Counting The Cost
"And there went great multitudes with him: and he turned, and said unto them, If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple." (Luk 14:25-27)
When we talk about the disciples of Jesus we usually mean the twelve named disciples who were called by Jesus. But, if you read closely in the Gospels, you will notice that Jesus was often surrounded by a "multitude" of disciples. A disciple in its simplest meaning is a student or follower of a teacher. Jesus had many disciples, at times numbering in the thousands. Most often people were drawn to Jesus because of the miracles of healing that he did as well as the remarkable teaching. I think it's safe to say that most of the multitude was there because of the miracles. Jesus even complained about this when he said, "A wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign" (Mat 16:14). It's also quite likely that many of them were looking for a political leader, the promised messiah, who they believed would end Roman rule over the Jews.
That helps put this verse from Luke into a little better perspective I think. People were following Jesus without really understanding what he was going to do. Not understanding, they had not given any thought to what the cost of following Jesus would be. So, he told them, "You better count the cost if you intend to follow me."
It's not much different today, I think. Many people who call themselves Christian grew up in Church and became Christians by default. Or, they reached a point in life where nothing seemed to be working anymore, so they "got religion" as a way to turn their life around. The end result is a religion that panders to people's emotional needs, material desires and worldly concerns. I'm not condemning those who take that first step of faith that way, but that can only be a starting point. If we truly intend to follow Jesus, we must count the cost. Those who don't will eventually fall away when they find out what it really takes to follow Jesus. The cost of following Jesus is to "hate his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also."
The statement of Jesus is a difficult one at first glance. How can we be Christians, proclaiming God's love above all else, if we are to "hate" father, mother, wife, children, etc? It seems contradictory. However, it's only a problem if you insist on reading every single word of the Gospels in a literal sense. Jesus often spoke using symbolism, parables, and hyperbole. That's what this is, in my opinion: hyperbole. It's stating something to an extreme in order to get people's attention. So, we shouldn't interpret this verse literally as a commandment to hate anyone. As 1 John 4:11 puts it, "Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another." The intending meaning is spelled out in verse thirty-three:
So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple. (Luk 14: 33)
If you read the whole of Luke chapter 14 together, then you get an understanding of what Jesus is saying. What he is saying is that you cannot come to the Kingdom of Heaven with the idea that it is some add-on to your life. You cannot follow Jesus if you are seeking a way to better yourself in this world. To follow Jesus means to follow him to the cross. It you don't intend to die to self and live for God, then don't bother at all. That's the cost of following Jesus. If you don't understand that, if you don't count the cost of following him, then when troubles come, you will shrink back or stumble. Knowing the cost of following Jesus will help you stay the course. If you understand that all must be set aside for the Kingdom, then you won't be surprised when the call comes to put something aside or deny some thing that you might desire.
Not counting the cost is why so many who come to Jesus are prone to stumble, to compromise, and to water down the gospel message. You don't get many converts by starting out telling people that this "religion" is about denying your own wants, giving it all up, and seeking only God. So, we evangelize by proclaiming the wonderful things that God has done for us. God sent His Son. Jesus gave His life that we might live and to put that same spirit of life in us. While we exist in this world, He promises to never leave us or forsake us, to heal and comfort us, to provide for our needs, and to ultimately lift us into eternity with Him forever. All of that is God's grace to us, freely given before we ever did anything. We can never pay for that as we simply do not possess the price. Yet, there is a cost that we must pay. So, count the cost. Is it worth it to you? Will you forsake all for the Kingdom of Heaven? God gave his best for us. He only asks that we do the same.
"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it." (Mat 13:45-46)