For Ruth and Naomi to have any hope of redemption, it meant that Ruth needed to be willing to completely surrender. She had to give up, in order to gain. So do we. Surrender yourself to Jesus and receive His redemption!

Isaiah 53, “Jesus: Rejected, Substitute, Sufficient”

“Good Friday.” The name is ironic. Considering that this is the day set aside in the year for Christians to remember Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross, it does not initially seem to be good at all. What is good in Jesus being betrayed to the Jews and delivered to the Romans? What is good in His being beaten beyond recognition? What is good about the spikes driven through His wrists and feet, about His hanging in prolonged agony, in the mockery He endured from the crowd, or in His anguished death? What is good about any of that?

Perhaps there are several answers to the question, one of which being that it is good for what it accomplished. Without a crucifixion, there is no resurrection. Without the combination of the two with the Lord Jesus, there is no salvation. That alone makes it good. But there is something else, something more fundamental. It is good because it is of God. The crucifixion of Jesus was God’s idea – it was God’s plan for His Son. This was His will at work, for the purpose of reconciling the universe back to Himself and to reconcile men & women unto God. God willed that Jesus should die for the sins of mankind, of sinners like you and me. That alone makes it good.

It is this plan of God that is on display in Isaiah 53. It is without doubt a Messianic passage, used by Philip with the Ethiopian eunuch to bring him to faith in Christ (Acts 8:32-35) and referenced by Peter as an example of how Jesus suffered for us, thus we should expect similar suffering (1 Pt 2:21-25). Even Jesus saw this prophecy as speaking of His own suffering, specifically quoting it to the disciples the night He was arrested (Lk 22:37). This is no spiritualized picture of Israel; this is the prophesied work and suffering of Jesus Christ. We read it rightly when we see its fulfillment in Jesus.

The theology of the passage is rich, but tonight is not about an in-depth study pouring over every word. Rather, it is a time for reflection & remembrance – for us to take a step back and be in awe at our Jesus. We want God to speak to us through His Scripture, directing our attention and our devotion to Him for what was done to and through Christ.

In the prophecy, we see three main roles of Jesus, all entwined with each other. Each of these roles can be summarized with a single word. Jesus is: (1) the Man of Sorrows…rejected; (2) the sacrificial Lamb…substitute; (3) the suffering Servant…sufficient. Jesus is the perfect fulfillment of the plan of God. If it were not for God willing His Son to suffer on our behalf, none of us would be saved. How we praise God for His good will on this Good Friday regarding His good Son: Jesus!

Isaiah 53

  • The Man of Sorrows (1-3): Rejected.

1 Who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? 2 For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, And as a root out of dry ground. He has no form or comeliness; And when we see Him, There is no beauty that we should desire Him. 3 He is despised and rejected by men, A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.

Isaiah writes of the report that was disbelieved, or even unheard. What report? The few verses prior in Chapter 52 that speaks of the astonishment of the nation at God’s chosen Servant. Although God willed that this Servant be highly extolled and exalted, the Servant would first suffer. Isaiah wrote that “His visage was marred more than any man,” (52:14) and that “kings shall shut their mouths at Him,” (52:15) unable to comprehend what they witnessed. How could the chosen Servant of God, the Anointed One, the King of kings and Lord of lords…how could that One suffer such horrible punishment? Should not the Chosen One live a life of luxury and honor? That is expectation of royalty. When we think of kings, queens, and princes, etc., we think of their subjects bowing before them, honoring them; not beating them to a pulp and despising them. 

Yet that was the expectation for this Servant. The One chosen by God would come from humble beginnings, “as a root out of dry ground,” and He would have a humble life in general. Nothing about Him would initially stand out to the crowds as kingly. When Saul was initially presented by Samuel to Israel, the crowds all nodded their heads in agreement, affirming that Saul looked like a king. He was tall and handsome and easy to look at (not like the ruddy-faced kid that would come later in David). This was not the case with Jesus, God’s true Servant. There was nothing about His appearance that screamed “Messiah! King!” Although angels announced His birth from a virgin mother, He was raised by a humble carpenter and lived a boyhood life of relative obscurity and near-poverty. In the eyes of the world, this was not the résumé of a king. In the eyes of God, Jesus had all the qualifications required, yet His own nation was blind.

Instead of receiving Jesus, they rejected Him. They did not desire Him; they despised Him. They did not esteem Him; they spurned Him. John writes: “He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him,” (Jn 1:11). His own nation turned their backs on Him. No wonder that Jesus was prophesied to be “a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” The pain experienced by Christ was at least as much spiritual as it was physical. It was all part of His suffering.

Jesus was truly rejected by those He came to save. Those who owed Him their allegiance derided Him. Not only did they clamor for His crucifixion, preferring to have the murderous terrorist Barabbas released to them rather than Jesus, but they even mocked Him while looking upon Him hanging on the cross. They could not have rejected Jesus any more than they did. It was a total repudiation of Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God.

But again, these were the ones Jesus came to save. Hanging from the cross, Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do,” (Lk 23:34). Oh, they understood that they were cruel in their mockery; they just didn’t understand Who they mocked. If they did, they wouldn’t have dared uttered a word! This was God in the flesh, One who could call down a legion of angels to destroy them. This was the God that would one day judge each and every one of them – the God from whose righteous wrath they required salvation. And that was what Jesus provided that day. He gave them the means to find refuge from the wrath of God. They didn’t know it, and they rejected Him.

We did, too. How long did each of us live our lives rejecting the gift of Jesus Christ? How many years passed with us mocking the Son of God, despising His sacrifice for us? How long did we usurp the rightful place of God in our lives, declaring ourselves to be our own lords and masters? And yet…Jesus died for people like us. He died for those who rejected Him, that we might reject Him no longer!

  • The Sacrificial Lamb (4-9): Substitute.

4 Surely He has borne our griefs And carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted. 5 But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed. 6 All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

Are there any verses in the Bible that speak more clearly of Jesus’ substitutionary sacrifice for us? Centuries before Jesus walked the earth in His incarnation, the prophet Isaiah wrote of Christ’s work as a substitute. Jesus put Himself in our place, taking on our sins, bearing the wrath of God in our place as our punishment. The apostle Paul put it this way: 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” Jesus knew no sin, having committed none of His own, nor being born with a sinful nature like ours. Yet He became sin when He became our sin offering for us. Hanging upon that bloody cross, Jesus bore each of our griefs and sorrows. Every wound on His body was inflicted for our many transgressions against God. Every bruise and each blackened eye were for the iniquities of men and women. Jesus deserved none of it. We did; He didn’t. He was truly and totally innocent. Yes, He was tempted just like every human being is tempted, but He did not fall to that temptation. Jesus did not live in a holy bubble, sealed off from even the possibility of sin. On the contrary, Jesus was surrounded by sinful people and subjected to the personal spiritual onslaught of Satanic attack. Yet Jesus prevailed! Jesus was sinless and deserved no suffering whatsoever. But suffer, He did. He suffered in ways that our minds can hardly imagine.

Yet it was not in vain! Jesus’ suffering produced tremendous results. What was the fruit of His punishment? “Our peace.” The shalom (wholeness, peace) we need with God, Jesus provides. The spiritual healing we require from the death earned by our sin, Jesus bought and paid for “by His stripes.” Everything we need to be restored into full relationship with God is made possible through Jesus Christ.

What was the cost? Jesus Himself. For us to be healed – for us to have shalom peace with God, it required that our “iniquity” be laid on Christ. We needed a perfect substitute, a perfect sacrifice. Jesus was it.

What did that sacrifice look like? …

7 He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, And as a sheep before its shearers is silent, So He opened not His mouth. 8 He was taken from prison and from judgment, And who will declare His generation? For He was cut off from the land of the living; For the transgressions of My people He was stricken. 9 And they made His grave with the wicked— But with the rich at His death, Because He had done no violence, Nor was any deceit in His mouth.

How accurately Isaiah prophesied the passion and suffering of Jesus! Though “oppressed and…afflicted” in a series of unjust trials, Jesus did not attempt to defend Himself and gain judicial victory. Certainly, He could have if He desired. No one would have been able to mount a self-defense in court like Jesus! But He chose otherwise. Jesus understood that the cross was necessary for the plan of God, so He made no attempt to avoid it. “He opened not His mouth.” The Jewish high priest was astounded, incredulously asking Jesus, “Do You answer nothing?” (Mt 26:62). Likewise, Pilate “marveled greatly,” when Jesus did not answer the charges against Him (Mt 27:14). Even Herod was frustrated at Jesus’ silence, cruelly mocking Jesus when Herod didn’t get the answers he wanted (Lk 23:9-11). Jesus had no reason to answer any of them. He was fully prepared for the suffering and death He would face. That battle was resolved the previous night in the Garden of Gethsemane as great drops of blood came down Jesus’ face in anguished sweat. Though He prayed that God might remove this cup of wrath from Him, Jesus faithfully prayed that God’s will be done. In the mockery and cruelty of the various national leaders, God’s will was being done. It was God’s will that Jesus go to the cross; this was how it had to be.

At that point, Jesus was taken from the custody of the Roman soldiers (a kind of “prison” and “judgment” in itself) and terribly affixed to the cross with three massive spikes. Hanging there for hours, “He was cut off from the land of the living,” as He hung until He died. It was the death of a criminal, and indeed, He hung between two other criminals – perhaps the very terrorist partners of Barabbas. Jesus died the death of a transgressor, but it was not His own transgressions for which He died, but “for the transgressions of My people,” the “My” speaking of the people of God. Jesus died on that cross as the Savior of Israel. He died on that cross for your sins and for mine. Every tortured breath took while hanging there was a moment of suffering that you and I deserved. That should have been us; it was Him.

Finally, He died and the rest of the prophecy was fulfilled. Jesus died literally beside two “wicked” men, and the initial expectation of His burial would have been to throw His body into a mass grave along with other criminals. Instead, Jesus was “with the rich at His death” as Joseph of Arimathea gave Jesus a brand-new tomb, with both Joseph and Nicodemus the Pharisee personally attending to Jesus’ dead body. The two Sanhedrin members packed Jesus’ body with almost one hundred pounds worth of spices (Jn 19:39) – a magnificent gift, provided by two men who had not the courage to honor Jesus in life, but felt compelled to do so at His death. Jesus died the death of a criminal, but He received a burial befitting a king!

Why did it all have to be this way? It was the will of God…

  • The Suffering Servant (10-12): Sufficient.

10 Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief. When You make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, And the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in His hand.

Why did Jesus die on the cross? Yes, it was for our sins. But ultimately, it was the will of God. “It pleased the LORD to bruise Him.” The word translated “pleased” could also be translated “delighted.” We don’t want to get the wrong idea. God the Father is not a sadist, being overjoyed at seeing His only begotten Son in suffering and anguish. Rather, God is well-pleased when His will is done. Sometimes hard things, difficult things, please us when they bring about the right result. No mother enjoys the pains of labor but they are delighted to hold their newborn son or daughter. If the pain of childbirth is what is required for the baby to come, so be it. 

Likewise, with the plan of God. God’s plan did not begin and end with Jesus’ suffering and death. If that were all that was desired, that would be cruel indeed. But the bruising and grief of Jesus had a specific purpose: it was “an offering for sin.” Ever since the fall of Adam in the Garden of Eden, sin has been in this world and there was only one answer to it: a sufficient sacrifice. Without a sufficient shedding of blood – without a death of greater value than the sin that made it necessary, sin would remain in this world and this universe would remain perverted from God’s original intent for it. For these things to be made right, a sufficient sin offering needed to be made. Jesus made it and God was pleased. Moreover, God was even the One who ordained it, ultimately being the One who put Jesus “to grief.” God did what it took for sin to be squashed and for death to be conquered, and the result brought Him pleasure and delight.

Why? Because it was sufficient! What Jesus did was enough and the proof was in the resurrection, here too prophesied by Isaiah. Although the Suffering Servant truly died, He would still “see His seed” (i.e. the offspring of the church) and “He shall prolong His days.” How can a dead man’s days be prolonged? They can’t. Only a living or a resurrected Man’s days are prolonged. Such is Jesus!

11 He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied. By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many, For He shall bear their iniquities. 12 Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great, And He shall divide the spoil with the strong, Because He poured out His soul unto death, And He was numbered with the transgressors, And He bore the sin of many, And made intercession for the transgressors.

The work of Jesus was truly enough! The labor He poured out on the cross was satisfactory. What Jesus accomplished was able to “justify many,” making us right in the sight of God. Whereas our sins separated us from God, Jesus reconciles us back to God, zeroing out the infinite debts we owed through our “iniquities.” Everything we require for eternal life yet could never achieve on our own, Jesus achieved in full and freely offers.

It is no wonder that God exalts Jesus in the way He does! Jesus came to earth in utmost humility but has been raised to great glory. He lived a life of poverty but has inherited a future of victory. The language used by Isaiah is normally used of military warriors who gain “spoil” from the cities they conquered. Jesus is the Victorious Warrior! The enemy He conquered was no mere human nation; Jesus conquered sin and death itself. Death has no more sting, nor does Hades have any victory because Jesus has all victory! He won it at the cross and proved it in the resurrection. It came from His obedience to suffer, and His suffering was sufficient. Today, we enjoy the spoils of His victory. Our sin is gone because Jesus bore it – our transgressions are removed because Jesus numbered us with Himself.

Praise be to God for Jesus Christ our Lord!

On Good Friday, we remember the cross. But we also remember that the cross is not the end; it leads to a specific event: the resurrection. Yes, Jesus suffered immensely – yes, Jesus died – yes, Jesus was buried. But that is not all…praise God, it is not all! Jesus went from that death and burial to resurrected life, and in His life, we find the hope and promise of new life. We are forgiven! Our transgressions are forever removed, all because of the work of Jesus.

Is this your hope? Is this your trust? This is the promise that is available to all the world, yet it will only be experienced by those who have received Jesus as Savior and Lord. Tonight, receive Him! Although you rejected Jesus in the past, He was your substitute for sin when He died on the cross, and His death is sufficient for you as seen in His resurrection. You know the truth; now act on it in faith.

Give Up to Gain

Posted: April 1, 2021 in Ruth

Ruth 3, “Give Up to Gain”

Years ago, there was an SNL character named Stuart Smalley who satirized the idea of the power of positive thinking. No matter how bad things got for Stuart, he could always look at himself in the mirror and give himself the same pep talk: “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggonit, people like me!” It might work for TV but it is worthless in real life. Try believing you can fly through the power of positive thinking. You’ll feel great about yourself as you jump out the airplane all the way down until you become a spot on the pavement!

Even more ludicrous is the idea that positive thinking works to guarantee us eternal life. Multitudes of people believe that God will take them to heaven when they die, all because they were relatively nice people and God is a loving God. In essence, they say, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggonit, God likes me!” Tragically, they will be just as disappointed as those deluded into thinking they can fly.

The fact is we cannot think ourselves into heaven. There is nothing we can do in this life that will earn us our place in the eternal life. We are not good (not at all!), we are not that smart, and although God is a loving God who sees us as one of His creations, He will still judge those who remain in their sins. God judges according to His perfect righteousness, even as He maintains His perfect love. What can we do about it? In ourselves, nothing. We have zero to offer, and our best, most positive self-thoughts are powerless. But the good news is that Jesus has already done everything. We need only surrender ourselves to Him, putting our lives totally in His hands. We give up trying to get ourselves into heaven and we rely fully on Jesus – on His work and His promise, and He gets us there. When we give up everything to give ourselves over to Christ, we find that He gives us precisely that which we could never get on our own: redemption.

We see this pictured in historical Israel as the book of Ruth continues. In Chapter 1, the reader was introduced to a tragic family story during the days of the judges. One particular man from Bethlehem in Judea followed in the ways of so many other Israelites in their abandonment of God. This man took the next step by even abandoning the promised land and marrying his sons to two Gentile Moabite women. At some point, the father died in judgment, as did the two sons who freely chose to remain in Moab (confirming the rebellion of all three men). This left three widows – one of which went back to the Moabite family of her birth.

The two women who remained were the Jewish mother-in-law Naomi and her Moabite daughter-in-law Ruth. Although Naomi implored Ruth to leave (for her own sake), Ruth loved Naomi and loved Naomi’s God and refused to turn away. The women thus returned to the land of Israel, fully expecting to face a life of poverty and hardship.

