Ruth 3:7 Boaz had finished eating and drinking and was in good spirits.
We have seen that Boaz had a nobility of spirit, and that he was a man of substance, very successful in the agric-business and also he was a warrior. He brought his religion to bear upon his daily work, and we see that in the words with which he daily greeted his workmen in the fields, “The Lord be with you!” “The Lord bless you!” They called back(Ruth 2:4). Today I want you to see that Boaz’ life was undergirded by two powerful convictions. The first, that the God who sees all men rewards sacrifice and service in the name of Jesus, and secondly, a very different principle, that God has given men all things richly to enjoy.
- BOAZ BELIEVED GOD REWARDS SACRIFICE AND SERVICE.
You see this particularly in Boaz’ words to Ruth, May the Lord repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge (Ruth 2:12). Here was a man whose conviction was that he lived in a moral universe, that what a man sows that he also reaps. He had no sympathy with the philosophy, “Let us eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die.” For him that would have been a philosophy of despair with death nothing but nothingness in the utter annihilation of a person – our lives bleakly snuffed out. For Boaz he anticipated death as the gateway into an open-ended encounter with the mighty Creator, the God in whom we are living, moving and having our being, the God whose glory is seen in the world he has made, the Saviour of all whose trust is in him. The rapist, the torturer, the poisoner, the acid-stripper, the tyrant, the thief and of course you and I must all meet the Judge of all the earth. That was Boaz’ conviction, and so when he finally speaks to Ruth, about whom he has heard so much, he says to her, “I’m so appreciative of everything I’ve heard about you, how you’ve left your people, your gods, and your old way of life. You have chosen Jehovah and his people; you’ve made this long journey from Moab to Bethlehem with my aunt Naomi. How you’ve cared for her. I know all about your labour of love and it is much appreciated. I want you to remember this fact, that the Lord will repay you for what you’ve done. You will be richly rewarded by the Lord.” That was Boaz’ conviction.
Our Lord at the end of his ministry told his disciples a famous humanitarian parable describing the Day of Judgment. He said that on that tremendous Day he would be like a shepherd separating his sheep from his goats. To the sheep he would be speaking words of welcome, Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?” The King will reply, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Matt. 25:34-40).
Do you understand that that is how Boaz’ mind is working in his words to Ruth? Do you see his philosophy? The Lord whom Boaz served was a righteous God, a God of rectitude and justice. It is not a matter of supreme indifference to him whether a man is a murderer or a loving man. If that were so God would be a monster! Rather, one day there would be a time of reckoning on which occasion the righteous would be rewarded. Those who had given a cup of cold water in the name of the Lord would not fail to receive their reward. That same day would be a day of fearful judgment for the unrighteous. The Lord repay you, Boaz says to Ruth; may you be richly rewarded by the Lord. That conviction affected his whole attitude to this young woman. The fact of a coming day of vindication impinged upon his conduct; it affected how he instructed his workmen not to touch Ruth. He didn’t want judgment to come upon them for abusing her. It also affected his praying; when he learned of Ruth’s good works Boaz prayed that they would be rewarded by God. “Don’t forget them Lord.” Boaz believed in the rectitude, the righteousness and the justice of God. He didn’t believe that cosmic indifference rules the universe. He believed that one day sin would be punished and righteousness rewarded. That conviction had the most tremendous repercussions on his whole life and for all his behaviour. Boaz was not governed by the prevailing manners of the surrounding world. He wasn’t living only by the standards of his own conscience – the conscience of the cannibal assures him that it’s fine to kill a man and eat him. Boaz’ conscience had been enlightened by the Ten Commandments and the whole biblical ethic that we should love our neighbour as ourselves. Boaz was governed by the God who was passing his own judgment on Boaz’ conduct. The only verdict that mattered to Boaz was God’s, and Boaz knew exactly what the standards were and he sought to respond to them day by day in an absolutely straight way. They are standards of unqualified and unflinching rectitude. They are the pursuit and aim of every Christian; they are the righteousness of God. Be ye righteous as I am righteous!
