Ruth 1:20-21

Sermon preached on August 29, 2010 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2010. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at

Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.

The 1984 movie "Amadeus" was a great film that depicted the life of the great composer, Mozart. The movie had a lot of fictional parts to it but overall, it did a good job of showcasing the wonderful music of Mozart and some aspects of his life. My favorite part of the movie is a scene in which Mozart's composer rival, Salieri, is at a reception which he knows Mozart is attending. He's never met Mozart and he's looking forward to meeting the great composer. As he's wandering around the palace rooms among the people who are gathered for the reception, he wonders if he can pick Mozart out of the crowd. He said,

"As I went through the salon, I played a game with myself. This man had written his first concerto at the age of four; his first symphony at seven; a full-scale opera at twelve. Did it show? Is talent like that written on the face? Which one of them could he be? 'Does genius show?"

As Salieri wanders around the room, he's eventually distracted by some desserts and as he follows them he inadvertently spies upon a immature couple playing on the floor in the dessert room. As he listens to them he's disgusted with their childish and boorish behavior. But it's then that he discovers that one of the people he's watching is Mozart. He said,

"So that was he! That giggling, dirty-minded creature I'd just seen crawling on the floor. Mozart. The phenomenon whose legend had haunted my youth. Impossible."

That scene is fictional. Yet it is in line with some of the historical facts about Mozart. Mozart was someone, who, in some ways, never grew up. His behavior was often very immature and childish. The answer the movie gave to Salieri's question was that genius doesn't show in outward looks or behavior.

One of the things our text teaches us is that

you can't tell from outward appearances who God is going to honor and use for His glory.

Naomi didn't see potential greatness in Ruth. Naomi seemed to have no idea that God was going to use Ruth greatly for His glory.

This fact has great implications for how you are to treat other Christians. It should encourage you to esteem and honor them and see their potential in Jesus Christ. How dare we despise and look down on any other Christian. Rather we should honor and esteem them and recognize that Christ will build His church through them. Thus we should do everything we can to strengthen and encourage them and pray that God will greatly use them for His glory. That is how we are to view other Christians. Let's look at how our passage shows us this.

One of the main things we see in Naomi here is that she failed to value Ruth.

Too often we're like Naomi when she came back from Moab, we consider other Christians like she considered Ruth—almost worthless. This is made very clear in our text. Naomi said to the women of Bethlehem,

"Don't call me Naomi.
Call me Mara,
because the Almighty
has made my life very bitter.
I went away full,
but the Lord has brought me back empty.
Why call me Naomi?
The Lord has afflicted me;
the Almighty has brought
misfortune upon me."

There are two things in Naomi's answer to the women of Bethlehem that show she failed to recognize Ruth's value.

First, she tells them not to call her 'Naomi', but to call her 'Mara', which means, 'bitter'.
The name 'Naomi' comes from a Hebrew root that refers to 'liveliness or delight'. (Edward F. Campbell, Jr. Ruth, p. 52) Naomi means 'Pleasant'. The contrast she was making was one between 'Sweet one' and 'Bitter one". (Campbell, p. 76) Naomi is stating that she has nothing to be happy about. She considers that the Lord's hand has been against her and has taken happiness and joy away from her and replaced it with sorrow and bitterness.

Secondly, Naomi said she was coming back empty. She had left with a husband and two sons. She was returning with only Ruth. I'm not sure what Ruth thought when she heard Naomi say that she was coming back empty. From what we know of Ruth she was humble and probably just accepted it. But if she had any pride in her she might have thought something along the lines of, "What am I, chopped liver?"

Naomi had no idea who she had in Ruth. Ruth was one of the heroes of the faith. She was going to be the great grandmother of King David. She would be in the lineage of Christ. She would bear Obed. Matthew 1:5–6 gives part of the genealogy of Jesus Christ. It reads,

"Salmon the father of Boaz,
whose mother was Rahab,
Boaz the father of Obed,
whose mother was Ruth,
Obed the father of Jesse,
and Jesse the father of King David."

To paraphrase the words of Elkanah to his wife Hannah (who would be Samuel's father) Ruth was better for Naomi than ten sons. Ruth would have a book of the Bible named for her. Ruth would be admired and honored for centuries. Yet Naomi said that she was coming back from Moab empty. She couldn't have been more mistaken.

Naomi's mistake is a common one. Human beings often tend to dismiss as worthless those who are being, or will be—greatly used by the Lord.

There is no more striking example of this than the way that many of the people of Jesus' day treated Him. Jesus is the King of Glory. He was the One who created all things. He stooped to save us by taking our nature and dying in our place. There was no one like Him. He was full of grace and truth. He went around doing good and teaching people about the Father and His glory. He had the Spirit without measure. He was perfect in His words, in His actions, in His thoughts. He did great miracles.

