All of us are in a relationship of some kind and we usually want it to work, no matter what kind of relationship it is:
- A friendship
- A business partnership
- A family relationship or marriage
- A political relationship
- Even a spiritual fellowship
Every relationship needs certain elements in order to succeed and flourish. I call these elements "the cords of love" based on Solomon's proverb where he says that, "a cord of three strands is not easily broken" (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12).
In my view, there are five cords of love that keep relationships together and these are described in the book of Ruth.
The book of Ruth is a wonderful story of the love and devotion of a young woman who becomes a widow and takes care of her mother-in-law (who is also widowed) at great cost to herself. In this short book we see the five cords of love that help bind two people together in a loving relationship despite many obstacles.
The first of these is seen as the story unfolds.
1. The Cord of Kindness
Now it came about in the days when the judges governed, that there was a famine in the land. And a certain man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the land of Moab with his wife and his two sons. The name of the man was Elimelech, and the name of his wife, Naomi; and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion, Ephrathites of Bethlehem in Judah. Now they entered the land of Moab and remained there. Then Elimelech, Naomi's husband, died; and she was left with her two sons. They took for themselves Moabite women as wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. And they lived there about ten years. Then both Mahlon and Chilion also died, and the woman was bereft of her two children and her husband. Then she arose with her daughters-in-law that she might return from the land of Moab, for she had heard in the land of Moab that the Lord had visited His people in giving them food. So she departed from the place where she was, and her two daughters-in-law with her; and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah. And Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, "Go, return each of you to her mother's house. May the Lord deal kindly with you as you have dealt with the dead and with me. May the Lord grant that you may find rest, each in the house of her husband." Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept. And they said to her, "No, but we will surely return with you to your people." But Naomi said, "Return, my daughters. Why should you go with me? Have I yet sons in my womb, that they may be your husbands? Return, my daughters! Go, for I am too old to have a husband. If I said I have hope, if I should even have a husband tonight and also bear sons, would you therefore wait until they were grown? Would you therefore refrain from marrying? No, my daughters; for it is harder for me than for you, for the hand of the Lord has gone forth against me." And they lifted up their voices and wept again; and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her. Then she said, "Behold, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and her gods; return after your sister-in-law."
- Ruth 1:1-15
Notice that Naomi (the mother-in-law) let both of her daughters go home - she released them from their family obligations so that they could start new lives. The custom of those days was that they remain with her to help her, but she chose to sacrifice herself for the good of her daughters-in-law.
Shared interests, beauty, intelligence, wealth and power - these things are usually what attract a person to another in the beginning. However, kindness is what gives a relationship "staying power." In the everyday working out of a relationship, little and large acts of kindness are what actually build that relationship (not money or looks or even how smart you are).
Conversely, lack of kindness such as being impolite, inconsiderate, thoughtless, stingy with compliments or kind gestures; these are things that lead to boredom and eventual separation.
Kindness is the first cord necessary to secure two people together in any kind of relationship.
2. The Cord of Loyalty
But Ruth said, "Do not urge me to leave you or turn back 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 I will be buried. Thus may the Lord do to me, and worse, if anything but death parts you and me." When she saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more to her.
So they both went until they came to Bethlehem. And when they had come to Bethlehem, all the city was stirred because of them, and the women said, "Is this Naomi?" She said to them, "Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, forthe Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went out full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why do you call me Naomi, since the Lord has witnessed against me and the Almighty has afflicted me?"
So Naomi returned, and with her Ruth the Moabitess, her daughter-in-law, who returned from the land of Moab. And they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest.
- Ruth 1:16-22
Ruth's life and loyalty was sworn to her husband and family, and to that family she remained loyal.
- To live where they lived.
- To become as they were.
- To worship as they did.
She saw that her life changed for the better as a pagan Moab woman who married a Jew (who was a believer in God) and she wanted to remain loyal to this way of Godly living and its people, even if it meant giving up her chance at remarriage. For Ruth, being a widow among God's people was better than being married among pagans. The loss of her husband did not shake her loyalty to his family and beliefs. Trust, loyalty, faithfulness, perseverance; these are the pillars of a lasting relationship.
Each time a crisis, an argument, a disappointment, or a sin fails to destroy a relationship - it grows much stronger. Nothing strengthens relationships more dynamically than a show of loyalty at a critical moment.
When I see my wife, my friend, my family, church members or business associates choose to stay loyal to our relationship when temptation, trial, or other options come along - it makes me rejoice and enables me to actually feel the cords of love binding us together.
3. The Cord of 'Hard Work'
Now Naomi had a kinsman of her husband, a man of great wealth, of the family of Elimelech, whose name was Boaz. And Ruth the Moabitess said to Naomi, "Please let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain after one in whose sight I may find favor." And she said to her, "Go, my daughter." So she departed and went and gleaned in the field after the reapers; and she happened to come to the portion of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the family of Elimelech. Now behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem and said to the reapers, "May the Lord be with you." And they said to him, "May the Lord bless you."
