“Where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God….” (Ruth 1:16)
These words have been sung at countless weddings – but they were first said not by a bride but by someone who turned her back on the sensible option for her own future, to help someone who had lost everything.
Ruth had lost her husband, to be sure. But her mother-in-law, Naomi, had lost nearly everything. She was living in a foreign country, had buried her husband and both sons, and had no means of support. She was too old for a new start and felt she’d failed her two daughters-in-law. When Naomi urged the girls to return to their families while she went back to Israel, Ruth refused. She left everything behind rather than care for herself.
As I point out in Becoming Women of the Word, “Ruth exemplifies the kind of love St. Paul described when he urged Christians to ‘do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.’” (page 84).
Those words Paul wrote to the Philippians are worth spending time with:
“Do nothing from selfishness or conceit…”
It’s easy for me to think, when I read this, yeah yeah, I’m pretty good with that. But then that next line grabs me:
“… but in humility count others better than yourselves.”
What do other people have to do with my decisions? As long as I’m looking out for myself, isn’t that enough? Especially if they’re not affected by what I decide. Why shouldn’t I do what’s right for me?
When I meditate on this with Ruth’s story in mind, I see it from a new angle. Ruth would have been fully justified in going back to her parents. I suspect that was “the right thing” to do. It wasn’t selfish in a bad way at all. But in humility, she thought first of Naomi. By seeing Naomi’s greater need and laying aside her own agenda to help her mother-in-law, Ruth was “counting Naomi better” than herself.
“Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
Paul’s next words confirm that. When we spend all our time and efforts “looking out for #1” we fail to see other needs around us, that we might be uniquely suited to help with.
But what about me? I protest. Who will watch out for me?
The words of Jesus come to mind:
“Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For … your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well” (Matthew 6:31-33, emphasis mine).
When we put ourselves second and others first, which is one way to seek God’s righteousness (not ours), we don’t have to worry because he’ll take care of us.
Paul puts Jesus out there as an example as he continues:
“Have this mind among yourselves…”
[what mind? The one that puts other people’s needs before our own]
“…which was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.
And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8).
That’s easy for you to say, I think. Paul is a saint! But why should I make myself last?
“Therefore God has highly exalted him….” (vs. 9)
Just as God exalted his Son for his humility, he will raise us up too. It’s what God does – and Ruth is a case in point. When she put Naomi first and continued to serve her needs, she met a good man who took care of both of them and she was grafted into Israel, into the lineage of Jesus.
It is from people like Ruth that Christ is born into the world, even today.
Spend some time in the book of Ruth (or in Philippians 2: the whole chapter is rich). Ask the Lord how you might put someone else first this week.
© 2019 Sarah Christmyer
To read more about Becoming Women of the Word: How to Answer God’s Call with Purpose and Joy, download the Introduction and Table of Contents here:
Becoming Women of the Word TOC and Introduction
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