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.

HOW WOULD YOU ANSWER?

Why should we “remember the wife of Lot”?

What three things should we avoid dwelling on?

How do we keep pace with Jehovah’s organization?

1. What warning did Jesus give, and what question arises?

“REMEMBER the wife of Lot.” (Luke 17:32) That warning given by Jesus Christ nearly 2,000 years ago is now more important than ever. But what did Jesus mean by this solemn warning? His Jewish audience needed no further explanation. They knew what had happened to Lot’s wife. While fleeing Sodom with her family, she had disobediently looked back and was turned into a pillar of salt.​—Read Genesis 19:17, 26.

2. Why may Lot’s wife have looked back, and what did her disobedient act cost her?

2 But why did Lot’s wife look back? Was she curious about what was happening? Did she turn back because of disbelief or lack of faith? Or, rather, was hers a longing gaze for all the things that she had left behind in Sodom? (Luke 17:31) Whatever the reason for her looking back, she paid for her disobedient act with her life. Just think of it! She died the same day as those perverted inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah. No wonder Jesus said: “Remember the wife of Lot”!

3. How did Jesus emphasize that we should not look back in a figurative sense?

3 We too are living at a time when it is vital that we do not look back in a figurative sense. Jesus emphasized this point when he answered a man who had asked if he could return to his family to say good-bye before becoming a disciple. Jesus said: “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 being harsh or unreasonable in answering this way? No, for he knew that the man’s request was merely an excuse  to evade responsibility. Jesus described such procrastination as looking at “the things behind.” Does it matter whether the person plowing looks momentarily at what is behind or actually puts down the plow and turns around? Either way he is distracted from what he should be doing, and his work may be affected negatively.

4. On what must we keep our eyes focused?

4 Rather than turning our attention to the past, we must keep our eyes focused on what is yet ahead. Notice how this is clearly expressed 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 Tim. 3:1) We now face, not just the wiping out of two wicked cities, but the destruction of an entire world system of things. What will help us to avoid anything similar to what happened to Lot’s wife? For a start, we need to identify some of the things behind us that we might be tempted to look at. (2 Cor. 2:11) Let us consider, then, what those things are and determine how we can avoid focusing on them.

THE GOOD OLD DAYS

6. Why is our memory not always reliable?

6 One distinct danger is a distorted view of the good old days. Our memory is not always reliable. We may unwittingly minimize the problems we had in the past and at the same time exaggerate the joys, making it seem that things were a lot better than they really were. This distorted recollection can cause us to long for the good old days. 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.” (Eccl. 7:10, New English Translation) Why is this type of thinking so dangerous?

7-9. (a) What happened to the Israelites in Egypt? (b) The Israelites experienced what reasons for joy? (c) Over what did the Israelites begin to grumble and murmur?

7 Consider what happened to the Israelites in Moses’ day. Although the Israelites were initially viewed as guests in the land of Egypt, after Joseph’s time the Egyptians “set over [the Israelites] chiefs of forced labor for the purpose of oppressing them in their burden-bearing.” (Ex. 1:11) God’s people eventually faced a type of genocide as Pharaoh attempted to limit their numbers. (Ex. 1:15, 16, 22) It is little wonder, then, that 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.”​—Ex. 3:7.

8 Can you imagine the joy the Israelites felt as they marched out of the land of their slavery as free people? In a spectacular way, they had witnessed Jehovah’s power when he brought the Ten  Plagues upon haughty Pharaoh and his people. (Read Exodus 6:1, 6, 7.) In fact, not only did the Egyptians finally allow the Israelites to go free but the Egyptians urged them to go, giving them so much gold and silver that it could be said that God’s people “stripped the Egyptians.” (Ex. 12:33-36) The Israelites further rejoiced when they saw the destruction of Pharaoh and his military forces in the Red Sea. (Ex. 14:30, 31) How faith-strengthening it should have been to witness such exciting events!

9 Unbelievably, though, within a short time of their miraculous deliverance, these same people began to grumble and murmur. About what? Food! They became dissatisfied with what Jehovah supplied and complained: “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.” (Num. 11:5, 6) Yes, their viewpoint had become distorted​—so much so that they even wanted to return to the land of their slavery! (Num. 14:2-4) The Israelites looked at the things behind and lost Jehovah’s favor.​—Num. 11:10.

10. The Israelites’ example provides what lesson for us?

10 What is the lesson for us today? When faced with difficulties and problems, let us not fixate on what may appear to have been positive things in the past​—perhaps even before we came to a knowledge of the truth. Although it is not wrong to meditate on the lessons we have learned from past experiences or to savor cherished memories, we need to maintain a balanced, realistic view of the past. Otherwise, we could accentuate our dissatisfaction with our present circumstances and be tempted to return to our former way of life.​—Read 2 Peter 2:20-22.

