The Book of Ruth is best known for the love story between Ruth and Boaz. The Book of Ruth, however, is also a love story between Ruth and Naomi – one that awesomely reflects the love story between us and Christ Jesus.

Naomi’s husband and sons have died, leaving her with her two Moabite daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth. Naomi is preparing to return to Israel and Orpah and Ruth insist on going with her. Naomi, however, is equally insistent that they not go, but remain in Moab so that they can find other husbands. At first, both Orpah and Ruth protest. In response, Naomi ups the ante:

[M]y daughters: why will ye go with me? are there yet any more sons in my womb, that they may be your husbands? [I]f I should have an husband also to night, and should also bear sons; Would ye tarry for them till they were grown? would ye stay for them from having husbands?” (Ruth 1:11-13)

Naomi’s sobering warning hits its target in Orpah. Orpah is still a young woman who can bear children. Orpah loves her mother-in-law, but her potential future as a wife and a mother takes precedence. With her truest desires revealed, Orpah turns back. Ruth, however, stands her ground and makes one of the most moving declarations recorded in the Scriptures:

Intreat 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.” (Ruth 1:16-17)

The next scripture reads “When [Naomi] saw that [Ruth] was stedfastly minded to go with her, then she left speaking unto her. So they two went until they came to Bethlehem.” Ruth 1:18-19.

Naomi did not manipulate Ruth into going with her, nor did Naomi let Ruth follow her back to Israel in ignorance. Naomi took great pains to make it plain to Ruth what Ruth would have to sacrifice if she went with her. So strong was Ruth’s love for and commitment to Naomi that Ruth chose to follow Naomi despite the price.

As Naomi dealt with Ruth, so Jesus deals with us. Contrary to Naomi, Jesus asks us to follow Him. But He does not ask us to follow Him blind. Instead, Jesus invites us to follow Him with our eyes wide open:

Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves . . .” (Matt 10:16)

If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.” (Matt. 16:24-25)

So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:11)

Just as Naomi wanted Ruth to understand what she was about to sacrifice, Jesus wants His disciples to understand fully what it will cost us to follow Him. Just as Naomi articulated Orpah’s truest desires, and gave Orpah the opportunity to turn back, so Jesus has a way of unearthing the deepest desires of our heart before asking us to deny them for Him. In the end, Ruth’s sacrificial love for Naomi earned her a place in the lineage of Jesus. Likewise, our sacrificial love for Jesus earns us a place in the kingdom of God.

The tenth and final trait of a good wife and a good husband: if they are not, they are becoming.

It would be foolish for me or anyone else to advise you to walk away from someone who does not fully display all of the aforementioned traits. “All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Rom 3:23) Said more succinctly, none of us are perfect. None of us have become everything that God has called us to be. That said, let us recognize that there is a difference between someone who “is not” and someone who is “becoming.”

A person who “is not” is someone who has decided either that they don’t need to change or that they cannot change. Thus they do not make any effort to become more Christ-like and, in doing so, acquire those traits that make for a good wife or a good husband. A person who is “becoming,” however, is someone who owns up to the fact that they can be better, and is making a sincere effort to be better.

Paul articulated this tenth and final trait superbly in Philippians 2:12-14:

“Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press . . .”

Like every other trait, this trait is on full display during the courtship. He knows he tends to be easily discouraged when things don’t go his way, so he has begun surrounding himself with other men who are willing to be honest with him and lovingly push him toward his dreams. She knows that she tends to spend money she doesn’t have on things she doesn’t need, so last month she downloaded Quicken and is learning how to use it. They “are not” yet, but they are “becoming.”

In fact, many ministers credibly teach that there are certain things that will not be worked out of us or worked into us until we are married. Think about that. Even as the Spirit works in us to become, in some way God has hand-fashioned our mate to be a tool that helps us become.

