THE FIELD THAT IS BEING REAPED
Ruth 2:8-9 (to “reaped”)
1 Thess 1:8-10
Acts 15:1, 6-11, 14
John 17:9 (to “me”), 15-20
I would like to say a little about the field which is being reaped. First of all, I would like to speak a word of encouragement for everyone here, and particularly for those who may be young in the faith. And then I would like to speak about the field that was reaped, the field that will be reaped, and the field that is being reaped.
The message here from Boaz to Ruth was, “Let thine eyes be on the field which is being reaped.”
I expect every one of us here knows well the story about Ruth. It was the custom in Israel when the harvest took place that the men with their sickles cut the standing corn, the women bound the corn together into stacks, and then it was taken away to the threshing-floor, where it was threshed and winnowed. God made provision, according to Deuteronomy 24:19, for the stranger, and for the fatherless, and for the widow to come along after the reaping had taken place, and look out for the odd bits of corn that had been cut and not picked up. I think that is one of the indications in the Old Testament of the generosity of God not only towards His people Israel but towards all, particularly those who were disadvantaged. And that, of course, was fulfilled in a wonderful way when the Lord Jesus came here Himself, and through His death opened up the way of blessing not only for the Jews but for everyone who believes.
Ruth did not belong to Israel. She was a Moabitess. The Book of Ruth begins with a real disaster. During a famine in Israel, Elimelech went away with his wife and his two sons to the land of Moab. His two sons married Moabitish women; Elimelech died, the sons died, and poor Naomi was left bereft of her husband and her sons – a very, very sad situation. But she heard that God had visited His people to give them bread, and she decided to go back to Bethlehem. She was a very sorrowful woman, for she says when she arrives there, “Call me not Naomi” – meaning ‘My pleasantness’ – “call me Mara” – Bitterness (Ruth 1:20). She had gone through some very bitter experiences!
But we have a remarkable commitment by Ruth to Naomi. Naomi pointed out that there was no apparent future for her two young daughters-in-law when she was going back to the land of Israel. She told them to go back to their people and to their gods, but Ruth made a very strong commitment. Ruth must have heard about the God of Israel. She must have heard about the people of God. She must have heard about the wonderful things that God had done for Israel in times past. And she made a very definite commitment. I tell you this, that if any one of us wants to progress in our souls we must make a commitment to the Lord. We must do what she did – make a break with the past, and commit ourselves to the Lord Jesus.
Outwardly, things were not attractive. Today among God’s people we are not living in the days of Pentecost; we are not living in the days of the apostles; we are not living in the days when everything seemed to be swept before Christianity as it spread out from Jerusalem. We are living in very difficult days. We are living in days when there is much sorrow among God’s people. But she knew about the God of Israel, and she committed herself unreservedly to Naomi. She says, “Thy people will be my people, and thy God my God” (v16). Now, if we want to get on in our souls we must make a firm commitment to the Lord Jesus and His things.
Ruth made a very good start. She came to Bethlehem with her mother-in-law Naomi, and then she wanted to do something to help. It is a good sign when anybody who knows the Lord Jesus wants to do things to help His people. I was glad in the interval to see the boys and girls helping to serve the food. You cannot start small enough! If you belong to Jesus and you want to do things for the Lord, start with things that are little, things that are to your hand, things that you can do. And that is what Ruth did – she wanted to go and get some corn to provide food for herself and for her mother-in-law.
What happened? God overruled, so that she found the field of this man called Boaz. No doubt reaping was going on in other fields at the same time – other Israelites had fields as well as Boaz. But it says, “she chanced to light on an allotment of Boaz” (ch 2:3).
When I was young an old sister gave me a Bible. It was very kind of her to give me a Bible! She wrote this verse on it: “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths” (Prov 3:5‑6 KJV). Now that is what Ruth did – she acknowledged God, and He directed her path so that she came upon this field of Boaz. Boaz then looked after her and helped her forward. You know, the Lord Jesus takes account of us all. He takes account of every believer in the Lord Jesus. You may be young in the faith, or you might have been in the path for many long years. But Jesus takes account of you, and He knows the exercises of your heart, He knows if you want to do things for the Lord and for His people. He is able to provide and help forward and bless you in your Christian life. He is a wonderful Master. Boaz was a mighty man of wealth – his name means “in him is strength.” There is unlimited strength in Jesus, and there is wonderful wealth in Jesus. There is no better master in the universe to serve than the Lord Jesus Christ!
