Summary: An in depth look at the meaning of Jesus’ statement that no one who puts their hand to plwo and looks back is worthy of heaven.
In our series on answering your questions, I recieved this one recently in my email:
How do we put forth our hands to the plow for the kingdom, stirring up the gift of God within us for his Glory?
This is a good question and is in two parts. So I will answer it in two parts tonight and then combine them at the end.
The first part, I believe, stems from the verse we find in Luke chapter 9:
57As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, "I will follow you wherever you go."
58Jesus replied, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head."
59He said to another man, "Follow me."
But the man replied, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father."
60Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God."
61Still another said, "I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good bye to my family."
62Jesus replied, "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God."
Jesus’ responses here seem a bit confusing. But they all have the same underlying principle which we will get to in a few moments.
Verse 58 Jesus is responding to a man who volunteered. Jesus had given this response at least once before, a year earlier to a scribe which we find recorded in Matthew 8
Good chance Jesus had used this response many times to test those who wanted to be a disciple.
As we see throughout this text and many others that are similar or parallel it, Jesus is expecting and calling for a commitment that goes beyond fleshly comforts and normal human security.
In this case, He is saying that even animals have a more secure existence than do those who truly commit to follow Him.
A person who is fully surrendered to Christ cares little about their geography and knows that God can move them at any time for any reason because He is, after all, the King.
The second response we have from Jesus is to someone He called in verse 59.
This response has caused much speculation and people are all over the map on this one. I‘ve heard opinions ranging from a declaration against any natural form of family to it just being a test to see how the man would respond.
Truth is we don’t know which way Jesus actually meant it in literal speak. We can understand the underlying principle of why He said it, but we cannot be sure of the full context of the situation.
We do not know if the man’s father was actually dead and the funeral was that day or the next, it is a possibility. In which case, Jesus was telling the man to let others worry with the affairs that Jesus had a more urgent and higher purpose for him.
It is also possible that the man’s father was old and nearing death and he was asking for time to see his family through until after his father did pass away. In this possibility, Jesus was instructing the man to let the family take care of its own affairs that He needed to serve God without any delay or distraction.
It is further open that the man was just putting the whole thing off and really had no intention of following Jesus and was just projecting a reasonable “excuse” to give him time to get out of the immediate situation. In this instance, Jesus was showing the man that there is no such thing as a reasonable excuse for delaying obedience to God.
Any one of these is just fine and in the end it doesn’t matter a whole lot the full situation surrounding the conversation, what matters is the point Jesus was making and that I believe is quite clear.
When God calls we are to follow Him wholeheartedly, without any distraction, without any delay, and even family obligations take a backseat to the purposes of God and His Kingdom.
Then in verse 61 we come across another individual seemingly ready to sign up for service with Jesus, but he too has a reason to delay.
Again, it seems reasonable to request the chance to at least say goodbye.
Here too, different people have various explanations for what is the underlying issue.
Was the man making a bold public statement to follow Christ for the attention of the moment, but in his heart he had no intention of following through and the excuse to say “goodbye” was to get him out of having to actually do what he was committing to?