It has taken me a while to embrace this last trait, in myself and in my future husband. It just seems easier to me – ideal, even – for us each to have mastered the aforementioned traits before we even meet, let alone get married. Butterflies and caterpillars can’t mate. The Spirit, however, has helped me understand that we are all caterpillars trying to become butterflies, and the marriage fails if one of us takes flight before the other one. So instead of uniting two people who “are,” God specializes in uniting two people who are “becoming” so that they “become together.”

Wow.

Dear Everyone: forgive me for going MIA. I did not plan around my holiday schedule very well. Thank you for your patience. This post continues the series.

The ninth trait of a good wife and a good husband: s/he shows compassion to “the least of them.”

“Open thy mouth, judge righteously, and plead the cause of the poor and needy.” Proverbs 31:9

“She stretcheth out her hand to the poor; yea, she reacheth forth her hands to the needy.” Proverbs 31:20

In verse 9, King Lemuel’s mother is speaking to him. In verse 20, she is speaking of the virtuous woman she wants her son to find. Compassion, mercy and kindness are traits we hope to find in all Christians. But in Proverbs 31, God makes clear that in a covenant marriage, the man and the woman will partner with each other to rise up and defend those who are unable to effectively defend themselves.

Why the emphasis on husbands and wives ministering to the poor together? (1) God loves the poor, and (2) the couple cannot effectively minister to the poor if one of them doesn’t agree. (Amos 3:3) Ministering to the poor requires the sharing and commitment of a couple’s shared time and resources. If there is no agreement, it will eventually divide the house, and a house divided will not stand. (Matt. 12:25)

Furthermore, each of us is “poor” in some area of our lives. Each of us has places within us or about us that require that someone show us compassion, mercy and kindness. If your spouse frowns upon the poor in their condition, s/he will eventually frown on the poor places in your life.

Beware the self-righteous individual who says “Nobody helped me. I picked myself up by my bootstraps. They can do it, too.” Beware the selfish individual who says, “I got mine, you got yours to get.” Beware the prejudiced individual who blames the poor for the condition they are in, and preaches – or politics – against offering them the help they need. Look for the person Jesus was speaking of when he said:

“Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” Matthew 25:37-40

The eighth trait of a good wife: she seeks and receives counsel from older women.

Like most of you, I was raised to respect my elders. Even today, if I perceive a woman to be more than 10 years older than I am, my response to her is “Yes ma’am” and “No ma’am.” As a child, however, I learned that there was more to my elders than just their age. There is something akin to magic in the stories and experiences of older women. I love to sit in the presence of these women and just listen to them talk. And if an older woman speaks to me directly, I listen like my life depends on it – because it just might.

“Take fast hold of instruction; let her not go: keep her; for she is thy life.” (Prov. 4:13)

“(Sh)e that refuseth instruction despiseth h(er) own soul: but (s)he that heareth reproof getteth understanding.” (Prov. 15:32)

Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble. (I Pet. 5:5)

Consider Ruth’s story. At their first meeting, Boaz told Ruth to “abide here fast by my handmaidens.” Ruth 2:8. When relaying the story of her encounter with Boaz to Naomi, Ruth got things a little mixed up and told Naomi that Boaz had instructed her to “keep fast by my young men.” Ruth 2:21. Naomi, being the older, caught the mistake and, without having been witness to the conversation between Ruth and Boaz, reiterated Boaz’s true instructions – to go out with his maidens “that they (the young men) meet thee not in any other field.” Ruth 2:22. Rather than follow her own understanding, Ruth heeded Naomi’s advice and stayed near the other young women. How did this help Ruth? Reconsider Boaz’s reaction when Ruth approached him and asked him to fulfill his role as kinsman redeemer:

“And he (Boaz) said, Blessed be thou of the LORD, my daughter: for thou hast shewed more kindness in the latter end than at the beginning, inasmuch as thou followedst not young men, whether poor or rich.” Ruth 3:10.

Imagine how things might have turned out if Ruth had not heeded Naomi’s instructions?

A woman who does not seek or heed the wisdom and counsel of older women lacks humility. She cannot be made to see the error of her ways because she is unteachable. As a result, she will make many mistakes that could have been avoided, and she will make them over and over again. Those mistakes will impact not only her, but her husband and her children.