Boaz took account of her – he provided extra for her. And then, after she had gleaned in his field, she beat out what she had gleaned (v17), and processed it so that she and her mother-in-law would have some food to eat.
There is a great need for all of us to follow up things we hear in meetings, to follow up things we notice through our individual reading of the word so that we obtain a food supply for our souls. I think of how little in my life I have done in the way of roasting what I get in hunting (cf Prov 12:27). I commend this activity to us all, old and young, that we might follow up things we get, so that under the Lord’s hand it can become food for our souls and food for others.
The Lord blessed her further, as we know, but the word from Boaz to her at this particular point was, “Go not to glean in another field, neither go from here, but keep here with my maidens. Let thine eyes be on the field which is being reaped.” Now, just think of that practically. There was a whole series of harvests in Israel starting with the barley-harvest and finishing with the wheat-harvest. There would be no point in going to a field that had been reaped – there would be nothing left to glean! There would be no point going to where the harvest still had to take place – there would be nothing there to reap! The sensible thing was what Boaz said, “Let thine eyes be on the field that is being reaped.” So this is a good question for us all. What is the field that the Lord is reaping at the present time? When He was here, He told His disciples at the well of Sychar, “Lift up your eyes and behold the fields, for they are already white to harvest” (John 4:35). The disciples had to open their eyes to see what was ready for reaping.
He also instructs Ruth to keep with his maidens. It is very important, particularly when we are young – young in the faith – to have good companions – those that love the Lord Jesus; have companions of people who are interested in the Bible, and want to follow its teaching. That is like keeping with the maidens of Boaz.
I would now like to refer to the field that was reaped. Imagine that you had lived in the days of Solomon, and like the queen of Sheba, you wanted to find out about God. Where would you have gone? You could have gone to Egypt, where there had been a sophisticated Egyptian civilisation, with its papyrus parchments, hieroglyphics and treasures! Later on you might have gone to the Greeks: you would have learnt a lot about philosophy from the Greeks. But if you wanted to know about the one true God you had to go to the Jews. You had to go to Israel, because in God’s sovereignty He chose the nation of Israel. It was not because they were better than any other nation – it says in Deuteronomy that because God loved them, He in His sovereignty chose them (Deut 7:7‑8). He gave them good laws, He gave them good teaching, and a whole range of blessings – Paul describes them in the Epistle to the Romans chapter 9, where he says this about the Israelites: “Whose is the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the law-giving, and the service, and the promises; whose are the fathers; and of whom, as according to flesh, is the Christ” (Rom 9:4‑5). What tremendous advantages the Israelites had! They were signally blessed by God, and they were intended to be a witness to the whole world of the one true God. Alas, what happened, of course, was a turning away from God, and they were scattered – first of all ten tribes were carried away to Assyria (2 Kings 18:11), and then the two other tribes were carried away to Babylon (2 Chronicles 36:20).
So the Queen of Sheba went to Solomon, heard all about all his wisdom, viewed the temple that he had built, saw the order of service of his attendants, and the way he went up to the house of God – she was very impressed (1 Kings 10:4‑9). What blessing was attached to this nation! When Jesus spoke years later to the woman at the well, He said, “Salvation is of the Jews” (John 4:22). If you had wanted to know about salvation, you would have heard about it from the Jews. They had tremendous advantages. They, of course, had done a marvellous job in maintaining the record of the Scriptures – the scribes copied the Old Testament scriptures with meticulous accuracy, from generation to generation. They were entrusted with the oracles of God (Rom 3:2), and they looked after them very well. But, alas, when Jesus came, “He came to His own, and His own received Him not” (John 1:11). But I consider the Israel of the Old Testament times, as seen from the Epistle to Hebrews, as the field that was reaped.
