Have you ever noticed that when you read through the Bible, you don't find many examples of positive relationships between men and women? That's not because our Lord didn't intend it to be that way. Rather, it's a clear testimony to the pervasive effect of sin on human relationships. Probably the most telling evidence of sin's destructive effect on Adam and Eve's relationship is its continued power to alienate men and women. But there is hope.

There is one Old Testament book that contains a profound example of a healthy, positive relationship between a man and two women. It is the book of Ruth. This fascinating account opens with a Jewish husband and wife, Elimelech and Naomi, trying to cope with famine in Israel. They choose to escape these conditions by relocating in the pagan land of Moab. There they rear their two sons, Mahlon and Chilion, who inter-marry with Moabite women (a practice violating God's law). Then Elimelech and his two sons die, leaving Naomi destitute with two daughters-in-law. She determines to return to her homeland, where conditions have improved, and she urges Orpah and Ruth to remain in Moab.

In a tearful departure Orpah decides to remain in Moab, but with a determined conviction Ruth forsakes her homeland and travels to Israel with her mother-in-law. They arrive in the village of Bethlehem destitute of family or income. Ruth decides to go into the fields that are being harvested and gather the grain that the harvesters have overlooked.

In a fateful event she enters the field of a prosperous land-owner, Boaz. In these remarkable circumstances these two individuals--a poor but godly woman and a wealthy but godly man--are able to look beyond significant outward differences. Instead they see into each other's heart and discover there godly qualities of a humble and loving person. The relationship that emerges changes their lives forever.

I have read and reread that account countless times and continue to be intrigued by what it teaches. Without question it is a powerful testimony of what the love of our Lord can do in the lives of a man and a woman.

It is our conviction that the Lord allowed this small book to be recorded as a witness to us all, pointing us to what he desires in our relationships. This book you hold in your hands explores the dynamics of this lovely, godly relationship between Ruth and Boaz. We believe that Ruth and Boaz are a biblical model of transformation applied to gender relationships. Through them our Lord gives us a picture-window view of his vision for men and women.

A word of caution. Many people can't resist the urge to frame Ruth and Boaz's relationship in a modern context--or should we say paradigm --where relationships like this are based on romantic attraction. They credit this remarkable relationship to an emotional infatuation. They want to see romantic sparks fly between the two. The text does not support this teaching. We're merely trying to read something in that we want to be there. A careful study of the text reveals that their remarkable relationship was rooted in solid spiritual convictions. The fact that the account ends in marriage is a testimony to their character, not their hormones.

In introducing this study we believe it is necessary to suggest some overarching principles. They help us begin to see our Lord's view for relationships.

The key to positive, healthy relationships between Christian men and women is godly character. Biblical character qualities are the basis for all relationships but are of strategic importance between men and women. To begin with, consider the fruit of the Spirit identified in Galatians 5:22-23: "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law."

The fruit of the Spirit is not something that can be imposed on an individual. We cannot establish laws to make people loving, joyful, kind or gentle. These qualities come from the inside out. Though we are tempted to pressure people to conform to a standard of conduct, our Lord's plan is to transform the inner person so the result is twenty times more powerful--it's life changing. Colossians 3:12-17 also describes this inner process of transformation through our relationship with Christ that results in a transformation of all of our relationships.

Men and women in Christ share the gifts of the Spirit without regard to gender (1 Corinthians 12:1-27). Men and women need each other to become mature, healthy individuals in Christ. And we will never become a mature, healthy family of God apart from freely giving and receiving what our Lord has placed in each of us. We need each other as men and women, expressing some unique aspect of our Lord's life. We cannot afford to be divided or prejudiced toward each other. Otherwise everyone loses.

Notice that 1 Corinthians 12 describes positive differences that attract us to each other. We say, "I admire what our Lord has invested of himself in you that is lacking in me. It invigorates me and stimulates growth in my life." His way is different from our human tendency. We focus on what we perceive as negative differences and allow them to alienate us from each other. He draws us to positive differences that he has purposely planted within us, so we learn to esteem one another and admit that we need each other.

Men are touched by specific character qualities in women; women are impacted by specific character qualities in men. Our Lord has no double standard for men and women. All inner qualities are to be pursued by both men and women. These qualities are to be lived out among Christians without regard to gender, race, culture, position or age. Our Lord really means it when he calls us to the fellowship of all believers--not the fellowship of men and the fellowship of women. To deny our unity and sense of corporateness (that transcends gender) violates one of the most important aspects of what it means to be a child of God.

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