Yet hope returned in a big way as God providentially directed Ruth to the man Boaz, whose fields she wanted to glean for a bit of leftover grain, fending off starvation. Boaz had heard of Ruth’s commitment to Naomi and he was determined to honor this young woman for her sacrifice. He took Ruth from being an outsider and beggar gleaning the fields to virtually treating her as one of his own cared-for workers. Moreover, he ensured she took home so much grain that it was overwhelming just to see her. Naomi need only the slightest glance at the burden in Ruth’s arms to know that she witnessed a miracle of God.

Something wonderful had happened, and it was only the beginning. Chapter 3 picks up at that point, showing the hope of something wonderful develop into a true promise of redemption.

The narrative of the chapter breaks into three main sections: the plan, the execution of the plan, and the report of the plan. What was the plan? Surrender. Neither Naomi nor Ruth would be able to gain anything on their own. Ruth needed to surrender herself to another, if she hoped to be redeemed.

In terms of eternal salvation, none of us will ever be able to achieve anything on our own. Our only hope is surrender. Surrender yourself to Jesus and receive His redemption!

Ruth 3

  • Naomi’s plan for Ruth (1-5).

1 Then Naomi her mother-in-law said to her, “My daughter, shall I not seek security for you, that it may be well with you? 2 Now Boaz, whose young women you were with, is he not our relative? In fact, he is winnowing barley tonight at the threshing floor.

  1. For all of the talk of how much Ruth loved Naomi, it cannot be denied that Naomi also loved Ruth. Although Naomi originally tried to persuade Ruth to go back to her birth parents, that wasn’t done out of hatred for Ruth; it was an act of love and concern not wanting Ruth to suffer needlessly. Here, Naomi acts on her love for her daughter-in-law as she sought out a new husband for her. The life Ruth had willingly chosen was a difficult one, and Naomi hoped for something easier for her. She wanted her daughter to experience “security,” or (per NASB and ESV) rest and comfort. She desired provision for her daughter-in-law, looking towards her long-term needs. Gleaning the fields was sufficient in a pinch, but it wasn’t desirable as a career. Something permanent was required for true security.
  2. She immediately suggested Boaz as a potential for that security. “Relative” = “one known.” It is a different word from the term later in the chapter speaking of the specific kinsman-redeemer, but it is obvious from the context that this is what Naomi had in mind. A relative was required for redemption. The idea for redemption is primarily that of purchase. It is most easily seen the redemption of someone out of slavery. That is when a purchase price is paid and the slave is set free. This is the picture often painted of our own salvation in Christ. One of the purposes of the cross was to pay off the debt we owed against God through the substitutionary sacrifice of His Son. We owed death; Jesus paid it. As Peter writes, we were not redeemed with corruptible things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ as the Lamb of God (1 Pt 1:18-19). This was the picture seen in the Passover as the blood of lambs were shed in place of the firstborn sons of Israel, redeeming them from Angel of Death. Yet there was another aspect of redemption in Israel: when a family member would pay the price for a kinsman in dire trouble. Perhaps someone sold off his family inheritance due to debt and trouble…a kinsman-redeemer might purchase that property back to ensure it remained within the family (Lev 25). Or perhaps a family member was murdered in cold blood…the kinsman-redeemer would pursue the murderer to justice, hoping to avenge or “redeem” that which was taken (Num 35). To the point in the case of Naomi and Ruth, another role for the kinsman-redeemer was to perpetuate the family lineage of a brother who had died. It was considered a tragedy for a family line in Israel to perish (particularly in relation to the land specifically given to the family by Almighty God), so a kinsman-redeemer would purchase the property of the dead brother, marry his widow, and raise up children for that man’s line (Dt 25). It was both an affirmation of the ownership of God over the land demonstrating that His gift remained a gift, and a method of benevolence for the widow ensuring that she would not starve. – This was Naomi’s desire for Ruth. Naomi knew of someone who would serve as a perfect kinsman-redeemer for Ruth: Boaz. Boaz had already demonstrated tremendous kindness to Ruth, not only in his initial provision from their first meeting in the fields, but in the weeks that followed as Ruth went back day after day through the barley and wheat harvests. This was someone already providing security and comfort to Ruth…surely he would continue to do it in his covenant role as a kinsman-redeemer.
  3. From the details given, it is obvious that this was no “off the cuff” brainstorm from Naomi. She thought this through, to the point of knowing where Boaz was from day to day. She knew that Boaz would be busy that night “winnowing barley.” For those of us not from farming backgrounds, to “winnow” the grain was to crush the freshly harvested stalks under foot, throw it into the air and allow the wind to blow away the chaff leaving the pure grain behind. In Israel it generally took place in the evening due to the increase in wind coming in from the sea. Because it would happen at night, the person would work until he couldn’t do any more, then lie down in the threshing floor and go to sleep. The hour made it late to attempt to gather up the grain for storage, but the produce still needed to be guarded. A sleeping laborer on the threshing floor served the purpose.
    1. That Boaz personally did this work is itself interesting, considering how many men labored for him in the fields. Surely his wealth afforded him the opportunity to hire out the work, something that was fairly common at the time. Perhaps it is an indication of Boaz’s solid character and work ethic, himself doing whatever it was that he would ask a servant to do. Or perhaps it is another indication of God’s providence at work. A man like Boaz did not need to make himself available in a public place overnight like the threshing floor, but God ensured that Boaz did it which made the whole plan of Naomi possible.

3 Therefore wash yourself and anoint yourself, put on your best garment and go down to the threshing floor; but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. 4 Then it shall be, when he lies down, that you shall notice the place where he lies; and you shall go in, uncover his feet, and lie down; and he will tell you what you should do.”

  1. Step 1: Ruth was to clean up and go to Boaz. We get the picture of Ruth preparing herself for her best date, perhaps as if she’s getting ready for prom or her engagement photos. That might not be entirely accurate. After all, Ruth and Naomi had little money. Although Boaz had ensured the two of them had plenty to eat, it is doubtful that they had so much money that they were able to improve their wardrobes. Most likely, both Naomi and Ruth were still dressed as widows. Their daily rags were still clothes of mourning, publicly declaring their grief over their lost husbands. Thus, Naomi seems to have told Ruth to put off her widow’s garment and put on something fresh. Ruth was to anoint herself with oil and present herself as a woman available to be taken as a bride. The very look of Ruth would have been a statement of her willingness to wed.
  2. Step 2: Ruth was to uncover Boaz’s feet and wait. There are different thoughts as to what it meant for Ruth to uncover Boaz’s feet (which we’ll see in a minute). For now, notice the passivity of the instruction. Ruth is to go into Boaz, uncover her feet, and simply wait. Naomi does not command Ruth to say anything. Naomi counted on the fact that Boaz would know what to do. Ruth’s approach to Boaz was to do nothing but uncover his feet; Boaz would do the rest.
  3. Look at this now in our redemption found in Jesus. We do not by any stretch of the imagination clean ourselves up (all the newness we have comes from Christ!), nor do we somehow “uncover” the feet of Jesus. We do, however, go to Christ in faith, submitting to Him trusting that He will know what to do. We come to the end of ourselves, understand that we can do nothing, and we place ourselves in His capable hands. We surrender, knowing that Jesus is going to act according to His word and promise.

5 And she said to her, “All that you say to me I will do.”

  1. This was full and ready obedience. Even if the custom sounded weird in her ears, Ruth trusted Naomi and was prepared to do whatever Naomi asked. As a Moabitess, this might have sounded like something strange among the Hebrews. Even so, she was still ready and willing to obey.
  2. Obedience may sound simple, but when people don’t understand the reason for a particular instruction, they have trouble following it. [Especially me!] We see this all the time regarding God’s offer of salvation through Jesus Christ. People are told to repent of their sins and trust Jesus by faith, but when they can’t (or won’t!) wrap their minds around it, they refuse to do it. We like the idea of personal control, being the “captains of our own fates,” and when it comes to surrendering control to God, we tend to rebel. … Worse yet are those who get a flimsy version of the gospel, stripped of our true need of redemption in Jesus and forgiveness from the wrath of God due to our sins. When someone is told to “give their heart to Jesus” in order for them to have a better life and be spiritually fulfilled, that is something that doesn’t even make sense. Without knowing the reason for Jesus’ cross and resurrection, why would anyone ask Jesus to be Lord? Why give Jesus your allegiance and worship when you don’t have a reason? Our failings in evangelism aside, Biblically speaking we DO have a reason. Jesus died as a sacrifice for our sins. Our only hope is repentance and faith in Him, receiving Jesus as our Lord…yet so many people still refuse to do it. We need willing hearts to the call and invitation of God! (God, give them!)

Naomi had a plan at work. Was this simply an example of a matchmaking mother-in-law? Was this the bunch of scheming of a shrewd woman? No. Whereas Naomi had a plan, her plan was according to God’s plan. Remember that all of Naomi’s ideas were based on what was already written in the word of God. She had no reason to tell Ruth to go to Boaz making herself available for redemption, unless there was a provision in the law of God detailing redemption. Naomi knew Hebrew customs, but more than that, she knew the God behind those customs. Her ultimate plan was that God’s word would prove true.

God’s word always does! May we make our plans based on the written plans of God!

  • Ruth executes the plan (6-15).

6 So she went down to the threshing floor and did according to all that her mother-in-law instructed her. 7 And after Boaz had eaten and drunk, and his heart was cheerful, he went to lie down at the end of the heap of grain; and she came softly, uncovered his feet, and lay down.

  1. Ruth followed the instructions of Naomi and found everything as she described. Boaz had a hard day’s work winnowing and threshing the barley grain and had laid down to sleep. Be careful not to get the wrong idea about his eating and drinking. Although Boaz’s “heart was cheerful,” the text does not imply that he was overtly drunk. This was not a night of carousing for Boaz; it was simply a drink or two with a satisfying meal. If anything, the wine probably helped Boaz get to sleep in such a public place and hard surface as the threshing floor. 
  2. With everything in place, Ruth followed through on everything Naomi told her to do. Not saying a word, nor making a sound, “she came softly, uncovered his feet, and lay down.” She didn’t call attention to herself nor demand that Boaz wake. She simply went to where Boaz was, made herself available to him, and waited.
    1. Notice that in all that Ruth did, there is not even the appearance of hesitation. She seemingly had total faith that she would be safe, neither being abused by Boaz nor being cast out by him. Such trust! This was trust not only in Naomi’s plan but also trust in God. Remember that Ruth declared that Naomi’s God would be her God (1:17). Her faith was in the God of Israel. Ruth could proceed without fear because whatever happened was something that God allowed, and her life was in the hands of YHWH.
    2. Do we have that same trust? It seems that Christians proceed is so much fear and uncertainty in our present time. We’re scared of viruses, we’re scared of the news, we’re scared of all kinds of things. It would be as if we forgot the repeated command in the Bible to “fear not.” Beloved, when we belong to Jesus, our trust is in our sovereign God! Whatever comes our way is whatever He allows. That isn’t permission for us to be foolish and bring the consequences of sin upon ourselves, nor to play a spiritual version of Russian roulette with our lives. Rather, it is a call and opportunity for us to trust God as If we live, we live unto the Lord; if we die, we go to be with Jesus. Come what may, God is glorified! May God give us the faith to live likewise!
  3. FYI: Many people have either implied or outright accused Ruth of committing a sexual act with Boaz. Elsewhere in the Bible, the Hebrew term for “feet” sometimes refers to a man’s genitals (as when Saul was “attending to his needs,” when David’s men snuck up on him [1 Sam 24:3], literally “cover his feet,”). Such an assumption speaks far more about the depraved imaginations of the critics than either Ruth’s moral character or the text itself. The entire book shows Ruth to have a pristine character, being a model that even the Hebrews could follow. She wasn’t perfect (no more than anyone else), but she lived an upright life. To assume that she would engage in a perverse act of fornication simply does not fit the text. Just because an expression is used symbolically and euphemistically in some parts of the Bible does not mean that it is always used that way. Sometimes “feet” are just “feet.” This was an act of purity on the part of Ruth. She uncovered Boaz’s feet, and no more. She placed herself at his feet, submitting herself to his authority, asking for his grace in lifting her up. This was a beautiful request; not something born from the evil imaginations of men.
    1. As an aside, it is a good reminder to those not-yet married to conduct themselves in a way that examples godly purity. At one point in our culture, chastity was seen as a virtue. Sadly, those days are long gone, popularly speaking. In the church, it should remain! Those who belong to Jesus ought to strive to glorify Jesus in every aspect of our relationships with one another. Be it when we date/court, or when we wed, or if we remain single, may we glorify God in all we do!

8 Now it happened at midnight that the man was startled, and turned himself; and there, a woman was lying at his feet. 9 And he said, “Who are you?” So she answered, “I am Ruth, your maidservant. Take your maidservant under your wing, for you are a close relative.”

  1. At some point during the night Boaz woke up and wasn’t initially sure of what was going on. All of a sudden, he noticed a woman lying at his feet and he asked the obvious question: who’s there? Obviously from Chapter 2, Boaz was already well-acquainted with Ruth, yet he did not recognize her on the threshing floor. Was this confusion because of age? Because of sleep? Both? The text does not tell us precisely, but it is not difficult to imagine there is a little bit of everything involved. Boaz seems to have been of the same generation as Elimelech (at least), making him quite a bit older than Ruth. There’s no question that Boaz had a sharp mind, but even the smartest of people get a little fuzzy when waking from a nap. In any case, Boaz was confused and asked the question.
  2. First, Ruth identified herself, giving her name and her position. “I am Ruth, your maidservant.” Although Ruth labeled herself as Boaz’s “maidservant,” it is interesting that this term is a different word than the one she used to describe herself in Chapter 2:13. This “maidservant” is of a slightly higher social status. Perhaps she uses the term because now she knows of Boaz’s kinship to her, something of which she was not previously aware. Ruth was not one of Boaz’s employees and directly part of his household, yet she was more than a typical Gentile stranger.
  3. Second, Ruth made her request. Bible versions render this differently, some referring to Boaz’s cloak covering her. Although that was the intended meaning behind the symbolism (with Ruth moving Boaz’s cloak off his feet, that he might cover Ruth with that cloak, putting her under his authority and household), the Hebrew is a bit more picturesque. It might be more literally translated “spread your wing over your maidservant.” If the word picture of “wing” sounds familiar, it should. Boaz used the same idea with Ruth in Chapter 2, when he observed that Ruth had come under the wings of YHWH seeking refuge (2:12). Possibly, this was an intentional choice of words for Ruth, asking Boaz to be the instrument of God in her refuge. – Either way, the idea is clear: Ruth asks for the covering and provision of Boaz. She desires his protection over her.
    1. Is this not our request when we present ourselves to Jesus in faith and surrender? We acknowledge our sinfulness and our need, and we ask Jesus to cover us with His wings – to cover us with His authority and His sacrifice, being our protection and provision. How glorious it is that He gives it!
  4. What was the basis for her request? Boaz was a “close relative,” a go’el, kinsman-redeemer. This is the specific word used in the Mosaic law for the role previously inferred by Naomi. This was the covenant responsibility of family to care for family, to ensure that a brotherly line did not die in destruction. Ruth knew the law in the word of God and asked Boaz to abide by it. — Just the fact that Ruth said anything is of interest, because this is not something that Naomi instructed her to do. Naomi had told her to go to the threshing floor and remain out of sight until Boaz was asleep, and then to uncover his feet not saying anything…all of which Ruth did. But nowhere did Naomi tell Ruth what to say; Naomi trusted that Boaz would know what to say and do. These words from Ruth were unexpected and bold…but also wonderful. How so? Because although this was bold, it was a holy boldness based on God’s word. This was not a moment of pride and ego for Ruth; this was her reliance on the authority of God’s word as revealed in the Mosaic law. What the extent of Ruth’s theological education was, we do not know, but it is obvious she knew enough to know about the responsibility of the go’el kinsman-redeemer. And what she knew of that was enough for Ruth to confidently hold to that promise and boldly ask for God’s will to be done according to it.
  1. Would that we might have such confidence in the word of God! And again, why is it that we can have faith that Jesus will save us? Because He promised He would! That is the guarantee from His word. Paul wrote it to the Romans: Romans 10:9, “that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” That is as clear-cut as it gets. Men and women are not saved because of all the good things we do; we are saved because of the work of Jesus Christ and our confession in Him expressing true, sincere faith. When we have renounced our own lordship over our lives, receiving and confessing Jesus as our Lord and God – when we truly believe in our hearts that He did everything the Bible claims that He did, including rising from the dead three days after His crucifixion unto death – when we do those things, we will be saved. There is no room for doubt in such a confession, for it is based on the unchanging word of Almighty God. God declared it; it will be done!