I believe that after the days of the apostles, the professing church reverted to things connected with Judaism – the field that had been reaped. Let me give you several examples.
When Jesus was here, he did not speak about the kind of buildings that Christians should meet in, or how ornate they ought to be. He only spoke about His Church, His assembly, that He would build – and He was talking about people. In the Acts the disciples of Jesus met in different places. They met in an upper room (Acts 20:8); they met in a school (Acts 19:9); they met in homes (Acts 2:46); they met in various places. God never told His people who belong to the assembly to build ornate buildings. And yet what happened? As things deteriorated in relation to the teaching of Christianity, people starting constructing impressive buildings such as these beautiful cathedrals that can be seen today. No doubt people very sincerely sought to build them to the glory of God, but, unlike in the time of Solomon, I do not believe their efforts were in the field that was being reaped. These magnificent buildings were man’s innovations, and a reversion to the field that was reaped and that God had left.
Consider too, the priestly order of service. In Old Testament times there was a very clear hierarchy. There was a priestly class who presented offerings to God, supported by a levitical class and a class of common people. In the New Testament, do you have that? No, you do not – you have the priesthood of all believers in the New Testament. As redeemed by the blood of Jesus we have been made priests to Christ’s God and Father (Rev 1:6). That is what marks believers. What happened in the history of things? There was a reversion to what took place under Judaism, and it resulted in the clergy and the laity – pastors and congregations. This re-introduced what God had dispensed with in the New Testament times. I know there are gifts for teaching and preaching, but so far as worship is concerned the New Testament teaches the priesthood of all believers. I was reminded of this very recently. After giving a talk in another country on Acts 2, about the way the early Christians continued in the teaching and fellowship of the apostles, in breaking of bread and prayers (v42), I invited questions. Someone asked me, ‘Do you need to be a pastor or a priest to administer the Lord’s supper?’ And it freshly came home to me that many Christian people consider it necessary to be a pastor or a priest to administer the Lord’s supper. Once you look into the Bible you find nothing is said about that kind of thing. We are requested simply by the Lord Jesus, “This do in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22:19). We read about believers coming together on the first day of the week in Acts 20, and partaking of the Lord’s supper, but we do not know who actually broke the bread. It might have been Paul, but it might not have been him. But, alas, what happened when things deteriorated in Christianity was a reversion to the hierarchy of Judaism.
In Judaism, there was also a material order of worship. You had huge choirs and trumpeters and singers and players in the days of David and Solomon undertaking worship pleasing to God. In the New Testament the Lord stated that acceptable worship should be in spirit and truth. Scripture speaks of “Singing and chanting with your heart to the Lord” (Eph 5:19). You find great simplicity in praise and worship to the Lord in the New Testament.
Then in Israel in Old Testament times there was a series of dates to be observed throughout the whole year. There was the Passover, and Pentecost, the Feast of Weeks, and New Moons at certain times of the year. Nothing is said about an annual church calendar in the New Testament. In fact, Paul says, “Ye observe days and months and times and years” in a reproachful way (Gal 4:10) to the Galatians, because they were tending to revert to Judaism. In Christianity the only day that is important to believers is the Lord’s Day, because He arose from the dead, and on the Lord’s Day believers should come together to remember the Lord Jesus and His death. I believe there are many activities throughout Christendom that have reverted to the field that was reaped, but it is not the field that is being reaped today.
Now we might consider the field that will be reaped. In John 17 Jesus said in His wonderful prayer “I do not demand concerning the world, but concerning those whom Thou hast given Me.” Why did He say it? I think you get the answer in Psalm 2. It says there in relation to the Messiah, “Ask of Me, and I will give Thee nations for an inheritance, and for Thy possession the ends of the earth” (v8). There is a day coming when the Lord Jesus will get the world, all the nations, and fulfil all the Old Testament prophecies in relation to Israel. All will be subdued by Him when He comes to reign. He will put every enemy under His feet, and He will reign from sea to sea, from the river to the ends of the earth (Ps 72:8), and everything will be subdued by Him. Not yet – not yet! What is He doing now? He is concentrating His attention on His Church, on those who believe on Him. He sent His disciples out to preach the gospel and He is concentrating His attention on those who believe.
