"I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, THAT I MAY WIN CHRIST" (Philippians 3:8, KJV CAPS OURS).
Have you won the Lord's heart? The apostle Paul stated the purpose of renouncing his past life as this: "That I may win Christ." He was completely captivated by Christ, having eyes only for the Lord.
Why would Paul feel the need to "win" Christ? Christ already had revealed Himself not just to the apostle, but in him. Even so, Paul set out to win Christ's heart and affection.
You see, Paul's entire being — his ministry, his life, his very purpose for living — was focused only on pleasing his Master and Lord. All else was rubbish to him! I believe one of the reasons Paul never married was to give himself more time to care "for the things that belong to the Lord, how (I) may please the Lord" (1 Corinthians 7:32). And he urged others in the same direction, "that ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing" (Colossians 1:10).
Is this scriptural — this "winning the heart of Jesus"? Are we not all the object of God's love, regardless? Indeed, His benevolent love extends to all mankind. But there is another kind of love — an affectionate love such as occurs between a husband and wife — and only a few ever experience it.
This love is expressed in the Song of Solomon, with Solomon portrayed as a type of Christ. In this passage, the Lord speaks of His bride: "Thou hast ravished my heart...my spouse; thou hast ravished my heart with one of thine eyes, with one chain of thy neck. How fair is thy love...my spouse! How much better is thy love than wine!" (Song of Solomon 4:9-10). Later, He says, "Turn away thine eyes from me, for they have overcome me" (6:5). His bride responds, "I am my beloved's, and his desire is toward me" (7:10).
I believe the bride of Christ will consist of a holy people who live so pleasingly to their Lord, so obediently, so separated from all others, that His heart will be ravished. As the word is used in this passage, "ravish" means to "unheart" or "steal my heart." Christ's followers ravish His heart with one eye (Song of Solomon 4:9). That one eye is the singleness of a mind focused on Christ alone!
The Example of Ruth
The Book of Ruth is a wonderful story of a converted heathen maiden who won the heart of her earthly lord. I believe it is a prophetic story — a message that speaks powerfully to us today. For we win Christ in the same way that Ruth won Boaz!
When this message stirred in my heart, I searched throughout my library, including all the commentaries — but could not find a single writer who saw the spiritual and prophetic meaning of the Book of Ruth. Only one writer even suggested that, since Ruth was a Moabite, God may be telling us something about the Gentiles being grafted into the vine.
But this story is more than just historic! Paul writes: "Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come" (1 Corinthians 10:11). Paul says that even the Old Testament's mention of muzzling oxen was written "for our sakes, no doubt" (1 Corinthians 9:10).
The story of Ruth begins with these words: "There was a famine in the land" (Ruth 1:1). Thus the Israelite Elimelech, his wife Naomi and their two sons, Mahlon and Chilion, flee Judah for Moab. Elimelech dies there, and Naomi's two sons marry heathen wives, Orpah and Ruth. They remain in Moab for another ten years.
But Moab is a place of idolatry — the congregation of the wicked, the seat of the scornful. Moab himself, after whom the region was named, was born of an incestuous relationship between Lot and one of his daughters. In fact, the name "Moab" stands for fornication. It was he who seduced Israel at Shittim in the wilderness, after which 24,000 died from a plague. God forbade the Israelites to marry Moabite women, "for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods" (1 Kings 11:2).
In the spirit realm, this very same thing happens when a famine of God's Word occurs: God's people turn toward the world, yield to the seduction of idolatry and mix with the ungodly. This kind of famine drives believers elsewhere to find something to satisfy their inner needs.
Christians today grow cold and backslide because they are not receiving true spiritual food. They go to church, but the cupboard is bare. The preaching they hear is shallow — no meat, no living water — just entertainment. Starvation abounds right in God's house!
This is why our churches are being overrun with adultery, divorce, rock and roll, unbiblical psychology, a New Age gospel — with our young people using drugs and getting pregnant. The famine in the church has driven them to Moab, the place of idolatry. And Moab is a place where young men die! Naomi's sons died in Moab!
Yet back in Judah, "The Lord had visited his people in giving them bread" (Ruth 1:6). The word came to Naomi that the famine in Judah was over — that once again God had visited His people with plenty of bread and blessings. Memories of past blessings flooded Naomi's soul, and she began to yearn for the holy place. She was sick of Moab and its idolatry and death. So "she arose with her daughters in law, that she might return...wherefore she went forth out of the place where she was...and they went on the way to return" (Ruth 1:6-7).
