Ruth, Part 1
We’re excited to begin a new series today on the book of Ruth. It’s the 8th book of the Old Testament, right after Judges. In fact, in the original Hebrew bible, Judges and Ruth were one book. I absolutely love the Old Testament because it deals with real people, real circumstances, real problems and issues, and real life. Through all of those, real and deep things of God get laid out for us in ways that make them easier to understand than some professorial-type lecture on a doctrine of God. And Ruth is no exception. It contains all a great epic needs—complex characters set in troubled time, gut-wrenching tragedy and heartache, challenges, tough decisions with huge risks and consequences, courage, anger, hopelessness, plot twists, and, for you romantics, true love. Let’s get to it!!
Ruth 1:1 - In the days when the judges ruled there was a famine in the land. . .
This opening to the book of Ruth is as rich as Charles Dickens’ powerhouse, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. . .” from A Tale of Two Cities. It describes a period of some 300 years following the death of Joshua, whom God used to lead Israel into the Promised Land. After his death, the people went through 12 cycles of falling away from God and worshiping other gods. When the wickedness reached a certain level, God would sent hardship in the form of famine or oppression by other nations. The situation in Israel would get so dire that eventually the people of Israel would turn back to God, confess, repent, and pray for rescue. And then God would raise up a judge, someone would who lead a revival of fervor for God and drive out any oppressors. Famine in the land tells us that this account takes place at a time of God’s judgment on Israel. And, given the genealogy at the end of the book, the events recorded likely occurred during the last 100 years of the 300 years of the judges. It was the worst of times.
The story quickly homes in on one particular family during this time of distress.
Ruth 1:1-2 - . . . and a man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he and his wife, and his two sons—the name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi. . .
The family is no doubt aware of Israel’s history over the past couple of hundred years. Judgments of famine and oppression are reversed by repentance and returning to God. But we can be slow learners, no? Elimelech opts to outrun God. We’ll abandon the land God gave us and just zip over to Moab, where we hear there is food aplenty. We’ll escape that whole process of repentance and confession and prayer. Like most horrible decisions, it probably seemed like a good idea at the time. But Moab turns out to be a road to nowhere.
Moab was known for many things, none of them good, especially for a Jewish family. Moab began out of an incestuous relationship between Abraham’s nephew, Lot, and his older daughter. After God’s destruction of Sodom, Lot and his two daughters end up in a cave. His daughters don’t see any other guys in the cave, so they conclude having offspring by their dad was their only chance of continuing the family line. So, Moab and the Jewish nation are distant cousins, but the relationship was strained. Moab refused to allow Israel to pass through its territory when God rescued them from Egypt. The Moabite king even hired a prophet to curse Israel. Later, Moabite women slipped into the camp of Israel and seduced some of the men and encouraged them to worship Moabite gods. In response, God instructed Israel to have nothing to do with Moab, not to mingle or intermarry. Doesn’t sound like a good place for a Jewish family to raise godly sons.
Ruth 1:2 - .. and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion. They were Ephratites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and stayed there.
Hey, you know times are tough when you name your sons “Puny” and “Longing”—that’s what Mahlon and Chilean translate to in English. Things should be better. After all, you live in Bethlehem, which translates to “house of bread.” Sadly, sin has produced an empty pantry. So, let’s see how things go with this big move to Moab.
Ruth 1:3 - But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons.
The person responsible for the move is now dead. What will the survivors do? Stay in Moab, or return home to repent and confess and get things right with God?
Ruth 1:4 - These (the two sons) took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. They lived there about ten years.
Not only did they stay, but the boys managed to find Moabite women willing to settle down with a Puny and Longing. But why stay, Naomi? Could it have been pride, the realization that you would be coming home to friends and family with your life in tatters? And showing up with sons married to Moabite gals? How would that go down in the neighborhood? Maybe like with us, it was just easier to continue the pain of disobedience than to admit a big time screw up. Come on, we’ve all been there. We buy something on credit we really don’t have the dollars for, and God sends a little judgment our way for handling our money poorly. The car breaks down. We reason, “We have to get the car fixed so we can get to work to earn money.” So we pay for that on credit, too. Every step seemed like a good idea at the time, but the next thing we know, we can barely meet the minimum payments. God’s judgment was calling us to confess, repent, and turn back to Him, but we figured we can work our own way out of the mess. Most of us have a hard time looking up until we have no other place to look. Don’t feel alone, that’s where Naomi is, too. After all, she’s got two sons who can look after things. Or, does she?