There are some Christian people who think they should try to put right everything publicly now. I can understand people wanting to do that. As you look abroad in the world – is it not full of injustice? Lots of things are wrong, lots of things are going wrong, both nationally and internationally. If you engage in conversation about Christ with unbelievers, you will soon find people saying ‘I can’t believe in God – why did He allow that disaster to happen in Boston? Why does He let all these buildings tumble down in Dhakar and not do something about it?’ Well, when Jesus intervenes He will intervene in everything. He will intervene and sort everything out – not just one injustice. Some Christian people have adopted what they call ‘Liberation Theology’ where they try to pressurise governments and by demonstrations and revolutions try and achieve a fairer world. There is a day coming when Jesus will intervene Himself, and that constitutes the field that is still to be reaped. I think there is mischief in Christians trying to focus their activities on the field that is still to be reaped, and thus being diverted from the field that is being reaped.
I refer now to the field that is being reaped. I read this Scripture in Thessalonians because it links with Ruth and illustrates my thought on the field that is being reaped. Paul came to Thessalonica, where for three weeks he preached the gospel. He reasoned with people from the Old Testament Scriptures, and a number believed (Acts 17:1‑4). When he writes to those converts, he refers to their work of faith, and labour of love, and enduring constancy of hope. There was something solid already established in the souls of these dear Christians. He writes about what had happened when he had been to their place to preach the gospel and they had turned to God from idols – they had made a clean break with the past, just like Ruth did: she turned to God from idols. ‘Your God,’ she says to Naomi, ‘will be my God, your people will be my people.’ You will not be much good as a Christian if you do not make a clean break. Finish with things that are wrong, and seek to follow the Lord, with the help of the Holy Spirit. They really did make a clean break. They turned to God from idols – what for? “to serve a living and true God.” We are not just delivered from our sins by the great Redeemer to sit and twiddle our thumbs, we are here to serve a living and true God. And that will be in various ways. It will be in priestly service – it will be in praise, and worship, and thanksgiving. It will be in service towards the people of God, like Ruth did, in helping Naomi and getting some food for her. It will be in seeking, like these Thessalonians, to tell others of Jesus – the word of the Lord sounded out from them and spread out to others, telling the good news of the wonderful Saviour Who had come here and died on the cross to put away sin by His sacrifice and open the door to eternal blessing through faith in Him.
And so it speaks here about what had happened to them – they “turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God.” And it speaks about “His Son from the heavens, Whom He raised from among the dead, Jesus, our Deliverer from the coming wrath.” Yes, there is the coming wrath. When Jesus comes to reign the wrath of God will be known in this world. I find people shocked when hearing of Jesus coming as Judge, but it is going to happen. When Jesus came, He came in grace, He came not to “judge the world, but that the world may be saved through Him” (John 3:17). But He is going to come and judge the world, and we should remember that. But what marked these Thessalonians was that they served the living and true God, and they awaited His Son from the heavens. I wonder when He is going to come? He could come at any time. He could come while we are speaking! I have met several Christians recently who told me that there is virtually nothing said about the Lord’s second coming in services they attend. That is a tragedy, because Christians, through Paul’s gospel, were awaiting God’s Son from the heavens. That is the hope of the Church, the hope of the believer – that we are going to see Jesus face to face. We will see Him and be like Him and be with Him for ever. These Thessalonian believers had their eyes on the field that was being reaped.