Orpah and Ruth said good-bye to parents, friends, and family. They told their lifelong loved ones they would be gone for good, that they were going to Judah — a place where God was "visiting His people!"
Today, Once Again, the Lord Is Visiting His People!
Once again a famine has ended! Here at Times Square Church and in other churches around the world, the pure Word of God is going forth. When the Lord visits His people, He "gives them bread."
During this last famine of the Word, while others fled to today's Moab — worldliness, lethargy, coldness, pleasure and success — a holy remnant persevered. They endured the self-exaltation of TV evangelists, the sordid sensuality that swept into God's house, the foolishness in the pulpit and the mockery of backslidden Christians.
They prayed, fasted, and interceded. And, now, the Lord has heard their cry and is visiting His people. Why is Times Square Church packed with hungry seekers? Because word has gotten out that God is here! People are hearing that a Word from God is flowing. The same is true in other places, as the news spreads that a visitation of God is taking place. The famine is over! God has sent bread from heaven — and if you haven't yet tasted it, then get out of Moab and go back where God is visiting His people!
This is what Naomi and her two daughters did. Their departure for the border of Judah represented a move toward the Lord. They were being drawn by the Spirit of God — attracted by the news of His visitation.
And today, in the same way, I see in the Spirit untold thousands heading home, back to the fullness of Christ — away from the hype, the emptiness of the gospel of ease and prosperity, the double standards and half-heartedness.
Crossing the Border
Yet sadly, half of those who set out to come back to God will stop at the border. They won't break loose; they won't pay the price. I see them in this church by the hundreds. They start out with great fervor and they claim to be hungry — but they get hung up on the border between Moab and Judah!
As we see in Scripture, Orpah and Ruth reach the border and face a decision. Will they follow the move of God's grace (Naomi means "grace") over into the fullness of Christ? Their names give you a clue: Orpah means "stiffneckedness." Ruth means "friend, companion."
A confrontation takes place at the border. Naomi decides to test Orpah's and Ruth's commitment and resolve. For them, the decision to go will require more than emotion, more than words. They have to choose either to go back or to go on — with no promise of reward and a clear vision of the high cost ahead.
Rather than preaching prosperity, ease, and success, Naomi presents to them a picture of suffering and poverty — one that offers nothing of earthly goods, but instead only a walk of faith. In fact, she encourages them to return to their own mothers' houses: "Naomi said unto her two daughters in law, Go, return each to her mother's house: the Lord deal kindly with you.... The Lord grant you that ye may find rest...in the house of her husband" (Ruth 1:8-9).
This indeed is the gospel of God's grace: suffering, self-denial — the cross. It is the gospel Christ gave to Saul: "For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name's sake" (Acts 9:16). Paul preached, "For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake: (Philippians 1:29).
Both Orpah and Ruth remain steadfast at this point: "They lifted up their voice, and wept. And they said unto her, Surely we will return with thee unto thy people" (Ruth 1:9-10). You already know from Orpah's name that, in spite of her river of tears, in spite of all her strong words about going on, she will drop out and go back to her idolatry. Outwardly, however, she is broken and tender, and seems to be part of this move back to God. But Orpah does not know how powerfully her heart is held in the clutches of her old circle of loved ones; she doesn't know that an idol remains in her soul. She weeps now because she is torn between two loves. She sincerely wants to go on, she loves the fellowship of these two — but she has not cut the tie to Moab! Beloved, tears are not enough. Naomi knows this and puts the two women to a final test: "Naomi said, Turn again, my daughters: why will ye go with me? Are there yet any more sons in my womb, that they may be your husbands? Turn again, my daughters, go your way" (Ruth 1:11-12).
I believe Naomi could see into Orpah's heart, into her struggle. She probably thought to herself, "Poor child! She thinks she wants the Lord's fullness, but she is still charmed by this world. She would be miserable if she went on, because she'd always be looking back!"
So Naomi says, "Go your way!" Orpah must have reached a decision in her heart after asking herself, "Is rejection, poverty, and separation from all I've known the only option? No! I'll go back to Moab and serve God — my way! I'll still love these precious saints, but I've got to get on with my life."
The Bible says, "They lifted up their voice, and wept again: and Orpah kissed her mother in law" (Ruth 1:14). An original manuscript adds to the sentence, "and went back."