Then Boaz said to his servant who was in charge of the reapers, "Whose young woman is this?" The servant in charge of the reapers replied, "She is the young Moabite woman who returned with Naomi from the land of Moab. And she said, 'Please let me glean and gather after the reapers among the sheaves.' Thus she came and has remained from the morning until now; she has been sitting in the house for a little while." Then Boaz said to Ruth, "Listen carefully, my daughter. Do not go to glean in another field; furthermore, do not go on from this one, but stay here with my maids. Let your eyes be on the field which they reap, and go after them. Indeed, I have commanded the servants not to touch you. When you are thirsty, go to the water jars and drink from what the servants draw." Then she fell on her face, bowing to the ground and said to him, "Why have I found favor in your sight that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?" Boaz replied to her, "All that you have done for your mother-in-law after the death of your husband has been fully reported to me, and how you left your father and your mother and the land of your birth, and came to a people that you did not previously know.
May the Lord reward your work, and your wages be full from the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to seek refuge." Then she said, "I have found favor in your sight, my lord, for you have comforted me and indeed have spoken kindly to your maidservant, though I am not like one of your maidservants."
At mealtime Boaz said to her, "Come here, that you may eat of the bread and dip your piece of bread in the vinegar." So she sat beside the reapers; and he served her roasted grain, and she ate and was satisfied and had some left. When she rose to glean, Boaz commanded his servants, saying, "Let her glean even among the sheaves, and do not insult her. Also you shall purposely pull out for her some grain from the bundles and leave it that she may glean, and do not rebuke her."
So she gleaned in the field until evening. Then she beat out what she had gleaned, and it was about an ephah of barley. She took it up and went into the city, and her mother-in-law saw what she had gleaned. She also took it out and gave Naomi what she had left after she was satisfied. Her mother-in-law then said to her, "Where did you glean today and where did you work? May he who took notice of you be blessed." So she told her mother-in-law with whom she had worked and said, "The name of the man with whom I worked today is Boaz."
Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, "May he be blessed of the Lord who has not withdrawn his kindness to the living and to the dead." Again Naomi said to her, "The man is our relative, he is one of our closest relatives." Then Ruth the Moabitess said, "Furthermore, he said to me, 'You should stay close to my servants until they have finished all my harvest.'" Naomi said to Ruth her daughter-in-law, "It is good, my daughter, that you go out with his maids, so that others do not fall upon you in another field." So she stayed close by the maids of Boaz in order to glean until the end of the barley harvest and the wheat harvest. And she lived with her mother-in-law.
- Ruth 2:1-23
In the story of Ruth we see that her relationship with Naomi caused her to actually work very hard. She served as a hired hand and, as such, had no guarantees of payment or protection.
The parallel in today's relationships is obvious - you've got to work at it! Many partnerships, marriages and friendships fail because of laziness!
People think that relationships nourish themselves, but they don't. You've got to continually care for it much like you care for a garden, or a car. My mother used to say that a relationship is like a fire in a fireplace, you have to continually add wood and stir the ashes to keep the flame going.
In a relationship, the best way to do this is to:
A - Communicate honesty and deeply with each other on a regular basis.
For example: have regular "heart to heart" talks. So many times we let things go by or swallow our feelings and resentments and in doing so allow anger to boil. A good honest talk from time to time is liberating and joyful. When we really speak to each other from the heart, it clears the air and helps us go forward in our relationship with enthusiasm.
B - Do things together.
Work, play, serve, learn, explore, build and dream together. The natural and easy thing to do is to do our "own thing" - whatever that is, because it is easier.
However, we cannot have it both ways. We cannot have the intimacy and rewards that come with a good relationship but continually ignore it in order to do our "own thing." Relationships work because people go from my "own thing" to "our thing." The work comes from the trial and error of figuring out what "our thing" is. This doesn't mean that we abandon all of the activities that we like to do by ourselves. It does mean however that we make room for some new things that build our relationships and not just ourselves.
C - Share spiritual things.
Every relationship improves with Christ. Business relationships open up. Friendships are deeper. Marriages solidify when the Spirit of Christ enters the relationship.
Here are some statistics from a study once done to measure the effects of religion on marriage:
- 1 out of 2 divorce – Couples who have no spiritual life
- 1 out of 40 divorce – One partner with a spiritual life
- 1 out of 400 divorce – Both partners have spiritual lives
Sharing spiritual things is not simply saying, "We're Christians, or we're believers." Sharing spiritual things means to be actively involved in spiritual things like worshipping together, praying together, serving together and learning together. The great encouragement for relationships based on Christ is the fact that these have hope not only for this life but for the next one as well.
Let's briefly review what we've learned so far in this chapter: the third cord of love is hard work, and the best way to work at a relationship is to:
- Communicate honestly
- Do things together
- Share a spiritual life
The easiest thing to do in a relationship is to take each other for granted because:
- We're busy
- We're tired
- We're selfish
- We're distracted
However, people who enjoy successful relationships do so because they've invested time and effort into them -- just like every other successful thing in their lives.
