“Midnight Rendezvous”               Ruth 3:1-18                   September 14, 2008

                                    

SI:  We’re studying the book of Ruth.

It’s a story of how God takes his people from tears to rejoicing.

 

We come to chapter 3 this morning—

   It’s the most difficult chapter to understand.

It’s hard to know what judgments we are supposed to make

   about some of the things that are done in this chapter. 

 

But this part of Ruth’s story seems to show us

   how to make decisions by faith,

   and how to wait on the Lord by faith,

   and how to trust him to work things out in his time.


 

INTRO:  My high school youth director, Verne Marshall, preached for us a few

   weeks ago.  He worked for our church through my 11th grade year,

   then he and Alina left and went to the mission field.

Then our church hired another youth director named Jane Bayuszik.

   Jane was single, in early 30s. 

   She had been a missionary in Haiti for about six years,

   she was a Yankee from Butler, Pennsylvania, and she was hilarious.

 

Our church and youth group embraced her

   and we loved the way she made us laugh.

There was one story of Jane’s that we really got a kick out of—

   and it’s one of those stories that you probably had to be there

   and know Jane to really think it was funny—but you will still see the humor.

 

It happened when Jane was a young, single missionary in Haiti.

One Sunday, right after church, a big Haitian man confronted her in front

   of the whole congregation and he announced:

   “The Lord has told me to marry you.”

   The whole church got quiet, everybody looked at her.

Jane said, I looked him in the eye, and said very loudly—“Well, he hasn’t told me!”

 

“The Lord has told me to marry you”

   became one of the favorite saying of our youth group. 

 

Jane’s story raises the big and very important topic of decision-making

   and the will of God.

How should Christians make decisions and move ahead in big, important matters?

   Like marriage, like a job change that will affect the family,

   like a business decision that could have an impact on many people.

   Education decisions, financial decisions, relational decisions.

 

Christians want to get things right—

   not only because they want to glorify God,

   but because they want things to work out for the best.

 

There are a number of very important decisions that are made in this chapter—

   they mostly have to do with marriage but I think they illustrate for us

   some of the most basic things the Bible teaches about this subject.

 

The stories of the Old Testament serve a number purposes

   first and foremost, they point forward to Jesus Christ.

But another reason we study the Old Testament, especially the stories,

   is to see what it means to live by faith in the Lord.

 

Because the Old Testament saints were saved the very same way we are—

   by faith.  Faith in a Savior to come.

They had to live the same way we do—by faith.

   Even though the time and culture was different from ours—

   they were just people, living in a fallen world, facing difficult decisions.

 

This topic of decision-making and the will of God is big—

   this sermon is certainly not the final word, it won’t answer all your questions,

   but it will give us a biblical framework for thinking about these things.

 

Let’s look at this topic and this passage.

1.  The two guides for decision-making and the will of God.

2.  Three common questions about decision-making and the will of God.

 

Two guidelines and then three questions.


 

MP#1  The first guide is wisdom.  Your decisions must be guided by wisdom.

Wisdom is a biblical mind evaluating circumstances and choices.

Wisdom also called prudence, sound judgment, discernment and insight.

 

Wisdom is not simplistic.  You can’t reduce it to 7 steps or 12 steps.

Consider the book of Proverbs, the greatest wisdom book in the Bible.

   Starts out:  “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”

   “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.”

We say:  Ah, that’s simple.  Know Jesus.  Trust him.  That’s wisdom.

   No—that’s the beginning of wisdom.

 

Read the rest of Proverbs and you see that it has something to say about every

   part of life—words, money, work, marriage, personalities, debt, wealth,

   relatives, friends, bosses, employees, child rearing.

It tells you what kinds of people to avoid, what kinds to trust,

   tells you when to talk and when to shut up,

   tells you which priorities are good, which are not and on and on.

 

Now, Naomi.  Naomi shows us the importance of wisdom by negative example.

Her plan shows a profound lack of wisdom. 

   This is not prudent.  Not sound judgment.

 

Ruth, this is the way you are going to get Boaz’ hand in marriage.

   Get bathed and perfumed and secretly go to Boaz at night,

   uncover him and lay down by him and when he wakes up and finds

   you there he will tell you what to do. 

Some commentators have tried to paint this in a good light.

   Maybe this was an accepted custom in Israel—it wasn’t.

 

This was dangerous for Ruth.  These were dangerous times—time of Judges.

   Remember last week Naomi said, don’t go to other fields, might be assaulted.

   If that could happen in broad daylight, what could happen to her in fields at night?

 

This was dangerous morally.  Boaz was enjoying the success of the harvest,

   he had finished eating and drinking and his heart is merry—

   he wasn’t drunk but he’d had a couple cold ones and he was feeling good.

And he wakes up in the dark and he feels her and hears her and smells her perfume.

   He’s been put in a position of sexual temptation by Naomi’s plan.

