I hear that many businesses fail. Someone has a great idea and decides to build a business around it. They obtain a loan, make purchases, and open for business. Customers don’t materialize fast enough to keep up with the mounting debt and the new business goes under. Unfortunately, the results reveal a failure to accurately count the cost.
We quickly discover that in our work lives, the wrong word or action can cost our business a customer, or even our own job. For the Christian, or any person of faith, our words and actions can either draw people into sharing our faith, or sadly drive them away.
For many years, we’ve noticed that in certain countries around the world, Christians have had to count the cost of following Jesus. To many, a life of faith can lead to harassment, imprisonment, or death. Of course, this has been true throughout history. The word “martyr” comes to mind.
What Does Count the Cost Mean to Me
But where I live, this type of persecution is not the norm. So, these words arrested my attention the other day as I read them:
So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.Luke 14:33 NASB
Did I fail to count the cost? I own a house, a car, and obviously a computer. I wear clothes and eat enough food. What about the obligation to take care of my family? I count myself as a disciple, a follower, of Christ, but I don’t appear to have given up all of my possessions. Then I look around. None of my Christian friends or associates seem to have done it either. Unfortunately, too often we are quick to find ways to explain away the obvious meaning of this verse. But, should we?
Examine the Context
Let’s take a moment to look at the context which can be equally disturbing. To count the cost reaches much further than imprisonment and death. Earlier in the text we read these words:
If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his own father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.Luke 14:26 NASB
“Cannot be my disciple” are strong words. But, to hate your own family, that seems to be too much. What kind of faith is this anyway?
Then, Jesus addresses how we live our lives:
Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.Luke 14:27 NASB
Somehow, living with bad health and bad relatives doesn’t fit the bill of what Jesus is talking about. We have to remember carrying your cross always ended in death.
So, we see three verses that reveal that Christ’s followers have to hate their family and themselves, have to pick up a carry a deadly cross, and have to give up everything they possess. If they don’t they can’t be His disciples. Ouch!
But in the middle of these pronouncements, Jesus gives two illustrations, that don’t seem to fit. However, these two illustrations open up an understanding of these statements which can help us understand them better.
Similar to my opening paragraph, Jesus tells the story of a builder who had to count the cost of erecting a tower. This He follows with the story of a king who has to count the cost of war before setting out to battle.
Examine the Text – Hate
Further, a look into the words “hate” and “give up” also illuminate the truth of these verses. The danger we face at this point is the danger of watering down what Jesus actually said in trying to make them more compatible with what we want them to say.
From my teenage years, I can remember being told that “hate” simply meant to “love less.” And, to an extent I believe this is true. However, it seems that it was always used to explain away the difficulty of this passage. These words made it more palatable to our western mindset. Unfortunately, this word is a strong word that we need to understand and not water down.
There is a level of hate that means aversion. This spurns all that is ungodly and wrong in our world. However, if we apply this understanding to these words about hating our family, we run up against other scriptures. One tells us that to hate our brother is to be a murderer.
So, let us look at it in the context of counting the cost. I would say that Jesus is not telling us to maliciously turn against our family members. Instead, He is telling us that we cannot love our family members more than we love Him. To do so means that we cannot be His disciples. There is a similar expression when scriptures tells us that we cannot love God and money. We must love the one and hate the other. There is a dichotomy which tells us that our love for God will bide absolutely no rivals, including our families. In our relationships there is a cost that we must take into account.
Examine the Text – Give Up
Next, we look at the word “give up.” Right away, I can see that the English translation doesn’t say “give away.” Although God is an advocate for the poor, there is not biblical context that shows God desiring His people to live in poverty. Instead, we are to use our possessions to help the poor and advance the cause of Christ in our world.
However, the word for “give up” can also be translated as “renounce.” Here again we find context in the words “count the cost.” We must renounce our possessions to God. In is imperative to remember that God is the owner and we are only His stewards. God grants us the use of material goods, but expects us to use them as He commands. Therefore, we don’t “give away” our goods to others, but we give them up to God Himself.
Our Challenge to Count the Cost
The challenge of these verses is not new. Jesus tells us that the greatest commandment is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind, and all our strength. To be Christ’s disciple is to love God above all else in our world: our relationships, our possessions, and ourselves. There is no watering down the demands of Christ in these few verses in Luke. The challenge appears impossible. Only with the Spirit of God living within us will we be able to rise to meet it.
So what will we do? How will this impact the raising of our children? In what ways will it play out in relationships with parents and spouses? In unexpected ways it may elevate those relationships because we can begin to look at our families, not through our eyes, but through the eyes of God. It is not our love for them that is ultimately important, but His love for them.
And our worldly possessions… Do we continue to acquire and use for our own pleasure and benefit? Or do we begin to find pleasure through thanksgiving to God while holding them loosely in our hands, ready at all times to allow Him to direct their use?
Explain these hard words away? No, let’s try to understand their implications. These are strong words and the ultimatum Jesus places on us is incredibly demanding. It is imperative that we count the cost if we are to truly be His disciples.
Count the Cost – Living for Jesus: a Hymn
Living for Jesus a life that is true,
Striving to please Him in all that I do;
Yielding allegiance, glad-hearted and free,
This is the pathway of blessing for me.
Living for Jesus who died in my place,
Bearing on Calv’ry my sin and disgrace;
Such love constrains me to answer His call,
Follow His leading and give Him my all.
Living for Jesus through earth’s little while,
My dearest treasure, the light of His smile;
Seeking the lost ones He died to redeem,
Bringing the weary to find rest in Him.
O Jesus, Lord and Savior,
I give myself to Thee;
For Thou, in Thine atonement,
Didst give Thyself for me.
I own no other Master,
My heart shall be Thy throne;
My life I give, henceforth to live,
O Christ, for Thee alone.
“Living for Jesus” by Thomas O. Chisholm (1917)
Renounce my Posessions?: What does Luke 14.33 mean? by Tim Kelley has a thoughtful examination of this scripture passage. It was helpful in my own thought process.
You may also be interested in the article Great Expectations.