Ruth 1:5 - . . . and both Mahlon and Chilion died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband.
Uh-oh. Best laid plans go bottom up. No family means no food. A Jewish widow in Moab was not going to get welfare. No place to look but up, it seems. God’s forced her hand. In verses 6-8, Naomi strikes out for home with Orpah and Ruth. It seems that, back home, the people had come to their senses and turned back to God. Naomi heard while she was working in the fields in Moab that God had brought food again to Israel. People back there had survived, but most of her family had not. Time to get things right with God. So, off Naomi goes, with Orpah and Ruth in tow.
But it seems they don’t get far before Naomi has a sudden realization. "Life’s going to be hard for me, but it’s going to be nearly impossible for these Moabite women. I’ve got nothing to offer them back there, and back there could be a very hostile place for them. What right-thinking Israelite male would even consider taking them as wives? Their prospects are far better if they go back to their families here in Moab.” So, she orders them, about six times, to return home. No reason they should have to suffer because of her disobedience to God.
Both Orpah and Ruth initially refuse to leave. But when Naomi persists in explaining how awful life in Israel will be for them, Orpah changes her mind. She kisses Naomi “goodbye,” turns and leaves. What’s interesting is that we never hear of Orpah again after this event. Ruth, on the other hand, clung to Naomi and would hear no talk of returning. Ruth and Orpah represent two kinds of people. Both have a high opinion of Naomi, and both are ok with Naomi’s people, and her God. But Orpah isn’t willing to follow no matter what. She’s only willing to go if things are going to be great. Ruth also has a high opinion of Naomi. And because of Naomi, Ruth has a high opinion of Naomi’s people and her God. But as we’ll see, Naomi’s God isn’t just Naomi’s God anymore. He has become Ruth’s God, too. And she is not willing to give Him up, regardless of the consequences. Listen to her words.
Ruth 1:16-17 - But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried.”
She’s in, lock, stock, and barrel. I am committed to this decision, to you, your people, and your God for the rest of my life and beyond. In fact, I’ll be buried there, not in Moab. Don’t even think about taking my bones back to my homeland. I’m counting on my new God to take care me in the afterlife. I don’t care how bad things are down here, don’t care if they are excruciating every day of the rest of my life. I will not abandon you, your people, and my God.
I heard about an Asian foreign exchange student who came to the US, fell in with a Christian family, and started attending a good church. She accepted Jesus. When her assignment in the US ended, she went home. Her village had a welcome home party of sorts. Part of that was to go to the temple and worship the gods. Her family went up first and bowed to these gods. She then went up. . . and spit on the idols. She then turned to face the villagers and walked out. This is a girl who knows something of the faith of Ruth. I renounce every other god but Jehovah, no matter what.
This is what being a Christian means. To turn from everything else and to turn to Jesus, clinging to Him through thick and thin all the way to death. Ruth got it. Oprah did not.
In the past few weeks we’ve talked about men and women, about God’s best for us… and about how we uniquely get hung up by sin and falling short. Now we’re going to talk about the way out, the path forward and how we can press into the gospel to do well.
With men, we talked about our tendency to either be too passive and fall short of God’s best for us, or being too aggressive, trying to control things ourselves instead of following God and His leading. In Ezekiel 37, the prophet has a vision about dry bones, and through God’s power and working through Ezekiel, the dry bones come back to life into a stunning and powerful army.
For women, the tendency is to compare ourselves with others, and to be perfectionistic in unhealthy ways. But in Hebrews chapter 12, we see that we are present with a great cloud of witnesses (saints who have lived before us) and that Jesus is our vision, the Author and Perfecter of our faith. Four things that these passages lead us to, related to men and women.
First, we have to change the scorecard:
Our version of the scorecard is success, here and now. Financial, political, relational success. And those aren’t bad things, God wants us to do well there. But we have to take an eternal view. Our scorecard reading of the dry bones would be God raising up Israel to crush, Egypt, and Babylon, and you know, Rome. But that isn’t how the army played out. God’s army… and His purpose was spiritual and eternal. God’s scorecard was to bring a strength to the Hebrews and give them the grace to endure through generations and bring us Jesus.