Gentlemen, like all other traits, a woman’s willingness to receive instruction from older women is on display during the courtship. Mark how she interacts with her mother, her grandmother, her pastor’s wife, the mothers in the church and in the neighborhood. Is she is disrespectful and/or dismissive towards them? Does she take time to hear what they have to say? Even better, does she seek them out? A good wife seeks and heeds the counsel of the older women in her life, and the more she honors them, the better positioned she is to be a blessing to you.

The eighth trait of a good husband: he will repent.

God wired men so that they are not easily deterred from doing what they set their minds to do. When it comes to protecting you, providing for you and loving you through challenging times, this determination is a gift. It is also one of their greatest weaknesses when it works against them to keep them from seeing their wrong and taking the necessary steps to correct it.

Many men have mastered the art of apologizing, but repentance is more than an apology. I can offer a verbal apology, turn on the water works, even go through the motions to “make it up to the other person,” without ever feeling any conviction for my wrongdoing. After my theatrics are concluded, I can turn right around and do the same thing again. Many women reading this post are victims of this cycle. He says he’s sorry, but then he does it again. He does it again because he’s never truly repented.

True repentance is not a show; it’s a three step process. First, he has to shed all of the excuses and admit that he’s done something wrong. Second, he has to acknowledge the harm that he has caused, and feel remorse for what he has done. Finally, he has to turn from his sin and hurtful behavior and work to become a better person. Be warned: the first and second steps can be faked. The sincerity of his repentance lies in the third step. You can fake a changed heart for a little while, but you cannot sustain the show over time. A tree is known by its fruit. If he has not really changed, he can hide it only for so long.

Ladies, many of us will be joined to stubborn men. My grandfather was stubborn, my dad is stubborn, my brother is stubborn . . . you get the picture. Observe the men you date. Stubborn is doable in a marriage, but a man who won’t repent is not capable of being a good husband.

The seventh trait of a good wife: she will leave her father and mother to make a life with you.

As I said in the last post, this trait works both ways, so it’s worth repeating. Genesis 2:24 speaks directly of the husband, but after he “leaves father and mother” the wife also has to be willing to leave her father and mother before she and her husband can be “joined “ and “become one flesh.”

For women especially, the “leaving” has to occur on multiple dimensions. First, she has to leave her father and mother financially. Women long for security, and we tend to assign our trust and dependence to the one who is paying the bills. Like me, many women, even financially independent women, know that if they ever need anything, they can call their father and their father will move heaven and earth to get it to her. So if the two of you get into financial trouble, her first instinct will still be to call “Daddy.” It is, therefore, important that you and your future wife talk about this issue explicitly, and come to an agreement ahead of time about what you are going to do if the two of you get into a financial bind, including what kind of help you are willing to ask for and receive from her parents, and on what terms.

Second, she has to leave her father and mother emotionally. The bond between my mother and I grows stronger with every passing year. If something is really bothering me, I know that I can call her and empty my heart. The mother-daughter bond, however, can destroy a marriage if not managed correctly. New wives have to learn not to run to “Mom” every time their husbands do something that upsets them. To decrease the potential of that happening, it is critical that you team up with her and learn how to successfully talk through and resolve matters between the two of you. If she cooperates, you’re on good ground.

Finally, she has to leave her father and mother spiritually. I have been living apart from my parents for more than 15 years. I am a licensed minister, and have my own prayer life. Yet, I continue to be comforted and influenced by the spiritual covering and guidance of both my parents. If your future wife is blessed enough to have one or more “praying parents,” learning to look to you as her new spiritual head and covering will require a real paradigm shift. A good wife can and will make that shift as she sees you consistently demonstrate that you are seeking, hearing from and following God.