   And this is also a danger to his reputation and hers.

There are some good things about Naomi in this chapter.

   If we had been there I think we would want to pat her on the back and say—

   good for you, you’re thinking about somebody else for a change, not yourself.

And she was.  What she wanted for Ruth was a good thing.

 

She decides to “seek rest” for Ruth—Your Bible may say—a home—literally, rest.

   Rest was a loaded word—spoke of God’s blessing of the Promised Land.

Naomi looking for more than just a man for Ruth—there were lots of men.

   She was looking for a man who would tie her permanently to Israel.

   We would say she was looking for a man who was a strong believer,

   and she was sure that Boaz was the man.

 

And he was the man—his character is very evident, man of godly character.

   He was an even better man than Naomi thought.

But the fact that her unwise plan worked was God’s grace to her and Ruth.

   His grace overriding her impatience, pushiness that could have messed things up.

 

So how do you exercise biblical wisdom in decision-making?  One example.

A few years ago one of my brothers-in-law called me.

   He said:  I’ve been offered a promotion.  I want to talk to you about it.

   I’m calling a few of my Christian friends to get their counsel.

 

This is a big deal.  It’s huge for my career, but some things concern me.

My church.  Family loves our church, invested years into people.

   We will find another church, but is it worth leaving?

My wife, this is going to put more strain on her—is that right?

Our lifestyle will change, do I have strength to avoid materialistic pitfalls?

 

He as asking the kinds of questions wisdom asks. 

   Valuing things Bible says value.  Not just accepting worldly judgment.

   And something else we should all do.

The Bible often describes the wise man as one who seeks counsel.

   Because a wise person knows that he is biased, that he lies to himself,

   and he needs a circle of wise men or women for objectivity and clarity.

 

You can do that.  In important decisions, wisdom calls you to consult people

   who have biblical minds and who love you—and then you listen to them,

   even if what they say cuts across your desires and feelings.

MP#2  The second guide is righteousness. 

   Your decisions must be guided by righteousness.

Wisdom is one part of biblical decision-making—another part is righteousness. 

By righteousness I simply mean following God’s moral law.

   Not questioning it, not pushing the boundaries but saying—

   God has given me freedom in lots of areas, but here is where he draws the line.

And out of love for God, even if it costs me, I’m going to obey.

 

When it comes to matters of wisdom, Christians of good will can differ.

   Because wisdom often allows for different interpretations. 

   Wise Christians can differ over matters of child-rearing, business decisions.

   In Acts even see apostles differing over missionary strategy.

 

But when we come to the guide of righteousness—standards are clear.

   God’s moral law is summarized in Ten Commandments.

   Ruth understood the standard of righteousness and it guided her decision.

Did you notice the place where Ruth broke away from Naomi’s plan?

 

Naomi said, when he awakes and discovers you, he will tell you what to do.

Of course, Naomi was hoping Boaz would say—

   Ruth, I want to fulfill the role of kinsman redeemer and marry you.

But Naomi leaves it open for things to go another way—if Ruth doesn’t say

   anything, just there at midnight, bathed and perfumed and willing—

   well, Boaz may tell her he wants to do something else. 

 

And it may be that Naomi had considered this. 

   She may have thought that if there was some sexual intimacy on the threshing

   floor, not desirable but it might seal the deal.  Boaz might feel obliged to marry.

She was willing to take that risk, husband for Ruth that important to her.

 

Ruth had a different mind. 

When Boaz discovered her, she did not let him tell her what to do.  She said:

   “I am Ruth, your servant.  Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer. 

Ruth was guided by righteousness in one of the biggest decisions of her life. 

   She made it clear.  I’m not here to seduce you.

   I’m here to ask you to marry me.

 

But it’s deeper than that—she’s not just saying: 

   Boaz, you have to buy the cow before you taste the cream. 

She’s saying, I want us to honor the Lord in this decision. 

   Boaz, I want you and me to be guided by the spirit of God’s law.

 

In our study of Ruth, I’ve been using the English Standard Version, not NIV.

   Reason, ESV more literal.  So many word-plays in this book, literal helpful.

NIV translates Ruth saying—spread your garment over me—literally, your wings.

   That’s important because do you remember the very first conversation

   that Ruth and Boaz had, what he said to her?  Look back at 2:12.

 

“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.”

She’s reminding him of the very first thing he said to her.

   When he prayed that God would bless her.

   Taking refuge under the Lord’s wings is a way of describing faith.

 

In very first conversation Boaz had said—Ruth, you are a woman of faith.

   You made a righteous decision move to Israel, leaving Moab, false gods of Moab.

Ruth says to Boaz—I want our relationship, from this very night to honor God.

   And that means you marry me first. 

 

Now, were there sparks on the threshing floor that night? 

   Was there some chemistry going on?  Of course there was.  He had noticed her.

The Bible affirms as good the erotic attraction between a man and a woman. 

