#65. Cost of Discipleship (Luke 14:25-35)

by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
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Text

Luke 14:25-35

[25] Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: [26] "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters -- yes, even his own life -- he cannot be my disciple. [27] And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

[28] "Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? [29] For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, [30] saying, 'This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.'

[31] "Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? [32] 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. [33] In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.

[34] "Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? [35] It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out.

"He who has ears to hear, let him hear."

This text is available as a Readers Theater for three readers at http://www.jesuswalk.com/rt/rt-costdisciple.htm


Exposition

In some of my more pride-filled moments I've dreamed of "large crowds" which are a salve to my insecurity and a badge of success to much of the world. But Jesus is different. He is not a slave to either ego or public opinion. In fact, for him, large crowds are cause for concern.

The Problem with Large Crowds (14:25a)

"Large crowds were traveling with Jesus...." (14:25a)

Jesus seems to distrust a large following, aware that for many of them this was just a popular movement, a "happening," rather than any deep commitment.

I saw this phenomenon in the 60s in the Charismatic Movement of which I was a part. It did much good, but there was so much fluff, so much superficiality, so much shallowness.

I saw this phenomenon again in the late 60s and early 70s in the Jesus Movement in Southern California. I was a youth leader at the time and we had an influx of young converts in our church from the surfer crowd. There was an explosion of Jesus music, Jesus trinkets, Jesus newspapers, Jesus comics. Much good was done -- lasting good -- but much was just surface allegiance. Many of those who came to Christ during the Jesus Movement are mature leaders in our churches today, but many are far from Jesus.

Jesus sees the large crowds traveling with him, perhaps setting up a moving tent city as he travels from town to town, and he is concerned.

Hating One's Life and Family (14:25b-26)

"Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: 'If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters -- yes, even his own life -- he cannot be my disciple.' " (14:25-26)

Jesus turns to this crowd and speaks to them in the strongest possible terms: Unless a person "hates" even his close family members, even his own life, he can't be a disciple.

The Greek word is miseo, "hate, detest, abhor."[1] If you take this literally, it is shocking. Jesus means it to be shocking, jolting, provoking real listening. Hating, detesting is not neutral. It does not mean ignoring someone. It does not imply disinterest. It means to actively despise. Yes, there is a Semitic sense in the Bible which some translate, "to love less,"[2] but I don't think that is the force of this statement. Jesus word is intended to shock and to challenge.

How can Jesus, who teaches us to love our neighbor as ourself, turn around and instruct us to hate our closest family members? This is the question in every heart that hears these words.

Jesus is using hyperbole, an overstatement in order to make a point with maximum impact. We've seen this before in Jesus' teaching style. (See the lesson on Love Your Enemies (6:27-36), www.jesuswalk.com/lessons/6_27-36.htm):

  • Cutting off one's hand (Matthew 5:29-30)
  • A camel passing through the eye of a needle (Matthew 19:24)
  • Accepting violence and robbery without resistance (6:29)
  • A timber in one's eye (Luke 6:41-42)

Jesus states something in a striking, unforgettable way, a way that challenges us and forces us to think. I think that's what he's doing here.

What does Jesus mean by telling us that we must hate our closest family members? He is contrasting our allegiance to Jesus in the strongest possible way. No earthly tie, however close, must take precedence over our allegiance to and obedience of Jesus. He is Number One -- by far! No person even comes close!

Now this is no excuse to treat family members shabbily or with disrespect. Our responsibilities for our family still remain. Paul once wrote, "If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever" (1 Timothy 5:8; see also Luke 11:11-13; 2 Corinthians 12:14).

But it does mean that following Jesus is to take first priority -- even if it is painful, difficult, and misunderstood. Our parent's wishes don't come first; Jesus' direction does. Our spouse's and children's desires don't come first; Jesus' direction does. Yes, there have been a lot of well-meaning but flaky people who have used this as an excuse not to care for their families, but their poor examples do not negate or invalidate Jesus' words.

Jesus says to the crowds travelling with him: Unless you place me as the first priority, over every other priority in your life, you can't be my disciples. His words speak to you and to me also. We cannot avoid or weasel out of their impact and force.

Carrying the Disciple's Cross and Following (14:27)

"And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple." (14:27)

In the lesson on "Taking Up Your Cross Daily" (9:22-26), www.jesuswalk.com/lessons/9_22-26.htm) we explore this in detail. It means that we must accept the death of our own self-directed life, die to ourselves daily, and be willing to face whatever physical, emotional, or social persecution that ensues -- and follow Jesus. Being a disciple, Jesus is saying, demands full commitment; nothing less will do. In order to illustrate this point Jesus tells two parables.