“The woman I’m dating doesn’t have a father or a mother.” Don’t think that you are off the hook. Women who have lost their parent(s), or who have never known the love of a parent or parental figure, nonetheless have a mental image of what a parent is and/or should be. If the image in her head is a negative one, you may find yourself constantly defending yourself against a ghost. If the image in her head is a legend, you may find yourself trying unsuccessfully to live up to an ideal that does not exist.

Gentlemen, are you ready to take your relationship with her to the next level? Then sit down with her and talk about both of your parents, the good, the bad and the painful. Unearth potential problems, not for the purpose of destroying the relationship, but for the purpose of discerning what needs to be addressed this side of the altar so that the “leaving and cleaving” happens the way it’s supposed to happen.

The seventh trait of a good husband: he will leave his father and mother to make a life with you. (Gen. 2:24)

Marriage can be a tricky affair, not only for the new couple, but also for the couple’s parents and siblings. For 20, 30 or 40 years, family members have grown accustomed to calling the groom and the bride at all hours of the night, coming over without calling, expecting him or her to be at certain functions or to take care of certain responsibilities. After the wedding, everyone finds themselves trying to adapt to this new relationship- or at least they should. Isolating behavior on the part of either party is a red flag. But it is critical that husband and wife establish boundaries, especially if there is a dysfunctional dynamic in either family.

This particular trait works both ways. There, however, is a reason Genesis 2:24 speaks to men in particular. In a marriage, the Bible puts the primary responsibility for courtship, protection and provision on the husband. Thus, the husband has a particular part to play when it comes to establishing a new home and a new family with his wife. To do this successfully, he has to be able and willing to see himself as connected to yet distinct from his parent’s house, and help his wife make that distinction with her family as well.

Sadly, I have been witness to more than one failed marriage because the husband could not – or would not – set and enforce appropriate boundaries with his mother and his siblings. In the beginning, the wives were very patient; they, too, are very close to their parents, and they liked the idea of one big, happy family. Over time, however, they increasingly found themselves competing with their in-laws for their husband’s time, attention and even resources. On more the one occasion, they and their husbands would come to a decision, only to have their husbands “change his mind” after talking with their mother. Eventually, the wives came to resent their in-laws. Recognizing that they had entered an unhealthy place, they pleaded with their husbands to put their family members in their proper place. The husbands didn’t, and the wives left.

I am also witness to successful marriages, two in particular, because the mother-in-law knows her place. The mother has been and continues to be a strong, supportive influence in her children’s lives. But ask either of her daughters-in-law and they will tell you that their mother-in-law has never put herself in the middle of their marriages. Anytime that she stepped in, she was invited in by both the husband and the wife to offer her wisdom. When the husband and the wife felt they were once again in control of the situation, she stepped back out and re-assumed her supportive role. The mutual love and respect between these two couples and their mother/mother-in-law is inspiring, and a model I am very happy to have.

Ladies, is the man you’re dating a man who loves his mother, or a man who wants to marry his mother? Does he look up to his dad, or is he afraid of his dad, so much so that whatever dad says goes? When you are dating, the courtship is not the time to avoid his family. During the courtship, you should welcome opportunities to see the way he interacts with his family, and to see how your could-be-future-in-laws interact with you. If there’s a problem, you want to find out about it while you can still just walk away.

The sixth trait of a good wife: she is trustworthy.

He can trust her with his weakness.

Every superman has kryptonite. Even the strongest men are weak somewhere. Most men are trained to hide their weakness, especially from women. But vulnerability and intimate relationships go hand-in-hand. Marriage demands that both partners be open, exposed. The goal is not to keep hiding. The goal, gentlemen, is to find a woman you can trust with the broken places.

Delilah is the anti-ideal. Delilah was beautiful, intriguing, and a very good sex partner. She was also a horrible confidant. She was drawn to Samson’s strength, but became pre-occupied with his weakness. Eventually, her entire motive for being with Samson was to find out his vulnerabilities, and then use them to her advantage. If you just shuddered, I understand.