Some of you reading this now are about to kiss your brethren good-bye. Something in your heart is pulling you — a circle of special friends or old loves. But as Naomi said of Orpah, "Thy sister in law is gone back unto her people, and unto her gods" (Ruth 1:15), likewise, an idol has your heart — something from your past, of which you can't let go!
You Must Go On — Or Go Back!
You have no middle ground, however. You can move in only one of two directions: either toward Moab or toward Judah. A line has been drawn, and you have a border to cross. From this point on in Scripture, we never hear of Orpah again. She fades away into the shadows of idolatry. She has nothing more to do with God's work or eternal values. Now God's great concern is with Ruth.
"But Ruth clave unto her [Naomi]" (Ruth 1:14). Naomi tries one last time to discourage Ruth, saying in verse 15, "Return thou after thy sister in law." In other words, "Quick, Ruth! If you hurry you can catch up with Orpah. She's on her way back — why not go with her?" But Ruth won't let go. The word used here suggests a maiden on her knees with her arms around her master's waist — as if she will never let go. Ruth wants God!
She puts herself under the wings of Jehovah. She wants to take part in the visitation of the Lord, and only death can stop her. "And Ruth said, Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me. When she saw that she was steadfastly minded to go with her, then she left speaking unto her" (Ruth 1:16-18).
As soon as Ruth crosses over the border, she is on the road to winning Christ. There is no signpost to tell her, but we know now where the road leads: straight to the heart of Jesus! Ruth and Naomi come to the place of blessing — poor, stripped and not knowing where their next meal will come from — but they arrive during the beginning of the harvest season.
Ruth is penniless, with no future in sight; yet she is a virtuous woman, and has committed everything to the Lord. She says, "Let me now go to the field, and glean" (Ruth 2:2). Only the very poor do such work. The Law demanded the owners not harvest the four corners of their fields and not glean the remains, so that the poor could have them. "And when ye reap the harvest of your land, thou shall not wholly reap the corners of thy field, neither shalt thou gather the gleanings of thy harvest...thou shall leave them for the poor" (Leviticus 19:9-10).
It looks as if Ruth has made a poor bargain: Her devotion takes her all the way to the place of visitation — and now she sweats over a minimum-wage job! She is even below the poverty line. Take a good look at her, because this is how you may end up if you break loose and go all the way!
This was the cross of the apostle Paul until he died: "For we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men. We are fools for Christ's sake...we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwelling place; and labor, working with our own hands: being reviled...persecuted...being defamed...we are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring [we get the brush-off — we are considered the scum of the earth]" (1 Corinthians 4:9-13).
Then this beloved apostle has the audacity to say, "Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me" (1 Corinthians 4:16)!
Don't feel sorry for Ruth — for she is just about to win Christ! "She went...and gleaned in the field after the reapers: and her hap was to light on a part of the field belonging unto Boaz, who was of the kindred of Elimelech. And, behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem, and said unto the reapers...Whose damsel is this?" (Ruth 2:3-5).
Don't you think the writer of this story must have winked when he wrote that Ruth's "hap" was to end up in the field of Boaz? The New American Standard version says, "She happened." "Hap" means "by accident" or "by good fortune." Is there any Christian who believes Ruth "accidentally" ended up gleaning in the field of Boaz, her kinsman-redeemer? This was, rather, the clear leading of the Holy spirit — because from the moment Ruth crossed the border and trusted her life to be protected under God's wing, she was supernaturally led.
I picture Ruth passing many fields, some not quite as crowded, singing, "Thank you, Lord, for saving my soul; thank you, Lord, for making me whole...for giving to me Thy great salvation, so rich, so free...." Then suddenly, an urge within compels her to turn right and start gleaning on the north end of that particular field!
About three hours later, Boaz gets inspired to check on the harvesting. He looks over the field and sees numerous young men cutting sheaves and poor maidens behind them gleaning. But he stops — because his eyes behold Ruth!
"Whose damsel is this?" he asks. He is smitten on the spot, and his heart leaps for joy. Ruth is smiling, virtuous, so different from the others. She gleans for only half a day before she catches the eye of the master! That great man of wealth walks over to her and says, "Go not to glean in another field, neither go from hence, but abide here...by my maidens" (Ruth 2:8).