In Acts 15, a very important point was reached in the history of Christianity. The gospel message was going out from Jewish Christians to non-Jews, but there were those that were still harking back to the field that had been reaped saying, “If you shall not have been circumcised according to the custom of Moses, ye cannot be saved.” Under the law of Moses men could not have had a full part in the Jewish order of things if they were not circumcised – they were not allowed to take the Passover. They were allowed to be cared for by the Israelites, but they could not have kept the Passover unless they were circumcised. But we are in the time of Christianity. We are in the time of the field that is being reaped. And what God is doing today is calling out from the nations a people for His name. Here we have the simplest concept of the Church (Greek Ecclesia, ‘called out’) – it is a called-out people from the nations. And when we get to heaven, we will find there are people there from every tribe and tongue and nation and language. There is a tremendous diversity of languages and ethnic groups throughout the world, but what God is doing today is calling out from the nations a people for His name. God’s thought was that there might be a people who are distinct, because they have a link with Christ, who are sealed with the Holy Spirit, and who are enjoying the precious things of God. We were saying in the reading that it is a privilege to be part of a joint body, sharing a joint inheritance, and God’s promises in Christ Jesus, enjoying the precious things of God that centre in Jesus. There is what God will do in the future – Christ will put everything right. Everything will be put under His feet; the dreadful verdict of Calvary will be publicly reversed. He will reign, He will have the nations for an inheritance, Israel will be in its divinely appointed place. But meantime, through people that individually come to Christ, God is securing a people for His name. Today there is no favoured nation – neither an English-speaking nation or Jewish nation or any other nation – God is calling out from all nations a people for His name so that He might be expressed, so that He might be glorified, in the conduct and words and the spirits of those who belong to Jesus.
So, Jesus said in His prayer of John 17, “I do not demand concerning the world.” He is going to get the world one day, but meantime He is concentrating His attention on those who belong to Christ, people who belong to Him. He said, “I sanctify Myself for them” – set Myself apart for them – “that they also may be sanctified by truth.” There is a lovely Scripture in Deuteronomy speaking about a man when he takes a wife. During the first year of married life he was not to go out with the army, or have any other business imposed upon him, but he was to be free for his wife for a whole year, to gladden the wife that he had taken (Deut 24:5). I do not know how you work that out today, in practical terms, when you get married! But I know what is happening in the anti-type, that the Lord Jesus Christ is concentrating His attention on His Church.
If you are a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, Jesus is intensely interested in you. He wants to help you, and form you, and build you up, and guide you, and help you to be more holy in your life, and to be more for His praise and for His glory. One day He will come, and He is going to present to Himself a Church that is glorious, without spot or wrinkle or any of such things (Eph 5:27). And meantime, He is sanctifying His people by the washing of water by the word. It is a gentle, patient, continuous service that Jesus carries on. And that is the way He is doing it – He is not doing it by some dictatorial way, He is doing it by the truth. It conveys to me a gentle, continual process – the washing of water by the word.
And as well as that, He says, regarding His eleven apostles, “As Thou hast sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.” I believe we, too, not only have a duty to take in the word of God and seek to be sanctified by it, to seek to be more here for the pleasure of God, but we also have a duty, a responsibility, to go into the world. We have a responsibility to live righteously while in the world, to pray for authorities, to obey authorities, not to be troublemakers but to be peacemakers. We also have a responsibility, within our measure of faith, to be ambassadors for Christ to the world.
May each one of us be encouraged personally to follow the Lord and get the gain of His wonderful service in grace towards us. He is particularly interested in everyone who has an interest in divine things, and He would encourage you, and help you, despite any obstacles that you might find in your own personal life. And let us concentrate on what the Lord is occupied with at the present time. Do not let us get diverted, whether by things like money-making, or other earthly things that can so easily divert us. I am amazed when I see how easily Christians, even older Christians, get drawn away into all kinds of various and strange doctrines, and strange practices that are not in accord with the word. Jesus sanctifies His people by the word, and His word is truth. May we be helped to be sanctified further; may we be helped to be here for the pleasure of God; may we be helped to await the return of our wonderful Lord and Saviour Who died at the cross for us and who is soon coming for us to take us home to be with Him. Then when He comes to reign, when He comes to claim His inheritance, His Church will share His inheritance with Him.
I have set out my thoughts very imperfectly, but may the Lord help us to recognise that there are things He has finished with; there are other things that are going to take place in the future. May we have our eyes on the field that is being reaped at the present time. May the Lord bless us all, for His name’s sake!
27 April 2013