10 Then he said, “Blessed are you of the LORD, my daughter! For you have shown more kindness at the end than at the beginning, in that you did not go after young men, whether poor or rich. 11 And now, my daughter, do not fear. I will do for you all that you request, for all the people of my town know that you are a virtuous woman.

  1. Boaz blessed Ruth, blessing her in the name of YHWH God. Again, this was a woman who exampled everything that a Hebrew woman ought to have been, though she was originally a Gentile Moabite. Although it would not be written for several more generations to come, she was the epitome of the Proverbs 31 woman, the virtuous woman whose worth is far above rubies (Prov 31:10). Even as a Moabitess, Ruth’s trust was in the God of Israel and she acted upon His word. No doubt she was already blessed of God, and Boaz’s prayer for her was that she would continue to be blessed.
  2. Why? Boaz gave the reason: Ruth had demonstrated true ḥesedkindness” according to God’s own character. And she did not just demonstrate a bit; she gave an abundance of it! And what makes this so wonderful is that Boaz here is not even referring to himself, as if he was flattered that the beautiful young Ruth would be interested in an older man like Boaz. Look closely: to whom was Ruth showing this godly “kindness”? Naomi. Boaz acknowledges this by saying this demonstration of Ruth’s kindness was greater than at the first. What was the first? Ruth’s first act of ḥesed kindness was to Naomi; so was this one. How so? Because Ruth could have been married to anyone. Boaz knew that Ruth could have had her choice of husbands, even among the rich in Israel. Yet Ruth appealed to the elder Boaz. Why? Because Ruth was not seeking only her own security; she was looking out for Naomi. Ruth could have been any with husband from any family in Israel; Naomi would find redemption only from one of her relatives. Ruth’s kindness towards Naomi was to put her own needs aside and go to the one person (of whom she knew) that Naomi could be redeemed.
    1. That is a kindness that cannot be ignored! Although if we try to assign spiritual types and roles to the various characters in the book, Ruth most often pictures the church, in this she demonstrates far more of the love and kindness of Christ. Ruth set aside her own needs so that Naomi could experience redemption. What did Jesus do for us? The same thing to an infinitely greater extent! Jesus set aside His own glories for our redemption. He set aside His own comfort and safety for our salvation. Jesus was willing to be humiliated on our behalf, that we might be made the children of God. No greater selfless love or covenantal kindness can be found, than that of Christ!
    2. Yet if we look at Ruth in the role of the church, we see something else. It is a reminder that our redemption is only found one place: the Lord Jesus Christ. Ruth did not turn to any other family because Naomi’s redemption was only found in one family (her own). We cannot turn to anyone else or any other religion for forgiveness, redemption, and eternal life. We find it only in Christ. He is the way, the truth, and the life, and no one goes to the Father except through Him (Jn 14:6).
  3. After the blessing came the promise. Boaz promised to act according to his own covenantal role. He recognized that everything Ruth said was true. He was a go’el redeemer, having a covenantal duty to his family. He would ensure that Naomi and Ruth were redeemed, even swearing upon the holy covenantal name of God to declare it would be done.
    1. Swearing is not commended to us by Jesus. Far better to let our yes be yes, and our no be no (Mt 5:37). Even so, there is nothing sinful in Boaz’s oath. This was his own promise to abide by the word of God, based on the holiness of God. His desire was to see God’s will done, and he was calling upon the name of the Lord to do so.
  4. BTW: Notice the commendation of Ruth’s moral virtue. Boaz knew that Ruth had a wonderful reputation in the town of Bethlehem. This was the same description of Boaz himself from Chapter 2, describing him as a “man of great wealth/worth,” (2:1). Ruth did not have riches of gold but she was wealthy in virtue. Boaz knew this, as did the rest of the town. This is yet another reason not to assume she performed any act of fornication.

12 Now it is true that I am a close relative; however, there is a relative closer than I. 13 Stay this night, and in the morning it shall be that if he will perform the duty of a close relative for you—good; let him do it. But if he does not want to perform the duty for you, then I will perform the duty for you, as the LORD lives! Lie down until morning.”

  1. There was more than one go’el relative-redeemer available. As a man seeking to honor the Lord in his actions, Boaz needed to give the other man the opportunity to fulfill the covenant obligation. If Boaz skipped over the place in line, then God wouldn’t be honored. No doubt, Boaz desired to redeem Ruth himself, but he had a greater concern for following the commands of the Lord the right way. Either way, the outcome was good for the women. One way or the other, Boaz would ensure that Ruth was redeemed.
  2. What did this mean? It meant that the plan was successful! Again, this wasn’t a scheme to try to manipulate some kind of outcome for Naomi and Ruth. This was an honest appeal to a covenant command in the word of God that would both honor the Lord and help two women in desperate need of it. And because all the people involved were willing to submit themselves to God’s word, a God-honoring outcome was assured.
    1. It was assured, but not fulfilled…not yet. The fulfillment would come in the morning, but until that time, Ruth could rest in the promise. The promise was just as certain as the actuality, even if the fulfillment would bring with it extra blessings.
    2. This is our own assured comfort in Jesus! There are certain aspects about our salvation that are not yet fulfilled. We are promised a kingdom, and although we live as kingdom citizens today, we do not yet see Jesus’ physical reign on the earth. We are promised eternal life, something we cannot truly see fulfilled until it arrives. Yet our promises are no less certain. We have full confidence in these things, based on God’s word. The promises are just as good as the actualities, although the actual fulfillment will bring extra blessings. (So praise God for those promises today!)
  3. With the promise given, Boaz instructed Ruth to lie down and go to sleep. To send her away in the middle of the night would expose her to danger and was unnecessary. Again, this speaks highly of Boaz’s own moral character. He did not dare take advantage of this younger woman, even though he could have potentially been betrothed to her in a few hours.

14 So she lay at his feet until morning, and she arose before one could recognize another. Then he said, “Do not let it be known that the woman came to the threshing floor.”

  1. Although neither Ruth nor Boaz did anything unseemly, it was still a bit of a tricky situation. A man and woman alone, in darkness, lying next to each other on the ground? Anyone coming upon that sight would have started the rumor mill. Boaz sought to protect Ruth from that sort of thing. Surely the servants coming to Boaz in the early morning hours to help gather the grain would have seen Ruth. Boaz commanded their silence. Obviously, their meeting was not kept forever a secret…otherwise, we would not have it recorded in our Bibles! But Boaz could not take the chance that Ruth’s meeting might threaten the possibility of her redemption by the other go’el, nor of ruining her reputation in town as a virtuous woman. Already, Boaz looked out for Ruth’s best interest, guarding her with his own “covering,” as it were.

15 Also he said, “Bring the shawl that is on you and hold it.” And when she held it, he measured six ephahs of barley, and laid it on her. Then she went into the city.

  1. Not only did he protect Ruth from the gossips; Boaz provided for her physical needs. Ruth hadn’t brought a basket with her, so he had her take up one of her extra shawls to take home a bunch of food to her mother-in-law. How much was an “ephah”? Estimates vary, with most scholars believing it was close to a bushel. In this case, “six ephahs” would be the equivalent of just under 20 gallons! That said, notice that the NKJV italicizes the word “ephah,” indicating that it is not technically in the text. NASB, ESV and others use the word “measure” in place of “ephah,” but neither is that word in the text. Literally, the text says only “six barleys,” with the exact measurement unknown. Whatever it was, it wasn’t a small amount, although it was an amount that Ruth could easily carry by herself.
  2. Question: Was this really necessary? After all, one way or another, Ruth was going to be betrothed by the end of the day. It wasn’t as if she was going to starve in the next couple of hours. No, it wasn’t necessary; it was a gift. It was a symbol of joy and provision and honor…something that becomes clear in Ruth’s later explanation.
  • Ruth reports the plan (16-18).

16 When she came to her mother-in-law, she said, “Is that you, my daughter?” Then she told her all that the man had done for her. 17 And she said, “These six ephahs of barley he gave me; for he said to me, ‘Do not go empty-handed to your mother-in-law.’ ”

  1. Naomi’s question might seem a bit strange to our ears. Surely, she knew what her daughter-in-law looked like. It was one thing for Boaz not to initially recognize Ruth lying at his feet in the midnight hour; it was another for Naomi not to recognize Ruth in the morning. Perhaps the simplest explanation is best, that Naomi had difficulty recognizing Ruth in the pre-dawn light. Although she was waiting for Ruth to return, she just wanted a bit of confirmation it was her before asking any specific questions. – That said, another idea has been suggested that the better translation of the question is, “Who are you, my daughter?” Perhaps Naomi’s question was specific, asking whose bride Ruth now was. Was Ruth still the widow of Mahlon, or was she now the betrothed of Boaz? Had the plan worked? Had Boaz acknowledged Ruth’s surrender to him and followed through on his covenant commitment? Yes!
  2. Ruth faithfully reported the news of everything that happened that night. She also gave the gift of barley to Naomi. Here, we learn the reason for the gift of food. It wasn’t so much for Ruth as it was for her mother-in-law. The six measures of barley (whatever quantity the measure was) were perhaps to be viewed as a type of dowry, or at least an acknowledgment of thanks and kinship. In Naomi’s mind (and surely as intended by Boaz), this was a symbol of his commitment…something she soon acknowledges…

18 Then she said, “Sit still, my daughter, until you know how the matter will turn out; for the man will not rest until he has concluded the matter this day.”

  1. Naomi had complete confidence in Boaz. There was no need to worry or be anxious. Neither Ruth nor Naomi needed to pace back and forth waiting to see what was going to happen. They could set still and trust the word of Boaz, and (more importantly) trust how Almighty God would work through Boaz. One way or the other, Boaz had spread his covering/wing over Ruth and would ensure that she would be redeemed.
  2. Interestingly, the chapter begins and ends with the issue of rest. Different words are used, even reflected in the English (“security,” 4:1; “rest,” 4:18), but the concept of rest overlaps between the two. Naomi wanted Ruth to experience rest; Boaz gave the assurance that rest would come; Boaz would not rest until it did He was going to do whatever it took for the comfort of redemption to be fulfilled.
    1. This is our Jesus! When Jesus did the work of redemption on the cross, He did not rest until it was fully accomplished. For Him to declare tetelestai “It is finished!” was not for Jesus to say that it was mostly done or nearly done. It was done! The payment due our sin was brought to full satisfaction, with nothing remaining. Jesus’ suffering and death accomplished it all. As a result, we have no doubt of our redemption! In what Jesus has finished, we can rest!

Conclusion:

An old TV character used to say, “I love it when a plan comes together!” Here, a plan came together but it was not the plan of a doting mother-in-law trying to set a match for her daughter-in-law. Nor was it the scheming of a couple of women trying to hone in on some gold-digging riches. This was the marvelous plan of God, as laid out in His word and trusted by His people. This was the provision God had made; all His people needed to do was walk in it.

What was it? Redemption, via surrender. There was a simple way for Ruth and Naomi to experience the redemption offered by Almighty God, for them to be brought back from the dead (or at least, brought back from a dead lineage and a hopelessness that leads to death). It meant surrender. It was simple trust in God’s word, with Ruth giving up any hope of her achieving anything on her own and placing all her trust in the man designated as her kinsman-redeemer.

God’s plan for redemption has not changed. It takes surrender. We need to give up, to gain. This should not come as a surprise; it is exactly what Jesus told us to do. Matthew 16:25, “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” Want to save your life? Lose it unto Jesus. Surrender everything to Him, placing your life in His hands. And according to His word which never fails, Jesus will redeem you. He has already made the purchase of your redemption at the cross; the only thing that remains is imputing it to your account. That happens the moment we place our faith and trust in Him as our Lord.

But it isn’t only about our initial forgiveness and justification. The Christian life is about continual surrender. Yes, we have been redeemed (gloriously so!) but we still struggle in this world. The way we deal with those struggles is through the power of Christ, available to us in the Holy Spirit. For that, we need to surrender.

As they were blessed with an abundance of spiritual gifts, the Corinthians were still to avoid confusion, avoid interruption, and avoid anarchy. How could they do it? By using their God-given gifts decently and in order.

The Gift of Order

Posted: March 28, 2021 in 1 Corinthians

1 Corinthians 14:26-40, “The Gift of Order”

Many of us have seen courtroom movies or TV shows that have a judge banging a gavel on his desk, shouting, “Order in the courts!” Usually something was said from the witness stand that caused a stir in the room and the people in the galley were talking over each other. Things became disorderly and needed to be brought back into line. The court case could not proceed unless it could proceed in an orderly fashion.

A similar thing might be said for the church. Order in the church, particularly in a corporate worship service is a good thing. In a discussion of spiritual gifts, order itself might even be viewed as a kind of gift. It is the context that allows the expression of the other things God the Spirit has given, so that God the Father might be glorified among the people redeemed by God the Son.

Yet, like everything else that surrounds the spiritual gifts, order itself can be somewhat controversial. On the one hand, there are some who believe that unless it can be planned and scripted by men, then it has no place within the worship of God. On the other extreme, there are some who believe that any discussion of mandating some amount of discipline and order in worship is akin to blasphemy against God, that the Spirit moves where He wishes, and it is sinful for God’s people to somehow stand in the way.

Both extremes are wrong, and neither abides by the clear teaching of the Bible. This is precisely what Paul has addresses in this passage as he brings his teaching on the gifts to a conclusion. The gifts are to be used, but they are to be used in the way prescribed by God for the glory of God. That means they are to be used decently and in order.

Since Chapter 11, Paul has been writing in one way or the other about orderly worship. First, there was the issue of gender roles within the Christian home and congregation, with all Christians needing to remember that we are under the headship of Christ. We are all under His authority and His church is to function in the roles He has given it. Second, there was the issue of the Lord’s Supper which had devolved into something chaotic among the Corinthians. They had lost sight of the ordinance of communion being a solemn and worshipful remembrance of Jesus’ sacrifice for the church and the price He paid for our redemption. The church practices communion rightly when we partake in remembrance of Jesus with Him receiving the glory.

Thirdly, was the subject of spiritual gifts, a topic upon which Paul has spent the last three chapters. As it is today, the use of spiritual gifts became something highly controversial among the Corinthians church. The Christians in Corinth were blessed with many gifts, but they did not use them rightly. It became a source of jealousy and division. There was little spiritual maturity that accompanied their spiritual giftedness; instead, they demonstrated more of the carnal immaturity that was addressed in the earlier parts of the letter. After establishing that the gifts are good when they are given by God the Spirit, Paul took some time to emphasize that love is more important than all the gifts. Without Christ-centered love, it didn’t matter what the Corinthians believed they did in the Spirit; they had nothing. 

Even so, Paul still needed to deal with the controversial stuff, so he brought clarity to the two most abused of the gifts: tongues and prophecy. Both are good; prophecy is better. Tongues is great in private personal worship, as well as being a potential sign of judgment to unbelievers. Prophecy, on the other hand, helps the whole church bringing edification, exhortation, and comfort to believers. Tongues can be great when interpreted, but without it, it should not be practiced publicly. Prophecy is great at all times and can bring people to faith in Christ.

Where does Paul go from there? Back to the overarching theme of order. As Paul closes out this section, he gives some very clear instruction to maintain orderly worship in the local church. The Corinthians were to avoid confusion, avoid interruption, and avoid anarchy. How could they do it? By using the gifts rightly, for the edification of the church and the glory of God. Here, the call isn’t for “order in the courts,” but rather “order in the church.” When we have orderly worship, we glorify our orderly God.

1 Corinthians 14:26–40

  • Avoiding confusion: gifts in the church (26-33).