PAST SACRIFICES

11. How do some view sacrifices they made in the past?

11 Sad to say, some look back on sacrifices they made in the past and view them as missed opportunities. Perhaps you had opportunities for higher education, for prominence, or for financial security, but you decided not to pursue them. Many of our brothers and sisters have left behind lucrative positions in the fields of business, entertainment, education, or sports. Now time has passed, and the end has not yet arrived. Do you fantasize about what could have happened had you 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. (Phil. 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? He continues: “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.” * (Phil. 3:7, 8) Just as a person who throws away garbage, or trash, does not later bemoan his loss, Paul did not regret any of the secular opportunities that he had left behind. He no longer felt that they were worthwhile.

13, 14. How can we follow the example set by Paul?

13 What will help us if we find ourselves starting to speculate about so-called missed opportunities? Follow the example set by Paul. How? Consider the value of what you have now. You have gained a treasured relationship with Jehovah and have established a faithful record with him. (Heb. 6:10) What material advantages can the world offer that would come anywhere near the spiritual blessings that we now enjoy and will enjoy in the future?​—Read Mark 10:28-30.

14 Paul next mentions something that will help us to continue to go on faithfully. He says that he was “forgetting the things behind and stretching forward to the things ahead.” (Phil. 3:13) Notice that Paul highlights two steps, both necessary. First, we have to forget the things we left behind, not wasting precious energy and time being overly concerned about them. Second, like a runner at the finish line, we need to stretch forward, keeping focused on what lies ahead.

15. What benefit do we gain when we meditate on the examples of faithful servants of God?

15 When we meditate on the examples of faithful servants of God​—whether past or present—​we can gain additional motivation to keep moving forward rather than looking at the things behind. For example, if Abraham and Sarah had kept remembering Ur, “they would have had opportunity to return.” (Heb. 11:13-15) But they did not return there. Moses originally left behind far more in Egypt than any other individual Israelite later did. Yet, there is no record of his longing for those things. Instead, the Bible account tells us 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.”​—Heb. 11:26.

PAST NEGATIVE EXPERIENCES

16. How may we be affected by past experiences?

16 Not all past experiences, though, may appear positive. Perhaps we are overwhelmed by thoughts of past sins or mistakes that we made. (Ps. 51:3) We might still feel the sting of strong counsel that we received. (Heb. 12:11) Injustices​—real or perhaps perceived—​may dominate our thinking. (Ps. 55:2) What can we do to make sure that we do not allow such experiences to make us focus on the things behind? Consider three examples.

17. (a) Why did Paul describe himself as “a man less than the least of all holy ones”? (b) What helped Paul not to be overwhelmed by negative thoughts?

 17 Past mistakes. The apostle Paul described himself as “a man less than the least of all holy ones.” (Eph. 3:8) Why did he feel that way? “Because I persecuted the congregation of God,” he says. (1 Cor. 15:9) Can you imagine how Paul must have felt when he met up with some whom he had formerly persecuted? However, rather than allowing these negative thoughts to overwhelm him, Paul focused on the undeserved kindness that had been shown to him. (1 Tim. 1:12-16) The resulting gratitude that he felt spurred him on in his ministry. His former sinful conduct was included in the things that Paul was determined to forget. If we too focus on the mercy Jehovah has shown us, we will avoid having our strength sapped by undue anxiety over past events that we cannot change. We can use our strength for the work at hand.

18. (a) What may happen if we look back negatively at counsel that we received? (b) How can we heed Solomon’s words on accepting counsel?

18 Painful counsel. What if we are tempted to look back resentfully at some counsel that we received? This can be not only painful but also debilitating​—causing us to “give out.” (Heb. 12:5) Whether we “belittle” the counsel because we reject it or we “give out” because we accept it and then give up, the result is the same​—we do not truly allow the counsel to benefit and refine us. How much better to heed Solomon’s words: “Take hold on discipline; do not let go. Safeguard it, for it itself is your life.” (Prov. 4:13) Like a driver who obeys road signs, let us accept the counsel, apply it, and move forward.​—Prov. 4:26, 27; read Hebrews 12:12, 13.

19. How can we imitate the faith of Habakkuk and Jeremiah?

19 Injustices​—real or perceived. We may at times feel like the prophet Habakkuk, who cried out to Jehovah for justice, not understanding why Jehovah had allowed certain unfair things to happen. (Hab. 1:2, 3) How important it is 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.” (Hab. 3:18) Like Jeremiah of old, if we keep “a waiting attitude” with full faith in Jehovah, the God of justice, we can be confident that all things will be rectified at the right time.​—Lam. 3:19-24.

20. How can we prove that we “remember the wife of Lot”?

20 We live in exciting times. Wonderful events are happening now and more lie just ahead. May each one of us keep pace with Jehovah’s organization. Let us heed the Scriptural counsel to look forward and not to look at the things behind. We will thereby prove that we do “remember the wife of Lot”!

[Footnote]

^ par. 12 The original-language word here translated “refuse” also meant what “is thrown to the dogs,” “dung,” “excrement.” One Bible scholar says that Paul’s use of this word denotes a “resolute turning aside from something worthless and abhorrent with which one will have nothing more to do.”

[Study Questions]