Unfortunately, there are no guarantees that the woman you are with won’t play on your weaknesses. But there are clues to her trustworthiness. A good wife won’t probe for your weakness, and she won’t berate you for never showing any. On the flip side, a good wife won’t show disdain for your weakness, or make you feel ashamed if you show any. A good wife will communicate in a thousand different ways that her love for you isn’t conditioned on the “S” on your chest, and whenever you’re ready to drop the force fields and let her in, she’s ready to be strong for you.

He can trust her with his wealth.

There are few things less attractive than a selfish, superficial and materialistic woman. The unflattering names notwithstanding, men are justified in avoiding women like that like the plague. If you are a man who runs from women like that, I feel you. Never change.

A woman who is all about your wealth is a dangerous woman. Yes, I said dangerous. Space does not permit me to quote all the Scriptures that warn us against putting our trust in riches. People who prioritize wealth will do just about anything to get it and keep it. They will break laws, compromise their values, oppress other people, cheat people, poison communities, let injustice go unchallenged, keep their mouths shut when they should be shouting the Truth from the roof tops – the list goes on and on.

Don’t misunderstand me. There is nothing inherently wrong with wealth, or with wanting to acquire it. I’m declaring 2012 to be the year my net worth exceeds $1 million. The money, however, is not for material things; it’s a tool for ministry. The woman who sees your wealth and starts shopping for a new car is a red flag. The woman who sees your wealth and starts researching opportunities to clothe the naked and house the homeless is a green light.

He can trust her with his worship.

There is nothing more beautiful than a man who worships God. It doesn’t matter if he can’t carry a tune, or if he doesn’t have rhythm. The beauty lies in his willingness to humble himself before the One who is greater than he, and give Him the glory that is due Him. A man who worships like that needs a woman who won’t get in the way of it.

David could not trust his first wife, Michal, with his worship or his relationship with God. When Michal saw the abandon with which David worshipped God, she became jealous and berated him for it. His response – to put her away and never have sex with her again – was harsh but justifiable. Who wants to share pillow talk with someone who’s trying to come between you and your God?

Gentlemen, the easiest way to pinpoint a woman you can trust with your worship is to find a woman who worships with you and has a worship life of her own. She will not come between you and God if she’s trying to get to God herself. The one you have to cajole to come to church, who doesn’t understand why you study the Bible on your own, who is embarrassed when you pray over the meal in public – yeah, she’s not the one. Keep looking. Your worship-trustworthy wife is out there. Keep looking.

The sixth trait of a good husband: he will cover you.

He will cover you physically.

When Boaz and Ruth first meet, there is instant chemistry. How do I know? After a very brief introduction, Boaz’s chivalry is on full display:

“Then said Boaz unto Ruth, Hearest thou not, my daughter? Go not to glean in another field, neither go from hence, but abide here fast by my maidens: Let thine eyes be on the field that they do reap, and go thou after them: have I not charged the young men that they shall not touch thee? and when thou art athirst, go unto the vessels, and drink of that which the young men have drawn.” Ruth 2:8-9

“Stay near the women.” “I’ve told my men not to touch you.” “If you need something, help yourself to what I have.” Boaz wasn’t just being a good host. He was looking out for Ruth in a very intimate way.

Few women want a man who is overly protective; there is a difference between “cover” and “control,” and if you’re paying attention it’s not hard to distinguish between the two. But a man who is unconcerned about his wife’s safety and well-being is worse.

Ladies, are you dating someone, or is there someone near you, who is always on point about your safety? Does he check the doors and the windows to make sure they’ve been locked? Is he always admonishing you about being out alone at night? Does he talk to you about taking self-defense classes, or arming yourself with a weapon? Does he give you tips about how to protect your identify, or boost your immune system during the cold months? Does he warn you about going out with this group of women, or being alone with that guy, because he knows their character better than you? All of that protection may be his “I love you” language. Are you listening?

He will cover you socially.

Joseph rarely gets his due in the story of Jesus’ birth. Yes, Mary is the one who was chosen to bare the Holy Child. Joseph, however, is the one who was prepared to make great sacrifices to protect Mary and her unborn child before the Angel of the Lord ever spoke to him.