Our scorecard is based on looking to Christ. He is the author, the founder and the race we are running isn’t against the other people we see. It is a race that God has set before us – and He has given you a race that is tailored to you and you alone. Stop looking to Instagram and look to Jesus instead. We don’t have to be perfect in our own ability – we’ll never get there. Let Jesus perfect us instead.
The world wants us to see things here and now – but God wants to give us new eyes – we have to change the scorecard.
Second, we can’t reach the new scorecard alone:
The second thing is this… we have to see that the new scorecard isn’t one we can fill out ourselves. Ezekiel, can you through your own power bring these bones to life? Can Hemingway, through your power as a dominant alpha male bring the bones to life? No! Too often our response to the bones is to give up – to say that we can’t do it and be passive, just accepting things as they are. Or our response to the bones is to aggressively rail against the injustice and beat our heads against a fight that we will never win in our own way. We have to look at the situation and say, this is beyond us. I’m not strong enough, not smart enough, not good enough to move the bones. My own ability to navigate the passive or aggressive dangers as a man will only lead to failure, and more bones. More stench of death. But instead of controlling things ourselves, we have to say, like Ezekiel, “Only God knows the way forward. Only God has the power to make this change.”
When we "get" this idea, it is incredibly freeing. We can take a deep breath and relax. And we can ask God for help. Help that will allow me focus on loving the people around me, help me set aside the things that I struggle with, that weigh me down. The gospel isn’t based on your ability to do it better than someone else, or getting it exactly right, every time. The gospel is based on the redemptive power of what Jesus did and the power of the Holy Spirit to put you in the center of where God wants you to be. No one can be you like you can, God has a unique role for you to play and He’s designed you with intent.
Third, winning isn’t winning, winning is playing our part well: By the scorecard of the American dream, the Bible is filled with amazing failures. Isaiah – speaking and no one listening. Jeremiah standing in the rubble to Jerusalem in Lament. Ezekiel having crazy visions and laying on his side and smashing clay pots – if he came in with his resume, you would call security and he would bounce on the way out of the corporate campus area. But when we get it, when we are centered in the gospel of Christ… we have a part to play – and the things God does in us reaches down through the generations to accomplish His purpose.
The words of Isaiah have been a deep blessing to every generation since he wrote his inspired words. Jeremiah brings us comfort even today, thousands of years later. Ezekiel gives us hope… but we have to hear God and we have to speak His words over our situation, over our communities… over our families and over our nation. God calls us to prophesy and when we play our part well, He fills us with power – it may not look like the American dream – but it will undo the work of the enemy and bring amazing things to life. We aren’t responsible for the victory; we aren’t responsible for the results – those are in God’s hands.
Fourth, the key is trust: If you’re in a situation that looks bad on paper, trust. That’s your way out. Look to God, ask Him for help, listen. Respond. Don’t be passive and don’t try to control everything. Say God I trust You – and I trust You beyond my ability to understand it, beyond my ability to fix it, beyond what it looks like while I’m frustrated and surrounded by dry bones. Trust and press deeply into God’s love and find the peace that He wants to bring you – that peace will trump our ability to fix it ourselves.
We need to change the scorecard, understand that we can’t do it alone. Set aside our idea of winning and press into playing our part well… and the key is trust, deciding to really trust that God knows what He’s doing and He has the bigger picture well in hand. There are two incredibly funny videos where Jeff Gordon takes an unsuspecting passenger (test drive with a car salesman, and pretending to drive a taxi cab) for a wild high speed ride on a test course without their knowledge.
I was amused by the Jeff Gordon driving videos, but an element that happened in both of them, really struck me. The passengers are staging a nutty, because they think they’ve been hijacked by a crazy person and death is imminent. They are yelling and cursing, they are trying to bargain and when that doesn’t work, they start threatening. They are not happy about their situation, which looks like it’s totally out of control.
But at the end, when the reveal happens, and they realize that it was a setup and that one of the best drivers in the world was at the wheel, they are asked a question. Jeff asks them both times, “Hey, do you want to go again?”
And both times, they, with no hesitation, say, “Yes!” Isn’t that amazing? Knowing that the guy driving the car isn’t an idiot, but is one of the best in the world at controlling the vehicle changes everything.
