I happened to be reading an article on the origins of the word “ruthless” and found it interesting that the word means to be “without ruth…” I never thought that there was a word “ruth” other than a proper name but upon further study, I learned that “ruth” is of Old English origin and means to have “compassion for the misery of another, sorrow for one’s own faults or to have remorse.” And, according to the article I read, the word “ruth” has fallen out of favor and is rarely used on our language today.
As most of us know, “ruthless” is a word that has a negative connotation. It means that someone doesn’t have any compassion for the problems of another or doesn’t have any remorse. That squares pretty much with the common definition of what we mean today when we say that somebody is “ruthless.”
But, in all honesty, it never occurred to me that there is an antonym (opposite) of “ruthless” and that is to say that someone is “ruthful.” Admittedly, I have never even heard of the word, let alone use it. But I found it very interesting that it exists! In fact, it is one of those words that I will remember and drop into a conversation at exactly the right time!
The word “ruthful” can mean that someone has a feeling of pity, compassion, distress or even grief. At times, the word can also mean tender and caring. So, when someone is “ruthful” they have a feeling of sorrow for another person, exhibiting compassion and tender care. Likewise, I can’t help but believe that there is also an element of humility. And while, as I said above, I have never heard of the word, it makes sense to me that it would have the attributes opposite of what we think of when referring to someone as being “ruthless.”
When I read the definitions, I was reminded of a Bible verse written by the apostle Peter. His first epistle was written in about 64 A.D. and had to do with suffering and the plight that Christians were experiencing during the reign of Nero in Rome. It was not uncommon for Christians to be sacrificed by being impaled on long stakes, dipped in hot tar and then set on fire to light Nero’s gardens at night.
Peter reminded Christians that they may be called to be martyrs. Others would be called to walk alongside those that were being put to death – to pray for them and their families. Finally, there would still be others that would be physically safe but would witness the trauma suffered by other believers. Peter wanted to remind members of the early church that they were all brothers and sisters in Christ. As such, they shared the same “DNA” as those who would suffer or even lose their lives.
That meant that they were to take care of one another – they were to recognize that they were to hurt when the body of Christ was hurting and to rejoice when the body of Christ was rejoicing. The idea was even stronger than this – they were to act as if they were personally suffering or rejoicing when they walked aside others of the faith. It is quite an intense verse and one of the most interesting ones that I learned to translate from the original Greek with my classmates.
Of course, that is our verse for tonight. Peter tells the early Christians, and us, in 1 Peter 3:8-9, “Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.”
In Greek, the word “sympathetic” means to have the same “pathos” – the same “DNA” and that is the reason that members of the early church were to stick together – they were truly members of the family of God. And, they were to be “ruthful” – having compassion, grieving, being tender and caring…
My encouragement this evening is that God wants us to get along – as brothers and sisters in Christ we are to be “family” and to get along. Sadly, that isn’t the case so much these days… My prayer is that we will never forget that we are to honor Christ by being “ruthful” in our relationships with one another. Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…