Counting the Cost of Discipleship

In Luke 14: 26-33  Jesus is telling the throng of people who were following Him around to count the cost of discipleship.  They were claiming to be devoted to Him but He knew their motivation.

By this time the crowds had seen Him heal many hundreds, perhaps thousands of people who had been diseased, crippled, or demon possessed.  He had raised a child from the dead.  He had fed thousands of people from what amounted to a sack lunch.  And He stood up to, and confounded, the Pharisees and Scribes.  There was talk among the people that this man, Jesus of Nazareth, was their long awaited Messiah: the one who would, according to their tradition, throw off the manacles of Rome and restore Israel as the preeminent nation of the world.  But He would soon dissuade them of that notion. 

First came his cannibal speech (you must eat my flesh and drink my blood) and then by getting Himself killed.  And not killed in an honorable manner, but by being crucified: an agonizing and humiliating death reserved for criminals.

He had told His disciples that there will be a cost to them as well.  They will suffer persecution for following him.  Some will lose all their possessions, some will loose their lives.  So here, once again, he is encouraging those who want to follow Him to count the cost of discipleship.

Hate Your Family

He begins with:

26 “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. 27 And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.

It is important to note here that the word translated into English as “hate” does not mean loathing or feelings of revulsion as that word does in modern English.  The original meaning was “to devalue” or “to assign a lower place to”.   He is not saying that to follow Him they had (and we have) to revile and abandon our friends and family.  In fact, in other places, the Bible tells us we are to harbor feelings of hatred toward no one.  What He is saying is that to be His disciple, no one else can take a higher place in our hearts and minds than Him.

Bear Your Cross

The statement  “bear his cross” was more meaningful to the people of that time than it is to us today, but it undoubtedly confused them.  They were accustomed to seeing criminals forced to carry the cross they were to be crucified on from the prison to the site of crucifixion.  They had to be thinking, “How does that apply to the One who would be Messiah?”

To us, “bearing our cross” does not mean being physically nailed to timbers and hung up for all to ridicule while we die a slow, excruciating death from asphyxiation and blood loss.  Today this means that be bear up under the demands of life as a follower of Christ.  Persecution and ridicule have always been part of that, but dying for our faith is not out of bounds.  That is not common here in America (not yet anyway) but it has been and is in Africa, China, Korea, and the Middle East countries.

Forsake All

Jesus ends the lesson with:

33 So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple.

Again we need to look closely at a word, this time “forsake”.  Jesus is not saying that we have to walk away from everything we have as John, Andrew, Peter, and James did after The Fish Trick (Luke 5).  The primary meaning of the Greek word, apotassomai (ap-ot-as’-som-ahee) is “to set apart or separate”.  A secondary meaning is “to say cost of discipleshipgoodbye to or take leave of”.  This is opposed to aphiemi (af-ee’-ay-mee) used in Luke 5; which means “to send away, separate from, like a man divorcing his wife”.  The four fishermen left their fishing business in the hands of Zebedee and followed Jesus.  Jesus told this crowd that they had to consider all they owned to be the property of God, and they (and we) are stewards of the possessions of another.

We don’t necessarily have to become paupers to follow Jesus.  Not unless the wiles of riches prove more of a taskmaster than we can handle.  But we have to use what God has entrusted us with to glorify God, not to glorify ourselves.

The Cost of Discipleship

In between these passages Jesus gives a couple of examples: a man about to construct a building (tower) should consider the cost and be sure he has enough money before beginning construction.  A king, about to engage an enemy in war should consider his military might as compared to his opponent before sending his army out to fight.

What does that have to do with following Jesus?  Everything!

Just as many – perhaps most – of the people who followed Jesus around the countryside lost interest and wandered away once it was clear He would not become their General or King and rage against Rome for them, those today who pin their faith in Jesus on the expectation of a comfortable life will also fall away.  When we accept Jesus as our Lord, we are not adding another decoration to our lives; Jesus becomes our life.  We do not have to cast away everything we have and everything we do – some things, certainly: the sinful things – but we must change our focus so that we no longer do things for our own benefit.  Not directly for our own benefit.

When we live for Jesus, what we do to serve Him and to honor Him benefits us too, but not always in a way we see right away.  Sometimes we are storing up treasures in Heaven, where thieves do not break in and steal and moths and rust do not destroy (Matthew 6:19-20).

Like the man about to build a tower and the King considering going to war, we need to take stock of ourselves: are we willing to follow Jesus and follow-through, or are we just curious to see what all the excitement is about?  Jesus promises us abundant life, a life of peace and contentment.  He does not promise us a life OF abundance, but abundant life.  The peace and contentment we who follow Jesus have is not because we never go through the fires of life, but because Jesus is there in the fire with us when we do.

Revelation 3:16 tells us that few things are as distasteful to God as a lukewarm Christian.  Christianity is not a hat we wear on Sunday, it is our skin.  It has to be who we ARE, not something we talk about once in a while.

Did you count the cost of discipleship before you committed?  Does the way you’re living now make you a tepid cup of coffee in the hands of God?  If so, turn up the heat.  Get into your Bible again.  Start with 1 John.  Take what you read to heart and let it fuel

Jesus the Risen Lord

your passion.  The more you apply, the more you will learn.  The more you learn, the more you will love.  The more you love, the better your life in Christ gets.  In the end, the cost of discipleship is not so steep, for the return is an eternity with God.

Jesus rose from His grave and returned to Heaven to prepare a place for those willing to count the cost and follow Him.  The price of admission, the cost of discipleship, is meager compared to the benefit.

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