Listen, when it comes to life, when it comes to being the man or woman of God He is calling you to be; when it feels like life is completely out of control… know that God is driving the car and you’re in good hands. So go again would you?
It will be a great ride.
Beautiful Design 6 - Woman’s Hurdles
We’re nearing the finish line for this series, and today we look at the specific ways women struggle because of the sin nature that invaded the species at the fall of man in Genesis, chapter 3. It turns out that woman is no different than man in that regard. We’ve already seen that man, under the influence of sin, is prone to controlling woman. And that control works its way out in two forms. The first is passivity, where man forces woman to take over responsibilities God gave him, and the man just does what he wants while the woman carries the extra burden. The second way is aggression, where the man dominates or intimidates the woman with his superior muscle mass and brawn.
Now, I suspect some of the men reading this might be a little stunned by how women are brutalized by this sin nature. I surely was. But my wife is confident that no woman will be stunned at all—you might just be surprised that this pretty much affects all women, and not just you. So, let’s dig in a see what God says about this. Our starting point in scripture was:
Gen. 3:16 - To the woman he said, "I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”
The first way sin messes up women is through increased pain in childbearing. I’ve not yet met the woman who tells me that having a baby is just a piece of cake, that she never felt a thing. I’m of the opinion that God brought this pain into play, just as a reminder that we now live in a fallen world and are fallen creatures. And, lest women conclude that men get off easy, nothing could be further from the truth. Work for men was not supposed to be really difficult. But God saw to it that work has become very hard—it’s blood, sweat, and tears. Sound a lot like childbirth, doesn’t it? Nothing cooperates with man’s effort to be productive—even the natural world works against him. So, these consequences are pretty easy to understand, for both men and women.
I found that the second consequence to require a little digging, and it shows up in the second part of Gen. 3:16—Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you. As we’ve discovered earlier in this series, a very solid interpretation of this sentence is that the woman, with sin running the tables, will seek to control or manipulate the husband and that he will, in turn, seek to control or rule over her. This is hardly the great partnership and complementary relationship God had in mind and that existed originally for that first couple. It’s much more of a competitive relationship, with each vying to get what they want out of that relationship.
While all that is true, another angle to this “desire” needs to be ferreted out. Remember, at creation, man and woman were under the authority of God, the Creator, who made them in His image to represent Him as they established dominion over the earth. Their desire was to seek the Lord in all things. All of a sudden, we see the woman’s desire turn that attention from God and to the man. This is, in reality, the distortion or the disordering of what things were supposed to be. We get a glimpse of what happens when our desires are out of whack in the book of James, written by Jesus’ own brother.
James 1:14-15 - But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.
Can you see the consequence of disordered desires here? All of a sudden, it’s as if the desires now control a person, lead them to do what they shouldn’t. James goes on later in scripture to elaborate on this in a real, down-to-earth way. He starts with a couple of questions to get us thinking
James 4:1 - What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?
Yeah, we’ve all been there—arguments, disagreements, verbal fisticuffs, anger, even hatred. What the heck is behind those things at home, at school, behind the wheel, at work, in the Christmas shopping frenzies at Best Buy? What’s behind all that? What’s the root cause? James explains it.
James 4:2-3 - You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.
It’s simple—distorted and disordered desires lead us to fighting and quarrels, to do what we know we shouldn’t. And this disordered desire that women now have to focus her attention on man, not God, leads to some misery for our gals. Women will now place men on some pedestal, expecting them to provide what only God is able to provide. But since her attention is not now on God, she’s going to be extremely disappointed and frustrated. Man, even in his pre-sin perfection, could never complete woman; and now, with sin in the mix, man has no chance of accomplishing that for her. But, in her desire for that man, she will have two proclivities that show up. And what was interesting to me is that the world at large has noticed these tendencies and agreed with scripture about them, even though it doesn’t know it. So, let’s get down to them. The first is:
An article in The Telegraph (a UK newspaper), entitled, “Why do girls check out other girls?” highlights studies that show women are constantly checking out other women, that women don’t really even dress for men. They are dressing for how they will be seen by the women—the competition. Dr. Caroline Walters, a body image and women’s sexuality specialist, says that this comparison extends beyond just dress, but includes "every aspect of another woman’s appearance, from hair style, to tan, to shape, to size, even body hair and fat distribution. Whatever we deem most important ourselves, we check out in other women.” The article goes on to state that this competition will lead women to use their bodies, or whatever culture considers a strength, to get the upper hand.
