One of the stories I loved when I was young was the tiny book of Ruth. As a child, Ruth was an intriguing character because she was so devoted to her mother in law. Dedication to family was understandable to a kid, but as I got older I began to see that Ruth's commitment was deeper than that; it was also a commitment to what she saw as being Right in the eyes of God and her conscience. This indicates a very important quality: honor.
The sermon on Sunday was about honor. The main focus was actually on Boaz, with the title "Becoming Men of Honor in Self-Indulgent Cultures", but our pastor applied the same principles to Ruth also. Honor is one of the qualities that God wants to call forth in all people. A person's honor, which is their adherence to what is right, their high respect for virtue, and their reputation, is never perfect. Our honor is already disfigured, due to the brokenness in our hearts and inability to follow absolutely the laws of God, but honor is still present deep inside us because we are made in the image of God.
A man or woman of honor is the opposite of a self-indulgent person. Boaz is a pre-figure of Christ who was the ultimate example of self-sacrifice. The concept of honor is commonly thought of as a manly characteristic partially because of the ancient development of military honor, with its special distinctions for valiant behavior. However, women also have honor that is equally favorable. The Hebrew word used to describe the noble integrity of Boaz in Ruth 2:1 is the same word used for Ruth in 3:11 (although the way integrity is shown in their lives is different, which is evident in the story).
Honorable men (and women) love God. They place God at the center of their hearts. There is no distinction between the sacred and the secular. They behave the same way on Sunday morning in church as they do with their family or friends on Wednesday night at home. Why should we love God? Because God is the ultimate good. Honorable people also treat those they work with respectfully. Boaz makes it a point to treat his workers, servants, and even strangers with grace and care. He goes over and beyond the sense of duty to treat people fairly in all his business transactions.
Honorable men also protect and care for women. The customs of Israel were quite different for male/female interactions than they are for our present culture, but the quality of consideration for women should still stand, I believe. Boaz shows kindness to Ruth in many ways as the story progresses. Ruth holds true to what she knows is virtuous in her dealings with Boaz. Together, they form a relationship that is focused on honoring each other.
Self-indulgence characterized this time period in Israel. The book of Judges describes it as everyone doing "what was right in their own eyes". Sound like what is happening today? Yep. It is encouraging to read of two people who refused to compromise on their honor despite the failings of society around them. Again, there is honor unique to women and to men, because I do believe that God created them differently... not lesser or greater than each other, but different and mutually beneficial to one another in the roles they were designed to fulfill.
The sermon ended with this statement: Your honor is what you choose to do willingly for others, often at personal cost, partially because God asks you to do it, but also because by doing it you find your place in the world.
Some people want to have power. Some want to have attention. Or money, another form of power. Some may want revenge. Others may simply be lazy or inert in their life progress. But I would say that to desire honor is the one of the greatest aspirations known to mankind.
Where do you find honor?