Under Jewish law in Jesus’ day, the only distinction between a betrothed couple and a married couple was the ceremony. Had it been discovered that Mary was pregnant by another man, she would have been subject to death. (Deut. 22:23-30) At the very least, Mary would have suffered the worst kind of shame and humiliation. She and her family would have been ostracized, and her reputation forever destroyed. But read how Joseph responds when he learns his bride is pregnant:

“Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willilng to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily.” Matthew 1:19

In other words, as opposed to “putting her on blast,” Joseph immediately began seeking ways to keep Mary’s secret and salvage her reputation as much as possible. Joseph was prepared to risk his social standing and his future prospects to ensure that Mary’s social standing and future prospects were not destroyed. That’s love.

He will cover you spiritually.

Before they disobeyed God, Adam called Eve “bone of my bones, flesh of my flesh.” (Gen. 2:23) Immediately after they had sinned, Adam referred to Eve as “this woman that thou gavest to be with me,” and then proceeded to accuse her. (Gen 3:12)

Ladies: which Adam are you dating?

I know cases where the husband thinks so little of his wife, he is all too eager to expose his wife’s sins. According to I Peter 4:8, however, love – freely given and freely received – covers a multitude of sins. If the man in your life loves you, he will never do anything to accuse or condemn you, and he will not let others condemn and accuse you, either. Like our High Priest in Heaven, a good husband will stand in the place of a high priest for you, to forgive your fallen-ness, to plead your case before God and to see to it that you are restored.

In addition, a good husband will pray for you. The power of a praying wife is matched only by the power of a praying husband. When the head of the home taps into the Head of the Church, heaven and earth move. To have a man covering you in prayer is the greatest comfort and the greatest sense of security you will ever know. If he prays for you, thank God for him. If he doesn’t, hold out for someone who will.

The fifth trait of a good wife: she will submit.

Right now, all over America, women are choking and men are cheering. To all of you, I earnestly say “Calm down and keep reading.”

Let’s first define what submission isn’t. Submission is not slavery or servitude. Submission does not mean that I keep my mouth shut and my opinions to myself. Submission does not mean that I jump when you snap your fingers. Submission does not mean that I die to my identity and become wholly subsumed by and under my husband’s identity.

Now, let’s define what submission is. Submission is an intentional power transaction between two thinking adults, both of whom have been given dominion in this earth. When God said “be fruitful, multiply, replenish the earth, subdue it and have dominion over it,” Eve was standing right beside Adam. (Gen. 1:28) When God sees a woman, he does not see someone who is less than a man. He sees someone who complements the man, who adds to him and makes him more than what he was before he was joined to her. To be worthy of him, she has to be as good as he is. For these reasons, Godly submission cannot be coerced, or premised on the lie that one party is better than the other.

Rather, Godly submission is a conscious and voluntary choice by one person to let the other person take the lead, even when she is fully capable of being the leader, too.

So why does God ask wives to submit to their husbands? Anything with two heads is a freak. Being married, reconciling two whole persons into a life-long relationship, requires a lot of decisions. When making decisions, both spouses are supposed to come together to exchange and debate ideas, information, desires and needs. At the end of the day, however, someone has to make the final decision. God has ordained that “someone” to be the husband.

Gentlemen, as with all other traits, her willingness to submit is on display during the courtship. In defense of my sisters – and, yes, even myself – men need to be patient with us modern women. We have been indoctrinated with a lot of wrong ideas, and we can find ourselves at the extreme of this very important matter. So if we come off independent and a little prickly, have mercy on us, talk to us, work with us. That said, it is critical that you discern whether the woman you are dating is even capable of letting you take the lead. It is the worse kind of marriage to find yourself locking horns with your wife at every turn.

Just be warned: the King takes very good care of His daughters, and for her protection He has written a critical clause into the marital contract: if you mistreat her, you will answer to God for it. (I Pet. 3:7; Heb. 10: 30-31)