It turns out that women compare everything, including other moms, marriages, and relationships. Corinne Sweet, a relationship psychotherapist and author of Change Your Life With CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy), agrees. Again, I note that Ms. Sweet is not a Christian and doesn’t believe in the truth of the bible. But she sure agrees with what we’ve found in the bible. She says, “First, it is only natural to compare yourself as it gives you a point of reference which can be reassuring. However, the harsh reality is that it is a cattle market out there, and the commodity is male attention.”
In the end, this competition and comparison can have women creating a faux veneer of who they are to beat the competition. And that, dear ladies, is an identity gone bad. You want to appear to have it all together, not based on God’s design and purpose for you, but based on the standards of our current age. And you end up living in a fantasy world, imagining a different color of hair or skin or a different sized waist or chest, a different husband or boyfriend. It will make you discontent and insecure, neither of which are good for you or any man.
Secular observation also shows that women with disordered desires will tend to a level of perfectionism that can be brutal. And it shows up in amazing ways. In an article in The Atlantic, entitled “Closing the Confidence Gap,” it says this, “Under qualified and under prepared men don’t think twice about leaning in, about getting into opportunities. All the empirical data can say 'I’m going to break this and sink the company, but I still deserve a shot.’" Ladies, that’s men. Note the different approach women have. The articles reveals what you women already know to be true: “Yet, overqualified and over-prepared, women still hold back. Women feel confident only when they are perfect or practically perfect. Study after study has shown that perfectionism is largely a female issue, one that extends through women’s entire lives. We don’t answer questions until we are totally sure of the answer. We don’t submit a report until we’ve edited it ad nauseam We don’t sign up for that triathlon until we know we are faster and fitter than is required. We fixate on performance at home, at school, at work, at yoga, even on vacation. We obsess as mothers, as wives, as sisters, as friends, as cooks, as athletes.” This is a huge difference between men and women.
Under the weight of having to be perfect, women will see any conflict as a signal that things, maybe even they, are not perfect. And this is unacceptable. Moms even buy into the sad, false theory that, if they can just be the perfect parent, they can keep their kids away from drugs, cigarettes, drugs, and sex. Even Christians fall for this by throwing a bible verse onto the heap: Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it. It’s a general truth, not a universal one. You cannot make your child believe and trust in Jesus. Sure, be a Christian, teach your kids, have them watch you do ministry, pray with them, talk to them about Jesus. But never conclude that if you just do it all perfectly, you can make them believe. That’s ultimately on them, not you.
You’re not going to be perfect. You’ll lose patience, with your husband, with your kids, with your co-workers, with others in your neighborhood, in your church, in your extended family. Get over it. Do what you’re supposed to do—confess to God and to those you’ve wronged, ask forgiveness, and then get up and move on. Moms, it’s amazing how forgiving kids can be. You don’t have to be perfect. Show them how an imperfect sinner can rely on the perfection that’s only found in Christ. You don’t have to be a perfect wife to be a great one. You don’t have to be a perfect mom to be a great one.
Here’s another quote from Lynn Hirschberg, the managing editor of W Magazine, and a notable casting agent in Hollywood. Listen to this incredibly successful woman describe the internal battle against perfectionism--"I have an iron will, and all of my will has always been to conquer some horrible feeling of inadequacy. I push past one spell of it and discover myself as a special human being, and then I get to another stage and think I'm mediocre and uninteresting. Again and again. My drive in life is from this horrible fear of being mediocre. And that's what's always pushing me, pushing me. Because even though I've become somebody, I still have to prove I'm somebody. My struggle has never ended and it probably never will.”
Man, this level of perfectionism is brutalizing women. It’s why women are twice as likely as men to commit suicide, by far wrestle with anxiety and depression than men do, are overwhelmed far more than men over body image issues. One college campus surveyed the women on campus, finding that 83% of them were dieting, and 50% of them were at the “perfect” weight. What is that? Ladies, it’s perfectionism that enslaves. I mean, how could you ever be happy if everything had to be perfect? How could you ever rest? How could you ever feel at peace? How could you ever see yourself as lovely if perfection were the standard? Because imperfection is going to surface with every outing, every vacation, every interaction with your kids, your husband, and it’s going to be there every day of your life.