26 How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.

  1. Right from the beginning, we see a turn from Paul to a general conclusion. For all that he has written about how the gifts might be used wrongly (and how they apparently were used wrongly in Corinth), Paul gives instruction for how to use the gifts rightly. What should a worship service in ancient Corinth look like? Paul gives a brief outline. One person “has a psalm” or song; another brings a teaching; another shares a spiritual gift such as tongues, prophecy, or interpretation. Be careful not to get the wrong idea. Paul did not give a specific liturgy to be followed for each and every corporate worship service; he gave a suggestion of what one might look like. Especially in terms of spiritual gifts, these things cannot be planned out. There might be room allowed for the expression of certain gifts, but they cannot be forced at will. A person will only prophesy when God gives a prophecy; it cannot be invented on the spot. (If it is, it is not from the Lord!)
  2. Guideline #1: Each comes prepared to be used by God. Corporate worship is not a spectator sport. This is true regardless if you attend a service where certain spiritual gifts are expected, or not. Any time that born-again believers gather to worship God through Jesus Christ, we are to come personally prepared to worship. We come ready to receive and to give. Perhaps we give our heartfelt praise as we sing out in songs. Perhaps we give our attention as we listen to the word of God. Perhaps we give our time to others before or after the service, as we minister to one another as led by the Lord. Do we receive? Hopefully every time we walk into a church, we walk out joyful or convicted or exhorted or better equipped to serve Jesus. But we need to be careful about running in and out of church looking for only what we can receive. Not to point fingers, but it is easy to find ourselves coming in late to worship, not paying any attention to the lyrics being sung – to listen only to bits of the word of God that might make us feel good, tuning out the rest of the time – and then race out the door as soon as possible before we’ve interacted with anyone. Beloved, hear this gently yet clearly: God has more for you than that! Jesus has saved you, having redeemed you from your sin and cleansing you from all unrighteousness, and in so doing has made you a member of His body. He wants to use you in His body. He has a plan and a purpose for you in the local church. Are you available to be used? Do you come prepared to be used, or do you look for only what you can receive?
    1. Once more, it is a reminder of the importance of physical gathering. Not everyone can attend every week, and we need to be careful of imposing legalism on anyone. But those who can come, should. As valuable as technology is, it is no substitute for participation in a local congregation. And if all you can do is online, then be active! Beware of just watching a livestream and treating it like television where you tune in and tune out. Be intentional in your engagement. Sing aloud, pray, worship, take notes. Comment online, reach out to people through texts or email and pray for them. Scripture enjoins us to be active and to be ready to be used by God; we need to make ourselves available to Him.
  3. Guideline #2: Edification is the rule. Whatever it is that we do, in all the things that Paul lists out (both in this verse in all the previous context stretching back to Chapter 11 regarding the gifts, the Lord’s Supper, and more), “let all things be done for edification.” What is it that will best build up the church? Do that. Will a bunch of tongues all spoken at once build up the church? It will cause confusion and be reason for unbelievers who are present to accuse the church of madness (14:23). Besides, even among the Christians, no one will understand what was spoken without interpretation, so that none are edified apart from those who speak them. Thus, use the gifts and practice the things that lead to the edification of all. Will teaching the Bible build up the church? Yes, so do that. Will singing Biblical songs of praise build up the church? Yes, do that. Will teaching children on their own level build up the church? Of course, so it is good. Ushering serves the people gathered for worship, thus it edifies. Even serving coffee and donuts exercises the gift of hospitality and serves the church, so it edifies. If it builds the church, brings us closer to Jesus, is in-line with the Scripture, it is good. If not, leave it out.
    1. This one simple rule could save so many people so much trouble! It is sadly far too common to see men and women who have gathered for worship, yet no true worship is taking place. There is no focus on the glory of God; it is all about the personal glories experienced by individual men and women. The corporate church is not built or edified; the focus is all on “what I can get.” Remember a simple rule: It’s not about you! It’s not about me! It is about God and His glory – it is about what He desires to do with His church. So the things we do as a local church need to be for the edification / the building up of the church. If we miss this, we won’t get anything else.

27 If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be two or at the most three, each in turn, and let one interpret. 28 But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church, and let him speak to himself and to God.

  1. Throughout this whole section of Scripture, Paul has been absolutely clear. Here, there ought to be no room for misunderstanding, as Paul could not have been more precise with the details. How is it that tongues are to be used in a church setting? Break it down:
  2. First, tongues are not required to be practiced. Notice how Paul begins with an “if.” “If anyone speaks in a tongue.” Just because born-again Christians have gathered together in a local assembly to worship God does not guarantee that a tongue will be spoken…not even in ancient Corinth. Remember that not all born-again Christians have the gift of tongues, nor should it even be a regular expectation of those filled with the Spirit. The Holy Spirit distributes the gifts individually as He wills (12:11). For those who believe that the church hasn’t really worshipped until a tongue has been spoken, that is imposing a law where the Scripture does not. The “if” is a big “if.” We cannot force these things, nor should we attempt to do so.
  3. Second, tongues are to be limited and allowed only with interpretation. This is in direct contrast with the common practice seen in many church congregations where dozens of people supposedly speak in tongues all at the same time, without even an attempt at interpretation. It needs to be said (with as much love and grace as possible), such a practice is absolutely unbiblical. Even in a congregation that was blessed with as many spiritual gifts as was Corinth, Paul allowed 2-3 tongues at the most, and those not all at the same time. Moreover, an interpretation was required for each one. You could not have three people in a row speak a tongue one week and wait for an interpretation the following week. On the contrary, each tongue required its own interpretation at the time the tongue was given. And on top of that, there had to at least be the possibility for a proper interpretation if a tongue was allowed at all. If there was no opportunity to wait for an interpretation, or no one present who had ever exercised the gift of interpretation, then all tongues were disallowed.
  4. Third, in lieu of an interpreter, the tongue-speaker was to “keep silent.” That tells us something important: tongues are not forced by the Holy Spirit upon an individual. The person who speaks in a tongue is not somehow possessed, losing all capacity to control him/herself. The speaker can choose to be silent. (This fact alone might be one method by which a true tongue can be judged. If a person appears to lose self-control, that is not a sign of Holy Spirit empowerment.)
    1. Instead of sharing the tongue, what is the person to do? “Let him speak to himself and to God.” The person doesn’t have to shout it loud; it can be spoken under his/her breath. After all, it is spoken to God. This gives us one more reminder that tongues are praises and prayers to God; not proclamations to the church.

29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge.

  1. Notice the parallel: Like tongues, prophecy is also limited. Even in a service dedicated to the expression of spiritual gifts, Paul does not allow a parade of prophecy. There is no doubt that prophecy is the better of the two gifts, as prophecy edifies the whole assembled congregation. Even so, it is possible to have too many prophets at one time for one service.
  2. How so? That leads to the other parallel: just like tongues require interpretation, prophecy requires evaluation. Prophecy is to be judged. Just because someone claims to have spoken a word from the Lord does not mean that it is from the Lord. People can say all kinds of things; it does not make them true. This is likely the reason for the limited number of prophets. It takes time to evaluate prophecy. Should the proper evaluation be given, it necessarily limits the number of prophets that can speak.
  3. Of course, that begs the questions: (1) How might prophecy be judged? (2) Who is to judge?
    1. On the first, the answer is simple: the Scripture. Anyone purporting to speak a word from God needs to have their prophecy judged by the word of God. God will never contradict Himself. The written Scripture is always our final and highest authority. No words ever spoken by men or women will counteract what is written in the Bible. Thus, any claim to prophecy must be tested by the Scripture. 
    2. On the second, the answer is a bit more debated. For some, the “others” refers to other known prophets in the church. For others, the “others” refers to other believers in the church, i.e., the rest of the congregation as represented by the elders. This seems to be the more likely explanation. After all, there might only be one person present who had been known to have the gift of prophecy in the past. If no one else in the church had experienced the gift, how would the prophecy be judged at all? Yet all born-again Christians who know the Bible can evaluate things by the Bible. Thus, prophecy is accountable to the entire church.

30 But if anything is revealed to another who sits by, let the first keep silent. 31 For you can all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may be encouraged.

  1. First, prophecy is to be orderly. At first glance, the instruction in verse 30 might seem to be backwards or even rude. Why should someone who interrupts a prophecy be given priority in speaking? Because if it is truly God-given prophecy, then the person interrupting is likely correcting the person who was interrupted. Just because a Christian is exercising the gift of prophecy does not mean that he/she is infallible. Quite the contrary! People trip over themselves all the time. Someone might initially be speaking a word from God and get caught up in his ego. That would be a perfect time for a bit of holy interruption. Whatever the reason, the overarching principle is orderliness. The first person isn’t to get upset and start speaking louder; he is to “keep silent.” If the church is truly trying to glorify God, then we shouldn’t get our feelings hurt if we don’t get to say what we want. After all, it isn’t about us; it is about the Lord.
  2. Second, prophecy is to be corporate. Notice how the prophecy takes place: “one by one, that all may learn and all may be encouraged.” Again, it is interesting to notice how different Paul’s instruction is from the way prophecy is often practiced in churches today. Sometimes people walk to the front of the sanctuary where men are prophesying over individuals. As much as we might understand the heart behind it, it simply does not fit the Biblical instruction. When prophecy is given in a worship service, it is given for the whole congregation. It is to happen singly (and only three at the max), it is to be judged in the presence of all, and it is given for all the gathered assembly. It is not a word for the ears of a single individual; it is given “that all may learn and all may be encouraged.
    1. On a personal note: I am under no illusion that this might offend some of us. Some of us have been in worship services where we believed many people spoke in tongues and many prophecies were given to all kinds of people. And we felt good about it, as if God the Spirit did something special that night. And without question, there are times that God works in spite of the people present. There have been men and women saved at signs and wonders events where the speakers were outright heretics. That doesn’t commend the speaker; it just speaks of the grace of God. What is it that the word of God says about these things? That is what we ought to strive to practice as a church. Will we do it perfectly? Have we always done it perfectly? Not likely…but we ought to seek to do so. By God’s grace, let us strive to model our worship and our lives according to the word of God as it is written, rather than the traditions we might have learned through others.

32 And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. 33 For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.

  1. The bottom line is that these things can be controlled. Be it the speakers of tongues who have the ability to control their own mouths and choose either silence or personal prayers to God, or the prophets who have the ability to choose if/when to open their mouths, every Spirit-filled Christian still has the freewill to control themselves. God equips us to act but He does not force us to do so. Again, He empowers us; He does not possess us. The pagan religions of Corinth had people who allowed themselves to undergo demonic possession and oppression, where they lost control of themselves as they spoke in ecstatic gibberish or spoke supposed prophecies from their oracles. That isn’t Christianity. Biblical Christianity is far different, as it is given by the God of order and peace; not confusion.
  2. The word Paul uses for “confusion” is interesting in that it is the negated form (the opposite) of a word that means to “set down, put in place.” Paul’s use of the word refers to upsetting the order. That isn’t what God does – that isn’t God’s nature. God establishes order – God brings order out of chaos. Just look at what God did in creation: when the earth was without form and void with darkness on the face of the deep, God spoke forth light and firmament and organization. Where there was disorder and nothing, God brought order and life. Over the course of six days, God brought forth everything in its turn. There was nothing confusing about it. Additionally, God does not stir up trouble; He is a God “of peace.” That isn’t to say that God does not reserve wrath for the wicked (He does, from which anyone can be saved through faith in Jesus Christ!); rather, His goodness always leads to perfect peace. When we (as saved, born-again believers) stand in the presence of God in eternal heaven, we will not be in the presence of turmoil or strife or unsettled confusion; we will experience true wholeness, peace, shalom for all time.
  3. What does this tell us? Confusion is anti-Christian. If a practice in a church leads to confusion, it is not done rightly even if practiced with good intents. If something is truly given by God the Holy Spirit, then it builds up the church; it doesn’t confuse the church. If it’s confusing, cast it out. Don’t do it again until you can do it Biblically. This ought to inform everything all Christians do. This isn’t just a chastisement for the local congregation in ancient Corinth; this is a guiding principle for “all the churches of the saints.” It applies to us, too.

Are gifts to be used in corporate worship? Yes! In the right setting and in the right way, yes. But the right setting is never confusion. God gives good things and confusion isn’t good. Seek what is good and what builds up the church, according to God’s word. If we do that, God will guide us into the rest.

  • Avoiding interruption: women in the church (34-35).

34 Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says.

  1. There is no question this verse might stand out as blatantly offensive. It might lead to all kinds of assumptions and potential disturbing questions. For instance: Are all females supposed to be forever silent the moment they step foot inside a church building? If someone has two X chromosomes, are they forbidden from making any sound in the assembled congregation? We need to be careful not to put words in Paul’s mouth that he did not say, nor take his words out of context. Let us keep a few things in mind…
    1. First, it seems likely that Paul refers to wives, rather than all Christian women. The word used by Paul could be translated either as woman, wife, or bride, depending on the context. Considering that verse 35 is clear that these women had husbands, the immediate context is undoubtedly that of wives. Likewise, the section of Scripture this teaching concludes goes back to Chapter 11 where the context also speaks of wives and the symbol of authority on their heads. Additionally, the Old Testament Scripture used in support (which we’ll see in a moment) refers to the first marriage in history, i.e., Adam and Eve. Thus, this command has a specific context and application based on the specific address to wives.
    2. Second, there is a clear history of women who were used within the early church whose speech was used by God. Philip the evangelist (and one of the original deacons) had four daughters who prophesied (Acts 21:9). Aquila’s wife Priscilla was a valuable asset to Paul in the Roman church (Rom 16:3) and was used by the Lord to help disciple the initially uninformed Apollos (Acts 18:26). The apostle John seems to indicate that one of the churches he oversaw met that the home of a particular elect lady (2 Jn 1), and Paul’s ministry in Philippi was helped along by the service of Lydia (Acts 16:14). And that does not even begin to describe the importance of the women who ministered to Jesus’ body after His crucifixion and who were the first witnesses to His resurrection. God used all these women (along with many more who are unnamed) in wonderful ways within the church.
    3. Third, we know that there are some things that women are to do with their voices in church, just like everyone is to do in church. How can someone sing out in praise without using his/her voice? Psalm 150 exhorts everything that has breath to praise the Lord. That is not limited by sex. How can someone join in corporate prayer or say “amen” without a voice? Similarly, the church does not disappear simply because a worship service has ended. A women’s gathering is still among the church. A Sunday school class is still among the church. A home fellowship is still among the church. Paul’s context obviously references none of those scenarios. He has a very specific silence in mind for a very specific circumstance.
    4. Fourth (and finally), within the context of this very letter, Paul has written of something that wives/women are supposed to do with their voices: pray and prophesy (11:5). Granted, the immediate context and application is that this is something that wives are not supposed to do without a symbol of authority/covering over them, but Paul does not outright forbid the prayer or prophecy itself. He forbids only the improper expression of it. 
    5. Put all of this together and we cannot avoid the conclusion that the command for silence is qualified. It is not a command that we can rip from its context and use as a tool of oppression. Rather, it is something (like all Scripture) that only has its correct application when it comes after thorough observation and correct interpretation.
  2. With all that in mind, what is Paul saying? The context is that of corporate worship with wives in godly submission to their own husbands (per verse 35). Notice that there are two imperatives: (1) to keep silent, and (2) to be submissive. Question: Are these two imperatives applicable only to wives? No. Again, look at the broader context for the passage as a whole. Those who speak in tongues are to remain silent when there is no interpreter (14:28). Those who give prophecies are limited to only two or three prophets with anyone whose prophecy is superseded by another to remain silent (14:30). In other words, there were many men in the church congregation who were also to remain silent, being in submission to the word of God and the Spirit of God. In fact, anyone who did not have something to offer by way of edification was to remain silent and people were not supposed to interrupt others in general. When the Spirit of God used the spiritual gifts to edify the congregation, all were to remain silent and to receive. The principle is not different today, as we recognize that there is a time and place to be silent as well as a time to speak. When the word of God is being rightly proclaimed, the Spirit of God is not going to interrupt Himself. This is why the congregation remains generally quiet during the sermon (apart from a few amens!). That is the time for assembled congregation to listen and receive God’s edification through the teaching of Scripture. – What Paul says to the wives is simply for them to remain silent, right along with others who remain silent at the appropriate times.
    1. In all of this, don’t miss something wonderful. There is something implied by Paul’s directive that might be overlooked when we concentrate only on the negative commands. Where were the wives to remain silent? “In the churches.” Where were the wives supposed to be? In the churches! The wives were not commanded to remain home and forbidden to join the assembled gathering for worship. On the contrary, wives (and all Christian women) were invited and welcome, being valuable members of the body of Christ. Should the women remain home, the congregation would be missing people who were needed, unnecessarily handicapping itself. Paul’s command does not shove women to the back. Far from it! Women are brought right into the middle of the congregation, serving God in the roles He has given to each one.
  3. As for the specific commands of silence and submission, Paul writes that this is based on the “law,” referring to the Old Testament Scripture. Which law did Paul have in mind? Although he does not provide a direct quote, it seems likely to refer back to Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden in Genesis 2-3. Specifically, it might refer to one of the consequences of the fall. Genesis 3:16, “To the woman He said: “I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; In pain you shall bring forth children; Your desire shall be for your husband, And he shall rule over you.”” Remember what happened: the devil disguised as the serpent had encountered Eve in the garden and lied to her about the consequences of sin. He tempted her to eat of the specific tree God had forbidden, promising her that she would not die and that she would be like God (Gen 3:4-5). Eve believed the deception (no one had ever lied to her before!) and Adam failed to intervene and protect her. Both of them ate of the fruit and their eyes were opened to their sin. When God confronted them, He cursed each of them in punishment. The serpent would go in disgrace, awaiting the day that he would be crushed by the Seed of the woman (the future Messiah, Jesus Christ). The man would work the cursed ground, laboring over it to produce food and would face the inevitability of his own death. In between the two, God punished the woman with painful childbirth and a “desire/appetite” for her husband’s rule. Although Adam had headship and responsibility for Eve from the moment she was brought forth to him as his bride, now Eve longed for that place of authority for herself. Now she would long for something she was not given, being sorrowful. – What does that have to do with Paul and the Corinthians? Look at the commands: wives in the congregation were to remain silent and submissive…specifically in the context of prophecy. When the congregation was assembled and prophecies were heard, it was not the place of a Christian wife to judge the veracity of a prophecy over that of her husband. Even from a more general perspective in a congregational worship service, women are not to be in position of teaching authority over men (1 Tim 2:11-12). To judge prophecies inherently exercises authority, and there is a specific order for authority within the church that gives glory to God.
    1. That said, it needs to be emphasized that authority does not equal value. Just because God has an order of authority does not mean that anyone in that hierarchy has any more or less value than the other. Chapter 11 has already shown how “the head of Christ is God,” (11:3) with Jesus being fully submitted to His Father. Is God the Son somehow less valuable than God the Father? Certainly not! Jesus has a different role from the Father, but They are equal in worth. So too, with men and women / husbands and wives within the church congregation. We have different roles in the church and at home, but equal value in the eyes of the Lord. Men and women alike were bought with the same blood of Jesus, and we are sealed and empowered with the same Holy Spirit.