I first met businessman Ernie Reisinger in 1963 when I was a student in Philadelphia. I quickly came to admire him very much. He was a building contractor from Carlisle, Pennsylvania and had prospered in his business. He was the nearest man to Boaz I had ever met or have met since that time. He conducted his business as if God were looking over his shoulder. He prayed at the start of each working day for God’s guidance on his business. He never recruited or promoted his work on the Lord’s Day. He didn’t look for business in the congregation. He acknowledged that the Lord owned everything he possessed and that he was simply a well-paid steward of all his goods. Ernie was even a warrior; he had been a navy man seeing active service in the Pacific in the war with Japan, and yet he could warmly speak of the Lord Jesus and he certainly did so as no man I’ve ever met. But he was also zealous in his daily work building schools, government buildings, colleges and homes. It was a wonderful providence when years later I was asked to write his biography. There were three principles that proved to be helpful to Mr. Reisinger in making the day-to-day decisions that every business manager must face.
i] Everything is not black and white to creatures who don’t have perfect knowledge or perfect wisdom. There is only One who is omniscient. To him everything may well be black or white, but not to us, and may the Lord have mercy on the Christian in business who tries to make only black or white decisions.
ii] Some things are black and white such as the ten commandments which are a perfect standard of right and wrong; with these there is no compromise. However, even here there must be some merciful administration in the application of the perfect standard of righteousness.
iii] Seek diligently to know the difference between compromise and the legitimate biblical principle of accommodation. This is not easy. Sometimes it is a razor-sharp line. Pray for wisdom from above; But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy (James 3:17). Ernie once said, “I can truthfully say that in twenty years in the construction business I prayed more for wisdom than anything else. I read a chapter in the book of Proverbs every day, which took me through that book each month.” For example, if you are a member of a team then there are group decisions to make, and rarely are they unanimous. You might have to accommodate yourself on some issues. You realise why they are acting as they do though you might disagree with them. I am saying that every issue is not a resigning issue if things don’t go your way.
Ernest Reisinger’s men knew his convictions. They knew that he wanted them to be the right team, in the right community of labour, and to do the right things. Ernie honoured his men. He tried to make it easier for them to do their jobs well. He would say, “Stop in my office any time to talk about issues.” Everyone knew that he meant that and many took advantage of the invitation. Do you see what being a righteous man means? It means that in all our relationships we give another man his rights, and that is enormously relevant to our society today. The nation is moving into unrest and a spirit of anarchy is nearing the surface. Men have come to interpret democracy as a society in which everybody should get his rights, and our society is utterly obsessed with its rights. Every individual wants his rights. In courts of law people want their rights. In schools parents want their rights as over against the teachers and as over against the education system. In medicine the patient wants his rights. In the congregation members want their rights and the minister wants his rights. In marriage the wife wants her rights, the husband wants his rights and the children want their rights. A child was visiting his grandparents in Aberystwyth over half term. His father is a pastor in the town and at 5 p.m. on Sunday they began to get ready to go to the evening service. The boy said, “I’m not going to church again today; I’m on holiday; this is half term.” The child is four years of age. He has quickly learned to announce that he too has rights. People are absolutely obsessed with their rights.
Now the Christian ethic turns that whole preoccupation upside down and makes it stand on its head. It tells us this, that our obsession is not to be with our own rights, but with the rights of others. Boaz moves into a situation in which he is not so much concerned with his own rights but with his obligations. He is more concerned about the right of God to tell him how he should live. That in many ways is the fundamental thrust of the book of Ruth, and it is the demanding ethic of Christianity.
Now I can be sure today that in every soul and heart here there is at least a vestigial natural man, a remnant of selfishness that is saying, “But that isn’t possible . . . it cannot possibly be true, that we should be people disinterested in our own rights and obsessed with our obligations to others,” and yet I am sure that that is the way it is, that that is why Christ came and laid down his life. That that is his example that we should walk in his steps, and by his indwelling Spirit he gives us strength to live like that.
Read one of the great statements of Christian ethics about inter-personal relationships. You find it in the letter to the Ephesians in chapters 5 and 6. Here Paul is dealing with the husband and wife, the master and servant, and the parent and the child. And in everything he says his perspective is each of those parties has obligations. Husbands – love your wives as your own bodies. Wives – respect your husbands and submit to them. Children – obey your parents; honour your father and mother. Fathers – do not exasperate your children; make sure that they know the instruction of the Lord. Slaves – serve wholeheartedly as if you were serving the Lord not men. Masters – treat your slaves in the same way; do not threaten them. Right through the message the emphasis lies upon obligation. It is not on what is due to me, but what I owe to others, and that is where the whole Christian ethic lies.
