Do Not Look at “the Things Behind”
“No man that has put his hand to a plow and looks at the things behind is well fitted for the kingdom of God.”—LUKE 9:62.
CAN YOU ANSWER?
Why should we “remember the wife of Lot”?
What three things should we not keep thinking about?
How can we keep moving forward with Jehovah’s organization?
1. What warning did Jesus give? What question arises?
“REMEMBER the wife of Lot.” (Luke 17:32) Jesus Christ gave that strong warning almost 2,000 years ago. That warning is now more important than ever. What did Jesus mean? The Jews he was talking to knew exactly what had happened to Lot’s wife. While she was fleeing from Sodom with her family, she disobeyed Jehovah and looked back. Because of that, she was turned into a pillar of salt.—Read Genesis 19:17, 26.
2. Why may Lot’s wife have looked back? What happened to her when she disobeyed?
2 But why did Lot’s wife look back? Maybe she wanted to see what was happening. Or it is possible that she turned around because she could not believe that the city was being destroyed. Maybe her faith was weak. Or maybe she wanted to go back to the things she had left behind in Sodom. (Luke 17:31) Whatever the reason for her looking back, she died when she disobeyed. Just think of it! She died the same day as those wicked people of Sodom and Gomorrah. That is why Jesus said: “Remember the wife of Lot.”
3. How did Jesus emphasize that we should not look back?
3 Lot’s wife should not have looked back at what was behind her. In the same way, we should not look back at, or keep thinking about, the things we left behind. Jesus emphasized this when talking to a man who had said that he wanted to be Jesus’ disciple. The man had said that he first wanted to return to his family to say good-bye. Jesus answered: “No man that has put his hand to a plow and looks at the things behind is well fitted for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:62) Was Jesus’ answer to the man too strong or unkind? No. He knew that the man was just making excuses to avoid the responsibility of becoming a disciple. Jesus said that a person who avoids his obligations to God is looking at “the things behind.” A person who is plowing a field may look back while he is plowing or put the plow down and turn to look back. Either way, he is distracted from what he should be doing, and he is not doing his work properly.
4. What should we focus on?
4 We must focus on the future and not on the past. The Bible clearly says this at Proverbs 4:25: “As for your eyes, straight ahead they should look, yes, your own beaming eyes should gaze straight in front of you.”
5. We have what reason not to look at the things behind?
5 We have good reason not to look at the things behind. What is the reason? These are “the last days.” (2 Timothy 3:1) Soon God will destroy, not just two wicked cities, but the whole system of things. What will help us to avoid being distracted as Lot’s wife was? We need to know what some of the things are that we might be in danger of looking back at. (2 Corinthians 2:11) So let us consider what they are and see how we can avoid focusing on them.
THE IDEA THAT THE OLD DAYS WERE BETTER
6. Why should we not always trust the way we remember the past?
6 We could make the mistake of thinking that life was better in the past. The way we remember the past might not be the way it truly was. Without realizing it, we could start to think that our problems in the past were not so bad and that we were much happier then. In other words, we start to think that things were a lot better than they really were. If we make this mistake, we may start to wish that life would go back to the way it was. But the Bible warns us: “Do not say, ‘Why were the old days better than these days?’ for it is not wise to ask that.” (Ecclesiastes 7:10, New English Translation) Why is this type of thinking so dangerous?
7-9. (a) What happened to the Israelites in Egypt? (b) What reasons for joy did the Israelites have? (c) What did the Israelites begin to complain about?
7 Think about what happened to the Israelites in Moses’ time. When the Israelites first went to live in Egypt, they were guests in that land. But after Joseph’s time, the Egyptians put over the Israelites “chiefs of forced labor for the purpose of oppressing them in their burden-bearing.” (Exodus 1:11) Later, Pharaoh even ordered his people to kill the male babies of the Israelites because he did not want the Israelites to become many. (Exodus 1:15, 16, 22) With good reason, Jehovah said to Moses: “Unquestionably I have seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt, and I have heard their outcry as a result of those who drive them to work; because I well know the pains they suffer.”—Exodus 3:7.