Estimating Construction Costs (14:28-30)

"Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, 'This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.' " (14:28-30)

If you're like me, you have a number of unfinished projects in various states of completion. Some began with great intentions, but then other things came up or you lost interest. I'll do that sometime, you tell yourself. And sometimes you do.

This isn't good enough for discipleship. Jesus gives an example from a construction project, a tower, Greek purgos, "tower" or "farm building."[3] Before beginning something of this magnitude, you must first carefully calculate the cost. The Greek words are psethizo, "count up, calculate,"[4] and dapane, "cost, expense."[5]

Down the street from the house where I lived as a boy, a lot was cleared, the foundation poured, and the rough framing for a home partly done. Then one day, the workman left. The partially finished house stood there for many years after we moved, a monument to poor planning, to running out of money, to not counting the cost ahead of time.

Jesus is saying, If you don't have the wherewithal or willingness to see it through, don't even attempt the journey. Discipleship is a decision that demands the utmost seriousness and commitment. Be very, very sure you want to follow Jesus as his disciple.

Estimating the Success of a Military Action (14:31-33)

Jesus tells a second parable about planning and needs assessment, this time in a military context:

"Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not 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, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple. (14:31-33)

Israel has always been located on the highway between major powers. Egypt is to the south. To the north are (in various eras) Syria, Assyria, Babylon, Greece, and Rome. Palestine has seen the marching of armies and has its share of bloody battlefields. Many times Israel's kings were required to decide if they could win a battle, and, if they determined that they were outnumbered, surrender to the stronger commander rather than face slaughter in war.

Near the beginning of World War II, General Douglas MacArthur was charged with the defense of the Philippines against the invading Japanese. His desperate calls for reinforcements went unheeded, and gradually his men retreated to the Bataan Peninsula and the fortress of Corregidor in Manila harbor. Though MacArthur chaffed and fumed, his military superiors took a tough but clear-eyed assessment of their abilities to carry on and win a battle thousands of miles from their supply lines. They decided to cut their losses and not fight. It meant the loss of thousands of soldiers and resulted in the infamous Bataan Death March. (My great uncle was among the survivors.) But only after victories in the South Pacific established supply lines was the Philippines liberated and Manila freed. Bravado doesn't count. Careful consideration of our ability to follow through does.

Jesus isn't talking about the times that God helped his people face insuperable odds and win the battle, as in the case of Gideon and his band of 300 men. He is talking about the normal situations that face kings and nations, businesses and families. Can we afford this? Can we pay this bill on time? If not, what can we do to stave off bankruptcy? You understand.

Jesus is saying, Consider ahead of time whether or not you are willing to become his follower. It will take everything you have and more. Discipleship will figure in every future decision of your life. The will of God will be first in your priority from now on. If you don't have the ability or willingness to give following Jesus you all, then don't begin. Don't move toward a battle that you will surely lose. Figure out your resources and what you are willing to commit ahead of time. If you don't have it, don't commit your forces. Without enough strength they'll be chewed up, destroyed. Halfway measures aren't adequate. It must be all or nothing.

Giving Up Everything (14:33)

In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple. (14:31-33)

What does it mean to give up everything? The Greek word is apotasso, " 'say farewell (to), take leave (of).' Figuratively, 'renounce, give up.' "[6] Green sees this attitude as basic. "The distinctive property of disciples is the abandonment with which they put aside all competing securities in order that they might refashion their lives and identity according to the norms of the kingdom of God."[7] We see this attitude personified in some famous disciples:

  • Peter, James, and John leave their nets (5:11).
  • Levi leaves his lucrative tax collecting business (5:27-28).
  • Zacchaeus gives half his fortune to the poor (19:8).
  • The Rich Young Ruler is unwilling to renounce his wealth and follow, and goes sadly away (18:22).

What is there that keeps you from following fully? What must you commit to Christ's cause so that you don't come up short and are recaptured by it? Money held the Rich Young Ruler's heart. What has a hold on yours?

Restoring Salt's Lost Tang (14:34-35)

"Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out. He who has ears to hear, let him hear."

Jesus' final saying discusses salt. Salt was considered an essential of life. It was used for both flavoring and preservation. We're used to purchasing refined salt off the store shelf. In Jesus' day salt was obtained from evaporation from the Dead Sea, but it was far from pure. It was often mixed with greater or lesser concentrations of other salts. It is possible for all the Sodium Chloride to be leached out of a mixture of salts so all that is left is stale and useless.[7]

Dear friends, it is impossible for salt to lose its tang, but it is possible for what appears to be salt to have all its true salt washed out of it. Then, even though the appearance remains, the essence is lost.

