It first appeared in print in 1841 after William Henry Harrison’s death and John Tyler became president. It became clear Tyler wouldn’t follow his predecessor’s policies, but would “hoe his own row.”
Responsibility was the premise in the original saying, which could stretch, also, to mean “stay out of mine.” As a newly elected president, Tyler added another dimension — “I’ll do my own thing.” In other words, my job is not to copy another’s work, but find inspiration and motivation to “hoe my own row” and stand for what I believe in.
This was what Paul said in Philippians 2:12 (KJV): “Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” Paul was not speaking here of “doing your own thing” — or planning your own program of salvation. It was not a “Burger King” mentality of “Have it your way” that comes into play.
“‘Work Out’ what God ‘Works in’ you,” explains Oswald Chambers in his book, “My Utmost for His Highest.”
“With focused attention and great care, you have to “work out” what God “works in” you,” Chambers says, “— not work to accomplish or earn ‘your own salvation,’ but work it out so you will exhibit the evidence of a life based with determined, unshakable faith on the complete and perfect redemption of the Lord.” He adds he believes Almighty God is the Source of his will? “God not only expects me to do His will, but He is in me to do it.”
So the Christian’s choice is God and that comes with obedience to the Word — not changing it to suit man’s own preferences.
And with that choice is responsibility — “Hoe one’s own row.”
“A man at the banquet asked Mr. Webster, ‘Sir, what is the greatest thought that ever entered your mind?’ Without hesitation, Webster replied, ‘The greatest thought that ever entered my mind was the thought of my responsibility to God.’ As he spoke, he wept, excused himself from the banquet, and went outside to get control of his emotions. When he returned he talked for 30 minutes about man's responsibility to God.”
— Carl G. Johnson, Ready for Anything, Bethany Fellowship Press
God's Word teaches us to live responsibly in the home, the church and in the community. Christians should be examples naturally — not to make an impression; not to be recognized; but because that is just what they are. And that person will reflect the transforming light of Christ.
Paul in his letters to the Thessalonians, Colossians, the Ephesians, the Romans and to Timothy, gave admonitions as to how to treat fellow church members (2 Thessalonians 3:10), how to treat your husband or wife (Colossians 3:18), your children (Ephesians 6:4), how to treat your neighbor (Romans 12:17), or an enemy (1 Peter 2:11).
And he said if a person doesn't accept responsibility in his daily living, then he shouldn't even call himself a Christian. That was pretty strong. He stressed honesty, hard work and integrity in all aspects of life.
A soap advertisement depicted a little fellow looking intently at his shadow that fell across his pathway. The slogan underneath the picture read: “That's the only thing I can't wash out!”
One’s example casts an indelible shadow of influence on others. Wrong attitudes and actions can engrave an impression on people’s minds which is impossible to eradicate. Just as a permanent mark for evil can have a lasting effect, so also can good. You have to “hoe your own row” responsibly — according to the Will of God.