Spirit and Ruth More than a Food Bank

This article is based on a talk given on Sunday, 6th June, 2021.

A man walks up to the Widow at a funeral and asks if he can say a word. "Of course", she replies. The man plucks up the courage and says, "Abundance". The Widow looks at him, teary eyed and says, "Thank you so much, that means a huge amount".

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The Book of Ruth is the story of two widows, Naomi, and her daughter-in-law Ruth. They leave Ruth’s home of Moab and move to Naomi’s home town of Bethlehem. In her search for food, Ruth finds herself in a field owned by a rich man named Boaz, who notices Ruth.

Then Boaz said to his servant who was in charge of the reapers, “Whose young woman is this?”
So the servant who was in charge of the reapers answered and said, “It is the young Moabite woman who came back with Naomi from the country of Moab. And she said, ‘Please let me glean and gather after the reapers among the sheaves.’ So she came and has continued from morning until now, though she rested a little in the house.”

Ruth 2:5-7 (NKJV)

In recounting who Ruth is to Boaz, the servant points out something slightly unusual, which is that “she rested a little in the house”. It’s a small detail that is easily overlooked.

Then Boaz said to Ruth, “You will listen, my daughter, will you not? Do not go to glean in another field, nor go from here, but stay close by my young women. Let your eyes be on the field which they reap, and go after them. Have I not commanded the young men not to touch you? And when you are thirsty, go to the vessels and drink from what the young men have drawn.”
Ruth 2:8-9 (NKJV)

It is a beautiful moment when Boaz offers Ruth protection. Ruth had probably just hoped for just enough to keep her and Naomi alive, and even that was exhausting work and came with a risk of being beaten. But now she is being offered protection and encouraged to rest when she is thirsty. This clearly came as a shock to Ruth.

So she fell on her face, bowed down to the ground, and said to him, “Why have I found favour in your eyes, that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?”
And Boaz answered and said to her, “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 2:10-12 (NKJV)

God has a very special place for widows, and we see that come through in Boaz’s reaction to Ruth. He has seen Ruth, the young widow, taking care of Naomi, an older widow. He is so impressed by Ruth’s heart for Naomi that he wants to give her protection, in the same way that God protects those who shelter under his wings.

It wasn’t strictly necessary for Boaz to intervene. Ruth would have probably managed to gather enough food for her and Naomi, which was already being generously provided by the fact that the reapers were told not to pick up anything they had dropped.

It could be easy to read a passage like this, think we’ve understood God’s heart for widows, and then think the correct response is to set up a food bank or something similar to support the needy. I'm not arguing against food banks, but if that is your response to this passage, I think you've missed the point. Boaz went above and beyond for Ruth, and as the story continues, we see that Boaz, and ultimately God, continue to bless her in more ways than anyone could possibly imagine.

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In the early church, the disciples also discovered that some widows were being neglected in the day-to-day ministry of the church.
Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution. Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”
Acts 6:1-4 (NKJV)

The disciples were called to take the message of the gospel all over the world. They recognised that they couldn’t do this and serve the widows in a way that would be worthy of the God whom they serve, which as we’ve seen goes way beyond our normal ways of thinking.

Again, it would be easy to read this passage and be encouraged to set up a food bank for widows, but God’s heart is bigger than that.

Remember that bit about Ruth resting a little in the house? It’s so easy to skip over it, but it shows how Ruth also knew her own limitations. She needed to rest. God never gives us more than we can handle. In fact, he wants us to do all that he has called us to do and still have time to rest. And that means trusting him with everything else.

Trying to do what they had been called to do and also take on this responsibility would have risked the disciples becoming unfocused. As soon as they recognised this risk, they appointed others so that they could be single-minded and stable in their calling.

The first of the seven people chosen by the disciples was Stephen. In verse 8, we hear how his work with the widows is going:
And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and signs among the people.
Acts 6:8 (NKJV)

By understanding God’s heart for widows, the disciples knew this was not just some food bank ministry they could quickly set up and get some new converts to run. This was huge, and if it is God’s will then God will provide the people.

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If only our food banks were more like those of the early church. I believe the widows went away from Stephen’s ministry not just free of hunger, but free of all sickness, free of all debt, full of peace and with a clear vision for their future. This was way more than just a food bank. As we read on in Acts, we also see that this offended some Jews in the synagogue so much that he was stoned to death.

“You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you.” ... And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”
Acts 7:51,59 (NKJV)

Knowing God’s heart, knowing what we are called to specifically, and knowing that God will provide everything we need, will help us to remain stable, when things start to overwhelm us. This is the work of the Holy Spirit.

Stephen’s rebuke reminds us of the danger of being double-minded. There were, of course, three widows in the story of Ruth. The one we haven’t mentioned is Orpah, whose name means stiff-necked. She felt called to go with Naomi, but then was easily persuaded by selfish concerns to go back and leave Naomi. She was double-minded and unstable.

Whatever you are called to do, it is important to stick with it. Had Stephen worried about what the Jews in the synagogue were going to say, he would not have been able to do what God called him to do, which in his case was a call to be a martyr for Jesus, and he was stable right to the end.

Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.
Acts 7:60 (NKJV)

Be stable and stay blessed.
 

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