Straining Forward, Don’t Look Back

Philippians 3:13-15

“Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. “

Jesus Christ calls us upward in to a new life; a life of service to Him and others, and not a dictatorship of ourselves.   We begin this new life when coming in to a relationship with the Living God in Jesus Christ, and it’s ongoing from the time we join ourselves to Christ in this world we live in now until the time we join Him forever in eternity.   During this time God is growing us, and preparing us to be used for the purpose of service in the Kingdom of God.  God is helping us and showing us how to be fit for service, you could say, and it’s our job to stay fit.

Jesus made a point of this, and left some pretty strong words for those who would join or already have joined the ‘service’ but refuse to get fit for service in the Kingdom or have become lazy and unfit for service.  He has strong words for those who make excuses for their lack of gumption in following after Christ and serving Him.

Luke 9:61-62

“Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family.”
Jesus replied, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”

One of the ways we become unfit, after being ‘drafted’ in to the service, is by being caught up in what’s behind us and the circumstances around us instead of the work in front of us.   What Jesus means by this is similar to what is meant in the parable of the 4 soils (Luke 8:14 specifically) and the seed that tries to grow up around the thorn bushes.  It’s choked out by life’s worries and the things around us, and never matures.   The solution Jesus gives for this specific issue is the example of the person who hears the Word and puts it in to practice as well, and because of that bears fruit in his or her life for God.

I want to make a point that while a person may be unfit for service that does not mean that they are out of the service.  We might be unfit for the Kingdom, but that doesn’t mean we’re not in the Kingdom.  I flew a mission with the AF Reserve squadron from my base last week, and I met a crusty old Master Sergeant who was at least 200 lbs overweight by service standards.  Now, that man was completely unfit for military service and would be virtually no good in a combat situation, however, the MSgt was still in the service nonetheless.   He’s not much good for anything but he’s still there.  However, I don’t believe God just wants us to be space wasters in His Kingdom.  God has prepared good works for us to do, acts of service to His people and others, and a Great Commission to carry out.  How are some ways we can become fit and stay fit?  Practice of our faith and the teachings and Person we claim follow, disciplining ourselves, and teaching/sharing.   Remember those!!

But then the EXCUSES come…

In Luke 14:15-24 Jesus tells the Parable of the Great Banquet.  In this parable a man is preparing a great banquet and has invited many people.  When he’s got everything ready he sends his messengers out to let the invited people know that everything’s ready for them to come.  However, the man’s invited guests all begin to make different types of excuses.  They’re the same excuses, in a general sense, which we all give to God on a daily basis it seems.  One man buys a field and tells the messenger that he has to now go see the field he just bought. What a LAME excuse!  Who buys a field without looking at it first?  Back then, with faming being the way of life, no one would be foolish enough to buy a field without knowing first whether it was good enough to produce a harvest.  Ahem…”the dog ate my homework, teacher…”, which is an excuse no one would believe, is pretty much how this one is summed up.

The next person’s excuse is even worse, if that’s even possible.  This guy said that he had just bought 5 yoke of oxen (that’s 10 oxen, as two would be ‘yoked’ together), and he must go to ‘try them out’.  Now, 10 oxen is a massive investment back then, which makes this excuse all the more ridiculous.  This excuse is akin to you buying a car that you’ve never test driven in order to find out if it works well enough to suit your needs or if it’s just going to be a financial burden to you.  And then, multiply that by 10.  How foolish would you look to make a decision like that?

The last excuse given is one by a man who has just gotten married, and because of that he cannot attend the banquet.  Now many of you might think “well surely that one’s a pretty good excuse”, but you fail to realize what a huge deal a marriage ceremony was to the community back then.   Everyone would have known about this wedding, there would have been tons of food prepared, and many people would have been invited to it.  A huge banquet like the man had been preparing would have never been planned in the same time frame as this man’s wedding.  This leaves two conclusions; either the man is lying about his wedding, or has intentionally deceived the man with the great banquet by committing (accepting the original invite) to the banquet but had been planning his wedding for the same time.  The other thing to think about is that if he just wants to spend time with his wife then he should have never have committed to something else in the first place.  Bottom line, either he’s a liar, or it’s a huge insult to the host of the banquet.