35 And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church.

  1. This gets back to the overall issue of orderly worship. Should a wife have a question regarding a prophecy or some other word, what is the right setting for that question to be asked? Should she interrupt the worship service and ask it right then and there? Of course not, no more than anyone else should interrupt a worship service for his/her own question. Better to ask that question at home than in the middle of service. Imagine someone today interrupting the sermon to ask a question…it would be a massive distraction to everyone else. There are times and places for questions. At home, after the service is completed, in small group Bible studies, classroom settings, etc. – these are all appropriate locations. The immediate context for Paul was a culture where the men had received far more Biblical education than most of the women, which made certain theological questions natural and common. Paul’s point was that instead of stopping the sermon or other worship service every few minutes for questions, to leave it till later. The husband, who (especially in a Jewish household) would have had far more Biblical experience could answer all the questions later to his wife’s content. And if he didn’t have all the answers, then they could both seek counsel and instruction from others in the church at a later time. 

Overall, the point was to avoid distraction. The worship service was to be dedicated to worship. Any undue focus on any particular individual (be it a wife or anyone else) was to be avoided.

Question: Why would the Corinthian church abide by any of this? To this point, Paul has laid down many commands regarding their unbiblical use of the gifts. God had gifted this church abundantly, and they likely considered themselves blessed. Why change now? Answer: Because although God gifted them, they were not treating God as sovereign over those gifts. God had given His command regarding those things, and His command is to be obeyed…

  • Avoiding anarchy: the word in the church (36-40). 

36 Or did the word of God come originally from you? Or was it you only that it reached? 37 If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord. 38 But if anyone is ignorant, let him be ignorant.

  1. What was the problem? The Corinthians might have been tempted to write off Paul as being too restrictive. They might have read his words and thought, “Whatever. That’s just his opinion. We’ve had the gifts for a long time; we know what we’re doing here.” Considering Paul’s long experience with this congregation and their tendency to self-inflated so-called “wisdom,” this was more than just a potential assumption on Paul’s part. No doubt, this was exactly the tendency in Corinth, to think that they knew better. Paul understood he needed to address this head-on. There are two basic issues here:
  2. Issue #1: Spiritual gifts do not supersede Scripture. Although the local church is wonderful and ordained by God, it is possible for a local church congregation to be in error. Such was the case in Corinth. Although they were blessed by God with a wonderful abundance of spiritual gifts, they were using the gifts incorrectly. God’s word is bigger than the gifts – it is bigger than any purported fruit we might see in our lives. Sometimes we make the mistake of judging something only by its outcome. Initially, that might sound logical, but it is possible to get the right answer the wrong way. If you’ve got an infection in your big toe, you can take medicine or you can lop it off. Either way, the infection is gone. The methods used, however, (along with the pain!) is vastly different. Just because it looks like someone is speaking in a tongue or giving a prophecy does not mean that the person is actually doing it. We need to examine more than the supposed outcome; we need to look at the method used to get there. Is it according to God’s word? If not, throw it out…regardless of how “spiritual” it might appear.
  3. Issue #2: We are not the final authority; God’s word is. Not only did Corinth have the tendency to look only at the outcome, they set themselves up as the authority to judge that outcome. They made themselves the judge of God’s word, rather than submitting to authority of God’s word. Corinth was not alone in this error. This is the same sin committed by the Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox and any group that sets up historical and religious tradition as the lens through which to interpret Scripture, rather than Scripture as the lens to evaluate tradition. The word of God is to be supreme in our lives and in the practices of the church. If it is not, we are in sin.
  4. What does Paul say to those who refuse to submit to Scripture? “If anyone is ignorant, let him be ignorant.” If we choose to ignore God’s commands than the problem isn’t with the Bible; it’s with us. Moreover, those who ignore God’s word lose their standing with which to proclaim God’s word. NASB: “If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized.” We are under no obligation to submit to anyone who does not himself submit to Scripture. It doesn’t matter what kind of reputation the person has, how much influence he wields, how much education is received, etc. If the person is not submitted and surrendered to the word of God, that person is in rebellion against God. Likewise, that person is not to be recognized by the church as one having authority.
  5. BTW: Paul recognized his letter to be Scripture. “The things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord.” Did Paul have this understanding every time he wrote one of the canonical epistles? We don’t know. We do know that there were certain times he understood that he wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. This was one of those times.

39 Therefore, brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak with tongues.

  1. This is about as clear as it gets. Christians are to zealously seek after the gift of prophecy, and tongues are not to be outright forbidden, as long as they are practiced Biblically. For all the error that can exist among the Charismatic wing of the church, this is a verse that speaks plainly against the error of the Cessationist wing. There is a principle in the theology of worship termed the Regulative Principle. Basically, it states that what belongs in worship that which is seen within the Scripture. (The contrast to it is called the Normative Principle, in which anything that is not forbidden in Scripture is permissible.) For example, the church is to sing because we are expressly commanded to praise God with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Col 3:16). How it works out within the culture of various churches and denominations vary, but overall, we should seek to abide by the Regulative Principle and do what the Scripture commands us to do.
  2. With that in mind, consider the plain teaching of verse 39. How can churches claim to follow the Regulative Principles when they categorically deny even the possibility of tongues and/or prophecy? Surely we can debate whether the true Biblical gift is often seen today, but to forbid them outright is to deny the written text of Scripture. If we are truly submitted to the authority of God’s word, we need to be submitted to it both in areas of doctrine with which we are comfortable as well as that which we’re not.

40 Let all things be done decently and in order.

  1. The conclusion of the matter: use the gifts but use them rightly. Whatever is done within a church (and particularly a corporate worship service) is to “be done decently and in order.” It might even be translated, “according to proper procedure.” The church is to use whatever God the Spirit gives us, in the right way according to God’s own purposes. Use these things reverently and in God’s ordained manner.

Conclusion:

We need order within the church! That Paul commands order is not for him to quench the Spirit (by no means!); it us for him to teach the church how to come in line with God’s Spirit to use the gifts of God for the glory of God. The gifts are to be used; they are simply to be used rightly and orderly.

  • We are invited to use true God-given spiritual gifts in corporate worship, as long as we do not use them in a chaotic, confusing fashion.
  • Wives are invited to worship and participate in corporate worship, just as are all of God’s people, as long as they (and all of God’s people) do not cause interruption.
  • All Christians everywhere are invited to actively participate in corporate worship, as long as we do so under the authority of God’s word.

That is the ultimate issue, is it not? Are we, or are we not, submitted under the authority of God’s word? Do we believe the Scripture for what it says, and are we willing to abide by its commands? If we are, then we will experience the glorious plan of God for His church! Instead of seeking out conference after conference, experience after experience – instead of going by our feelings and the waves of our emotions – instead of being locked into our traditions – instead of all of these things, we will be the local church that God desires us to be, the church He has equipped us to be.

Where we have not surrendered to the Scripture, may God help us repent. Maybe we’ve committed error on the charismatic side – maybe on the cessationist side – maybe in our ego, where we thought we knew better. Whatever the case, may we submit ourselves anew to God and His word.

What is it we most need in life? Grace. We need the grace of God in this life and in eternity – we need grace all day, every day. That grace is found in Jesus. In Ruth 2, we see the need for grace, the experience of grace, and the news of grace.

The Importance of Grace

Posted: March 25, 2021 in Ruth

Ruth 2, “The Importance of Grace”

Is there anything more needed than grace? Surely not. If it were not for the grace of God found in Jesus Christ, we would have nothing…at least, nothing of lasting value. We might achieve some minor things in the short-term, even building a comfortable life here on earth, but that is where it remains. When it comes to the stuff that matters – when it comes to the stuff that truly lasts, we need grace, or we won’t have anything at all.

Yet many people do not look for grace today. Especially here in America, we are a land of self-achievement. We pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, and with enough grit and determination, we can do anything…or, so we think. The reality is that even the richest person in the United States (be it Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, or anyone else) is a spiritual pauper in our sin. We cannot survive one hour in eternity relying on our own merits, because we have none. What we need is the grace of God. Jesus offers it in abundance, but we will never experience it if we never go to Him for it.

This simple lesson is portrayed in the second chapter of Ruth. Obviously, we need to remember that the story of Ruth is not a fairy-tale or a morality-tale; it is a real account of real people in history. But the things experienced and learned by these real people are lessons we can still learn today.

The book of Ruth introduced us to a tragic family situation during a tragic time in Israel. It was during the period of the judges when there was no king in Israel thar the nation frequently fell into apostasy and sin, bringing upon themselves the covenant judgments of God. As the book began, we learn that the Israelites had entered into one of those periods yet again with the result being a famine that fell across the land.

One of the families affected in Bethlehem (the “house of bread”) left the land to go find bread among foreigners. This man, along with his two sons, basically abandoned their covenant with God, preferring to remain among the Moabites than to go back to Israel. All three men were judged by God and died. They left behind three widows: the Hebrew mother and two Moabite daughters-in-law. Realizing her need to return to the land of her nation and covenant, the mother Naomi turned back to Israel, imploring her daughters-in-law to return to their respective families. Nothing but hunger and hardship awaited Naomi in Israel (or, so she thought) and she wanted to spare the daughters that same hopelessness.

One daughter refused to leave her side: Ruth. Ruth was fully committed to Naomi in love and fully committed to Naomi’s God in faith. Whatever God had in store for the both of them, Ruth wanted to do it by the side of her beloved mother-in-law. Thus, the two women returned to Israel, to the town of Bethlehem. Naomi was bitter and hopeless, but God had a plan already in motion. That plan starts to be revealed in Chapter 2, and it is all about grace.

As Ruth sets off to put food on the table for the two of them, she understands her need for grace – she experiences an outpouring of grace – finally, she shares her news of grace. Ruth required favor and God gave it in abundance.

We too, are impoverished and hopeless in our natural state of sin, in need of grace. That grace is found in Christ Jesus and we have the privilege of sharing the news of His grace with others!

Ruth 2

  • The need for grace (1-7).

1 There was a relative of Naomi’s husband, a man of great wealth, of the family of Elimelech. His name was Boaz.

  1. The chapter begins with an introduction of Boaz. He “was a relative” of Elimelech, literally “one known,” by the family. There are different words used throughout the chapter to refer to kinship; here, it is less of a theological significance and more of a statement of fact. Naomi was not totally barren without family in Bethlehem; there was another relative who was known to her (even if she forgot about him).
  2. If you’re following in an ESV or NIV, you might notice a difference in translation from “a man of great wealth” to “a worthy man.” Perhaps a more literal translation would be “a man of great strength,” as the primary meaning of the word in question relates to strength or power. Depending on the context, it can also refer to either wealth or the strength of one’s character. In fact, in the two other instances the word is used in the book, it refers to personality. Ruth 3:11 uses the word in Boaz’s description of Ruth as a “virtuous woman.” Likewise, Ruth 4:11 shows the town praying over the redeemed women that they would “prosper in Ephrathah.” As for 2:1 and its description of Boaz, it perhaps refers to both his character and his wealth. Chapter 2 shows Boaz to be a godly man willing to provide for Ruth, but it is his wealth that makes that provision possible. Either way, the bottom line is that Boaz is seen as a hero.
    1. Already, there is a contrast with the earlier men mentioned by name. Be it Elimelech as the father, or his two sons Mahlon and Chilion, these were men under the judgment of God. Boaz (probably of the same generation as Elimelech) was in the blessing of God. From a narrative point-of-view, it shows that the times and circumstances have changed. Things are looking hopeful, as God was moving in wonderful ways behind the scenes.
  3. Herein is the primary point of introducing Boaz in verse 1: God’s providence was already at work. Naomi’s return to Bethlehem was not a random chance occurrence; nor was it God’s punishment for her, forcing her to be publicly disgraced. God led Naomi to return to the one place in all Israel that provided the possibility for her hope and provision. God had a man in Bethlehem who He would use as His instrument of provision, and Naomi and Ruth got there at just the right time to meet just the right man in just the right way.
    1. How important it is for us to remember God’s providence! The things we believe to be chance, are not. God is sovereign over our world, working all things for His glory. It may be difficult for us to see in the middle of our trials, but it is no less true. When things go haywire, it is a reminder for us to submit ourselves to God, asking for His will to be done. He has a plan at work; we need to trust Him for it.

2 So Ruth the Moabitess said to Naomi, “Please let me go to the field, and glean heads of grain after him in whose sight I may find favor.” And she said to her, “Go, my daughter.” 3 Then she left, and went and gleaned in the field after the reapers. And she happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the family of Elimelech.

  1. What Ruth asks to do was basically the benevolence or the welfare of the day. To glean the fields was for someone in need of food to walk behind those harvesting a field, picking up any scraps or grain that might have been left behind. The law of Moses made provision for this practice, as an expression of their dependence upon God and thankfulness for God’s mercy (Lev 19:9, 23:22; Dt 24:21). Because the land ultimately belonged to the Lord, and He gave it to the tribes of Israel, God used that land to provide for everyone in Israel, including the poor and the stranger. A landowner did not need to feel that unless every grain was gathered that he would starve; God would provide for him, just as God provided for the poor. Of course, the poor still needed to take the initiative to walk through the fields, but it was a merciful way to keep people from starving.
  2. Notice that Ruth asked permission to do this. Here, Ruth submits to Naomi, giving honor to her as the current head-of-household. Just like Ruth would have honored her own parents, so Ruth honored Naomi as her mother-in-law. It is just one of several demonstrations of Ruth’s godly humility. Never once in the book does she promote herself; she always defers to others. Like Jesus taught about someone who would sit in the lowest place at a table, allowing others to move them up, so did Ruth humble herself that she might be exalted by others.
  3. In her humility, Ruth already knows her greatest need. She seeks grace: “in whose sight I may find favor.” The word translated “favor” is often translated “grace” [ḥen (חֵן)]. It can refer to cultural nicety like “charm,” but it is also the Hebrew word most often translated “grace” in the Old Testament. When we have a need that we do not deserve, if we receive that need, it is called grace. Should a peasant go before a king and ask for a debt to be forgiven or a gift to be granted, it is grace. The peasant has no right to demand anything, even if the need is overwhelming. It is solely up to the king to grant it. Should he do so, he shows favor to the peasant, granting him that which he could never hope to get on his own. That was Ruth’s desire in her circumstance. As a beggar from a foreign land, she had no right to demand much of anything from anyone in Israel. All she could do was hope that someone in Bethlehem might be merciful to her day after day. She had no guarantee of daily food; she had only a hope of finding favor from someone. She required grace.
    1. This is our great need! We have no right to demand anything from God. He owes us nothing but wrath and judgment. Our only hope for any of His provision (be it today or in eternity) is God’s grace. Until we recognize our need, we won’t go to Him and ask.
  4. Of course, Naomi gave permission for Ruth to glean. (What other choice was there?) As Ruth left for the day, the narrator tells us that “she happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz.” The wording is almost ironic. The narrator intentionally phrases it in such a way that gives the appearance of chance, yet the reality was very different. As already seen in verse 1, the reality was the outworking of God’s providence. There was nothing accidental about the field to which Ruth went; she went to precisely the field that God intended her to go. Keep in mind that Ruth didn’t understand this at the time. We have no record of any instruction from Naomi for Ruth to search out Boaz, nor do we have Ruth inquiring about any landowner who might be related to her dead-husband. Instead, she simply head out for the day’s work, and “happened” to go to exactly the right field in the town that would give her the perfect provision of God.
    1. Although we often use the terminology, there is no such thing as “coincidence” for the Christian. Granted, not everything we see in life has giant theological impact. Just because you and your friend happen to see each other at the same restaurant for lunch doesn’t mean that we need to look for a divine sign. At the same time, there is nothing that happens in our lives by accident. The more we look for the providence of God in our day-to-day, the more we will see God’s hand in ways we never thought to look. As a result, the more we will be aware of our Heavenly Father and the more we will praise Him!