Yet at one point during His earthly ministry Jesus returned to His hometown. We read, (Mark 6:2–3)

"When the Sabbath came,
he began to teach in the synagogue,
and many who heard him were amazed.
'Where did this man
get these things?' they asked.
'What's this wisdom that has been given him,
that he even does miracles!
Isn't this the carpenter?
Isn't this Mary's son
and the brother of James,
Joseph, Judas and Simon?
Aren't his sisters here with us?'
And they took offense at him."

They took offense at Him? Can you imagine? They were amazed at His teaching and miracles. But when they realized it was Him, Jesus, the took offense. They spoke of him in disparaging terms, referring to Him as a carpenter, a common laborer. It was also very unusual to describe a man as the son of his mother. This was probably done as an insult. It could have been that rumors that Jesus was an illegitimate child had long circulated in His hometown and that this was behind what they said about Him being the son of Mary.

The people of Nazareth despised Jesus in spite of the fact that He was invested with heavenly powers. They totally failed to appreciate the glory of Jesus Christ. They failed to see that He was their only hope. If someone had come with earthly pomp and ceremony they would have accepted him. But Jesus, son of Mary? They took offense.

The fact is that we often don't recognize and honor those that God chooses to use for His glory. We often focus on the wrong people. We're like Samuel when he saw Eliab, Jesse's firstborn. In 1 Samuel 16:6 we read,

"When they arrived,
Samuel saw Eliab and thought,
'Surely the LORD'S anointed
stands here before the LORD.'"

But Samuel was wrong. He looked at the outer appearance and We look at the outer appearance. God doesn't go by that.

Who would have thought that a tax collector, Matthew, would become a disciple of Jesus and write one of the gospels? Who would have thought that humble fishermen would be among those who turned the ancient world upside down? Who would have thought that Saul of Tarsus, a persecutor of the church, would become the apostle to the Gentiles? Even when he did, some of the Corinthians said about the apostle Paul, (2 Corinthians 10:10)

"His letters are weighty and forceful,
but in person he is unimpressive
and his speaking amounts to nothing."

God often uses the most unexpected, the most lowly of people to do great service in His kingdom. Who would have thought that angels would appear to lowly shepherds to announce the birth of our Savior? Who would have thought that God would choose them to be the first to come and worship the newborn King?

The fact is—

God often uses humble, lowly, people for His glory. In fact, God sometimes greatly uses the very people that we think He can't possibly use!

Naomi had good reason for saying she came back empty. Ruth was a Moabitess. Deuteronomy 23:3 says that,

"No Ammonite or Moabite
or any of his descendants
may enter the assembly of the LORD,
even down to the tenth generation."

Naomi might have thought that there was no place for Ruth in Israel. Perhaps that was part of the reason she tried to convince both Ruth and Orpah to stay in Moab. She perhaps thought that they would not be accepted in Israel.

But God had a different idea. Theologians debate about why that prohibition didn't apply to Ruth. Some suggest that it was because she was female. Others suggest that it was because of her confession of faith about Naomi's God being her God. Still others think it was because she had married into Israel by marrying Naomi's son Mahlon. In any event, by God's providence Ruth was included in God's people, becoming an ancestor of King David and the Messiah, Jesus Christ.

Do you look down on certain Christians because you know for sure that God won't and can't use them? Do you ever have such thoughts? Don't think in those terms. Remember what the apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 1:26–29?

"Brothers, think of what you were
when you were called.
Not many of you were wise
by human standards;
not many were influential;
not many were of noble birth.
But God chose the foolish things
of the world to shame the wise;
God chose the weak things
of the world to shame the strong.
He chose the lowly things of this world
and the despised things—
and the things that are not—
to nullify the things that are,
so that no one may boast before him."

I've been at Ogdensburg Correctional Facility when they have brought new prisoners in. It's a somber scene. The correction officers who escort them have guns. The prisoners are in chains. They're in prison garb. They have handcuffs on their hands and they also have chains on their feet and if my memory is correct there are chairs connecting their hands and feet. They can't really walk normally. The chains make it so that the way they walk is to sort of shuffle in very short steps.

Now if you were at the prison and you saw these prisoners arriving, and someone asked you what one of them could teach you about Christ, about living for Him, about being thankful and grateful, about being joyful and rejoicing in Christ—you might be inclined to think,

"They couldn't teach me anything. If any of them are really Christians, their lives are really messed up. I'm way above them in spiritual attainments. I haven't messed up. They could learn a lot from me, but I don't think I could learn anything from them."

