Summary: Considering Christ’s description of the cost of discipleship.

“No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”—Luke 9:62


This is a word from Jesus about the importance of commitment. Hand refers to our spiritual motivation. Because of the hand’s ability to seize, control or manipulate, when it’s used metaphorically in scripture, it is most often associated with strength or power. This becomes very clear when we’re talking about the hand of God. When Job appealed to his friends—turned accusers—to have pity on him, he said, “…the hand of God has touched me.” He was referring to God’s sovereign power. When Moses told Israel to remember their day of deliverance from Egypt, he said, “...for by strength of His hand the Lord has brought you out of this place.” He was referring to God’s ability to govern the forces of history. When the psalmist says to God, “My times are in Your hands,” he’s alluding to God’s providential care. And, of course, when we speak of God’s power and His provision, we are speaking about His ability to do good.

But when the scripture refers to the hand of man, his strength and power may be used for good or evil, depending on the motivation of the individual and his willingness to be used by God. With regard to good, the Bible says that, as God guided Jacob, as Jacob made a personal commitment to the Lord, all that came into his hands was blessed. But by the same token, the Bible says that, when Cain saw that his brother Abel’s offering to God was accepted while his was rejected, he set his hand against his brother, took him out into a field and murdered him. And when we consider the sweeping variance that can and often does exist between good and evil, most often the determining factor as to which side we are on is our personal commitment.

Thus, it’s fair to ask today: “What does our walk say about us? What have we set our minds and our hearts to? What power are we yielding to? To what and to Who are we committed?” Not only are these fair questions, but they are important questions because of the times in which we live. Our times cry out for a Church that is as committed to the cause of Christ as the other entities of the world are committed to their concerns. As committed as Wall Street is to the making of money, we need to be committed to Christ; as committed as the military is to the defense of this nation, we need to be committed to Christ; as committed as the athlete is to keeping his body in tip-top condition, we must be committed to the cause of Christ, for our commitment to Christ will determine our success or failure.

In our text today, Jesus is rebuking a man who had come to Him saying that he wanted to follow Him. Jesus was passing through Samaria, on His way to Jerusalem. His popularity was reaching great heights and, as a result, there were many who claimed to want to follow Him. One such man came up to Jesus and said, “Lord, I want to follow You, but first let me go back and tell my family good-bye.” On the surface, it doesn’t seem to be a strange request. Which one of us, when preparing to go on a long journey, would not want to go back and tell their loved ones, “Farewell?” But Jesus’ response to the man shows His disappointment at the man’s level of commitment. Jesus says to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and then looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” In other words, “No one who starts this journey should allow himself to be pulled away from it; no one who commits his strength and heart to this mission should permit himself to be so distracted by other things that he stops what he’s started. And by Jesus’ response, it’s clear that He found this man’s commitment to be lacking.

Now my brothers and sisters, this man represents a significant portion of the Church today. There is a lack of commitment by us to the cause of Christ. Now, as I say that, it’s important that we know what the cause of Christ is. Read Matthew 4:23, and it tells you what Jesus was committed to: “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.” That’s what Jesus was committed to, and it must be what we are committed to. John 12:32 tells us what Jesus was committed to: “When I am lifted up from the earth, [I] will draw all men to Myself.” That’s what we must be committed to. John 10:10 tells us what Jesus was committed to: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; [but] I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” That’s what we must be committed to. But Jesus is saying to us today that, if we put our hand to the plow and then look back—if we start, but don’t finish, if we become half-hearted in what we’re doing and fail to give our all to the cause of Christ—then we’re not fit for the kingdom of God.

Church, let me ask you today: “Can you think of anyone you admire or respect who is half-hearted in his commitment?” I don’t want a surgeon to operate on me if he’s half-hearted about medicine. I don’t want an attorney to represent me if he’s half-hearted about the law. I don’t want my children taught by anyone who’s half-hearted about education. If the surgeon isn’t committed to medicine, if the attorney isn’t committed to the law, if the teacher isn’t committed to education, then what good are they to me? And if that’s true about those things, then how much more true is it when we’re talking about half-hearted Christians? We need to be sold-out for Jesus. We need to be com-mitted to Him with everything we have and everything we are, or else we’re of no use to Jesus or to His people, whom we are charged to serve.

Somebody here today is half-hearted in their commitment to Jesus Christ. You started out all right, but now, you’re starting to look back. You’re starting to have a change of attitude; you’re allowing yourself to be distracted by other things. And it leads us to ask today, “What is it that would make us take your hand away from the plow? What is it that would cause us to retreat from our commitment to Jesus Christ?”

Perhaps it’s material prosperity. God has blessed some of us to be quite prosperous. Some of us have more now than we’ve ever had before; we have more than we ever thought we would have. But the very thing that we longed for and that God blessed us to enjoy is the thing that’s driving a wedge between us and God. Perhaps it’s popularity. God has blessed some of us to have great influence with people in high places; we can walk into situations and folk will pay attention to us because of the influence we have. But instead of using our influence to bring about positive ends, we’re taking our hand away from the Lord. We’re so busy boosting up our egos that we don’t see all the hurts that we could help heal; we don’t see all the tears we could help wipe away; we don’t see all the joy we could bring to those in despair.

Church, Jesus needs Christians today who are willing to set their hands to His work; He needs disciples who are willing to devote themselves completely to His service. If we’ve been touched by the hand of Christ, if we’ve surrendered to the Holy Spirit, then we ought not be half-hearted in our commitment.

