“That men live to the world”
The third man in today’s Gospel shows how this is done. He had volunteered to follow the Lord, but he said, “Lord, I will follow thee; but let me first go bid them farewell which are at home at my house.” How, we wonder, did he want to bid them farewell? Perhaps he wanted to gather with them and be merry with them once more, as he likely had done often before. Perhaps he merely did not want to leave them without any last word from him, so that they might not think bitterly of him and feel they had been despised. He wanted, rather, to take leave of them in the spirit of friendship, kindness, and love.
There we have a picture of many so-called Christians. They want to be Christians. That means, if they want to be in earnest about it, to forsake the world. It means to bid the non-Christians, the unbelievers, farewell, be it that we simply separate ourselves from them without any word of explanation, leaving them to think and say what they please; or be it that we tell them decisively and bluntly, “From this point on you and I part company, for I want to be a follower of Christ.” But such a firm stand does not suit many. It seems unfriendly and inconsiderate to them. They want to bid farewell to the world. The separation is to take place in a very friendly way, in a mild and gentle way.
“Why, we can have our faith all by ourselves,” they say, “and there does not, therefore, have to be enmity between others and us. We do not want that. We do not want to conduct ourselves as Christians in such a way that others are filled with bitterness against us, as though we despised and condemned them and their life. We do not like to see unfriendliness existing between them and us.” They also want to inform the people of the world to that effect and try to explain to them that the world should not hold it against them and be angry with them because they for their part want to be Christians. Thus they bid farewell.
But this leave-taking turns out as leave-taking often does. They cannot be done with their leave-taking. If you did not finally separate them by force, there never would be a separation. But in the case of the leave that men want to take of the world as Christians there is no external force to separate them. Therefore this leave-taking goes on and on. The friendship and keeping company with the world goes on and on. They continue associating with the world on a friendly and peaceful footing. In church they sing:
"Come, follow Me, the Savior spake, All in My way abiding: Deny yourselves, the world forsake, Obey My call and guiding,"---
and in their daily life they sing the world’s praises: “It is not nearly as bad as it is often made out, and enough worldly people are much better than Christians.” They also are of the opinion that the so-called worldly ways and the worldly life are not such a great abomination as is so often pictured in sermons. “You do not have to condemn everything,” they say, “you can partake of many things with a fine clear conscience.”
And not a few Christians actually bid farewell to the children of the world in this way, that they whole-heartedly enjoy their worldly pleasures with them. Thus these people never come to a real leave-taking of their worldly associates. They remain entangled in ties of friendship with the world. They do not get away from the world�s way of thinking and judging. They are still filled with delight in the things that are of the world. Thus they in very fact still live to the world.
That you cannot speak of following Christ in the case of such people is stated by the Lord, when He speaks thus to the man who wanted to bid farewell to those who were at his home, “No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” There, dear fellow-Christian, you hear the Savior saying very bluntly that such a man simply cannot be among His followers. The Lord declares it to be impossible. He terms it “putting your hand to the plow” when you are converted out of the world and become a Christian. Then the world is to be crucified unto you, that is, in your eyes it is to be evil and accursed, so that you no longer desire any part of it. Now a man is to say, “this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forth unto those things which are before” (Php. 3:13). On the other hand, the man who still finds his delight in the world is looking back. He also is looking back who wants to maintain the friendship between the world and himself, still wants to exercise forbearance toward it, and does not want to make a clean break with it.
And this is the verdict: “He is not fit for the kingdom of God.” He cannot think and do anything which pertains to the kingdom of God, nor can he be a follower of Christ, nor a Christian at all. Do not deceive yourself, you pitiable friend-of-the-world. Do not think for a moment that Christ will accept at full value your cheap and empty assurance, “I think a great deal of faith and of Christianity,” with which you too want to say something like this, “I will follow Thee!” He judges you according to what you are–a friend of the world. Let it fill you with alarm! The friendship of the world is enmity with God (James 4:4).
Now leave the former things behind you along with the old year and plow a better furrow. Do not live to the world, that you may not be condemned with the world. Do not live first for your loved ones, for he that loveth father or mother more than Jesus is not worthy of Him. And do not live to yourself, for he that would save his life shall lose it. Live to the Lord. Then you live for your highest good. Then you will die to the Lord. Then you may say in joyous blessedness: Whether I live, or whether I die, I am the Lord’s. Amen.