Dear Pastor Charles:
I have a question that troubles me concerning the passage in Luke 9:61-62, “Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” Is Jesus saying that if we don’t put Him before our families that we are not saved and that we will not go to heaven? Thank you for your response. Confused.
Thank you so much for a great question. In fact, this passage has been misunderstood by many so don’t feel bad if you do not understand it. When you read a difficult passage in the Bible always remember to read it in context with the surrounding passages. This passage begins in Luke 9:57, As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” This person made the declaration that they were going to follow Jesus. This is the key to understanding the entire passage.
How many Christians do you know today believe that following Jesus means to be a good person, to attend church occasionally and to put money into an offering plate occasionally? I would venture to say that almost all of us fall into that category to varying degrees. Listen to Jesus’ response to this man’s declaration, Luke 9:58, Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” In other words, are you willing to give up everything you own to follow Him? Look at the next two verses, Luke 9:59-60, He said to another man, “Follow me.” But the man replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” He tells this man to “go and proclaim the kingdom of God”. This was his personal call to ministry and to that follow Him, he must be willing to put Christ even before family relationships. Fortunately, for most of us, there is not always a conflict in this area. So the entire thrust of this passage is service and not salvation.
My dear confused friend, I thank God that I am saved by grace through faith and not by my service to God. My service to Him comes because of my love and my gratitude to Jesus that He would reach down to my level and save a world class sinner like me. If I were saved by my works I would fall far short of the Kingdom of God and so would you. The problem for most of us is that we are hard working folks who earn everything that we get. When we are offered something for free, the red flag of suspicion automatically goes up. May I kindly say to you that there is nothing you have or can do to earn God’s love and salvation. What do you have or what service can you offer that is more precious than the sacrifice of God’s only begotten Son? Nothing. If we had to work for it, Jesus would not have had to go to the cross. For sure, our good works are the evidence of our salvation, but they are most definitely not our ticket to heaven. Titus 3:5, “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost;”
So here is my answer to you. God placed you within your family and He expects you to love and care for them. In Ephesians 5 the Apostle Paul makes it quite clear to us that the family relationship is to be a model of Christ and the church. Ephesians 5:28-29, “In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church…”. So, love your family with all of your ability, but do not neglect your relationship with God in the process.
God loves you so very much and He does want everyone to serve Him. However, He remembers that we are made of dust and that our frames are weak. Just give to Him what He really wants most and that is your heart. He will bless you and your family when He receives first place in your life. God will not call you to do anything for which He does not supply the resources. He would not have you to walk away from your spouse and children to serve Him. However, there are circumstances that may require just that in some cultures today. For example, the price of becoming a Christian in some cultures will cost you your family relationships and perhaps even your life.
For those who serve in the ministry and maintain some semblance of sanity, you will find that their loyalty falls into a distinct order. First comes their relationship with God, second is their family relationships and third is their obligation to their church family and all the areas of service that entails.
My prayer for you is that you will continue to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ as you further your understanding of His Word. May God bless and keep you as you continue to study the Scriptures which are “able to make you wise”.