Bill Goccia would tell you different. For years Bill attended the Thursday night Bible Study OFC and he often said that he was sure he benefited more from going in than the inmates did from his presence. He felt he learned more from them than they learned from him. He also said that he felt much closer to some of them than he did to many Christians on the outside. He said he felt they were close Christian brothers.

Bill was absolutely right. Some of them can teach you a lot about having joy in trying circumstances. Some of them can teach you a lot about caring for those who are truly down and out. Some of them can teach you a lot about humility, about patience, about suffering with dignity and hope. Some of them can teach you a lot about loving the Word of God and appreciating hearing it expounded.

Do you value those types of Christians? Do you value young Christians? The history of the church is full of examples where those younger have been thought of little account. Remember Eliab, David's older brother? He treated David with contempt, and he was wrong. Before David went out to fight Goliath, Eliab said to David, (1 Samuel 17:28)

"Why have you come down here?
And with whom did you leave
those few sheep in the desert?
I know how conceited you are
and how wicked your heart is;
you came down only to watch the battle."

Eliab was so wrong to have that attitude.

Joseph's brothers treated him with contempt. When they saw him coming they said to each other, (Genesis 37:19–20)

"Here comes that dreamer!
Come now, let's kill him
and throw him into one of these cisterns
and say that a ferocious animal
devoured him.
Then we'll see what comes of his dreams."

They were so wrong.

Don't you be like Eliab. Don't be like Joseph's brothers. Recognize that God may work greatly in and through those who you think He couldn't possibly do it.

What this means is that

you should appreciate and esteem other Christians. You don't know what God will do through them.

In 1 Corinthians 12:21–26 Paul wrote,

"The eye cannot say to the hand,
'I don't need you!'
And the head cannot say to the feet,
'I don't need you!'
On the contrary,
those parts of the body
that seem to be weaker are indispensable,
and the parts that we think
are less honorable we treat with special honor.
And the parts that are unpresentable
are treated with special modesty,
while our presentable parts
need no special treatment.
But God has combined the members
of the body and has given greater honor
to the parts that lacked it,
so that there should be no division in the body,
but that its parts should have
equal concern for each other.
If one part suffers,
every part suffers with it;
if one part is honored,
every part rejoices with it."

We are to put ourselves last. As the apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 2:3,

"Do nothing out of
selfish ambition or vain conceit,
but in humility consider others
better than yourselves."

If you want to be great in the Kingdom you need to be humble. Remember how when the disciples argued about which of them would be greatest Jesus took a little child and had him stand beside Him. He said, (Luke 9:48)

"Whoever welcomes this little child
in my name welcomes me;
and whoever welcomes me
welcomes the one who sent me.
For he who is least among you all—
he is the greatest."

Secondly, not only are you to appreciate and esteem other Christians,

you are to do everything in your power to help equip them to serve God better.

We see this in the apostle Paul in Romans 1:11–12. He wrote to the Roman Christians and said,

"I long to see you so that I may
impart to you some spiritual gift
to make you strong—
that is, that you and I
may be mutually encouraged
by each other's faith."

You should be seeking to do everything in your power to help other Christians, to encourage them, to equip them, to help them be more useful in the service of our Lord.

Thirdly, this has great implications for those of you who may feel that you are too lowly for God to use.

Perhaps you feel discouraged at your spiritual attainments. Perhaps you feel that you'll never really be able to do great things for the Lord. Nothing could be farther from the truth. God uses people just like you. Although I've been talking about doing 'great things' for the Lord—anything that is done for the Lord is worthwhile and if you are faithful in the little, mundane, ordinary things in life—your life will end up being, 'great' in the Lord.

God can use you for great things. Be faithful. Never think that God can't use you. Joe Weilder once showed me a list of biblical people that God had used, in spite of their limitations. I love the last name of the list. It was Lazarus from John 11, Jesus' friend who got sick and died. It said about Lazarus-

"God used him, and he was dead!"

Don't think that God can't use you.

Lastly, for those of you who are not Christians, I ask you,

why aren't you valuing Jesus like you should?

Naomi didn't value Ruth. Eliab didn't value David. Joseph's brothers didn't value Joseph. Those were great mistakes, but there were not deadly mistakes.

But not appreciating the value of Jesus is a deadly, eternal mistake. But the people of Nazareth took offense at Jesus. They didn't value Him or His work. They perished. They're lost forever.

You should appreciate and value Jesus. He made you for His glory. Everything you have you owe to Him. He offers you salvation. He offers you forgiveness of sins and life everlasting in joy and true happiness. Don't make the great mistake of not appreciating Him. Value Him. Go to Him. Trust Him. Find life in Him now.