   It affirms as good a woman perfuming and adorning herself, man’s desire for her.

   But that part of life is only truly good within the order of God’s moral law.

 

When God says this is righteous and this is unrighteous, His will is clear.

   The difficulty in decision-making not what to do, but the will make right decision. 

It’s God’s will for you to be sexually pure.

It’s God’s will for you to obey your parents.

It’s God’s will for you to marry a believer only.

It’s God’s will for you to be ethical in your business.

It’s God’s will for you to be content with what you have.

It’s God’s will for you to raise your children in the faith.

It’s God’s will for you to make Lord’s Day worship a priority.  And on and on.

 

So many areas in life, in many decisions, his will is clear.

   Your decisions must be guided by righteousness.

MP#3  Three common questions about decision-making and the will of God.

And so as believers, we have these two guides for decision-making—

   wisdom and righteousness.  Might even think of them as boundaries.

   Within these boundaries there sometimes lots of choices.

And it is those choices that raise three common questions

   about decision-making and the will of God.

I’ll give you the question, the short answer, and an explanation.

 

1.  Should I look for signs?  The short answer is No.

Sometimes Christians look for signs from God about which choice to make.

   Lord, I’m going to flip this coin.

   Lord, if this person responds a certain way, I’ll take that as a sign.

   Lord, I’m going to head this direction and if all doors stay open,

   I’ll take that as a sign from you that this is your will.

 

Or maybe something happens and that is interpreted as a sign.

   Years ago I read about an old down town church, neighborhood had changed,

   congregation divided over whether they should sell and move to suburbs,

   or stay and minister where God had them.

In the congregational meeting, storm came up and lightning hit steeple.

   Someone stood up and said—What more do we need, God telling us to go.

   Someone else stood up and said—No, God’s warning us not to leave.

 

In the Bible there are stories of divine signs for guidance.

Gideon putting out the fleece the most famous. 

   There are also visions—Paul, guided to Macedonia by dream.

But these are given to key figures at key times in redemptive history.

   And they also supernatural events.  Gideon’s fleece was miraculous.

 

The Bible doesn’t tell us to ask for and look for signs that reveal God’s secret will. 

   It tells us the opposite—it tells us to live by faith, not by sight.

The Lord guides us by his word—boundaries of wisdom and righteousness.

   And he then expects us to make decisions and step out in faith.

 

2.  Should I trust impressions, strong feelings of pressure or peace?  Maybe.

The Holy Spirit does impress things on Christians.

   Feelings of conviction to do something right—pray for that person, speak to her.

   Feelings of assurance that you are a child of God.  God’s love home to soul.

   Feelings of warning.  Don’t do that.  Don’t say that.  It’s wrong.  It’s not wise.

But when it comes to sort of life choices we’ve been talking about,

   you shouldn’t quickly call impressions and strong feelings of pressure or peace,

   the Lord speaking to you.  Or the Lord telling you something.

Even the apostles were cautious about this.  Remember what said after Jeru counsel.

   “It seems good to the Holy Spirit and to us.”  We think, think guided.

   Remember what James said about plans—“If it is God’s will.”

Feelings ought to be examined.  Might be something behind them. 

   But could just as well be your own fears or desires that you are spiritualizing.

 

After seminary, two godly ministers counseled me to get assistant pastor job,

   work for several years under an older minister to get experience.

I found out about Marco Pres, was interviewed, church called me—

   and I had a bad feeling about it.  Was not at peace.  Wasn’t sure why.  Lord?

But I knew what God had told me in Word, heed wisdom of godly, elders.

   Based on that, what God had said, not on my lack of peace, I made my decision. 

   God guides clearly in his word, be cautious about calling impression his voice.

 

3.  Should I pray for guidance?  Yes. 

You must pray that the Lord will guide you.  And he will.

Very interesting to look at prayers for guidance in Psalms. 

   Psalmists don’t pray for bits of information—that Lord write word in hearts.

   “Show me your ways, O Lord, teach me your paths, guide me in your truth and teach me.”

We need to pray for a biblical mind.  Love what God loves, think his thoughts.

 

And if you come to the conclusion that a decision is wise and right and move ahead

   and the way is blocked, pray for God to remove the obstacle.

The Lord delights in the prayers of his children. 

   Prayer overcomes even the unwise decisions that we often make.

 

Did Naomi pray for the Lord to get Ruth a husband?  She did.  Do you remember?

   Way back in chapter one, when she was at the dusty crossroads in Moab.

   “The Lord grant that you may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband.”

I wonder if Naomi even remembered that prayer—at such a bitter, hard time in life,

   when she had so little faith in God’s goodness.  But he remembered her prayer.

And he worked through her unwise plan to bring about good that was greater

   than she ever could have imagined. 

And that’s our confidence in the decisions of life—That before and behind,

   above and around our decisions, is the Lord, who knows, loves, works for good.