You may have heard the question, "If you were on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?" If we have so conformed our ways and words to the world around us that they can't see Christ in us -- that they are surprised to find out that we are Christians -- then maybe we aren't very salty at all. What a tragedy!

Lessons for Disciples

This week's lesson is tough. Our world pushes the belief that none will be lost but all go to heaven. Well, maybe a mass murderer like Timothy McVeigh will go to hell, but hardly anyone else.

Jesus, on the other hand, is giving the opposite message.

"Someone asked him, 'Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?'
He said to them, 'Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.' " (Luke 13:23-24)
"Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it." (Matthew 7:13-14)

The crowd of Christians is huge, numbering over a billion, if you count all those classified by demographers as Christians. Nominal means "named as". But how many of those "nominal" Christians are actually following Jesus? How many have made a deliberate commitment to follow him? And the big question: Can you be saved if you are not a disciple of Christ?

These are troubling questions. They can disturb our theologies and comfort zones. But our goal is not to be undisturbed but to understand the truth.

Jesus looks at the large crowd traveling with him today, and he says:

  • Your allegiance to me must be complete; every other allegiance must pale before it.
  • You must be constantly ready to die for me, if necessary, as you follow me.
  • You must count the cost before you start to determine if you are committed enough to follow me. If you realize that you aren't, then don't even begin.
  • You must give up everything you have to follow me.
  • You must retain the distinctive flavor of uncompromised disciples.

I wonder what the crowd said? What they did? What will you do or say to this? Did they gradually thin out as his words struck home, or did his words challenge them to move from their shallow following to determined, committed following? My hope and prayer is that the latter result prevailed -- and prevails in your life.


Prayer

Lord Jesus, I can see that you are seeking to bring us farther along the journey. We want to walk at our own pace, free to take whatever side trails beckon. But you are insisting on being the Leader. It is non-negotiable. I've learned long ago that I can't rely on my own will and determination. I am weak. Today I call upon you afresh for help to follow you faithfully. Forgive my sins of willfulness and selfishness. Forgive my grasping at the props of the world. Forgive my flimsy excuses. Restore to me the full saltiness of one of your own. Have mercy upon me. In your holy name, I pray. Amen.


Key Verse

"If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters -- yes, even his own life -- he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple." (Luke 14:26-27)

"In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple." (Luke 14:33)


Questions

JesusWalk: Discipleship Training in Luke's Gospel, by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
All 120 lessons now compiled as a 808-page e-book and paperback. Get your copy for easy reference
  1. What do "large crowds" (14:25) have to do with Jesus' teaching in this passage?
  2. How can we rightfully honor our father and our mother, and at the same time not water down Jesus' command to hate them? (14:26)
  3. What does "carrying your cross" having to do with "hating your own life"? (14:26b-27)
  4. What is the point of the Parable of Building the Tower? (14:28-30)
  5. What is the point of the Parable of Assessing Military Strength? (14:31-32)
  6. What do Jesus words about "giving up everything he has" (14:33) have to do with owning a house and car? With purchasing a refrigerator? With seeking an academic degree?
  7. What does saltiness represent in 14:34? Should people be able to tell that you are a Christian? How? How can we walk the fine line between being a witness and coming across "holier than thou"?


References

Common Abbreviations www.jesuswalk.com/faq/abbreviations.htm

  1. Shorter Lexicon, p. 129.
  2. Marshall, p. 92. He cites 16:13; parallel Matthew 6:24; Genesis 29:31-33; Deuteronomy 21:15-17; 2 Samuel 19:7; Proverbs 13:24; Isaiah 60:15; Malachi 1:2-3; Romans 9:13; 1 John 2:9; Strack and Billerback I, 434. Marshall sees a connection with the Hebrew verb sane, which has the sense "to leave aside, abandon," and concludes that the thought in our passage is not of psychological hate, but of renunciation.
  3. Shorter Lexicon, p. 175.
  4. Shorter Lexicon, p. 219.
  5. Shorter Lexicon, p. 42.
  6. Shorter Lexicon, p. 24. Marshall, p. 594, renders it "say a final good-bye," and cites Philo, LA 3:142.
  7. Green, p. 567. I.G. Herr, "Salt," ISBE 4:286-287.
  8. Marshall, p. 596; cites F. Hauck, TDNT 1:229; Jeremias, Parables, p. 168f.

Copyright © 1985-2017, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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