4 Now behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem, and said to the reapers, “The LORD be with you!” And they answered him, “The LORD bless you!”

  1. Boaz enters the scene, almost as if unexpected. This is a bit of literary suspense, again showing the coincidence/not-coincidence brought about by God. It would not have been unusual for Boaz to work his own fields, but it was not necessarily required if he were rich enough. He could have easily hired the work done without showing up day after day. Of course, he could have just as easily been there day-after-day, himself contributing to the work. Either way, it is presented almost as a surprise, yet it was all according to the plan of God.
  2. The mutual greeting demonstrates that these were God-fearing Israelites. Unlike the faithlessness that was demonstrated in the book of Judges, this group stands apart. Boaz and his workers show the primacy of their faith in YHWH as God, with His name being even in their greetings. Contrast this also with Elimelech and his sons who abandoned God; Boaz and his house embraced the Lord. This was a man of obvious faith. Not only did he have great wealth (or worth); he was a man who loved the Lord and lived by the Great Commandment (the Shema) to love the Lord with all his heart, mind, and strength.
    1. As an aside…there is something wonderful about bringing the awareness of the Lord into our greetings. We certainly need to guard against using His name in vain or without thought (as we sometimes do when saying “God bless you” after a sneeze); but as long as we are intentional with our usage, how good it would be to keep the Lord in our daily conversations with others. (It may very well change the tone of many of our conversations!)

5 Then Boaz said to his servant who was in charge of the reapers, “Whose young woman is this?” 6 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. 7 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.”

  1. After his greeting, the first thing that happened was that Boaz took note of Ruth. This young woman caught his attention. Perhaps it was the fact that she was a new face, something not often seen in a small town like Bethlehem. Perhaps it was a difference in the way she dressed, maybe reflecting some of her ancestry from Moab. Perhaps it was her beauty or attractiveness. This is a bit of a love-story, after all…maybe there was something about Ruth that caught his eye. Whatever the case, Boaz saw this younger woman and felt compelled to ask about her.
  2. The servant was quick to answer. Ruth’s story was well-known among the town (again, emphasizing the small-town nature of Bethlehem), and the servant was able to tell Boaz that this was the woman that Boaz had surely already heard about, who accompanied Naomi back from Moab. Again, Boaz had known the situation; he just hadn’t seen the woman for himself. The foreman of the reapers helped him put two-and-two together, identifying this young woman as Ruth.
  3. But there was more that the foreman had to offer. Although Ruth’s story was already known, the reapers had a chance to see Ruth for themselves. Her character was impeccable. Her initiative had her arrive at the fields early in the morning. Her humility was seen in how she asked permission to glean. Her work ethic was seen in her consistent labor throughout the morning, working hard until she had to rest. Already, she demonstrated her faithfulness and humility – she showed herself to be godly, even though she was of Gentile origin.
    1. Don’t gloss over Ruth’s humble request to work. The young man in charge of the reapers specifically noted how Ruth asked permission to glean the fields. Technically, Ruth was not required to ask. This was her legal right, seen three times in the Mosaic law. The fact she asked spoke highly of her godly character. That she was a foreigner from Moab underscores how respectful she was.
    2. How might our faith in God be seen in our attitude and work ethic? Our testimonies in those areas speak far louder than we might otherwise realize! Born-again Christians have a responsibility to present a faithful testimony of Christ, wherever we are and whatever we say.

This was just the beginning, but it was a very hopeful beginning. Waking up in Bethlehem without food and without land, Ruth understood her need for God’s grace in the life of her and Naomi. Without God’s provision, the two women would not physically survive. God demonstrated the start of His grace by guiding her (not) by chance to the very field of Boaz, a man familiar with the grace of God. At this point, she is already gleaning in the fields and her reputation is being told to others. It was a small beginning, but it was the start of something great.

Do you see your need for grace? It is a small step, but a necessary first step. Without us recognizing our need, we will never seek it. This is especially true in terms of salvation. If a person never sees him/herself in danger of sin, that person will never seek to be saved. Why would a guy cry out for a lifeguard if he doesn’t believe he’s drowning? Why would a woman go to the doctor if she doesn’t believe she’s sick? It is only when we see our need that we seek help.

We need grace. We need the forgiveness of God for our multitude of sins against Him. But we will never seek His forgiveness if we don’t see our need for it. 

  • The experience of grace (8-17)

8 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. 9 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.”

  1. After hearing of Ruth from his servant, Boaz went straight to the young woman. He was much impressed and had much to say to her. And the first thing he did was fulfill Ruth’s initial prayer for favor that day. Boaz showed her immediate grace.
  2. First, Boaz offered protection. As a presumably younger woman (widowed though still of childbearing age, still living with her mother-in-law), she would have been attractive to some of the younger men in the field and in the town. After all, she already caught the eye of Boaz…surely other young men wouldn’t be far behind! But Ruth could work safely and securely in Boaz’s field. Anyone who bothered her would face the wrath of their master and employer. Ruth was protected, though no such protection was legally demanded.
  3. Second, Boaz offered provision. Not only did Ruth have permission to glean freely, Boaz went up and beyond the legal requirements. Yes, she could glean the fields, but she could also drink Boaz’s water. In fact, Boaz gave Ruth the same basic status as the rest of his servants. She didn’t have to stay in the far back, trailing behind everyone. Ruth could join with the other young women in Boaz’s employ, taking part in the same benefits. Again, this was true favor and grace. None of this was required of Boaz; he gave it freely.

10 So she fell on her face, bowed down to the ground, and said to him, “Why have I found favor in your eyes, that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?”

  1. Ruth immediately recognized the grace that had been extended to her. She even labels it as such, noting she “found favor” in Boaz’s eyes. Considering that she was a “foreigner,” it was even more gracious. This was favor beyond Ruth’s initial hope for the day; this was something immeasurable. When the day began, all she desired was to find a place she could glean in peace; now she is being offered preferential treatment among the poor. What happened that she would receive this?

11 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. 12 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.”

  1. Boaz showed grace to Ruth because Boaz knew of the grace Ruth showed to Naomi. Ruth’s reputation had preceded her. All the town knew of Ruth’s commitment to her mother-in-law, how she left everything in Moab behind to help provide for this widowed woman, otherwise left hopeless and bitter from her tragic circumstances. The kind of grace Ruth showed Naomi was immense. Boaz saw his own actions towards Ruth as the very least he could do – it was a drop in the bucket. (Though surely far more than that to Ruth!)
  2. Not only did Boaz know of Ruth’s relationship with Naomi, but he knew of Ruth’s relationship with YHWH God. This Moabite woman had shown herself to be as committed as Abraham. She went to a land she did not know, among a people she did not know, all because of her faith in God and her love for her mother-in-law. The Moabitess Ruth had sacrificed in such a way that stood out to all the Hebrews, not the least of which was Boaz. Ruth demonstrated the love and grace of God in her life; Boaz wanted to demonstrate that same love and grace back to her. This was why Boaz blessed her the way he did in the name of the Lord. He wanted Ruth to know the blessings of God in response to all of the blessings she had already given to Naomi.
  3. Note: there is a big difference between the blessing Boaz prayed for Ruth in her experience with grace, and our own experience with grace. We do not look for a reward; we can only ask for a gift. Technically, not even Ruth looked for a reward; this was something that Boaz prayed for her. But considering that God was using Boaz as the answer to his own prayer, Boaz’s words make a bit more sense in the context. This was God’s gift to Ruth – a “reward” in the sense that it was what God chose to give. – In any case, our experience with God’s grace is never via reward or wage; it is only through the undeserved gift of Jesus. We make no demands upon God; our only way to interact with Him is through faith in Jesus. When we take “refuge” under the wings of Jesus, we take refuge under the wings of God.

13 Then she said, “Let me find favor in your sight, my lord; for you have comforted me, and have spoken kindly to your maidservant, though I am not like one of your maidservants.”

  1. What a blessing Boaz had given her! Ruth had no reason to expect any blessing at all, yet Boaz was treating her as family. In response, Ruth both recognized the grace that she had already been shown and asked for more. Why? Because she knew she needed it! Ruth didn’t need grace only for the morning; she needed it constantly.
    1. How often do we need the grace of Jesus? All day every day! Do we need forgiveness for just a few sins? No – we need forgiveness for all the sins we’ve already committed and every sin we’ve yet to do. We need His provision morning, noon, and night. We need the Holy Spirit to empower us for everything that comes our way. There is no point in any of our lives that we are not in need of the grace of God. Yes, we ask for it at our initial salvation, but we also ask for it the rest of our lives.

14 Now Boaz said to her at mealtime, “Come here, and eat of the bread, and dip your piece of bread in the vinegar.” So she sat beside the reapers, and he passed parched grain to her; and she ate and was satisfied, and kept some back.

  1. Lunchtime came (noon dinner) and Boaz invited Ruth to eat. This was one more thing that she had no expectation of, as one who gleaned the fields. Again, Ruth was being treated more like family than a gleaner of the fields. She was basically brought into Boaz’s household, partaking of benefits she never deserved.
  2. Practically speaking, the lunch was just a typical lunch for the time. The vinegar was a wine vinegar, used to moisten and flavor the bread. The “parched grain” would have been some of the harvested barley toasted over the fire and eaten as a kind of dry cereal. Nothing fancy, but definitely filling. Ruth ate enough to be satisfied for the meal and was even able to save some leftovers for home.

15 And when she rose up to glean, Boaz commanded his young men, saying, “Let her glean even among the sheaves, and do not reproach her. 16 Also let grain from the bundles fall purposely for her; leave it that she may glean, and do not rebuke her.” 17 So she gleaned in the field until evening, and beat out what she had gleaned, and it was about an ephah of barley.

  1. Boaz took specific steps to ensure that Ruth got far more than the minimum. She was allowed to do more than just pick up what was left behind accidentally. Ruth could take some of the initial picking of the field, without being rebuked by the workers. They were also to purposefully leave some of the bundles behind, specifically for her to gather. And what she gathered was huge. One day’s work gained her 3.3 gallons of grain. This was enough to last the two women for more than a week.
  2. Regarding the amount of grain taken home by Ruth… There is no question that Ruth benefitted from the generosity of Boaz. At the same time, Boaz did not simply give Ruth the grain. He could have taken a portion that was gathered from his workers and placed it in Ruth’s hands. He could have told her to sit in the shade and relax while his own workers did the job for her. He did not. He ensured that an over-abundance of food was available to Ruth, but Ruth still had to do the work of gleaning. She had to willingly respond (intentionally respond) to the initiative taken by Boaz.
    1. Consider the parallels to the offer of grace we have in Jesus. God offers us an abundance of grace in Jesus. It is there for the asking…but we need to ask. No one is forgiven of his/her sins because of showing up in church, or because of how nice we might be to our neighbors. We are only forgiven of our sins when we partake of the grace that God makes available through Jesus. Until we personally and intentionally respond to Jesus in faith – until we knowingly believe upon Him, receiving Him as our Lord and Savior – until that point, we have not received God’s grace. We might have heard of it, but we haven’t receive it. We need to receive.

What a day for Ruth! Once meeting Boaz, she experienced grace upon grace. Not only did she have food for the day, she had cooked food to eat for lunch, water to drink for her thirst, a leftover meal to take home, and enough groceries to last a week or more. And that was on top of the protection and kindness and promise for future provision. Ruth was showered in grace!

So are we, in Jesus! John writes of Him, “And of His fullness we have all receive, and grace for grace,” (Jn 1:16), referring to grace on top of grace. When we believe upon Jesus, He bathes us in the grace of God! He forgives us of every sin – He seals us with the Holy Spirit – He gives us the right to become the children of God – He shares with us His eternal inheritance – He makes us His eternal Bride – and the list could go on. There is no end to the grace we experience in Jesus! 

  • The news of grace (18-23)

18 Then she took it up and went into the city, and her mother-in-law saw what she had gleaned. So she brought out and gave to her what she had kept back after she had been satisfied. 19 And her mother-in-law said to her, “Where have you gleaned today? And where did you work? Blessed be the one who took notice of you.” …

  1. We can almost picture the scene. Naomi would have waited all day for Ruth to return, probably wondering when she would see her daughter-in-law. She may have even thought that Ruth would be home earlier in the day, considering that there would not have been that much grain left behind in the fields. Even if Ruth went to several farms, she wouldn’t have brought home much – perhaps just enough to feed them for the day and keep them from starving. Yet when Ruth came down the road or through the door, Naomi immediately recognized that something amazing had happened. Just one look at the armful of barley grain was demonstration of an obvious miracle.
  2. She didn’t even wait for Ruth to tell her what happened. Naomi started peppering her with questions. Additionally, Naomi’s first real response was to ask God’s blessing of the one who showed favor to Ruth. She knew something had happened that day, and that something had happened because of the grace of God. That much was evident and undeniable.
    1. How wonderful is it when the people around us see the work of Jesus in us? It does not always work out that way, but there are times when a person’s life is so transformed that their friends and family cannot help but ask what happened. They went from drug addict to soberly saved – they went from homosexual to surrendered to the Lord, etc. It need not even be that outwardly dramatic. Anyone who is saved by Jesus has been miraculously transformed from the inside-out. We have been brought from death to life – we have been made new creations in Christ. That is a transformation we ought to want other people to see.

… So she told her mother-in-law with whom she had worked, and said, “The man’s name with whom I worked today is Boaz.” 20 Then Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, “Blessed be he of the LORD, who has not forsaken His kindness to the living and the dead!” And Naomi said to her, “This man is a relation of ours, one of our close relatives.”

  1. The good news came that it was Boaz and Naomi rejoiced! Naomi both blessed Boaz again and recognized that this was the provision of YHWH God. There is a bit of debate on this. Who exactly had not “forsaken His kindness to the living and the dead?” The Hebrew is somewhat ambiguous. Due to how the wording is used elsewhere in Scripture, some argue heavily for this as a reference to Boaz. Boaz was indeed the one whom Naomi declared blessed by YHWH, and it was Boaz’s actions to his relatives that was the reason for the blessing. Yet the grammar also makes it possible that Naomi spoke of the Lord Himself. Boaz was blessed by YHWH and it is YHWH who shows His faithfulness to His covenant people.
  2. Should this be a reference to God (and it seems likely it was), notice that God demonstrated “His kindness.” This is a reference to God’s loyal love, His covenantal love (ḥesed). Part of God’s promise to His people in the Mosaic covenant was that He would provide for the poor and the widow, and Naomi recognized this as happening. Remember in Chapter 1, she felt abandoned and afflicted by the Lord. She believed that the Lord God was attacking her as an adversary, rather than being her advocate. All of a sudden, her perspective changed. She saw the obvious expression of God’s grace and immediately understood this was God keeping His promise. God was good to His word. (He always is!)
    1. Why is it that we can trust that God will forgive anyone who repents of his/her sins and trusts in the work and resurrection of Jesus? Because that is exactly what God promises! Any assurance we have of our salvation is not based on any works that we do (or don’t do); it is based on the unbreakable word of God. To be sure, the works we do as Christians are important evidences of God’s work within us, but those things never guarantee our salvation. Our only guarantee is found in the word of God. Because God says He saves those who believe in Jesus, He does. His word can be trusted.
  3. In addition to keeping His covenant, God introduced the possibility of redemption. The “close relative” mentioned by Naomi was a go’el (גָּאַל), or a kinsman-redeemer. This was the person who might avenge a family member who had been murdered. It was also the person who might wed the widow of a childless brother who had died. Levirate marriage (like gleaning) was an ancient form of benevolence. It was a type of social safety-net that ensured that no family member died of starvation. Family took care of family, and that meant that a widow who had no hope of a son providing for her future would gain a son through a surviving kinsman of the husband who died. This sounds unusual to our ears, but it was normal in the day and time. As for Naomi, she immediately recognized the potential of this situation. Not only was there the sure provision of food in the meantime, there was also the possibility of total redemption out of poverty. The introduction of Boaz introduced a new level of hope for Naomi, something she hadn’t yet imagined.