In the final part of the parable the host, now angry at his invited guests, orders his messengers to go out in to the streets to invite in random people, the poor and the crippled specifically are mentioned, who have no way of giving anything to the host at all (isn’t that very much like how God is to us?).  And then when there is still room, the messengers are sent out all around the highways and byways, the countryside and cities, to gather as many people as possible.  But the people who blew off the host, well, they’ll never see the banquet.

The point of all of this is: What kind of excuses are we making to God every day?  Are we fit for service, and are we serving? Or are we making lame excuses to God, excuses that other than to our own delusional minds make no sense and are completely insulting to our ‘host’ who’s invited us in to His Home?  Have we allowed ourselves to succumb to the thorns around us, stifling our ability to mature and produce a harvest of fruit for God in our lives?  Are you making the same excuses the party guests did?

The excuses basically break down in to three categories that seem to always ‘get us”:  Family, work, and pleasure.  Each of these in and of themselves are not bad at all, but when they are loved over and more than God, they become snares, and lame excuses.

Luke 14: 27, 34

“And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple… In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple”

When God invites us to spend time with Him in the reading of His Word, in Prayer, in personal study, or in fellowship, what are the excuses we are making to Him?  Are we making lame excuses, or are we getting fit and staying fit for service in the Kingdom?  Are we “straining forward to what lies ahead… press[ing] on toward the goal…the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus”?

Or, are we buying fields we haven’t looked at, wasting our time, and our Great “Host’s” time?

Think about it.  Better yet, pray about it. 

Even better, do something about it.

Grace and Peace,


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This entry was posted on Saturday, October 4th, 2008 at 11:02 pm and is filed under Devotional, Original Articles. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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7 Comments(+Add)

1   Rick Frueh
October 5th, 2008 at 9:19 am

I left a comment on another post. I was very edified, and a little surprised, at the depth and clarity of Joe’s writing here. Thanks, Joe, you exhibited your writing skills as well as addressed a serious issue with poignant truth and God’s grace.

2   Joe C
October 5th, 2008 at 1:44 pm

Thanks Rick, I’ve taken a break from writing for the last few weeks to get my walk a bit back on track where I thought God was telling me I needed to be, and this is what came out of it all.

Glad you got something out of it.


3   Phil Miller
October 6th, 2008 at 11:53 am

“Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family.”
Jesus replied, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”

I was actually just reading about this passage, and what you say about it is true, and it even was probably a bit more shocking than we can imagine. When Jesus told the Jews to abandon their families, He is basically telling them to abandon their old notions of what God’s promise to Israel was.

It would be something akin to how modern Zionist Jews view the land on the Gaza strip. Today, if you suggest turning over this land to the Palestinians, they would accuse you of basically selling out the Jewish dream.

Jesus told the Jewish listeners to put all their trust in Him and give up on all their patriotic and nationalistic goals. It be like someone telling Americans to give up our entire concept of national pride and honor.

4   Chris L
October 6th, 2008 at 12:30 pm

Excellent thoughts, Joe!

In some ways, I can relate to the MSgt you mention – too often when I find I am “overweight”, it’s not that this has happened overnight. Rather, it’s been a pound here and a couple of pounds there, gradually building up over time.

Then, when I recognize how far I’ve drifted, it seems almost overwhelming trying to assess how to get back into shape…

5   Craig Regan    
October 6th, 2008 at 6:29 pm

Thanks for the great word! I am convicted and moved.

6   Joe C
October 6th, 2008 at 7:47 pm

God gets the glory here, I just typed out what He’s been trying to get through my thick skull. Hopefully it’ll stick in my head this time…

Doubt it…lot’s to learn yet.

Glad you guys got something out of it.

Phil, I never thought of it that way, but that makes sense considering what the Jews were looking for in the Messiah versus what Jesus actually proclaimed and accomplished.


7   Joe C
October 6th, 2008 at 7:49 pm

PS, I wasn’t digging on people who are overweight, I was using it as a metaphor, but I suspect you were using your story as one too Chris :)