The Bible tells the inspiring story of Naomi and Ruth in the Book of Ruth.
Naomi and Elimelek leave Bethlehem and move to Moab to escape a severe famine. While they are in Moab, Elimelek dies, leaving Naomi a widow, and her two sons, Mahlon and Kilion, as orphans. The sons marry Moabite women, Orpah and Ruth. When they have lived in Moab about ten years, Mahlon and Kilion also die, leaving all three women as widows.
The famine has ended, and Naomi decides to return to Israel. On the road from Moab to Bethlehem, Naomi encourages her two daughters-in-law to return to their own families in Moab and try to make a life for themselves there. After much weeping, Orpah sets out to return home, but Ruth clings to Naomi.
“Look,” said Naomi, “your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her.” But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.” When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her.
(Ruth 1:15-18 NIV)
As a foreigner and a widow, Ruth would face the prospect of a very bleak life in Israel. Her only support would be Naomi. A widow's life was hard, because women were not trained in an occupation. Poverty would likely be her life. But Ruth has grown to love Naomi. Instead of returning to her birth family, Ruth is determined to follow Naomi to Israel and live under the protection of Naomi's God, Yahweh.
Ruth is a picture of loyalty. Even her loyalty to her birth family is not greater than her loyalty to Naomi and to Naomi's God. She leaves Moab for Israel. She leaves one culture for another. And she does it because she has grown to love her mother-in-law, Naomi, so deeply.
I am challenged at the deepest levels by Ruth's commitment to Naomi and to the Living God. I am compelled to consider my deepest loyalties. The person or thing that captures my commitment - my loyalty - is the God of my life. And if anyone or anything commands my highest loyalty besides Jesus Christ, that person or thing becomes an idol to me.
People today are loyal to many things. To their job. To a political party. To any one of a number of religions. To their spouse and family. To money or success or fame or power. Jesus calls us to make our deepest loyalty to be our loyalty to Him.
We deal with the tension of these competing loyalties all the time. The deadline for that major project at work falls on the same day as our child's soccer game or dance recital. Which will get our loyalty if we can't figure a way to make both happen?
Loyalty to Christ does not exclude other loyalties. Often loyalty to Christ strengthens other loyalties. Love for Jesus and love for my wife and children are not mutually exclusive. It rarely comes down to one or the other. The same God who says, "have no other gods before me" also commands, "honor your father and mother." Maintaining loyalty in my marriage is one form of remaining loyal to my God.
Still, we have these Naomi and Ruth moments in life when we must choose to abandon one way of life to embrace another. Jesus refuses to be loyalty number four below making money, patriotism and the Cubs! He refuses any position below King of kings and Lord of lords.
And the good news is that loyalty to Christ reorders our other loyalties and makes the rest of life come alive with the grace and love and joy it was all meant to have. I'm a better father because I put Jesus above my children, and not the other way around. I'm a better employee because Jesus is my real boss. I'm an engaged citizen of my country because my deeper citizenship is the Kingdom of God.
I say to Jesus what Ruth said to Naomi.
"Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me."
I'm all-in, Jesus. Whatever it means. Whatever it costs. You've got all of me. So be it.