“Well, what does it mean if I take my hand away from the plow?” First, it means that I don’t love the Lord like I say I do. Love isn’t measured by what we say, but it’s mea-sured by what we do, or fail to do. If I say I love the Lord, but never do anything to show Him that I love Him, then regardless of what I say, I don’t really love Him at all. If I love the Lord, I ought to want to make Him happy; if I love the Lord, I ought to be concerned about the things that are important to Him; if I love the Lord, I ought to be willing to put myself on the line for Him; if I love the Lord, I ought to stand with Him, even when the going gets tough.

You know, we can’t fool God about this. God has told Samuel, “Man looks on the outward appearance, but [I] look at the heart.” God knows whether or not we love Him, not by what we say, but by how we live. God knows whether or not we love Him by how obedient we are to His Word; God knows how much we love Him by what we’re prepared to do for Him, by what we’re prepared to give up for Him, by how much we’re willing to commit ourselves to Him. And when we take our hand away from the plow, we’re telling God that, “I don’t love You like I said I did.”

Then, not only is it a sign of a lack of love, but taking our hand away is a sign of a lack of appreciation of what God has done for us. You do understand that the only reason why it’s even possible for us to be committed to Christ is because Christ was first committed to us? I love the hymn that says, “O, how I love Jesus because He first loved me.” He loved me so much that He gave His only Son to pardon my sin and secure my salvation. And in doing that, He has fixed my biggest problem; He has provided for my greatest need. Well, in response to His love, I ought to show some appreciation.

You know, when I do things for my children—when I give them some gift or some toy, when I put food on their table or clothes on their back, when I pay for their schooling or for the roof that covers their head—I do it because I love them. I do it because I’m com-mitted to them; I do it because it’s my responsibility to do it. I do it without being asked to do it because my love for them demands that I do it. But every now and then, it means so much when I hear them say, “Thank you.” Well, that’s all Jesus wants to hear from us. Jesus loves us with a love that knows no limit or restriction. And because He loves us, He’s committed to our welfare. And because He’s committed to us, He provides for our needs. But I believe that Jesus would be pleased if we just said “Thank You” sometime. I can’t repay the debt I owe, but I can say. “Thank You!” I can’t begin to comprehend the magnitude of His love toward us, but I can say, “Thank You!” And the way to say “Thank You!” to Jesus is to walk in His steps. Peter tells us that, “To this we were called, because Christ suffered for us, leaving us an example, that we should follow in His steps.”

Our community cries out for a Church that will follow in Jesus’ steps. Our families are in need of a Church that will follow in His steps. Babies are being born every day that no one wants to be responsible for; drugs are turning our people into a permanent underclass of society; gangs have divided our city into their private war zones; our schools are breeding grounds for malevolent behavior. And in times like these, we need Christians who appreciate the love that Jesus has shown toward us by being committed to following in His steps. We need to put our hand to the plow and not look back.

We are the only ones with the solution to man’s problem, and we must be committed to sharing the solution with as many people as possible. Our priority must be to tell somebody that there is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin-sick soul. Our priority must be to tell somebody that the only one thing that can wash their sin away is the blood of Jesus. Our priority is to tell somebody who’s down that Jesus can lift up a bowed-down head and bind up a broken heart. Our priority is to tell somebody that, no matter how far wrong you have gone, God is able to look beyond your fault and meet your every need. Our priority is to tell people who Jesus is and that He alone has the power to save. And when we do that, then we show appreciation for Christ’s love toward us; when we do that, we show our commitment.

Finally, taking your hand from the plow means that you aren’t sure where your future lies. This gave the appearance that he wanted to follow Jesus, but first he wanted to go back to his family. His statement shows that he was double-minded. It doesn’t immedi-ately come across in the English translation, but this man wasn’t really asking Jesus to let him follow as much as he was offering an excuse about why he wasn’t going to follow Him right now. In effect, he was saying to Jesus, “I’ll join you later! I know who You are and I know about the work that You have come to do. I know that You came to seek and save those who were lost. I know that You came to call men from darkness into the marvelous light. And I believe in Your cause. But before I do anything, I need to settle everything with my family. When I get all of my family matters squared away, then I’ll come and follow You.”

As I close today, Church, there are a lot of people who say that they are committed to Christ, but in fact, they are double-minded. There are a lot of people who know who Jesus is and what He has done for them, and yet, they want to offer up excuses about why they’re not ready yet to follow Him. Some aren’t ready to give up on old ways, but old habits don’t promise you any kind of future. Some aren’t ready to give up on old relationships, but I wonder who can be so important that they would come between you and God. Some aren’t ready to give up on old attitudes, but old attitudes can’t help you embrace the new life that Jesus has to offer. Some of us are playing around with God and we’re letting opportunities slip away. And Jesus is calling to us today and saying, “Stop being double-minded. I’m looking for committed folk. I’m looking for folk who know who I am and know what I’m about, and don’t consider it to be a sacrifice to be committed to Me. I died for you; will you live for Me? I died for You; will you speak for Me? I died for you; will you stand for Me? I died for you; will you work for Me? I died for you; will you be obedient to Me? I died for you; will you trust Me to provide for your future? I died for you: will you stop putting Me to the rear of your agenda? I died for you; will you serve Me?”

Well, I can’t speak for anyone else, but I know where my future lies. “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name. On Christ, the solid Rock I stand. All other ground is sinking sand.” I’ve put my hand to the plow, and I’m not looking back.