Is Your Hand to the Plow?

Once you put your hand to the plow of following Jesus, if you look back, you will live a crooked, tentative life. Plowing requires a single-minded focus, and so does following Jesus.

Another also said, “I will follow You, Lord; but first permit me to say good-bye to those at home.” But Jesus said to him, “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”  Luke 9:61-62

When I was growing up, my grandpa and my dad did a bit of farming. I have fond memories of riding my grandpa’s mule between the fields. My family spent long hours with hand on the plow, preparing fields, and laying out rows. Great value was placed on the rows being straight, for as the crop came up, it had to be plowed again and again to keep it free of grass or weeds. As a young boy growing up in South Mississippi, I was blessed to have a few opportunities to hold the plow and do my best to keep in step with the mule. There is an art to guiding a mule. He will go where you want him to go, as long as you know where you are going. You can’t plow looking back over where you’ve been. You will plow a crooked row and perhaps damage existing plants. Once you put your hand to the plow of following Jesus, if you look back, you will live a crooked, tentative life. Plowing requires a single-minded focus, and so does following Jesus.

Since I was a young person, verse 62 has troubled me. It has been a plumb-line, hanging down beside my life, as a measure of my own personal commitment to Christ. I identify with this man’s own conflicts and commitments toward home. My life is not the only life measured by this verse. It measures all who hear the call of Christ to come and follow, or who have expressed some semblance of commitment to be a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ. 

I didn’t understand until recently that this verse is set in contrast to an earlier verse in the same chapter where it is said that Jesus’ face was steadfastly set to go to Jerusalem. He made that decisive decision to follow the will of God for his life, having counted the cost. He knew all it would mean, and he was making the journey. He refused to look back, even when facing the cross.

It was in the face of the divided commitment of a would-be disciple, that He contrasts it with His own absolute abandon to the will of God. But Jesus said to him, “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”  Luke 9:62

Jesus was not suggesting it was a sin to have an affection for home or an obligation toward those at home. These people were not asking for a moment to take care of what was necessary—they were putting forward an excuse that would not allow them to follow. That excuse could have been anything. It could have been family, it could have been treasure, it could have been pleasure. If you will notice, the way this would-be disciple worded it said it all, “But first…”

Is there anything wrong with that? Is there anything wrong with having a priority higher than following Christ? YES! Jesus said to him, “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”  Luke 9: 62

This man had no intention of following Jesus. Saying “goodbye” meant finishing that phase of his life. In other words, he was saying, “Let me raise my children, then I will follow you.  Let me reach retirement, then I will follow you.” 

Is it not true that some of you made such a commitment? But now, time has come and gone since you made that promise. Since then, the children have been raised, and now there are grandchildren, and you still can’t follow. Retirement has come, and with it, other concerns, and you still can’t follow. Something always comes first. Something always will, until you determine that Christ will be first above all.

Jesus didn’t excuse this gentleman for his commitment to his family. He will not excuse me. He will not excuse you. “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”  Luke 9: 62

Follow Me!  This is the first step of the Christian life. To say you believe, but never begin to follow, is to prove your unbelief. Once you do begin following Jesus, living for Jesus and putting His will ahead of your own, must remain the focus of your life. 

There is a story in our Bible that is  a perfect illustration of the kind of commitment our Lord requires. It is the story of a young man named Elisha, who was led of God to follow Elijah the prophet, so that he too might become a prophet of God.  He was plowing a team of oxen. He had his hand on one plow, but God was calling him to lay hold of another. 

The Bible says, “He (Elisha) left the oxen and ran after Elijah and said, “Please let me kiss my father and my mother, then I will follow you.” And he (Elijah) said to him, “Go back again, for what have ai done to you?” So he returned from following him, and took the pair of oxen and sacrificed them and boiled their flesh with the implements of the oxen, and gave it to the people and they ate. Then he arose and followed Elijah and ministered to him.  1 Kings 19:20-21

Didn’t he do exactly what Jesus found unacceptable? Didn’t he say goodbye to those at home?  Yes! But it was a real goodbye. He made sure he put his hand to the plow of serving God and that he would never look back to plowing the field again. He cooked his animals and burned his plows and followed the plan of God for his life. He took care of the excuse so there would be no turning back. 

As a 17 year old boy, I sat in the office of Dr. William Clawson, a Bible Professor at William Carey College, who took time to guide me about ordering my life to pursue God’s calling. He urged me to so order my life that I would never be able to look back or go back. That is what I did, and I don’t regret it. I cherish his counsel to this very day!

So it was with Elisha. He could be one or the other. He could be a farmer, or he could be a prophet. He could not be both. The Lord required him to follow with absolute abandon. He requires the same from you and me. “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”  Luke 9: 62

There are no exceptions to this rule. That is why Jesus always laid out the true cost of discipleship. “So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.” Luke 14:33None of you means you. It means me. 

This is true at the very beginning of the Christian life. There can be no excuse for me not following Jesus… no “but first.” The priority of my life, the focus of my existence from that day forward, must be to follow Him. But don’t fail to understand the Lord’s emphasis here. This is not only the requirement as I begin to follow. This is the journey of the Christian life. There should never be an excuse for a delay in my obedience. My priority is absolute abandon to the Lordship of Christ. 

I should never be found saying: “Lord, I will follow, but first…” ” Lord, I will serve, but first…” “Lord, I will go be a  missionary, but first…” “Lord, I will forgive, but first…” The “FIRST” in your life is always to be following Christ. To excuse your way out of the obligations of following Him, at any point along the way, is to lose fellowship with Jesus from that moment forward.  

He is to be Lord of my heart and Lord of my home. He is to be Lord of my actions and Lord of my attitudes. Should I offer Him an excuse as to why my will, at some crossroad, cannot bow to His Own, then I will hear him say to me what he said to this gentleman in the book of Luke.“No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”  Luke 9:62

The standard, the plumb-line of my commitment, is my Lord’s commitment to go to the cross for me without looking back. He steadfastly set his face to follow God’s will for His life. I am to steadfastly set my face to follow His will for mine.

I understand this means something different for everyone who might read this. The cost of full surrender to Christ for you may be far different than it is for me. You may risk being excluded from your family. You may face physical suffering or imprisonment. You may lose your job or even your life! Nevertheless, the plumb-line remains: “No one, after putting HIs hand to the the plow and looking back, is for the kingdom of God.” Luke 9:62

I conclude with a final challenge from the author of the book of Hebrews, who, after he finished a list of those whose lives exemplified such absolute abandon, wrote the following:

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1, 2 NASB)

Put your hand to the plow, keep your eyes on Jesus, and never look back!