sacrificial system, the offerings were all given to help the people understand that sin needed to be dealt with, and by faith, their sins would be forgiven in the sacrifices and offerings they make. In light of this great kindness shown to them by the holy God, kindness they did not deserve and did nothing to earn, they too should live and show grace and blessing to those in need among them.
This is the same message for us today, isn't it? The law continues to show us our sin, and our inability to come before this holy God. But instead of the sacrifices of bulls and goats, we know that the perfect sacrifice has already been made in Christ, the perfect, spotless Lamb. This is the good news of the gospel, the sweet story of God's redeeming love that we as Christians cling to day after day, and often sing about:
There is an everlasting kindness
You lavished on us
When the Radiance of Heaven
Came to rescue the lost
You called the sheep without a shepherd
To leave their distress
From your streams of forgiveness
And the shade of your rest
(Compassion Hymn, Keith and Kristyn Getty)
We all struggle with kindness for a variety of reasons. Perhaps we are trying to protect ourselves from past disappointments and hurts. Perhaps we have tried before, and failed. Perhaps we are caught up in throwing a pity party. The gospel comes in and covers us with God's love and washes away these sins and strivings. The gospel, therefore, tells us that we have received what we did not earn. This is amazing because it means that we are not entitled to it, and frees us from the clutches of pride. This also means that we cannot lose His gracious gift of kindness, because it had been freely given by God on His terms, promised to us through Christ even when we were still sinners and enemies of God. This frees us from the chains of fear and insecurity.
Jonathan Edwards once said that there is a difference between "having a rational judgment that honey is sweet, and having a sense of its sweetness". Have you tasted and seen that the LORD is good? Do you understand the gospel and the God of the gospel in this way?
(D) How to apply kindness? Meditate on the Gospel of God’s kindness until it spills over and out (Ruth 2:14-16)
Sustained kindness cannot be forced, and we all know that behaviourial modification or resolving to be kind can only go so far. We never know when opportunites to be kind will present itself, and the only way we can show kindness, then, is only when we let these truths melt our hearts and transform it. And this is not just an once-off decision, but an ongoing, daily meditation on the riches of the good news of what Jesus has done. Only when we see and savour the riches of Christ's kindness to us will we be able to be kind to others.
How do we do so practically? We can take our cue from some other passages in the Bible, which show us how we can show the "spillover kindness" to those around us:
|Occasion||Passage||How to apply kindness?|
|Worship||Micah 6:6-8||Worship God by doing justice, loving kindness and walking with God|
|Identity||Col 3:12||As God’s chosen ones, put on compassion and kindness|
|In conflict||Eph 4:32||Be tenderhearted and forgive one another just as God forgave you|
In general, Ruth 2:14-16 (c.f. 1 Thess 5:15) calls us to go above and beyond in doing good to one another. Titus 3:4-7 details for us the kindness shown to us by our God:
But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
As we continue to meditate and think about the generous kindness shown to us by our God, how can we also do likewise for those around us -- in our homes, families, workplaces, schools etc? God's people show that they have understood His kindness when they show it.