Paul says it again more broadly in this way; Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellow-man has fulfilled the law(Roms. 13:8). Love is what we continually owe people. To every single human being we are in debt to love them. The boss owes every single one of his workmen love. The family member owes love to every single other member. In whatever form we meet men and women, perhaps they are members of our families, or our neighbours, some we have known for years while others we never met before providence had brought us together that very day, but we are to love them as ourselves. It includes our bosses or our inferiors, and even our enemies – the people who want to do us harm – in whatever state you come across them you stand under an unqualified obligation to love them. When we meet another human being we don’t begin to calculate what our rights may be but what our obligations are to these people. What do we owe them and how can we discharge that debt?
You can project the same emphasis into your relationship with God, because there again it is never a question of our rights as over against God, our right to happiness, our right to health, our right to possessions, our right to relationships. It is a question of our continuing debt to love them and how we can discharge that debt. Boaz saw a righteous God, a rewarding God, a God of justice and rectitude, and that meant that Boaz was under obligation to respond with a lifestyle and conduct that pleased him. Boaz wanted his behaviour towards him and to his fellow men always to cause God to smile in pleasure, that God’s verdict on Boaz’ life would be, “He lived a straight life.” This is how he judged the behaviour of everyone he met, that God loved how they were living or that it grieved God.
- BOAZ BELIEVED THAT GOD HAS GIVEN US ALL THINGS RICHLY TO ENJOY.
This is the other truth that I find enormously intriguing (and again I am indebted to Principal Macleod for pointing this out to me), that we are told in chapter three and verse seven that he was in good spirits. Now I find that phrase a little flat, and prefer the translation of the Authorized Version, “his heart was merry,” or the New King James Version, “his heart was cheerful.’ The English Standard Version has gone back to the A.V. “his heart was merry.” Recently a woman was taking her husband’s coat to the cleaners and so she was clearing out his pockets. She found a piece of paper that he had brought home from the dentist’s whom he had visited the week before Christmas. They are both interested in the English language, the wife and husband, and so is the dentist, and he had talked to her husband as he filled his teeth about the derivation of the word ‘merry’ especially why the chicken’s wishbone used to be known as the ‘merrythought.’ Two people hold on to this bone, the furcula of the fowl, and they tug and bend until it breaks and the one who gets the longer piece will either be married before the other or get his wish fulfilled. I am saying that the old English word for the wishbone is the ‘merrythought’ because of the pleasant fancies that commonly arise from the breaking of that bone. That has little to do with our text except to show the ancestry of this word and the happy context it which our fathers used it. It was not to do with inebriation, and so we are told here that Boaz had eaten and drank with his family and his crew of men as the harvest had been all safely gathered into the barns, and at the end of a happy evening his heart was merry.
Why am I pondering on this verse? For this reason that if we had only the New Testament we might say to ourselves that the Christian life only consisted of putting into practice righteous living and believing true teaching, for, by and large, that’s the chief concern of the New Testament; it’s full of those great ethical and theological principles. Then you read the Old Testament (and bear in mind that this too is equally God’s revelation), and we find that these people were human beings, and they were part of their own society, and in that society they lived their lives to the full. We find Boaz here fully participating in the annual celebrations that marked the end of the barley harvest. We find constant reference in the Old Testament to feasts and festivities. We find God’s blessing defined in terms of a land overflowing with milk and honey. We read that corn and wine were considered to be gifts given by God to gladden our hearts. There had been years of famine that had driven Naomi and her family out of the land, but now those years have come to an end and the people are rejoicing that all the harvest has been safely gathered in ere the winter storms begin, and they were eating and drinking together. Their hearts were merry.
I believe that if we are going to submit as we should to the teaching of God’s word that we’ve got to find some way of accommodating such a spirit to our whole world view and life-style. We have to ask what Boaz’ merry heart means for us. Why does the Bible have this sort of emphasis on milk and honey, on corn and wine, on feasts and festivals, on these people being merry? I would suggest that it means that we are being encouraged in our Christian lives to be fully and totally human. You remember that phrase of Isaac Watts in his hymn that begins, “Come ye that love the Lord and let your joys be known,” how he encourages us to sing this phrase, “Religion never was designed to make our pleasures less.”
