SELF-DENIAL AND DISCIPLESHIP
All who desire to be disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ are called upon to deny themselves and carry their own crosses. It implies that everyone has his own cross, but they cannot carry it for lack of self-denial.
My Lord is there, and He’ll show me
The cross to take, the path to go.
The cross is the mission that He gives me,
The meaning of life He lets me know.
A self-centred person is unable to carry his cross, and therefore cannot follow Christ as He expects him to.
We profess to follow Christ and at the same time are reluctant to let go off the things of this world that we know are a hindrance to our intimate relationship with the Lord. The career we pursue, the material assets we possess, the relationships we value, the dreams we ‘see’, and even the Christian ministry we are involved in (they are not bad in themselves, though) can take the place of Christ in our hearts, if we give them undue importance. It is only as we gladly surrender these ‘worldly’ and ‘religious’ pursuits into the able hands of our Master (which is usually a painful process for those who are led by the ‘flesh’), that they lose their grip over us and we are enabled by the Holy Spirit to be fruitful as Christ’s disciples (Jn.15:1-11).
Boaz has this to say about Ruth, “It has been fully reported to me, all that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband, and how you have left your father and your mother and the land of your birth, and have come to a people whom you did not know before. The Lord repay your work, and a full reward be given you by the Lord God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge” (Ruth.2:11-12 NKJ).
When Ruth denied herself the right to go back to her family who did not know the God of Israel, God rewarded her for her faithfulness and loyalty. Her visit to Boaz’s field was divinely arranged. She had no expectations, no plans, no more dreams; her only concern was to fulfil her duty towards her mother-in-law. But Boaz understood her situation and knew that the Lord would reward her, because she had left everything and come under the wings of God.
Since Ruth and Naomi had nothing for their sustenance, Ruth had to go and glean the leftovers from the harvesting. As per the Law of Moses, the harvester would leave the ends of the field for the poor to glean and would not go after the leftover grain (Lev.19:10;Deut.24:21).
It might have been very humbling for a young woman like Ruth to be in such a situation. Naomi certainly wanted Ruth to lead a better life. But Ruth chose to deny herself her rights and was willing to carry her ‘cross’.
Ruth let go off her old family-ties. She considered serving Naomi’s God more important than attachment to her parents or siblings. She was not being disloyal to her family so much as she was being loyal to the Lord. She found a new family when she married Naomi’s son; now, Naomi was her mother. Jesus said, “Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life” (Matt.19:29). Once when someone told Jesus that His mother and brothers had come to see Him, He turned to His disciples and said, “Whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother” (Matt.12:50).
Volumes can be written on this theme. Today it is sad to see some churches built on family names. In India, family names are idolised and some churches in South India are caste-oriented. They may call Jesus their Lord, but they have not learnt the first step of discipleship: denying self and taking up the cross.
Ruth let go off her old nationality ties. She was a Moabitess. However, she didn’t allow Moab’s culture to accompany her. It took the New Testament church many years to get out of the hold of its Jewish ties. The churches in the first century were never divided on the basis of language, culture, or nationality. The church at Jerusalem was not divided as Greek Church and Hebrew Church, for instance. Language was not an idol, neither was it the uniting factor. They were united in the faith of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Greeks and Hebrews worshipped together and were in the same fellowship as one body. Sadly, in modern times linguistic, cultural and nationalistic divisions prevent the church from being a true witness for the Lord. Salt is useless as long as it remains in the bottle. It must go out and be used to bring taste to the food. Those who belong to the body of Christ are called to be the salt and light of the earth (Matt.5:13-16).
Ruth let go off any personal dreams and aspirations of her own. It is natural for a young girl to have dreams and deeply cherish them. With the death of her husband, all her dreams must have been shattered. Nevertheless, being young, she had a bright future to look forward to and the time to realise her dreams. Her sister-in-law Orpah opted for a ‘better’ future. As for Ruth, she had laid her dreams on the altar of the God of Israel.
Some preachers encourage Christians to pursue dreams that would fulfil their worldly ambitions, rather than seek God’s will and glory in their pursuits. When the devil offered Jesus the glory of this world, He rebuked him and sent him packing. When a teacher of the law wanted to follow Jesus wherever He went, the Lord told him, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head” (Matt.8:20).
Today, the people of this world, including Christians, are converting land into material assets and amassing as much wealth as they can, much more than they really need. Jesus didn’t have even half a denarius to pay His tax, let alone buy land. Of course, He didn’t need land on the earth! For the patriarch Abraham, the real Promised Land was not the geographical area in Palestine where he lived in tents. The Bible says he looked to a city in heaven with foundations, whose architect and builder is God (Heb.11:8-10). You can’t deny self, unless you have a clear vision of a heavenly kingdom.
Ruth denied herself the right to live a comfortable life. The Bible tells us that she worked till evening. She was not one to be satisfied with a little; she worked as long as it was day, making good use of the time at her disposal. Jesus said, “I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work” (Jn.9:4). There is no retirement for a disciple of Christ. He must work while it is ‘day’.
Ruth chapter 2 is an account of a whole day in the life of Ruth. It was a day filled with surprises, blessings, and a full basket in the end. It was a day filled with the favour of God, because it was a day that a girl entered with self-denial, and when God saw that this vessel had emptied herself totally, He poured into her all that He had in overflowing measures. It was a day with the Lord.
We Christians need to study the life of Ruth and see how her life demonstrates what it means to be a disciple of the King of kings and the Lord of lords.