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The Cost of Discipleship

Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.  (Luke 14:25-33)

I’ve read this passage dozens of times, and I guess like most my attention focuses on Christ’s first sentence, about hating family.  But what about the context?  Why did Jesus say these words?  “Great crowds” were following Him, wanting to learn of Him, associate with Him, maybe get some free food or a healing thrown in.  In other words, they were all wanting something from Jesus. 

towerBut, as He so often did, Jesus turned their expectations upside down.  He starts giving them word pictures of what they will have to give up, not receive, if they are to follow Him, to be His disciple.  Look at His word picture of building a tower: He is saying that a man who hasn’t already decided at the start that he has enough is a fool to even begin building. He is asking us to count the cost, to sit down and figure out exactly how much it is going to take to be a disciple of Jesus.

How much does it take?  Christ makes the conclusion blunt in verse 33: to renounce ALL that he has.  How much will it cost to build that tower?  Most of what you have?  Quite a bit of your time, money, relationships, and dreams?  A substantial part of your future?



ALL of it. 

Jesus is telling us, “You CANNOT be my disciple if you give up half of your money.  You CANNOT be my disciple if you are willing to walk away from all but one of your dreams.  You CANNOT be my disciple if you are willing to give 98% of your time to me.”

The cost of building the tower is ALL.  All that you have, you must walk away from.  Nothing can be held back, or the tower won’t be built. Don’t even bother to try unless you are willing to pay the cost with all of your life.

Are you willing?

Beauty & Waste

And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head. There were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment wasted like that? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they scolded her. But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.”  (Mark 14:3-9)

broken alabaster flaskWhat the world saw as waste, Jesus saw as beauty.  What the world saw as destruction, Jesus saw as good.  What the world scolded as foolish, Jesus lifted up as an everlasting memorial.

That’s the difference that’s seen in the cross too.  The world sees the cross as a waste, the death of a “good man.”  The redeemed of God see the cross as beautiful and precious beyond words.  The world sees the cross as death and destruction; we see rebirth and eternal life.  The world scolds it as foolish (think about the mainstream media’s reaction to The Passion movie some years back); we recognize the cross as the memorial to God’s incredible love to us.

As you meditate on what Mary did for Jesus, think on these things:

Think about your own love for Jesus.  Mary gave up a year’s salary just to do something beautiful for the God that she loved.  What have you given up for Jesus, not out of duty, not out of the “peer pressure” of other Christians, not out of what you thought you would receive back from God, but simply out of your love for Christ?

Think about the beauty of the cross.  Think about what manner of love that God has for us, that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us (Romans 5:8) and made us His children (1 John 3:1).  If you have not read it, consider reading C. J. Mahaney’s The Cross Centered Life.

Think that to be broken, humbled, poured out, spent, even to the point of destruction, for Jesus is not waste, but beauty in God’s eyes.  In Don’t Waste Your Life John Piper again & again pleads for us to be willing to spend our lives for the cause of Christ:

I want to be able to say to suffering and perishing people, “I tried everything in the world… I was trying so hard.”  And I want to be able to say to those around me when I die, “It’s all right.  To live is Christ, and to die is gain.”

Eager to Empty my Pockets

I’ve always been one to keep my pockets full. Usually you can find a knife, a wallet, a set of keys, and a palm pilot, usually with a cell phone and pager clipped nearby. But there are times when my pockets empty. Sometimes it’s when I’m doing work where I know my stuff would be a hindrance, or sometimes it’s when I’m going to get wet and I know my stuff is better off not on my person. Even so, sometimes I am not eager to part with my familiar companions. What if I end up needing them? Or maybe I just “feel” better, more prepared, more “me”, with them?

My pockets seem to be a metaphor of my life. I have stuff in the “pockets” of my life, literal like a car or a computer, or figurative like a nice vacation, my health, kids “growing up right”, that I want to keep close to me, so I can make sure I retain possession and control of them. But that’s not how God’s kingdom operates. God wants us to empty our pockets, to put all that we have or dream of in His hands, being willing to have them or not have them, according to His wisdom.

So often we grudgingly acknowledge this truth—“OK, God, I will (groan) lay this possession or desire on the altar because I know I have to” “It’s a sacrifice but I will”. But that’s not the way of the kingdom either. Jesus told the parable of the hidden treasure in Matthew 13:44:

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid, and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

Why does the man empty his pockets? Because he thinks he has to? Because that’s what being a real servant of God means? Because it’s a sacrifice he feels he is obligated to make? No, no, no. For JOY, for the sheer exhilarative joy of a treasure beyond words and beyond price. We need to pray until God reveals the Kingdom to us as that treasure beyond words and beyond price, and we with joy empty our pockets.


The Image of a Doulos

When Paul refers to a Christian as being a doulos (Greek) of Christ, which is usually translated as slave or bondservant, what image springs to mind?

For years I imagined someone passively, reluctantly, in chains. Not very inspiring, from any point of view. But often a doulos in Roman culture was far from that—he could be a man of leadership and responsibility under the authority and ownership of another greater than himself. Doesn’t that fit the relationship the rest of the Bible portrays as our service to God?

