For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? (Luke 14:28)
In his excellent commentary on Luke’s Gospel New Testament scholar David E. Garland wrote: “ Many who come to Christ have no idea in advance what this decision will eventually cost them.”[i] The church, he continued, often makes the problem worse by soft-selling the requirements of discipleship in an effort to keep attendance high and conflict low.[ii] As a pastor I agree with Garland completely. Pastors have sometime emphasized unity within the church body at the expense of unity with Christ.
In a society that regularly seeks to wed the gospel message to worldly materialism modern day pastors in North American have often capitulated to the post modern culture and back-pedaled the requirements of what it means to be a Christian disciple. I dread we have become the orators John Ruskin once referred to who “play stage tricks with the doctrines of life and death.”[iii]
At the expense of sounding cliché I want to begin this article by asking, “what would Jesus do?” Would Jesus ever soften His stance on the requirements for being one of His disciples? The answer to these questions is found in Luke 14:25-35. The organization of this passage is significant since Luke pairs-up repeated warnings and parables that emphasize a common theme of commitment.
- Setting (14:25)
- Two Warnings about the Commitment Required for Discipleship (14:26-27).
- The requirement of hating our family (14:26).
- The requirement for bearing one’s cross (14:27).
III. Two Warnings about the Commitment Required for Discipleship (14:28-32).
- The parable of the Tower Builder (14:28-30).
- The parable of the Warring King (14:31-32).
- Two Warnings about the Commitment Required for Discipleship (14:33-35a).
- The requirement for giving up one’s possessions (14:33).
- The uselessness of saltless salt (14:34-35a).
- Conclusion (14:35b)
In addition, the passage ends with the phrase “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” A grammatical nuance at the end of this phrase should be noted. The verb “let him hear” in verse thirty-five is active voice and could be translated more accurately as “make them hear” which would better emphasize the theme of commitment. Nonetheless, the outline and a basic understanding of Greek grammar indicate that Jesus would not soft-pedal His requirements for discipleship.
In verse twenty-six Jesus used a literary device known as hyperbole or exaggeration to make the point that His disciples must love Him more than our own family. Following this statement Jesus emphasized the cost of discipleship by claiming “Whoever does not take-up his own cross and come after me cannot be My disciple.” Once again, the verbs for “take-up” and “come” are both used in a present tense form that connotes an on-going durative type of action. Both of these warnings emphasize the theme of total commitment.
The parable of the tower builder begins with a rhetorical question “Who among you?” and is designed to elicit a response. The point is that discipleship requires that its first step is to count the cost.[iv] No one would ever do something as foolish as building only part of a tower and Christian discipleship requires the same commitment. Who would be foolish enough to commit to part-time discipleship when salvation hangs in the balance? We are called to count the cost of what we have begun in committing to a relationship with Christ. Likewise, the parable of the warring king emphasizes the same commitment. Going to war against an army twice the size of your own requires total commitment to win. The spiritual war Christian’s battle requires the same commitment.
Following the two parables Luke gives two additional warnings about commitment and discipleship. The call to giving up one’s possessions requires believers make a radical choice. We must love Jesus more than the possessions of this world. But this radical type of commitment comes with a hefty cost and therefore Christians must approach the faith with an understanding of what it will cost us.
In the fourth century a Christian preacher named John Chrysostom refused to tolerate the manner in which the rich inhabitants of Constantinople sought to wed the gospel with their own luxuries and comforts.[v] Chrysostom’s regularly challenged the rich and powerful to take care of the poor through his thundering sermons. Pushed from their comfort zones the rich initially sought to silence John by making monetary donations to the church, but Chrysostom’s sermons continued and the rich became progressively more uncomfortable with his messages. The cost for daring to preach such a message came with a cost and eventually he was exiled to an unknown hamlet near the Black Sea where a short time later he caught a cold and died. The man whom Christians a century later called the “the golden mouth” was finally silenced.
Sixteen century’s after Chrysostom’s death our society seeks to wed the gospel message with wealth and prosperity just as the inhabitants of Constantinople did. But where are the John Chrysostom’s of today? Where are the salty messages from the pulpit today that challenge bland faiths to rise to the high price of total commit to our Lord? Where are the sermons that call us to diligently count the costs of what it means to be a Christian disciple? What will be the cost to a nation that has lost its saltiness?
I began this article by posing a series of questions. What would Jesus do? Would He soften His stance? Would He soft-pedal the requirements of discipleship to a nation that has wed the Gospel message to its riches? The answer to these questions is an unequivocal “no.” Making atonement for the sins of humanity cost God His Son and Jesus His life. Therefore, the price of admission for being a disciple of Jesus is high, but we cannot pay for Christian discipleship with our riches. Like Chrysostom, the cost of our discipleship is life itself.
[iv] Ibid, 601-02.