Large crowds were traveling with Jesus. And turning to them he said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’
“Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples. (New International Version)
The goal of the Christian life is to be a disciple, and to do the work of discipleship. “Disciple” is another word for “follower.” We are to be faithful followers of Jesus; and the Church is to engage in the task of inviting others to join us along the way of following Jesus.
Jesus made it clear to the large crowds of people following him that the disciple’s life and work of discipleship (following Jesus) is to be of highest importance to us – it is why we exist as the Church. We are to discover what this kind of life entails, and we are to decide volitionally and intentionally to follow Jesus in every area of our lives with everything we have.
Therefore, it is necessary to carefully consider the implications of Christ’s words to us and weigh the cost of following Jesus.
Discipleship (following Jesus) requires obedience. Love of family must not stand in the way. Jesus said we are to “hate” family and even self. In our culture, we typically use the words “hate” and “love” as descriptions of our emotions or feelings. However, in Scripture, love and hate are primarily terms of allegiance or priority.
In other words, Jesus is saying that our primary loyalty must clearly lie with following him over every earthly relationship. To follow Jesus means that we will not use family responsibilities to avoid obeying Christ, nor use other commitments to work or school as a reason to put our cross down.
The bottom line is this: In this life, with all its competing loyalties, the call of Jesus to discipleship not only takes precedence, but it also redefines all the other loyalties we have.
The call of discipleship involves some detachment from other things in order to pursue following Jesus. All of life is to be infused with being a disciple and doing the work of discipleship. If we insist on making other commitments and loyalties as high a priority as following Jesus, we will find ourselves in a pickle.
Several years ago, I took a trip with some other church leaders into the Canadian wilderness. We were so far out in the boonies that we needed special first aid training because if someone got hurt it would be hours before help could come. We canoed the lakes, carrying our backpacks and canoes between the lakes for an entire week.
Whatever we took with us, we had to carry. Some people thought they needed all kinds of clothes and other accessories. Not far into the week, they quickly began to leave things along the trail and learned, over time, to see that what they thought was important in their life wasn’t really important to what they were doing.
We must get back to basics and do what is essential; and what is of most importance is following Jesus. An un-salty disciple is worthless. Making a commitment to Christ without counting the cost is foolish. Discipleship was never designed to be easy; it was intended to be a public display that Jesus is Savior and Lord in every area of my life.
That means we will struggle with questions such as:
- How do I be a faithful follower of Jesus in my family?
- How do I be a disciple, and do the work of discipleship at work?
- How do I practice following Jesus in my neighborhood, and everywhere I go?
If we do not plan to follow Jesus at home and in the world, we won’t, because all kinds of competing loyalties will take over if we are not intentional about being disciples and making disciples.
Everything and everyone is to take a back seat to Jesus, who is to be our primary loyalty. Jesus used two examples to illustrate that we need to count the cost of discipleship. In the first, a builder plans and should ensure that he has enough money and materials to complete the entire structure.
We must take stock to finish what we have started; if we started well with Christ, we need to do whatever it takes to finish well as a disciple of Jesus. What will we do when the going is difficult?
“Jesus has many who love his kingdom in heaven, but few who bear his cross. He has many who desire comfort, but few who desire suffering. He finds many to share his feast, but few his fasting. All desire to rejoice with him, but few are willing to suffer for his sake. Many follow Jesus to the breaking of bread, but few to the drinking of the cup of his passion. Many admire his miracles, but few follow him in the humiliation of the cross.”Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ
We only know real joy whenever we give up pursuing happiness. In God’s upside-down kingdom, to live is to die, and to die is to live. Until we grasp this, we will be endlessly frustrated with our circumstances and other people.
The second illustration from Jesus is of a king and war. The king makes a battle plan, and if he thinks he cannot defeat the opposing army, he wisely seeks a peace treaty. My friends, no one is going to oppose God and win, so it is best to make peace.
Rather than trying to fit Jesus into our calendar, we are to let our calendar fill out around the center of following Jesus. If we insist we are too busy for prayer; do not have time for daily reading of the Scriptures; for loving one another; for making disciples (which requires much time and effort) then we have lost our way and must listen to this call of Jesus to be his disciple.
What then, shall we do?
Imagine that in our heart is a big conference room: a big table, leather chairs, coffee, bottled water, and a whiteboard. A committee sits around the table in your heart. There is the social self, the private self, the work self, the sexual self, the recreational self, the religious self, and others.
The committee is arguing and debating and voting, constantly agitated and upset. Rarely can they come to a unanimous, wholehearted decision. We may tell ourselves we are this way because of so many responsibilities or too little abilities. Yet, the truth is that we’re just divided, unfocused, hesitant, and not free.
One way to deal with the situation is to invite Jesus onto the committee. Give him a vote, too. But then he becomes just one more complication. A better way is to say to Jesus, “My life isn’t working. Please come in and fire my committee, every last one of them. I hand myself over to you. I am your responsibility now. Please run my whole life for me.”
Being a disciple of Jesus is not just adding Jesus. It is also subtracting the idols that are in our hearts. Saying that we belong to Jesus means that he will come in with a whip, overturn tables, and throw out a bunch of people.
If you are ready for that, pray with me…
Almighty and everlasting God, from our recliners and comfortable chairs, we solve all the world’s problems. We take people to task for what they say and do, without lifting a finger to be a part of the solution. We are too often de-sensitized to your mercy and compassion because we are not involved in your dream for all people to be your disciples.
Remove the scales from our eyes and lift the indifference from our hearts, so that we may see your vision – a vision of people following Jesus in the mission of being disciples and of making disciples.
Transform our lives, so that we may accomplish your purpose.
Anoint us with your Spirit that we might bring good news to the oppressed, bind up the brokenhearted, and proclaim release to the captive.
Give us a new urgency to reach out to those whom no one else will touch, to accept the unacceptable, to embrace the enemy, to do justice and love mercy.
Surround us with your love, fill us with your grace, and strengthen us for your service. Empower us to respond to the call of Jesus – to deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow Christ our Lord, in whose name we pray. Amen.