Thinking of this image of a doulos, two movie images immediately came to view:

Ben-Hur—seeing Charlton Heston as the rugged devoted slave of the Roman general Quintus Arrius, whose love for this slave leads him to adopt the him as his son. (as God adopts us out of His love)
The other more recent image is Russell Crowe in Gladiator—seeing Maximus as a man of honor, integrity, and power, willingly bowing his knee under the authority and allegiance of his emperor, willing to sacrifice his life for others.
These are images I can fix in my mind as I live as a doulos of my Lord.

The Problem with Love

I was talking to a man the other day who was complaining that he wasn’t “in love” with his wife anymore.  “I don’t feel anything for her, I don’t feel any connection or passion.  I’m just going through the motions out of duty.”

When we had explored things a bit more, it became clear, as is often the case, that over the years his emotions and feelings had been tapped out as a result of both little and big hurts plus a decrease in his spouse’s skill in meeting “felt emotional needs.”  As a result, his feelings of “love”— of someone who gave him positive emotion to be around, was gone.  This is an all too common scenario in many marriages, “Christian” and not.

So, what was my counsel?  I could have told the couple to study each other’s “love languages” ala Gary Chapman, or fill up their “love banks” ala Willard Harley, or pointed them to Gray or Covey or a dozen different authors to help their skills of knowing how to meet the other’s emotional needs.

What I ended up telling him, however, was very, very different: “Your problem is that you don’t love your wife.”

He thought I was restating the obvious.  “I know that, I already told you that.”

“No, you think your problem is that you’re not in love with your wife.  Your problem is that you don’t love your wife.”

I proceeded to tell him that what he missed, what he wanted, was to be “in love” with his wife, and since this feeling is largely triggered by emotional needs being met, he was merely saying to himself, “WAAAHHHH! I want someone to meet my emotional needs.”  You can try and fix this problem by helping the spouses meet each other’s emotional needs, but you end up with just two self-centered people living in their old flesh happily together. 

What’s wrong with that?  Plenty.  Practically, that means that whenever one of them finds someone better at meeting their emotional needs, the party’s over.  It also doesn’t give God any glory and doesn’t make their marriage a reflection of Christ’s love for the church.  

Using any type of psychology or counseling or insight, “Christian” or not, in this situation is like giving tylenol for pneumonia—-  it brings down the fever and makes the patient feel better, but doesn’t cure the deadly disease inside.  You might “save” the marriage, but you haven’t dealt with the root problem that God is interested in— a life dominated by self-centered flesh.

What I explained to the gentleman was that he didn’t love his wife, not “love” as he defined it, but “love” as Christ defined it: selfless passionate devotion to the welfare of another for the glory of God.  He had little of the kind of love that Paul described in Ephesians 5, Christ-like and self-sacrificing.  And any strategy that simply “rekindled” his fleshly romantic love through any type of need-meeting would do little to increase that kind of Christ-like love.

Talk about hard medicine to swallow.  But it is medicine that everyone who is married needs to take a long hard look at.  There is nothing wrong in meeting your spouse’s emotional needs or getting your emotional needs met— that is part of the mutual care that is proper in a marriage.  But if that becomes the foundation or the strength of our “love”— that it isn’t agape love at all.  But if we are willing to look at ourselves clearly in the mirror of the Word, then we can pray for God to fill us with His love for our spouse, which will care for and meet needs and sacrifice for and be powered by God’s inexhaustible grace instead of our fickle selfish desires.

Victory or Defeat?

That’s the question posed by a commentator at Entertainment Weekly concerning the frenzied finale to season 5 of the TV show 24 last week.  And a mixed bag it certainly was, with Jack and his buds finally bringing down the corrupt president, but not before a lot of innocent (and not so innocent) lives had been lost, and not before a lot of scars had been etched on the souls of all the major characters involved.  Of course, Jack himself for all his work and sacrifice has to look forward to a lifetime of Chinese water torture. No wonder the commentator summed up his impressions thusly:

(The finale) validated the central theme of the season, which was, at bottom, the contradiction at the heart of this series: Can one man make a difference? Unlike any other series on TV, 24 suggests that the answer is probably no. It’s been great to see Kiefer Sutherland run, shoot, and outwit so many foes, but the layers of evil, corruption, and rot, fanned out last night to include the entire globe, seem for now at least to have defeated him. It takes guts to go out in a blaze of…defeat.

Whoa…enough with the nihlism already.  He’s almost right: the layers of evil, corruption, and rot do permeate this planet, and it does take guts to buck it, and reality demonstrates that life is messy, that often a man does go out in a blaze of defeat, that life sometimes is more like the final scene of Saving Private Ryan than the final scene of Return of the Jedi.

So what’s wrong with this final conclusion, that one man can’t make a difference?  Because this isn’t a universe on autopilot.  This isn’t a universe whose fate is still undecided, or whose fate is being manipulated by some impersonal force. This universe was created by and for an omnipotent, omniscent being who is still running the show and calling all the shots.  He came down into the story and became the main character, the one Man who truly did make a difference, and by his life and death and resurrection proved that He truly was the author of the story, and had already written a really great ending for the final season.  

And what’s the bottom line for us? That if we have truly received the new birth through faith in Christ, we can be just as confident in defeat now as in victory, for there will one day come a “season” where all the Hendersons, Bierkos, and Logans will meet perfect and final and inescapable justice, and we will no longer count the minutes or hours or centuries, but see that some hard “24 hours” in our lives now will mean nothing in the scope of eternity.