21 Ruth the Moabitess said, “He also said to me, ‘You shall stay close by my young men until they have finished all my harvest.’ ” 22 And Naomi said to Ruth her daughter-in-law, “It is good, my daughter, that you go out with his young women, and that people do not meet you in any other field.”

  1. Not only did Ruth bring home enough food for over a week, she told of how Boaz invited her to come back day after day for ongoing blessing. This spoke of the potential permanency of the situation. In Ruth’s eyes, this was good not just for a day, but for quite some time to come. Of course, Naomi (as a good mother-in-law) saw a bit more! Naomi potentially saw this as confirmation of the writing on the wall regarding Boaz’s interest in Ruth, but moreover recognized the blessing and provision of God in this opportunity for Ruth to remain in one place. Not only would she be protected from any potential encounters with young men in other fields, but Ruth would continually find more favor with Boaz than if she went anywhere else. Now that she was in the care of Boaz, there was no reason to look elsewhere.

23 So she stayed close by the young women of Boaz, to glean until the end of barley harvest and wheat harvest; and she dwelt with her mother-in-law.

  1. Thus, Ruth remained in the harvest fields of Boaz for several weeks. The text tells us that she continued “to glean until the end of barley harvest and wheat harvest.” The wheat crop followed the barley crop by only a few weeks. The typical harvest season for barley and wheat lasted from around late April to early June.

What did the good news of grace shared by Ruth bring to Naomi? Hope. Hope that she did not have before, she now held in praise of God…all because of what God did in the life of her daughter-in-law.

The news of grace brings hope!

Conclusion:

What a difference a day can make! Two women started the day in hunger; one started it in hopelessness. Ruth understood her need for grace and started to seek it in God’s provision. Sure enough, she found it in the fields of Boaz, to which God brought her in His providence. When God moved on Boaz, he showered Ruth with grace – so much so, that when Ruth shared the news with Naomi, even the bitter Naomi broke out in praise.

All of it due to grace.

When we have the favor of God through Jesus Christ, we have everything. Grace is what we lack, grace is what we need, and grace is what we receive in Jesus. Grace is how we experience the favor and blessing of God. It is how we are forgiven of our sins, how we are made holy in Jesus, how we are empowered by the Holy Spirit, and how we are kept for eternity in the presence with God. How marvelous is God’s wonderful grace!

We need to see our need for it – we need to experience it for ourselves – we need to share the news with others. All of this goes hand-in-hand. Once we see our need, we cannot help but cry out to Jesus for it. No religion of the world offers it. Every other religion offers reward for work; Christ alone offers true undeserved grace. And the moment we ask Jesus for it, He showers us with it – we receive grace upon grace upon grace. It is what we experience not just once, but every day for the rest of our lives. Every day we get to wake up thankful for the grace we have in Jesus – we get to praise God that every morning is filled with new mercies – we get to look forward to the eternity we can spend in the presence of our Creator and King. Knowing all of that, how can we not share the news? Surely this is something we want all people everywhere to experience! And they can. Praise GOD, they can!

For all the controversy that surrounds the gifts of tongues, a simple question is why God might give them? Paul answers the question and shows a simple principle. Whatever God gives us, Christians are to use the things God gives according to God’s purposes for God’s glory.

Why Tongues?

Posted: March 21, 2021 in 1 Corinthians

1 Corinthians 14:13-25, “Why Tongues?”

 

Kids love the question of why.  “Why does fire burn?  Why is the sky blue?  Why is our car bouncy?” and on and on.  Perhaps one reason kids love asking “why” is because it is never ending.  There is always another unanswered question (and perhaps another reason to bug Mom or Dad!).  I’m not sure we ever grow out of the “why” phase.  We still ask the reason behind things, sometimes being satisfied with the answers we discover; other times, not.

As we look at the subject of spiritual gifts, the question of “why” pops to the forefront.  The reasoning behind some is obvious.  Other times, not so much.  The obvious: Why did Jesus heal?  Because there were people He encountered who required healing.  The not-so-obvious: Why doesn’t God always heal everyone?  We simply do not know.  There are times He heals miraculously, times He heals medicinally, and times He does not heal at all.  These things are hidden in His counsels and we might not know some of them until we get to heaven.

When it comes to two of the most controversial gifts, again we have a difference for their reasons.  We might be able to suppose a reason for prophecy (though the Bible tells us a couple of specific reasons in this text); the reason for tongues, however, is not-so-obvious.  Yet God does have His reasons.  And tongues will only be exercised rightly when they are exercised according to God’s own stated purposes.  Anything other than that is a distortion and misuse of the gift.

For as much as the Corinthians were blessed with spiritual gifts, they struggled with using them maturely.  The gifts, though wonderful, had become a source of division and disorder, to which Paul brought much-needed correction.  He began by affirming the blessing and the variety of the gifts.  Because they came from God the Spirit, they were good.  Likewise, because they came from God the Spirit, He decides who receives what gift, when.

At that point, Paul took a bit of a diversion, although the topic was entirely relevant.  The gifts are good, but there is something far better – there is something more excellent: love.  No discussion of the gifts can happen without looking at love, for love ought to be the governing factor in using the gifts.  Similarly, love ought be the governing factor in everything we do as Christians.  Love was perfectly exampled in Jesus, and love will endure throughout eternity.  If we do not practice true selfless love among one another in the church, whatever else we do with the gifts within the church is meaningless.

With that baseline established, Paul turned back to the gifts, focusing on tow in particular: prophecy and tongues.  Then (like today) these were two of the most controversial of the spiritual gifts.  What are they?  How should they be used?  Paul tacked the issue head-on.  Both are wonderful gifts, though prophecy is to be preferred.  Why?  Because prophecy edifies the most people.  The person speaking in a tongue speaks to God, edifying him/herself.  The person prophesying speaks a word from God, edifying the gathered congregation.  Both gifts are desired, but when we seek the gifts we ought to seek what is best for all.

Paul picks up with this point in verse 13, giving more clarity to the issue of tongues.  What does it benefit?  Why would God give them at all?  Here, Paul gives the answers.  Remember that the apostle did not want the Corinthians to be ignorant about spiritual things (12:1).  Here, he exhorts the Corinthians to grow in their knowledge and understanding.  Whatever gifts we use, we are to use them to spiritual maturing according to God’s own purposes as we point people to Jesus.

When it comes to the gift of tongues (and spiritual gifts in general), there are two primary needs: the need for understanding and the need for maturity.  When we keep these needs in mind, it will help us use the right gifts at the right time for the right purposes.

 

1 Corinthians 14:13–25

  • The need for understanding (13-19).

13 Therefore let him who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret. 14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful.

  1. As we pick up with the “therefore,” we first need to look back to see the transition in thought. As other have said, we need to ask what the “therefore” is “there for.”  In this case, Paul was giving examples of certain sounds being chaotic noise when it is given without understanding.  Trumpets blaring random notes don’t communicate anything, where as a bugle blowing “Reveille” or “Taps” does.  Two people speaking different languages to one another sound like foreign barbarians to one another; some kind of common language is required for understanding or edification.  From that, Paul concluded that whereas zeal for spiritual gifts was good, the best use of the gifts is for the edification of the church.  Christians ought to use our gifts to build up one another in Christ; not to bring chaos or confusion.
  2. Thus, the “therefore.” If understanding is required, then the way we gain understanding with the gift of tongues is through the gift of interpretation.  Paul gives a clear directive to pray for interpretation.  Interestingly, it is the tongues-speaker that is to pray for the interpretation.  From some of Paul’s earlier writing, it is implied that this is not always the same person.  For instance, Paul already asked the rhetorical questions if all speak in tongues or all interpret, which came right after Paul asked if all worked miracles or if all had gifts of healings (12:30).  The obvious answer is “no,” not all Christians have all the gifts.  The same logic applies to the gifts of tongues and interpretations.  Although they are dependent on one another, they are different.  Someone who has the gift of tongues does not necessarily have also the gift of interpretation.  That said, there is nothing that stops the person from asking for it.  In fact, the person ought to ask for it.  There is no guarantee given that the person will receive it, but there is nothing wrong with asking.  It would be quite a blessing for the person speaking in tongues to receive also the interpretation that accompanies it.
  3. Why? For fruitful “”  There are two different Greek words in this section translated “understanding” by the NKJV.  The first refers to the mind/intellect.  This is our knowledge and awareness.  Without God-given interpretation, our minds have no idea what we speak in tongues.  Keep in mind this makes perfect sense (no pun intended).  By definition, tongues are languages unknown to the speaker.  If you already had the intellectual understanding of the things you spoke, then you would not be speaking in a Biblical tongue; you would merely be translating your regular language into a second or third language you’ve elsewhere learned.  Not so with a Biblical tongue.  When God the Spirit gives this gift, the person speaking has no idea of the specific content of the words that are uttered.
  4. What happens in the meantime? The person’s “spirit prays.”  Notice at this point that this serves as confirmation that tongues are prayers.  They are prayers of one’s own spirit.  How might our spirits pray?  Seemingly, they do so in ways that pass our “understanding,” or our minds/intellects.  In a different context, Paul wrote how our spirits “groan…eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body,” (Rom 8:23).  There are longings of our spirits that cannot be fully understood by our minds.  This is one reason the Holy Spirit Himself “makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered,” (Rom 8:26).  Obviously, when God the Spirit prays, His prayers are not the gift of tongues, for His groanings “cannot be uttered.”  The groanings of the Holy Spirit are His prayers for us; not our own groanings through any God-given tongue.  That said, it seems likely that if/when someone prays in a tongue, that person joins in the prayers that the Holy Spirit prays.
    1. Verse 14 is one of the Scriptures used to support the idea that tongues are prayer languages. Indeed, this seems to be the primary point of the gift of tongues.  Remember that Paul has already established that when a person speaks in a tongue, he/she speaks mysteries to God in/by his/her spirit (14:2).  We also know from the Day of Pentecost that during the one recorded time when tongues were understood without a separate gift of interpretation, the things that were spoken were “the wonderful works of God,” (Acts 2:11).  When we put these ideas together with 14:14, it is reasonable to conclude that the normal Biblical use of miraculous tongues is within the prayer lift of the people gifted with it.  Whether we call it “tongues” or “prayer languages,” the label is less important than the Biblical use and exercise of it.
    2. Question: “What if I don’t have a prayer language? Does that make me less of a Christian?”  Absolutely not!  A Christian does not require a prayer language to pray any more than a Christian requires the gift of healing to recover from the common cold.  Might it be helpful?  Is there a blessing?  Sure…but there are other ways that God blesses other Christians.  There are other ways to pray or to be healed.  Remember that God determines who gets which gifts, when those people receive those gifts.  If He sees fit to bless you with a tongue, praise the Lord.  If He sees fit to bless you with something else, praise the Lord.  Christian maturity is not marked by which gifts are exercised by a certain Christian; it is marked by the abundant expression of agape love from that Christian.  Remember how Chapter 13 began: Paul could speak with the tongues of men and angels, but if he didn’t have love, he just made noise.  The loving Christian who prays in plain sincere language has a far better prayer life than the unloving Christian who claims to speak in abundance of tongues.

 

The main point for Paul is that tongues require interpretation for our minds to gain understanding.  If we have no interpretation, then our intellects remain “unfruitful” with the tongue.  We cannot mentally participate in the spiritual expression given by God.  (Looking ahead, this provides the reasoning why uninterpreted tongues should not be entertained within the church assembly.)

 

15 What is the conclusion then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding. I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding.

  1. Notice that just because intellectual understanding is more beneficial to those who are present, it does not mean that spiritual expression by itself is bad. Paul did and affirmed both.  He could worship and pray in his spirit, and he could worship and pray with understanding.  Both were beneficial and both were God-honoring because both were given by and empowered by God.  It isn’t an all-or-nothing scenario; it is both-and.  God gives both the expression by the spirit and with our mental understanding, so both are good.
    1. We need to be careful with committing the logical fallacy of false dichotomies. It can be easy for us to make everything into a zero-sum option: a thing is either 100% good or 100% bad – it is either holy or sinful, gospel truth or heresy, etc.  And yes, there are many things like this in the Christian faith…notably the gospel itself.  For instance, we are either saved by Jesus alone or we are not.  Either we preach the truth about Him or we do not.  There is no middle ground there, no shades of grey in the gospel.  That said, not everything in our theology is on that same level.  For instance, our views on the end-times (the timing of the rapture, the events of the Great Tribulation and 2nd Coming of Christ, etc.) are important, but well-meaning Bible-affirming Christians can reach different conclusions on these issues without entering into the realm of heresy.  Likewise, when it comes to our understanding of tongues within the church.  Some claim, “Unless I can understand with my mind every word spoken in prayer, it is surely evil.”  Others claim, “If you shut off yourself from the things of the Spirit, you put God in a box.”  Both camps tend to label the other as heretical.  But the Bible does not.  Paul writes that intellectual understanding is good, and that spiritual expression is good.  One does not invalidate the other.  Both can be good at the same time when expressed in the right way.
    2. This reminds us of the great need for love in the church. The more we believe the best about our brothers and sisters in Christ, the better.  The more we love one another in Christ, the better witnesses we will be for Christ among the world.
  2. Question: How might someone “sing with the spirit”? Considering that we do not seem to see an example of this in the New Testament, we cannot be certain.  Obviously, this was something known to Paul and even experienced by him.  Presumably, it was known to the Corinthian congregation, as Paul’s short mention of it comes without any explanation.  Perhaps it is a reference to singing in unknown languages – perhaps it was singing a new song as an improvisation, giving it to the Lord – perhaps it was a reference to the spiritual songs mentioned to the Colossians (Col 3:16) – perhaps it was something else entirely.  Whatever it was, it was commended by Paul as something good.  Any time we worship God in spirit and truth, it is a good thing.

 

 

16 Otherwise, if you bless with the spirit, how will he who occupies the place of the uninformed say “Amen” at your giving of thanks, since he does not understand what you say? 17 For you indeed give thanks well, but the other is not edified.

  1. The picture is clear. Imagine being at a prayer meeting (in Corinth or elsewhere), and someone stands up sharing a tongue.  That might be all well & good for that one speaker, but it doesn’t do much for anyone else.  How can the rest of the church respond?  In that case, a person doesn’t even know if he/she can say “Amen.”  How can a person agree with a statement that he/she does not understand?  It does not mean the uninterpreted words of the tongue are wrong or sinful; it just means no one else is able to benefit.  The words can be truthful, yet still unhelpful.
  2. As an aside, it is a reminder that we ought to be careful with how often we give our “amen.” We throw around the word as if it’s just something to say in church, but the word has a meaning.  It is essentially an agreement, a kind of “so be it.”  We say “amen” to the things with which we agree.  If we can’t agree with it, we cannot say amen.  If someone prays too soft or unintelligibly, you might be able to pray for that person, but you cannot truly agree with that person…you don’t know what they said.  Neither should we say “amen” with those who pray pagan prayers or other non-Christian prayers.  If a Mormon voices prayer to Jesus, we need to understand that he is speaking to a different Jesus than the true Jesus of the Bible.  If a person speaks a generic prayer in an interfaith gathering, are we certain of which god is being addressed?  To give our “amen” is to give serious assent…it ought to be taken seriously.

 

 

18 I thank my God I speak with tongues more than you all; 19 yet in the church I would rather speak five words with my understanding, that I may teach others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue.

