As I am blessed to travel to different churches, I am able to see and hear how believers act towards one another and towards the communities in which God has placed them. There are vibrant and active churches extending the hand of grace as well as those that, well, don’t.
Whatever end of the spectrum your church might be on, let’s consider what God’s Word tells us.
As we scroll through the pages of the Old Testament, we see a multitude of examples of the love of God. At times, it is evidenced through God Himself. He leads His children through the Promised Land with a pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire (Exodus 13). He stops the flood waters of the Jordan (Joshua 3). He sends rescuer upon rescuer upon rescuer as His people cry out to Him for deliverance (Judges).
We also see examples of people reflecting God’s love to others. Moses did it when he prayed for mercy (Numbers 11). Deborah called for Barak to step forward in faith to deliver God’s children (Judges 4). Nathan, although fearful, approached King David to challenge the sin in his life (2nd Samuel 12).
But there is an example of God’s love that is exemplified through a woman that we should NOT have expected. That example is seen through Ruth.
As a reminder of her story, she is a Moabite woman who married the son of Naomi and Elimelek. When her father-in-law and her two brothers-in-law died, she began the journey back to Bethlehem with her mother-in-law and sister-in-law. However, at some point in the journey, Naomi changed her mind and told them to return to their families in Moab. While Orpah turned back, Ruth said:
Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.” Ruth 1:16-17
This is a powerful and beautiful example of the Hebrew word “Hesed”. This word is translated in a variety of ways. From the idea of “lovingkindness” to “mercy” or “compassion”, it is a word that expands the idea of God’s covenantal love.
God made a covenant with His children that calls us to, in the most basic of terms, love Him and love others. This idea is truly incredible as we see it bursting forth in the New Testament in the person of Jesus. Our Savior left the splendors of heaven to be born of a virgin, to live a sinless life, and to give His life as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
What is our required work in this covenant? (I mean, shouldn’t there be something we have to do in an agreement of this sort?)
No, our work is nothing. Step 1: We receive Christ and the gift of grace not on our own merit but completely through what He did.
That said, our response is important. We can respond by doing “step 2”, which is loving our neighbors. The one who doesn’t keep his yard cut and house maintained. The one who doesn’t smell as clean as we wish. The one who doesn’t dress well, speak well, or even smile at us.
We are called to love our neighbor and even to pray for those who persecute us. If we don’t like it, we can choose to reject His words. We can choose to hate. We can choose to be cruel. We can neglect compassion and the weightier matters of the law (justice, mercy, faithfulness – Matthew 23:23). We can do this by clinging to legalistic righteousness.
Should we make that choice, we should definitely be careful. Why? Because Jesus pronounced “woe” unto those who refuse to love. Granted, He wasn’t saying that it was wrong to call for obedience and for sin to end. However, when following the Law, we should be careful that we do not do so in a way that neglects to reflect the love we have received.
If you have received the gift of grace in hesed love, know that you did not deserve it. But God loved you. Jesus died for you. Your life should demonstrate that which you have received.
Love just might be a lot easier than you thought…
Yours in Christ,