Now there are two problems as I see it in my intrigue with this whole question of a merry Christian. Remember, we are thinking about what one does with one’s bodily senses and appetites, one’s aesthetic sense, one’s concern with one’s personal appearance, one’s dress sense, one’s awareness of celebrations at births, birthdays, weddings, anniversaries and national deliverances. How do we as Christians react? Let us look at it from this perspective, asking what are the great perils in this area? I would say that there are two dangers.
i] There is the peril, first of all, of Epicureanism, of those men described in the Old Testament as crying, ‘Let us eat, drink and be merry.” That was what they lived for; that was the high spot of their week-ends or their evenings, and our town and university is full of such men and women. They are mentioned in the New Testament in those sturdy words of the Authorized Version, “Their god is their belly.” They are living lives of indulgence; they are living lives for indulgence. Their religion, their existence and their whole philosophy is to drink – binge drinking, and teenage drinking. It is to have stimulation upon stimulation, to swallow pills and sniff lines of drugs, insatiation upon insatiation, an endless round of pleasure-seeking, indulging in their instincts and appetites, stirring them up by newer and more powerful sensations. That is their search, for the new drugs on the block because the old ones are no longer providing the buzz; that is their god, said Paul. They are worshipping their own bellies. As a result the fifth biggest killer today is liver disease. That is how this god rewards his followers.
The Bible and the New Testament especially speaks out very clearly against that kind of lifestyle. It condemns the pursuit of all pleasure that is secured at the cost of defying God’s great principles. It condemns the pleasure that degenerates, as Paul says, into excess. It condemns the pleasure that becomes idolatrous, where a man simply lives for that pleasure and it becomes his god. It condemns the pleasure upon which a man becomes dependent, and to which a man becomes addicted so that he cannot live without this particular indulgence. Above all it condemns those pleasures that destroy self-discipline and that reduces our efficiency as Christian believers. The New Testament exhorts every disciple to pummel his body, and keep it in submission, and train himself like every true sportsman trains themselves. We are to exercise moderation and strict discipline in all those areas. Let your self control and graciousness be known to all men, Paul tells the Philippian church. Certainly Boaz was not neglecting that. There is no hint that he was in any way intoxicated. He was repudiating that familiar philosophy, You’ve only got one lifetime so let’s eat, drink and be merry.
ii] There is also the peril, secondly, of the other extreme, Asceticism. The ascetics say, “let us have nothing to do with any of those things.” I am sure that there are those Christians who are embarrassed by the mere fact that Boaz is described as ‘merry.’ It seems a somehow improper adjective to attach to a Christian. The ascetics said, “Let’s not eat this; let’s not attend that celebration; let’s avoid that party; let’s ignore that invitation, let’s not drink that,” and they live by a list of taboos and those prohibitions have little basis in the word of God.
I would suggest to you that that mentality producing such prohibitions again falls under the condemnation of the New Testament. For example, the apostle was instructing the Colossians and he warned them of the false teachers who were creeping into the church. They were bringing with them a whole list of extra-biblical ordinances saying to the congregation, “Don’t! Touch not! Taste not! Handle not!” Such prohibitions, writes Paul, were only human commands. They lacked all divine authority. They were an appearance of wisdom but in fact they were a false humility (Cols. 2:21-23).
Again, Paul writes to Timothy and he warns him how soon people would depart from the faith, and along would come hypocritical liars who would teach simple Christians the doctrines of devils. Strong stuff! What doctrines are these? Are orgies being encouraged? No. The apostle tells us, They forbid people to marry, and order them to abstain from certain foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer ( I Tim. 4:3-5).
So here is Boaz, and what we get from his merry heart and from so much Old Testament teaching is this, that God has given to his people the right – if I can say it carefully – the right to enjoy life; the right to express and to fulfil every part of their created humanness. So we have this great truth that God has given to us all things richly to enjoy (I Tim. 6:17). Not that God has given us all things richly to think about, or be aware of, or look at, but to enjoy. Let me put it as carefully as I can; every instinct and appetite which God has implanted within us, the instincts for food, thirst, friendship, other people’s presence, love, beauty, creativity – all such things may, simply because God has given them to us and given us the power to appreciate them, be engaged in and enjoyed. The beauty of our environment is to be taken in with delight; every creature that God has given us is to be engaged because God has given them to us for our enjoyment – without coming under the power of any of them, without transgressing the Bible’s prohibition of excess, and by doing exactly what the Bible says about the gift of sex, that it is to be delighted in and enjoyed within the divine ordinance of the marriage of a man and woman. Purity outside of marriage and faithfulness within it; these are the plain divine instructions of our Creator. Think what happiness there would be in our land today if those principles were honoured. What pain would be avoided, what abortions would not take place, what sexually transmitted diseases would disappear, what delight husband and wife would have in one another if God’s provision of sex were enjoyed in the divinely authorized manner.
