The Cost of Discipleship


Luke 14:25-34 The Message

25-27 One day when large groups of people were walking along with him, Jesus turned and told them, “Anyone who comes to me but refuses to let go of father, mother, spouse, children, brothers, sisters—yes, even one’s own self!—can’t be my disciple. Anyone who won’t shoulder his own cross and follow behind me can’t be my disciple.

28-30 “Is there anyone here who, planning to build a new house, doesn’t first sit down and figure the cost so you’ll know if you can complete it? If you only get the foundation laid and then run out of money, you’re going to look pretty foolish. Everyone passing by will poke fun at you: ‘He started something he couldn’t finish.’

31-32 “Or can you imagine a king going into battle against another king without first deciding whether it is possible with his ten thousand troops to face the twenty thousand troops of the other? And if he decides he can’t, won’t he send an emissary and work out a truce?

33 “Simply put, if you’re not willing to take what is dearest to you, whether plans or people, and kiss it good-bye, you can’t be my disciple.

34 “Salt is excellent. But if the salt goes flat, it’s useless, good for nothing.

“Are you listening to this? Really listening?”

The NIV translation of this parable begins,  “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 this is the reason I chose this parable.  I could not accept the idea that God – who is essentially love – was telling me I had to hate my father, mother, husband, children, etc. in order to follow him.  Chances were good I was misinterpreting yet another bible passage so my research began.

The Cost of Discipleship is neatly tucked between The Parable of the Great Banquet and the Prodigal Son.  And there are actually three mini parables within The Cost of Discipleship.  Jesus tells the parables about the building of a house and a King going to war.  It wouldn’t be smart to begin to build a house without figuring out if you had enough money to finish it.  And it’s not the brightest King who engages in a battle without first determining if he has the resources to win.  Nor is it the best idea to become a disciple without first knowing how it will impact your life.

In “Stories with Intent” Klyne R. Snodgrass states, “Discipleship changes allegiances with family, requires the willingness to die, shifts the focus off self-centeredness, places one at the disposal of another, and changes the way one handles financial resources.”

I was unknowingly discipled for two years by my friends Dan and Kathy before they asked if I was ready to be baptized.  And I answered them with a resounding “NO!”  I knew this required a really big “yes” and I just wasn’t there yet.  Mostly because I knew this “yes” would continue to change and shape my life in ways I couldn’t even imagine so I wanted to be sure I knew as I could before taking the plunge.  I became the homeowner deciding if I could build and the King determining if I should enter the battle.

I experienced much of what Snodgrass references.  The biggest challenges for me were being less self-centered and putting others’ needs first.  Not that I was incredibly selfish and ignored those around me prior to knowing Jesus.  But what would it look like to be intentionally less selfish and more giving of myself?  What demands would this put on my time and my wants?  This was not as difficult as I imagined.  My eyes were opened to a new way of viewing the world.  I saw more, felt more and cared more.  My world became smaller.  People became bigger.  Their needs, wants, hurts and joys came into focus.  A moment, a conversation, a confidence to keep, a hand to hold, a sorrow to shelter or a laugh to share.  For me this is being a disciple of Jesus.  

There are days when this is challenging.  Days when I don’t want to listen or hold someone.  Days when I need to be heard and held.  And this is the rhythm of life and being human.  The times when I am heard and held recharge me to then do the same for others.  Geez, it’s like we are all one body – connected – one part in need of the other – rather useless all on it’s own.  

Oh.  And then there is the “way one handles financial resources.”  I suck at money.  And quite frankly, I would happily give Jesus my debit card right now and turn the whole sorted mess over to him if I could.  If it’s God’s money he should really take over because I’m doing a lousy job.  But I continually trying to be a better steward of my money.  And while this is icky and uncomfortable I want to do it.  Not so much out of need for obedience but out of desire to fully surrender myself.  What would that look like?  What would that feel like?  What would that do?

The Cost of Discipleship closes with the parable of Salt, “Salt is wonderful; but if salt has become insipid, how can you make it salty again?”  

I had no clue what Jesus was talking about here.  Once again Mr. Capon to the rescue.  “Salt is not worth buying for it’s own sake, but dirt cheap considering the way it perks everything up.  Much the same can be said about salvation.”

I don’t follow Jesus because it’s my ticket to heaven.  I don’t follow Jesus because I fear hell.  I don’t follow Jesus for a thousand other wrong reasons.  I follow Jesus because my life is tastier with his salt.  

I started going to church and asking questions about God because I was terrified of dying.  And life felt empty in a way that was hard to describe.  I’m not like my husband, Chris, who can hardly wait to kick the bucket and hang out with God.  But over the last few years my fear of death has evaporated.  As has the emptiness I felt.  Much as salt enhances the flavour of food, becoming a disciple has enriched the here and now.  The future will hold what it will hold and I am all good with that because what matters is how I live right now.  How I follow after Jesus.

As Snodgrass states, “Discipleship is not about humans straining on their own; it is the necessary result; and consequence of faith in and following after Jesus.  Relation to Christ activates and empowers the whole of life, but if humans do not choose to act and actually act, nothing happens.”

So now back to the hate.  Use of the word “hate” is strong in almost any context.  And this was no different in Jesus’ time.  Jesus needed to use strong language because at that time, family was the most influential voice in an individual’s life. Jewish families lived by strict moral, social and religious rules.  Husbands were the legal and spiritual head of the home.  And children were taught at a very young age to honour their parents.  So for Jesus to tell his parents he believed something different from them and had decided to follow a totally new path was a really big deal.  And then for Jesus to encourage others to allow God – not their families – to be the influence in their lives was blasphemy.  

In Mark 3, after appointing the twelve disciples, Jesus enters a house and is accused by his family of “being out of his mind.”  And by the teachers as “being possessed by Beelzebul!”

Jesus needs to counter this with equally strong language “…hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—.”  Had he said, “Come guys, we should totally hang out.  And you should listen to my rad ideas instead of your family.  For real man, it’s gonna be sweet!”  This would not have grabbed their attention or ear like the use of the word hate.  It wouldn’t have grabbed me either.  Or maybe it would have if Jesus spoke like a surfer dude.

So Jesus is not asking me to hate my family.  But He is telling me that He should be the one shaping my life.  Not my family.  Today this family metaphor applies but in a different way.  Families are obsessed with themselves – school, sports and extracurricular activities – these influence and dictate family life.  And there are tons of other influences too.  Jesus saying something like this would likely have more impact in our time, “If anyone comes to me and doesn’t hate their iPhone, Netflix, tattoos, beards, craft beer, bacon and squad goals – such a person cannot be my disciple.”

My friend Dan suggested I “elaborate on one specific situation where I had to make a choice; something that went against the grain of self-interest.”  The most obvious examples are relationships.  God wants us in relationship with Him and with each other.  I think Chris would agree that one of the reasons we are still married is because we know this.  And just like we choose God everyday, we also choose each other.  If I was only interested in myself I would have ditched him like a hot potato and pursued some loud, extroverted millionaire.  I joke but there is truth here.  In our darkest days as a married couple, I have clung to the idea that life isn’t all about me and my happiness.  I need to stop thinking about my needs and think about Chris’.  I need to extend the same grace and love to him that I receive daily from God.

Choosing Jesus was not a one off for me.  I have to consciously choose Jesus everyday.  Everyday I choose to surrender my plans and dreams to Jesus.  And so far it’s worked out pretty well.  I am living a salty, abundant life.

Some consider the cost of discipleship high.  But can you put a price on the freedom Jesus offers us?



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