  1. Point of fact: Paul spoke in tongues. The Holy Spirit used Paul in many miraculous ways – sometimes in judgment of people; other times in working miracles of healings.  Apparently, one of the other ways the Spirit used Paul was with the gift of tongues.  Interestingly, there is no record of this in the book of Acts.  For all the examples of tongues seen in the book of Acts, and even with an example of Paul overseeing the initial Corinthian converts speaking in tongues (Acts 19:6), not once is Paul said to have used the gift.  (Which is a reminder to us that the Bible records certain events in the lives of Jesus and others; it is not an exhaustive listing of everything that was said and done.)  Yet by Paul’s own testimony, he spoke in tongues and apparently did so often.  The fact that it was not recorded by Luke during Paul’s ministry is perhaps additional evidence that Paul’s own exercise of the gift was during his private personal prayer times.  There were many things Paul did publicly; speaking in tongues did not seem to be one of them.
  2. With that in mind, Paul was thankful for unknown tongues, but he saw far more benefit for the church with intelligible language. Be it prophecy or proclamation in teaching, Paul wanted his words in church to be understood.  Five understandable words were more beneficial than 10,000 unknown words.  If you’ve ever been in a foreign land where you don’t understand the language, you can imagine it for yourself.  As wonderful as it can be to sit next to other brothers and sisters in Christ overseas, if you don’t understand the language or have any interpretation, then you can be in the presence of the best sermon in the world yet not benefit one bit.  Everyone else around you might be exhorted and convicted, but you don’t experience anything except confusion and possibly even boredom because you have no understanding of the words.  Even just a few words in your own language makes all the difference, because those are words you understand.
    1. Do you see the problem with the way the gift of tongues is so often practiced in so many otherwise well-meaning churches? The question of the gift legitimacy aside, simply the practice/exercise is not Biblical.  If someone starts speaking in tongues in the middle of the congregation (or worse yet, many people all at the same time), as long as it is without interpretation, not a single person in the congregation has any understanding of what was said…including the person who spoke it.  What benefit is that?  What did it do for the church?  How did it glorify God?  Answer: it didn’t.  It might have been the expression of one person’s worship, but it gave nothing to the rest of the congregation.  A handful of words spoken in English would have been of far more benefit to the group.  It might have been only “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so,” but even that simple sentence offers more truth to the church than a sermon-full of uninterpreted tongues.

 

In all this, Paul shows one of the reasons that God gives tongues to certain people in the church: for spirit-led worship and prayer.  In that situation, it is wonderful.  Paul could truly thank God for the many times he spoke in tongues; he just didn’t do it around the rest of the church.  It was an opportunity for his spirit to pray and sing, and that was enough.

 

In contrast, by far the better thing were words spoken in language understandable by the mind (be it prophecy or any other gift like teaching).  Those were words that benefitted all.

 

Each is good in its own arena.  In personal prayer and worship time, tongues can do something prophecy cannot: express the inner-most longings of one’s heart and spirit to the Lord God in praise.  Besides, when you are alone in your own prayer closet (or wherever you pray and worship the Lord, however you give thanks), spoken prophecy does not benefit anyone because no one else is present.  Yet among the assembled congregation, things change.  In the gathered church, tongues are unfruitful without interpretation because no one understands, yet prophecy benefits all who hear.  If we would keep this straight, we would keep out of a lot of confusion!

 

 

  • The need for maturity (20-25).

20 Brethren, do not be children in understanding; however, in malice be babes, but in understanding be mature.

  1. Recall that immaturity had been an ongoing problem in Corinth. Paul dealt with this early in the letter.  1 Corinthians 3:1–2, “(1) And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. (2) I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able;”  Whether it was their sectarian division, their internal pride, or their tolerance of sins like sexual immorality or idolatry, this was a grossly immature church.  They may have been initially discipled by the apostle Paul, but they had quickly strayed from the narrow road.  Although they experienced much in terms of miraculous gifts, they grew little-to-none in maturity.  They remained spiritual children.  And just like immature children cannot be trusted behind the wheel of a car (regardless of age), neither could the immature Corinthians be trusted to use the spiritual gifts rightly.
  2. What did they require? Mature thinking.  That is idea behind the second word translated “understanding” by NKJV: it refers to “consideration/thinking.”  In verses 13-19, it referred to the mind; in verse 20 it refers to what goes on in the mind.  The Corinthians needed to stop thinking like spoiled brats wanting to see all the sparkly miraculous stuff of the gifts; they needed to grow up and change their thinking regarding how God wanted them to use the gifts.  It is good to be childlike regarding “malice” and evil – we ought to want to be as innocent as possible regarding the things of sin.  In the things of God, however, we need to be mature.
  3. What is maturity? Something brought to completion.  The root word is the same that Jesus spoke when hanging on the cross, declaring “It is finished!” (Jn 19:30).  Just like the work of atonement was brought to its perfect fulfillment through Jesus’ sacrifice, so is our spiritual understanding to be brought closer and closer to completion.  Will we ever get there?  Not in this life.  But that isn’t an excuse to stop growing and maturing.  Every year that passes is another year in which we had to grow in our faith, to grow in our dependence on Christ, to grow in our understanding of His grace.  We ought to be always maturing, giving glory to God as He continually transforms us by the renewing of our minds.

 

 

21 In the law it is written: “With men of other tongues and other lips I will speak to this people; And yet, for all that, they will not hear Me,” says the Lord. 22 Therefore tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers; but prophesying is not for unbelievers but for those who believe.

  1. To this point, everything Paul has written about the gift of tongues has been about its use within the church and among born-again believing Christians. The Holy Spirit gives the gift of tongues (12:10, 28); not all Christians expect the gift of tongues (12:30); tongues are less important than love (13:1); tongues will cease in heaven (13:8); tongues speak mysteries to God (14:2); tongues edify the individual speaking (14:4), offering little value to others apart from interpretation (14:5-6).  Additionally, we’ve seen that Paul affirmed that he personally spoke in tongues (14:18) and desired it for the church (14:5).  Put it together, and the context shows that tongues are spoken by born-again Christians in their praise and worship of God.  How then, does Paul say that tongues are a sign to “unbelievers”?  How might an edifying Spirit-empowered gift used in personal prayer and praise be a sign to unbelievers?
  2. This is the tie to the loose quote from Isaiah. Isaiah 28:11–12, “(11) For with stammering lips and another tongue He will speak to this people, (12) To whom He said, “This is the rest with which You may cause the weary to rest,” And, “This is the refreshing”; Yet they would not hear.”  Contextually, the “stammering lips and another tongue” that the Israelites would hear was the language of the Assyrian army.  When the ancient Israelites heard the foreign language in the streets of their cities, it was a judgment upon them and a sign of God’s wrath.  The Assyrian army had come to conquer, brought there by the Lord God Himself.  God had repeatedly reached out to northern Israel in mercy, inviting them to repent, but they would not hear…not even at a rudimentary level.  They continually rebelled against God, thus earning their judgment.
  3. Of course, that was Israel and the foreign languages they heard. What does that have to do with the church?  Remember that tongues are foreign languages.  Likewise, they are signs of God’s judgment to those who are in rebellion against Him.  The same words that edify a born-again Christian as his/her spirit praises God are words of judgment to a non-believer who happens to overhear.  It is a demonstration of God’s sovereign power and His ultimate rule over all the word.  It is a stark reminder that this same Almighty God will one day rule the world.  So yes, it is a sign to unbelievers: a sign of judgment.
    1. This too, was seen during the original demonstration of tongues on the Day of Pentecost. Remember the initial Scriptures quoted by Paul in his explanation of the wondrous tongues heard by those in the streets. [Acts 2:14-21] The tongues were part & parcel of the signs expected prior to the Day of the Lord, the day when God would come in final judgment over all the earth.  Thankfully, there was an invitation and opportunity to be saved (through the resurrected Jesus, whom Peter went on to preach), but the demonstration of tongues was a sign that God’s judgment was near.  There was not any time to waste.  The supernatural tongues were proof.
    2. They still are. Any demonstration of the power of God reminds us that there is a living God who will judge the world in righteousness.  This God cannot be ignored.  One day, all men and women will see Him in His righteous glory, and we will give account for everything we have done in this life.  (Are you ready to see Him?  Are you sure?)
  4. In contrast to tongues, prophecy is a sign to believers. What makes the difference?  The understanding.  When true prophecy is spoken, the Spirit bears witness in the hearts of Christians that the spoken word is in accordance with the written word.  The believers who hear true prophecy receive edification and exhortation and comfort.  True prophecy speaks to born-again believers in a way that unbelievers cannot understand. 

 

 

23 Therefore if the whole church comes together in one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those who are uninformed or unbelievers, will they not say that you are out of your mind?

  1. Imagine a church assembly where scores of people all speak with tongues at the same time. Imagine a place where different tongues are being loudly proclaimed from difference points in the room.  Paul wasn’t necessarily accusing the Corinthians of doing this in their own congregation.  The “if” he uses in this verse (as well as in the next) is a true hypothetical.  Basically, Paul is saying, “Suppose this happens.” What results from disorderly, uninterpreted tongues within a congregation?  Chaos – misunderstanding – accusations of madness.  Someone coming into the church from the outside, being unfamiliar with the practice, would walk away thinking, “These people are crazy.  What’s wrong with them?”  Instead of being convicted of the coming judgment of God, the outsider would simply blow off the church as being nuts.
  2. It shouldn’t be a surprise. After all, this was the initial thought of the crowd in Jerusalem when they first heard the disciples on Pentecost.  Even though the tongues were rightly spoken in that instance and various people in the Jewish crowd understood the things that were spoken in their own languages, there were many in the crowd who mocked the disciples, accusing them of being drunk (Acts 2:13).  They tried to find some reason to explain away the unexplainable, and they settled on the foolishness that would have better described themselves than the disciples of Jesus.  Peter pointed out the absurdity of the accusation when he pointed out it was only 9am (the third hour of the day – Acts 2:15).  It wasn’t the time for drinking; what took place was only due to the Spirit of God.
  3. That said, if the original disciples were accused of mad drunkenness at a true outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the sign of tongues, how much more might other Christians be accused of madness when the gift is exercised wrongly? How careful Christians need to be!  It does not mean that tongues stop being a sign of judgment to the unbeliever, but when it is done chaotically without understanding, then even the intended sign will be missed.  At that point, the attention of the outsider will not be put upon the glorious God, but upon the unruly church.
    1. One of the worst things any Christian can do is get in the way of someone else seeing Christ. Remember how Jesus condemned the Pharisees for shutting up the kingdom of heaven from others.  They neither went in themselves, nor did they allow others to go in (Mt 23:13).  Christians do something similar when we block people from seeing Jesus.  When we take away attention from Jesus and put it on us, the net effect is little different than that of the Pharisees.  The motive might be different; the result is not.
    2. Yet that happens at so many churches and other conferences that hold to extreme charismatic views. How many videos have we seen (or perhaps places we’ve been) where men and women run around on stage, shouting, proclaiming all kinds of supposed signs and wonders in chaos and disorder?  People fall down left & right, various people shout from the audience, supposed tongues are spoken all at once, the supposed glory of God falls from the ceiling, etc.  Is it any surprise an outsider looks at that, calling it madness?  Is there anything about those displays that point to the glory and holiness of God?  When all that can be seen is the sinful pride of men, no one looks to Christ for forgiveness…no one looks to Christ at all.
    3. How tragic! The very thing most needed by the world is the pure gospel of Jesus Christ: the message that the Son of God gave Himself for the sins of men and women, dying on the cross and rising from the grave, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.  The message that anyone who receives Jesus as Lord will be made a child of God, forever forgiven by God and sealed for eternity by the Holy Spirit.  It is a glorious message and the only message that offers hope to mankind…but it is a message that will never be heard when someone walks out the door after seeing madness.  The very person who most needed to be saved will walk away from his/her only hope for salvation, believing the message to be foolishness for all the wrong reasons.  That person witnessed a disorderly disobedient church; not the risen Jesus.  Yet that person will reject the risen Jesus because of the disobedient church.  May God help us!

 

 

24 But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an uninformed person comes in, he is convinced by all, he is convicted by all. 25 And thus the secrets of his heart are revealed; and so, falling down on his face, he will worship God and report that God is truly among you.

  1. What makes the difference?   When all the congregation speaks in tongues at the same time in a disorderly fashion without interpretation, no one can understand anything.  But if all prophesy as given by the Holy Spirit (provided it is not done chaotically, where those assembled can hear all the prophecies and receive them), then the outsider will not be stumbled by the church.  On the contrary, that outsider will hear the word of God and be convicted.  How so?  Because prophecy, like Scripture, reveals the word of God which pierces the heart (Heb 4:12).  When prophecy is real, then it is given by God the Spirit, and God the Spirit uses His word to cut people to the heart.  He uses His word to reveal sin, to peel away false motives, and to convince people of the judgment of God.  God uses His word to speak straight to the hearts of men and women, getting past all their roadblocks and excuses.  And when that happens, men and women come to faith.  That is when people “will worship God and report that God is truly among” the church.
  2. This is one more reason why Paul so desired prophecy to be maturely exercised among the Corinthians. He wanted this church to be as effective as possible in their city.  Instead of letting their childish exercise of the gifts get in the way of the gospel of Christ; Paul wanted them to be mature in their proclamation of Jesus, to the point that strangers walking in off the street would not be able to help but see the work of God among them.

 

This is our desire for our church and for every church.  Does it require frequent use of supernatural gifts?  No.  God will give gifts as He sees fit, in ways that glorify Him best.  But God does work supernaturally among His people because He is the living God.  And He has equipped every single one of us with His word and His gospel, which alone is enough to pierce people to the heart and point them to Jesus.  Imagine a church where outsiders walking in off the street witness the people of God cleansed by the grace of God, loving each other in the power of God, praising God for the gospel of God, ministering to each other by the Spirit of God, being changed by the word of God.  At that point, the outsider cannot help but see Jesus as the Son of God!  Beloved, that is our desire as a church congregation!  We want people to see Jesus, that they might be saved.  But it won’t happen when we put ourselves in the way.  God does not give us spiritual gifts so we can get in the way of the gospel; He gives us the gifts so we can use them according to His purpose for others to see Jesus.

 

What does it require?  Maturity.  We cannot afford to act like immature children playing with spiritual toys.  Instead, we need to use the tools God has given us by His grace for His glory.

 

Conclusion:

Christians need to grow up!  That was Paul’s message to the Corinthian church and that is the message to the modern church today.  We need to grow in our understanding and grow in our maturity.  Be it with the gifts or anything else God entrusts us with, we need to use them according to His purposes for His glory.

 

For what reason did God give tongues?  (1) As a boon and help for spirit-led prayer and worship.  To be sure, not every Christian has the gift, but those who do are edified by it when practiced rightly.  (2) As a sign of judgment to unbelievers, convincing them of the reality of God.  Again, when practiced rightly, it is a powerful sign of judgment as it shows there are things about this world that humans cannot rightly comprehend.  All men and women will one day answer to the Judge, from whom nothing is hidden.

 

Likewise, for prophecy the purpose is two-fold.  (1) Prophecy is a sign to believers, with the true Spirit-given word confirming the Spirit-inspired written word of God.  It edifies, encourages, and comforts Christians as we understand the living God speaking to our hearts.  (2) Prophecy convicts sinners unto repentance.  For them, the piercing word of God is not a comfort; it is a conviction.  The hidden secrets of the heart are revealed, and it becomes crystal-clear that they must respond to this God in fear, humility, and faithful submission.

 

Of course, knowing the reason for these gifts might not seem to be much use to those who do not have them.  A person might think, “That’s all well and good, but I don’t know that I’ve ever spoken in a tongue or even a prophecy.  What does any of this have to do with me?”  Fair enough.  You need to remember a few things:

  1. God gives the gifts to whom He wants, when. Just because you can’t see how God has done it in your past does not mean He will not do something in the future.
  2. We cannot recognize the true use of the gifts if we do not recognize God’s word concerning the gifts. There are many who claim all kinds of supernatural experiences, especially concerning tongues and prophecy.  How might these testimonies be properly evaluated, unless we understand what God’s written word says on the matter?
  3. The principles behind the proper use of these gifts speak to every We are to use what God gives according to God’s purposes for God’s glory.  That might apply to spiritual gifts like tongues, but it definitely applies to the way we use our time or our finances or our abilities.  It applies to every single opportunity God gives us in life.  Use what God gives according to God’s purposes for God’s glory.  Use what God gives you to point people to Jesus, without getting in the way.  That is something that can be done by every believer, by the grace of God.

The book of Ruth begins with terrible tragedy, due to sin among a family of Israelites. Eventually, the surviving mother turned back, with her loving daughter-in-law right beside her. God gives us the opportunity to turn back to Him…don’t waste it!