When I was a sophomore in high school, I learned how to drive a car. After I passed the required driver’s education class that fall semester, I enrolled in the behind-the-wheel part of the training. Learning to drive my dad’s 1973 Pontiac Catalina, with its 400 cubic-inch V-8, was more than a little fun. But learning to drive on the winter roads of Wisconsin was a challenging, yet valuable experience. “Stay out of the ditch” was one of my dad’s favorite lines. In fact, once I got my license, it was not uncommon for Mom or Dad to say to me as I was leaving for my job at McDonald’s, “Stay out of the ditch.”
I grew up in a subdivision in the country, surrounded by farmer’s fields, a delightful place for five boys and one girl to be raised. But living out in the country had its challenges, too, especially in winter. We were fifteen minutes from the nearest gas station or grocery store, so we had to plan ahead. It also meant that our roads were not the first to be plowed during or after a snowstorm. This made winter driving difficult for mature adults, and quite exciting for high school boys. It was not easy to stay out of the ditches. Take a corner a little too fast, or hit a small patch of black ice, and you might be spinning around in no time at all.
But, as some of you may know, you only have to get stuck and towed out once to realize that sliding off the road, and into the ditch, throws a monkey wrench into your schedule. And can be more than a little embarrassing, since being late for work was not something that was smiled upon. All in all, I learned that if you are going to get to your final destination safely you need to stay out of the ditches.
The same principle applies to Bible doctrine. Staying on the road of biblical doctrine means staying out of the ditches. Sometimes the ditches are pretty deep and easy to see, like obvious theological errors. Others are shallow and not as easy to detect, like imbalances or extremes. The doctrines of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility are two examples.
Sometimes Christians go off the good road by sliding into the ditch of believing that God’s sovereignty eliminates man’s responsibility, thus making man a puppet. They might get stuck in that ditch for quite some time. While they are lounging in their spiritual Lazy-Boy recliner, they’re wondering when God is just going to do something to meet their needs or zap them into super spirituality.
Other times Christians go off the good road by sliding into the ditch of believing that man’s free will is absolute, thus making God a cosmic Santa Claus whose authority is limited to responding to their good or bad decisions.
Thankfully, the Word of God presents the absolute sovereignty of God, and the limited free agency of man—not as enemies—but as friends. There is no question that God is sovereign, and we are not. But what is so fascinating about the way that God works is that He has chosen to work out His gracious sovereignty in such a way that man’s limited free agency is respected and even utilized to carry out His bigger plan. Most importantly, the bigger plan of our redemption.
That is what we see taking place in the second chapter of Ruth, a little book revealing some behind-the-scenes working out of God’s providence for certain individuals, while always keeping the big picture of His redemptive plan in focus. Here we see the companionship that divine sovereignty enjoys with human responsibility and accountability.
There are three important truths that God wants you to understand and live out in your faith walk with Him.
- Recognize the dual realities of divine provision and human responsibility (v. 1-3)
- Remember the relationship between divine grace and human reward (v. 4-16)
- Receive the blessings of divine kindness through human generosity (v. 17-23)
God was working out His gracious plan in and through the lives of Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz. But He did not do His work in opposition to human responsibility, but through it.
- It was through Naomi’s decision to return to Bethlehem that Ruth is brought into the field of redemption.
- It was through the kindness of Boaz that the material needs of two widows were met.
- It was through Ruth’s simple faithfulness and hard work, day in and day out, that the will of God was accomplished in her life. And she did all of this without knowledge of the big picture, without knowing where her daily obedience to God would take her.
- But through the lives of these individuals, the glorious plan of God was marching on toward the day when the Redeemer would come to save sinners like you and me.
Followers of God in the Old Testament lived each day in anticipation of the coming Redeemer. And so it is for you and me. Though we now live after the first coming of the Savior, the Scriptures assure us that He is coming. And so we, too, walk by faith and not by sight.
Sermon on Ruth 1, When God Moved Great Grandma to Bethlehem