4. The Cord of Patience
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? Now is not Boaz our kinsman, with whose maids you were? Behold, he winnows barley at the threshing floor tonight. Wash yourself therefore, and anoint yourself and put on your best clothes, and go down to the threshing floor; but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. It shall be when he lies down, that you shall notice the place where he lies, and you shall go and uncover his feet and lie down; then he will tell you what you shall do."
Now it is true I am a close relative; however, there is a relative closer than I.
- Ruth 3:1-4, 12
The only way Ruth could guarantee a better and stable life was for her to marry. The custom at that time however was that whoever married her now had to promise that their first-born son would inherit her dead husband's land (the idea of a "redeemer" – to buy back).
Of course, few men wanted the responsibility of raising a child to carry another man's name and inherit another man's property. Ruth was not a virgin and was a liability as far as finance and property were concerned and thus did not have much hope to marry. But, she was patient and willing to follow Naomi's advice.
The hope that both these women had was that the richest man in the area would not only marry her and provide an heir for her dead husband, but would do this at personal financial and social risk to himself (i.e. he could have anyone, why take as wife a poor Moabite widow?). This episode shows us that the best partnerships work together patiently for the good of the relationship.
- I've learned from experience to listen to my wife's advice - especially when her counsel makes me upset.
- I've learned that not all matters and obstacles in a relationship can be settled in one day or one discussion.
- I've learned that when two flawed, imperfect, sinful people are in a relationship there are going to be offenses. This is 100% certain!
I've also learned that patience is often the ingredient in a relationship that maintains balance when things get difficult. If loyalty is the rope that binds you closer together, patience is the rope that keeps you in the relationship when the other ropes give way.
Patience is the safety rope when the others fail. Patience is the willingness to go on despite discomfort. It is the willingness to wait; the ability to carry a heavy load; the desire to forgive and make allowances for. Patience gives the benefit of the doubt and chooses to understand and work with the weaknesses and failings of someone we are in a relationship with.
No one is born with patience. Patience is something we learn one situation at a time, but it always pays off with a reward of some kind. For example, Ruth's patience led her to a loving and kind husband.
The true reward of patience however is that through patience we grow in our ability to love, to hope and to be wise. Impatient people make mistakes, ruin relationships and rarely grow into emotional and spiritual maturity. Patience is what enables us to love despite the unlovely things we eventually see in our partners.
Of all the cords, it's the one most responsible for keeping relationships together over a great number of years.
5. Faith in God
So Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife, and he went in to her. And the Lord enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son. Then the women said to Naomi, "Blessed is the Lord who has not left you without a redeemer today, and may his name become famous in Israel. May he also be to you a restorer of life and a sustainer of your old age; for your daughter-in-law, who loves you and is better to you than seven sons, has given birth to him."
Then Naomi took the child and laid him in her lap, and became his nurse. The neighbor women gave him a name, saying, "A son has been born to Naomi!" So they named him Obed. He is the father of Jesse, the father of David.
Now these are the generations of Perez: to Perez was born Hezron, and to Hezron was born Ram, and to Ram, Amminadab, and to Amminadab was born Nahshon, and to Nahshon, Salmon, and to Salmon was born Boaz, and to Boaz, Obed, and to Obed was born Jesse, and to Jesse, David.
- Ruth 4:13-22
From the very beginning no one could know what God's plan was in all of this: that Ruth and Boaz would produce a child who would be the grandfather of the great king David.
David, who became the greatest king of Israel. The one who wrote the beautiful book of Psalms and who would be in the direct lineage of Jesus through his earthly father, Joseph.
Ruth's faith in God began with Naomi, and then the man she married, Boaz. Each entered into a relationship with another based on faith.
- Ruth with Naomi
- Boaz with Ruth
And their faith was rewarded beyond expectations. Their greatest hope was to have a good marriage with children and grandchildren. Their reward of faith was that in addition to these things, they also secured a direct relationship with a future king, and the future Messiah.
All relationships end in failure or death -- without exception. As one speaker has said, "All marriages end at the divorce court or the funeral home." Pretty discouraging...
The first four cords of love can't protect you against death. However, those relationships that have as a basis - faith in God and trust in Christ, have an element (a cord) that others do not have.
These people have the hope that their relationships will transcend this world and continue into the next. This reality and promise of God is what gives a relationship between Christian spouses, friends and family an extra measure of joy, hope and confidence.
Adding the cord of faith to our relationships closes the circle of eternity between ourselves and other believers … no matter how we're related to them.
So there they are - the five cords of love that promote successful and happy relationships.
- The cord of kindness - Builds it up
- The cord of loyalty - Binds it strongly
- The cord of hard work - Breaks the boredom
- The cord of patience - Balances it in troubled times
- The cord of faith - Brings it into another dimension
You may be thinking, "Where is the cord of love? Isn't that necessary for a happy and lasting relationship?" The answer is yes, love is necessary and it's there - I've just described it to you. This is what true love looks like when it is present and being expressed by two individuals in any relationship.
When you take the five strands together it produces love.
My prayer is that these cords of love will surround and bless each of your relationships. God bless each of you, and each of your relationships now and in the future.