Take a deep breath. Hold it. Breathe it out slowly. Maybe do that again. You’re not perfect. You don’t have to be. Let Jesus be all the perfection, His righteousness be your righteousness. Follow Him and know that He’s already forgiven you for every imperfection. Rest in that, and stop the comparing and the drive for perfection.
We’ll be closing out this series next week, and we’ll be talking about the solution, both for the hurdles men and women face in dealing with the ravages of sin that have attacked God’s design and purpose for us. So, stay tuned. I hope I’m not giving away too much by saying it might just have something to do with Jesus.
Beautiful Design 5 - God’s Design for Women
After two weeks banging away on man’s design and the tendencies he has to mess this up because of that rascally sin nature, we launched headlong into God’s design for woman. We used the same text where we saw God’s purpose for men.
Genesis 2:18-25 - Then the Lord God said, "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him." Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, "This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.
Two things strike me about this text. First of all, God made only one Eve for Adam. Maybe that sounds like a no-brainer to us, but what’s interesting is that within 6 generations of the introduction of sin, men had turned to polygamy, where women were property—no better than cattle, really. The more wives you had, the wealthier you were. Hardly what God had in mind. Second, manuscripts and what we know of culture at that time suggests that it would have been considered crazy to talk about a man leaving his family and holding fast to his wife, which is, again, how God set it up. Instead, we find in the culture that the wife joined the man’s family. His loyalty wasn’t to her, but to his family. Just think how many advice columnists respond to letters from wives complaining that hubby is a mama’s boy—someone who hasn’t left mom and dad and is not holding fast to his wife. No wonder women have doubts about this whole man-woman thing. Sin totally busted up what God intended.
So, let’s go back and see what it was that God intended for the woman. We’re going to see a phrase in the passage we just read, and it’s a phrase women are predisposed not to like. I’d merely ask that, before you throw whatever device your reading this on against the wall, you just give me the opportunity to lay out for you what God was going for with this phrase. I’m trusting that it’ll make sense when I’m done.
Here’s the phrase: A helper fit for him. We’re going to break that phrase into two distinct parts, realizing that both of them matter.
This word in Hebrew is a bit difficult, because what it means depends on the context in which it’s used. In that regard, it’s like the English word “fast”—which can mean to move quickly, or to avoid food, or to be a bit of a shady character, or to hold to steadfastly to a view or opinion. Find the word “fast” in a sentence, and you know which meaning is referred to.
When we see the word “helper" used in the OT, the most common usage is in reference to God helping mankind in some way. I used three specific verses to highlight this: Exodus 18:4; Deuteronomy 33:7; and Psalm 33:20. These provide the answer to a very specific question: Does helper infer that woman has an inferior or subordinate or lesser role to the man in God’s design. The answer: Not at all. We already know women, like men, are made in God’s image and equal in dignity, worthy and importance. Man’s role is to exercise headship by self-sacrificing love and service. And it’s woman that man is to serve with this self-sacrificing love. Hard to conclude, then, that women are in a lesser or subordinate role—after all, it’s the men who are serving them.
So, what does helper mean? In every context in which the Hebrew word “helper” is used, it denotes someone assisting someone with primary responsibility in some way. So, let’s say I have a responsibility to deliver a Sunday message, but I’m stuck and need help. I ask my wife for some insight. What just happened? Well, I’m not asking her to deliver the message. I’m asking for help in something I have a primary responsibility for because I’m too dumb or weak or insufficient in some way. Or, she just sees that I’m too dumb, weak, or insufficient and offers to help. It turns out that I’m the weaker person here who needs help. Think of it this way: in many ways, man is the weaker vessel because God specifically provided woman to help us. We are going to be incapable as men of fulfilling the responsibilities God gave us without that help women provide. Rather than something inferior, woman comes alongside as a partner, as a key player in man’s ability to fulfill his purpose. And we sure are not going to argue that God is the lesser because He deigns to help man.
Now, we turn to the second part of that phrase: Fit for him. This clearly lays out that woman is not identical to man. If she was, man wouldn’t need her, and she sure wouldn’t need him. No, she’s uniquely fitted, uniquely equipped in ways the man isn’t, and in ways the man needs. It carries the connotation the man has some holes in his armor, some weaknesses, if you will. But along comes Eve, woman, the perfect fit, to help, to complement. What she brings strengthens his strengths, and fills in for his weaknesses. Together, they form a fantastic partnership, designed to complement, not compete against, one another.
