Over the past decade, a barrage of articles and blog posts have been blanketed across the landscape of the internet–promoting and counteracting the idea of radical and extraordinary Christian service. Those who have emphasized radical Christian service have done so in an attempt to thwart the complacent, materialistic, self-focused, inhospitable, and unmerciful lifestyle of so many in middle and upper class suburbia. Those who react to an emphasis on living radical lives of Christian service have focused on faithfulness in the mundane and ordinary aspects of life. They have fought to remove what they perceive to be undue burdens, subtle self-righteous agendas, and visions of grandeur. Tim Challies has rightly explained that there are downsides to an over-accentuation of aspects of either radical and ordinary Christian service. He writes,
“The trouble with radical is that it can foster discontentment in people who are already living God-honoring but ordinary lives, perhaps unfairly convicting them that suburban 9-to-5 life cannot be good enough for God. It can also foster the works-righteousness of people who are convinced God will be pleased with them to only the extent that they do grander and harder things. Of course ordinary can foster complacency or the notion that God doesn’t much care what we do, what we give, or how we live. As usual in the Christian life, the way is narrow and there is peril on both sides.”
This past week, while reading through the book of Ruth, I was struck with the fact that God worked in an extraordinary way through the ordinary relationships, actions, and interaction of the members of the family of Elimelech. Ruth is the story of Naomi, the recently widowed wife of Elimelech–who, together with her two recently widowed daughters-in-law, decides to return to the people and to the land of God. Naomi is not acting in radical zeal. Rather, she is acting out of desperation, need, and a sense of longing for the provision of God. We read,
“She arose with her daughters-in-law to return from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the fields of Moab that the Lord had visited his people and given them food. So she set out from the place where she was with her two daughters-in-law, and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah” (Ruth 1:6–7).
Naomi then urged her daughters-in-law to return to their own families and to the land of Moab: “Go, return each of you to her mother’s house. May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. The Lord grant that you may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband” (Ruth 1:8–9). Naomi knew that she had no provisions or sons to give her daughters-in-law. She urged them to go back to their own families. The author noted the response of the daughters-in-law in the most summary manner: “Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her” (Ruth 1:14). After Naomi tried to convince Ruth to also return to her family, Ruth makes that illustrious profession of faith,
“Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.”
And, the rest is redemptive history.
Ruth returned and showed Naomi loyalty, care, respect, and faithfulness. She wasn’t doing anything radical or extraordinary. She wasn’t seeking great things. She was gleaning grain in a field at the counsel of her mother-in-law. She put herself in a low position––both with regard to her person and mindset––in another persons field. She wasn’t seeking to forge a movement. She wasn’t seeking for social advancement. She simply committed herself to the Lord, cared for her widowed mother-in-law, gleaned in a field, married a godly man, and had a child. Yet, in all these ordinary details about ordinary life in an otherwise ordinary family, God was doing an extraordinary work.
Isn’t that the point! So often, God does His most extraordinary works through ordinary individuals in ordinary families–and often begins that extraordinary work through them long before they can see the full fruition of it. The book of Ruth ends with this summary statement, “Ruth…bore a son [and] named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David” (Ruth 4:13–17). The book of Ruth teaches us that what happens on the ordinary family level may have implications for the national and global purposes of God. In dealing with Ruth, God was preparing to put King David over Israel, and King David’s greatest son, Jesus Christ, over the nations.
The book of Ruth has massive implications for how we live our lives in our ordinary families. Fraught with all of the frustrations and hardships of life, God calls us to be faithful to Him, to one another, to our everyday work, and to instructing our children in the truths of the Christian faith. He calls us to work six days and week and to rest and worship with His people one day. He calls us to be generous, merciful, and compassionate. He calls us to live biblically faithful lives in our physical families, as well as in the family of our local church. As we do, we may not receive accolades. We may not forge movements. We may not see the full fruition of the extraordinary work God is doing in our ordinary families. But God is working out His purposes for His own glory; and, we should rest content to trust Him to guide and provide for us along the way. It should be enough for us to live faithful and ordinary lives in our families and leave any extraordinary results to Him.