8 Can you imagine the joy the Israelites felt when they came out of Egypt as a free people? They had seen the wonderful way Jehovah used his power when he brought the Ten Plagues upon proud Pharaoh and his people. (Read Exodus 6:1, 6, 7.) Finally, the Egyptians allowed the Israelites to go free. In fact, the Egyptians told the Israelites to leave quickly and gave them so much gold and silver that the Bible says that God’s people “stripped the Egyptians.” (Exodus 12:33-36) Later, the Israelites rejoiced when they saw Jehovah destroy Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea. (Exodus 14:30, 31) Their faith should have been very strong after they saw all that Jehovah had done!
9 It is hard to believe that just a short time after Jehovah had miraculously freed them, these same people began to complain. About what? Food! They became dissatisfied with what Jehovah had given them, and they said: “How we remember the fish that we used to eat in Egypt for nothing, the cucumbers and the watermelons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic! But now our soul is dried away. Our eyes are on nothing at all except the manna.” (Numbers 11:5, 6) So they did not remember the past the way it truly was. Because of their wrong thinking, they even wanted to return to the land where they had been slaves! (Numbers 14:2-4) The Israelites looked at the things behind, and Jehovah became angry at them.—Numbers 11:10.
10. What lesson do we learn from what happened to the Israelites?
10 What is the lesson for us today? When we have problems, we should not keep thinking that things were much better in the past, perhaps even before we knew the truth. It is not wrong to learn from what happened in the past or to think about some of the happy times we had. But we need to be balanced and to think of the past as it really was. If we do not, we could begin to feel even more dissatisfied with our life now and want to return to the way of life we had before.—Read 2 Peter 2:20-22.
SACRIFICES WE MADE IN THE PAST
11. How do some feel about the sacrifices they made in the past?
11 Sadly, some think of the sacrifices they made in the past and wish that they had not made them. Perhaps you had opportunities to get higher education, to become famous, or to have a lot of money, but you decided not to go after these things. Many brothers and sisters had well-paying jobs. For example, they may have had a business, or they may have been famous musicians, professors at universities, or successful athletes. But they have left those jobs behind. Now time has passed, and the end has not yet arrived. Do you keep imagining what might have happened if you had not made those sacrifices?
12. How did Paul feel about the things he had left behind?
12 The apostle Paul gave up much to become a follower of Christ. (Philippians 3:4-6) How did he feel about the things he had left behind? He tells us: “What things were gains to me, these I have considered loss on account of the Christ.” And why? We read at Philippians 3:7, 8: “I do indeed also consider all things to be loss on account of the excelling value of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord. On account of him I have taken the loss of all things and I consider them as a lot of refuse, that I may gain Christ.”* (See footnote.) A person who throws away refuse, or garbage, does not later regret that he threw it away. In the same way, Paul did not regret that he had left behind opportunities in the world. He no longer felt that they had any value.
13, 14. How can we follow Paul’s example?
13 What should we do if we keep thinking about the opportunities we rejected in the past? We should follow Paul’s example. How? Think about the value of what you have now. You have a good relationship with Jehovah, and he knows you as a faithful person. (Hebrews 6:10) The world can offer us nothing that is as valuable as what Jehovah gives us now and will give us in the future.—Read Mark 10:28-30.
14 Paul next mentions something that will help us to continue to serve Jehovah faithfully. Paul says that he was “forgetting the things behind and stretching forward to the things ahead.” (Philippians 3:13) Paul here tells us about two things we need to do. Both are necessary. First, we have to forget the things we left behind. We must not waste our energy and time by always thinking about them. Second, like a runner at the finish line, we need to stretch forward. We must focus on the things ahead.
15. Why is it good to think deeply about the examples of faithful servants of God?
15 Think about the examples of faithful servants of God who lived in the past and who live in our day. Their examples will encourage you to keep moving forward instead of looking at the things behind. If Abraham and Sarah had kept remembering Ur, “they would have had opportunity to return.” (Hebrews 11:13-15) But they did not return to Ur. When Moses left Egypt the first time, he left behind much more than what the other Israelites later left behind. But the Bible does not say that he wanted those things back. Instead, it says that “he esteemed the reproach of the Christ as riches greater than the treasures of Egypt; for he looked intently toward the payment of the reward.”—Hebrews 11:26.