Now there is something I cannot do for each of you, and that is to bring to you a perfect balance, and answer your plea, “How do I draw a distinction in my life between the two excesses, the epicurean and the ascetic?” I cannot make that distinction in your life. I know that every Christian is riding on a pendulum and we are constantly going to one extreme or another and being corrected by the word and the Spirit. It is part of every person’s freedom that he’s got to ask himself, to what extent can I be merry? What can I eat? What do I spend on food and feasts? Can I have a close friendship? Can I purchase a holiday home? Can I play rugby, or football, or tennis, or chess, or golf? What do I watch on TV? Should I send my children to ballet? Do I listen to good music? Can I read good books like works of historical fiction? Can I enjoy good conversation and cultured activities? I cannot today go round you one by one and tell you what each of you may or may not do. I know that one excess is the epicurean excess, and the other excess is the ascetic. I know that there was a time when our problem as evangelicals was the dominating ascetic emphasis objecting to Christians enjoying the whole beauty and glory of our own environment and the pleasure that comes from using the creatures that God has given to us, to enjoy the things that God has endowed us with.
Now things have changed. I don’t feel I need to spend time and words encouraging Christians to be merry, but rather to remind them of other teaching in Scripture. I am thinking of how Paul tells the Corinthians Christians, Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak (I Cor. 8:9). Paul answers the neo-epicurean slogan, ‘Everything is permissible’ with the words but not everything is beneficial . . . not everything is constructive (I Cor. 10 23). Remember that the fruit of the Spirit is self-control. We have to bear in mind constantly sobriety. I must not idolize the gifts of God; I must not depend upon them; they mustn’t become priorities or temptations. They must never reduce my efficiency spiritually. Their exercise mustn’t take from me the benefits of the Lord’s Day. I must give that day to the Lord to grow in love and understanding and devotion through its unchallenged means of grace, to understanding through God’s word his grandeur.
With those provisos I must still look at the sense of beauty and belonging that God has given me and thank God for them. I must look at the creation and thank God for the earth and all its fulness. I must look at friendship and bless God that I have a friend, and thank God for language and poetry and music in all its different forms. Then I would say, at last, unashamedly to enjoy myself, because what is our chief end? To glorify God and to enjoy him for ever.
I would like to move to a position where we could all say, “I did such and such a thing on Saturday – playing golf, hunting, going on a waterslide, paintballing, or attending a concert.” Then if I were asked, “How could you justify doing such a thing?” I would answer, “I enjoy it.” There are things in life for which that is the only justification, and that is all the justification that such activities need. He makes grass grow for the cattle, and plants for man to cultivate – bringing forth food from the earth: wine that gladdens the heart of man, oil to make his face shine, and bread that sustains his heart (Psa. 104:14&15). Praise the Lord O my soul.
So here is the picture of Boaz thus far given to us by the Holy Spirit in the book of Ruth, and there is more to come, an evangelical man and a warrior; a businessman consistent in his living and his beliefs; a man who was merry in his heart. Of course he is just a shadow and type of our Lord and Saviour, the man Christ Jesus, the true man, God’s great definition of a man, the archetypal man. What a warrior he was, the Lord Sabaoth’s son, he and no other one who has won the battle over sin and death. He now has all authority in heaven and earth, the last Adam who went to a wedding and there he performed his first miracle, and what a miracle, turning water into wine. He had time for women and time to bless children, mothers bringing them to him and putting them in his arms. He was popular as a youth growing in favour with men and women. He was wholesome, attractive, winsome, beloved, tender, gentle and meek. This lovely man bared his back to the smiters and his face to those who spat upon him, and he humbled himself to all of that because he loved stupid and guilty men and women like ourselves.
So I’ll stop there with this as yet incomplete portrait of Boaz. I would hope that this kind of follower of Christ would be the Christian for which this congregation is known, soundly orthodox, believing historic Christian teaching, and unashamed of our commitment to truth, believers seven days a week, but happy people who enjoy God’s wonderful creation.
24th February 2008 GEOFF THOMAS