Why does he say this? Because he is ravished by her. She has stolen his heart, and he has to have her near him. "Have I not charged the young men that they shall not touch thee? and when thou art athirst, go unto the vessels, and drink" (Ruth 2:9). Then he tells his harvesters, "Let fall also some of the handfuls of purpose for her, and leave them, that she may glean them" (Ruth 2:16).
What attracts Boaz to Ruth? She asks him that question herself: "Why have I found grace in thine eyes, that thou shouldest take knowledge of me, seeing I am a stranger? And Boaz answered and said unto her, It hath fully been shewed me, all that thou hast done unto thy mother in law...and how thou hast left thy father and thy mother, and the land of thy nativity" (Ruth 2:10-11).
Boaz is drawn to her because she has come to trust the covering wings of God!
When We Set Ourselves to Be Christ's Alone, We Become the Apple of His Eye!
Are you beginning to get the picture? Ruth's Boaz is our Christ — our Redeemer-Kinsman. The moment you walk away from all loves other than Christ — letting go of all former idols, old friends, and old ways — is when the eyes of Christ fall upon you. That's when you win Christ! You lose the world and its fleeting glory and passing pleasures — but you win His eternal love and glory!
When you win His heart, you win His favor. You never again will suffer hunger or thirst in your inner man! He will lead you in such incredible, miraculous ways. Like Ruth, who ran home to tell Naomi all the exciting things happening to her, you will call the family of God and share miracle after miracle of how God is supplying all your needs. You'll end up saying, "Who am I to be so blessed?"
In 1958, God called me to leave my country church, forsake all and step out in blind faith by coming to New York City to preach to street gangs and drug addicts. I had no promises, no visions of greatness, no money in my pocket. And now I can testify — it has been 30 years of miracles, 30 years of supernatural supply. His banner over me has been love! I want only to win Christ!
Here's the end of our story: Ruth marries Boaz, this "mighty man of wealth." "When Boaz had eaten and drunk...he went to lie down...and she came softly, and uncovered his feet, and laid her down...and he said, who art thou? And she answered, I am Ruth thine handmaid: spread therefore thy skirt over thine handmaid; for thou art a near kinsman. And he said, Blessed be thou of the Lord, my daughter: for thou has shewed more kindness...inasmuch as thou followedst not young men, whether poor or rich. And now, my daughter, fear not; I will do to thee all that thou requirest: for all the city of my people doth know that thou art a virtuous woman" (Ruth 3:7-11).
It was a custom in the Orient for servants to sleep at their masters' feet in perpendicular fashion, in order to warm them. As Boaz slept, Ruth lay down in this manner, fully clothed, and probably prayed.
In these situations, it was the duty of a near relative, as "next of kin," to redeem his servant's inheritance and to remove all encumbrances. The kinsman would do so by taking a cloth or covering and putting it over the servant's shoulders, signifying, "I will be your covering."
Boaz did this for Ruth, and these words were the clincher for her: "Inasmuch as thou followedst not young men, whether poor or rich." Think of what Boaz said: "I will do for you all that you have desired." Every desire of her heart would be granted because she was faithful — because she did not have roving eyes! She had not looked for wealth, success or glamour. She wanted only Boaz! He was saying to her, "I can trust you. Your love is true. You won't leave me for others, no matter how attractive they are. You will be mine only, and I will be yours only!"
So at the gate of Bethlehem, before ten witnesses, Boaz redeems Ruth's inheritance. He satisfies all claims to her and her possessions. "Boaz said unto the elders, and unto all the people, Ye are witnesses this day, that I have bought all that was...of the hand of Naomi. Moreover Ruth...have I purchased to be my wife, to raise up the name of the dead upon his inheritance, that the name of the dead be not cut off" (Ruth 4:9-10).
This is the work of the Cross! Jesus has cleared all claims of the devil on us or our inheritance. We are now free to be espoused to Christ.
"So Boaz took Ruth, and she was his wife: and when he went in unto her, the Lord gave her conception, and she bare a son" (Ruth 4:13). His name was Obed, the great-grandfather of David, the seed of Christ. Obed...Jesse...David...Jesus!
Did Ruth win Christ? Why, Christ became her very life!
We win Christ today by the choices we make that are pleasing to him — decisions that prove our faithfulness to cling only to Him. So in every choice, ask yourself, "Will this please Him? Will it make Him say to the angels, 'See, my love has left all else for Me'?"
Win Christ by abandoning yourself completely into His care — and resting peacefully under His wings!