DIFFICULT EXPERIENCES WE HAD IN THE PAST
16. How may we feel about difficult experiences we had in the past?
16 Some experiences we had in the past may have been difficult. For example, we may constantly worry about past sins or mistakes that we made. (Psalm 51:3) We might still feel angry or sad because we received strong counsel. (Hebrews 12:11) Maybe we cannot stop thinking about a time when we suffered an injustice or what we thought was an injustice. (Psalm 55:2) What can help us not to keep thinking about these experiences? We will consider three examples.
17. (a) Why did Paul feel that he was not as good as the other holy ones? (b) What helped Paul not to allow guilt to discourage him?
17 Past mistakes. Paul said that he felt that he was not as good as the other holy ones. (Ephesians 3:8) Why did he feel that way? Because he had persecuted the congregation of God. (1 Corinthians 15:9) Paul must have felt very guilty when he met brothers and sisters whom he had persecuted in the past. But he did not allow these thoughts to discourage him. Instead, Paul kept thinking about how God had shown him mercy and kindness. (1 Timothy 1:12-16) As a result, Paul felt very grateful, and he was motivated to continue in his ministry. When Paul said that he wanted to forget the things behind, he was including his past mistakes. Since we cannot change the mistakes we made in the past, we will only waste our energy if we keep thinking about them. Instead, we should keep remembering the mercy that Jehovah has shown us and use our strength to serve Jehovah now.
18. (a) What may happen if we keep thinking about strong counsel we received in the past? (b) How can we follow Solomon’s advice about accepting counsel?
18 Strong counsel. It may be that we keep thinking about some counsel we received in the past. This can make us feel sad or angry and cause us to give up. (Hebrews 12:5) Whether we immediately reject the counsel or accept it and then later give up, the result is the same. We do not allow the counsel to help us. It would be much better to follow Solomon’s advice: “Take hold on discipline; do not let go. Safeguard it, for it itself is your life.” (Proverbs 4:13) Like a driver who obeys road signs, let us accept counsel, follow it, and move forward.—Proverbs 4:26, 27; read Hebrews 12:12, 13.
19. How can we imitate the faith of Habakkuk and Jeremiah?
19 Injustices or what seemed to be injustices. We may sometimes feel like the prophet Habakkuk, who cried out to Jehovah for justice. He did not understand why Jehovah had allowed certain unfair things to happen. (Habakkuk 1:2, 3) It is very important for us to imitate the faith of that prophet, who said: “Yet, as for me, I will exult in Jehovah himself; I will be joyful in the God of my salvation.” (Habakkuk 3:18) Another example of faith is Jeremiah, who kept “a waiting attitude.” We can imitate him by having complete faith that Jehovah, the God of justice, will correct all things at the right time.—Lamentations 3:19-24.
20. How can we prove that we “remember the wife of Lot”?
20 We live in exciting times. Wonderful things are happening now and more will happen soon. Jehovah’s organization keeps moving forward, and we should move forward with it. Let us follow the Bible’s advice to look forward and not to look at the things behind. In this way, we will prove that we do “remember the wife of Lot”!
The original-language word here translated “refuse” also meant what “is thrown to the dogs,” “dung,” “excrement.” One Bible scholar says that Paul used this word to refer to something that a person completely rejects. The person thinks of it as worthless and disgusting, and he never wants to see it again.
SOME EXPRESSIONS EXPLAINED
To look at the things behind: To keep thinking about the past in a way that could discourage us or make us stop serving Jehovah
To look at the things ahead: To keep thinking about the future and about serving Jehovah forever
To make sacrifices: To decide not to go after things or opportunities in the world or to leave them behind
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Be careful not to imagine that the past was better than it really was
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Think about the value of what you have now and of what is ahead