Industrial Strength Friendship
But Ruth replied, “Don’t ask me to leave you and turn back. Wherever you go, I will go;
wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will
be my God. Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried.
May the Lord punish me severely if I allow anything
but death to separate us!”
Ruth 1:16-17 (NLT)
Go Deep: A popular genre of literature when I was in high school and college was the short story. I’m not too sure if it is used much in this day when 500 page novels dominate the market. But one of my favorite short stories was written by Stephen King…yes, he of horror story fame. But King wrote a non-horror short story called, The Body. It was later made into a movie with a new title, Stand By Me—a memorable story about a group of four or five twelve-year old boys, and their outstanding friendship. The story revolved around their shared experiences, loyalty to one another, mutual protection from outside threats and the growth of their friendship through adversity.
That’s the book of Ruth! It is one of the greatest short stories in the history of literature, and perhaps the greatest story ever about what I would call, industrial-strength friendship. When Benjamin Franklin was U. S. Ambassador to France, he occasionally attended the Infidels Club—a group that spent most of its time searching for and reading literary masterpieces. On one occasion Franklin read the book of Ruth to the club, but changed the names in it so it would not be recognized as a book of the Bible. When he finished, their praise was unanimous. They said it was one of the most beautiful short stories they’d ever heard, and demanded that he tell where he had run across such a remarkable literary masterpiece. It was his great delight to tell them that it was from the Bible, which they regarded with scorn and derision, and in which they felt there was nothing good.
The book of Ruth is certainly a literary masterpiece. It is a cameo story of love, devotion and redemption set in the bleak context of the days of the Judges. Relationally, this story shows how its three main characters, Ruth, Naomi and Boaz, all from different background, social levels and ages blend their lives together to give us an relational example that is sorely needed today in an age that worships individualism and is characterized by self-centeredness, intolerance and exclusivity. From Ruth’s story I would say there are three essential strengths of a prevailing friendship:
First, it is a relationship where the greatest common denominator is faith in God. Notice the phrase in those verses: “Your God will be my God.” Faith concerns ultimate and eternal matters, and any friendship will be strongest when it has this ultimate concern at the core of its existence.
Second, it is a relationship built on sacrifice: Notice the words, “Your people will be my people.” In other words, I’ll give up what I want to take on your concerns. I’ll put your interests ahead of my own. What can I do to make you better? I’ll give up in order to give to you. Not “I” but “you” makes for a far better “we”.
And third, it is a relationship that exhibits unbreakable mutual commitment. Did you catch the words, “Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, in anything but death separates us.” What a powerful and covenantal bond. When a relationship is based on a non-negotiable like that, it will not be a fair weather friendship.
Faith, sacrifice and mutual commitment. May the Lord give us friends, and make us a friend like that!
Do you need a friend like that? Then ask God for one. I hear he answers prayers, so give it a shot!
Do you already have a friend like that? Maybe you need to tell God how grateful you are for them… and then specifically express how grateful you are to that friend. Benjamin Franklin said “we should be slow in choosing a friend, even slower in changing.”
But perhaps the most important question is: Do you need to be a friend like that? Someone once asked this profound question: “If you were another person, would you like to be a friend of yours?” Which of the three qualities we’ve looked at in Ruth’s story do you need to cultivate? What do you need to do to become a better friend?
According to the little magazine, Bits and Pieces, a British publication once offered a prize for the best definition of a friend. Among the thousands of answers received were the following: “One who multiplies joys, divides grief, and whose honesty is inviolable.” “One who understands our silence. A volume of sympathy bound in cloth.” “A watch that beats true for all time and never runs down.”
But the winning definition simply read: “A friend is the one who comes in when the whole world has gone out.” I like that, don’t you? That’s what I want to be.
Just Saying… Speaking of friendships, George Eliot expressed it this way: “Oh, the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person, having neither to weigh thoughts, nor measure words, but to pour them all out just as they are, chaff and grain together knowing that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and then, with the breath of kindness blow the rest away.”