How do we apply this design of the woman in real life? Let’s look, as we did for the man, at the home and in church. First, the home. In the message, we looked at:
Titus 2:2-8 - Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled. Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us.
Just observe how the older men and older women are assumed to have lived godly lives and to be playing it forward as they instruct the young men and women rising up. These are men who exercise godly, loving headship, and women who are clearly partners in the discipling of the kids at home. It says that women are to be submissive to husbands, but, listen, that’s nothing new. We know from Ephesians 5:15 that both husband and wives are to be submissive to each other. What I found interesting is that while men are to be willing to lay down their lives for their wives, and wives are told to be kind to their husbands. It’s amazing how much power women have over men with their words. Maybe we men can be great handling criticism from the world, at work, wherever, but let our wives express disappointment or criticism, and it can really affect us. That’s because they know us, our every weakness, every shortcoming. Complementary relationships can be great fun, but they can also be painful when it’s dealing with the weaknesses we have. But if we’re wise men, we’ll cherish the fun as well as the pain. We men need to be open to both to have a chance to be competent at what God designed for us.
Men, if your wives know you are crazy about them, that you find them wildly attractive, that you are for them, wanting them to be all God wants for them, they will not think us to be jerks. This passage in Titus actually says that if we have this kind of mutually submissive, complementary relationship, the world would only have good things to say about us.
Ok, how does all this work in the church? Well, if you look through the New Testament, you see women doing all kinds of things—being dispersed throughout the Roman Empire and spreading the gospel; teaching younger women (Titus 2); joining with husbands in discipling (Acts 18); and praying and prophesying at the church in Corinth. Women are not only needed; they are indispensable. So, women should grow in knowledge of the Word, practice and exercise their gifting to make disciples of Christ. Sure, it starts at home. Sharpen the iron of your husband and pour into your children. And take it outside the home to extended family and friends and coworkers. Have younger women that you hang out with.
Before we close out this message, let me say a few words to single ladies. How can you be a “helper fit for him” if you’re not married? What does it mean to be a helper you’re single? Well, first of all, if you’re single, it does not mean that you are supposed to sit idly by simply waiting for a husband. Be engaged in the church, and guess what? You’ll be involved in homes because you’ll be an influence on children, on teens, on other women.
You might also ask this question: If it’s not good for man to be alone, then is being single wrong? Is there something wrong with me being a single woman? Answer: Not at all. In fact, the Apostle Paul was asked this very question by the church in Corinth. He responds to that question specifically in 1 Corinthians 7.
1 Corinthians 7:32-35 - I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.
Do you see it? Sure, it’s ok to want to be married, but there are some advantages to being single. You can be totally devoted to the things of God. Paul describes a married man or woman as divided, meaning that they have attention on the things of God, but they also have attention on how the things of God play off of that marriage partner. So, take advantage of the freedom you have being single to really zero in on the things of God. God’s not waiting for you to be married to be able to use you.
Let me share an example of how this can work. I’ve discovered by observation that elementary school-age girls think that junior high girls are cool. And junior high girls think that high school girls are cool. High school girls think that college girls are cool, even if they aren’t. Hey, they think you’re cool, so leverage that to make disciples. Disciple younger girls or women. Frankly, it’s something that guys can’t do—or shouldn’t do. It’s dangerous for guys to do that. So, by engaging in that, you are being a helper fit for him in terms of the men who lead households and the men who lead churches. Go for it!
Final thought for you is this: Your value and worth is not found in marriage. It’s not found in whether you have a man. Your beauty and loveliness and value are derived from the God of the universe designing you, wiring you, shaping you, and placing you exactly where He wants you on this earth at this time to fill the specific need He has equipped you for so that humanity would flourish. Don’t waste it just waiting for a man.
At The Surge we love doing things together... that includes writing a blog! Here are a few of our main contributing authors:
Our fearless leader, Dwaine is the lead pastor at The Surge. His experience in counter terrorism with the CIA prepared him for ministry and he likes dogs and babies even more than E does.
E (short for Eric Reiss) is the Wingman at The Surge and likes dogs, music, Mexican food, his wife Karen and his little girl Evangeline... not necessarily in that order.