These days the success of a church or minister is usually measured in numbers: the bigger the crowds the more successful the ministry.
But numbers never impressed Jesus. He was much more interested in disciples – people who were ready to be taught by him and be guided by his good counsel throughout life, no matter the cost.
In Luke chapter 14, verses 26 through 33, we find that huge crowds were following him. Turning to them he said: “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple…”
The choice between family affection and our loyalty to him is the first of two expectations Jesus sets out for all who would follow him.
The startling word hatred with respect to family members lays out a principle: namely the need to subordinate every relationship, including our relationship with dearly loved ones, and even life itself, to loyalty to Jesus Christ.
This is not fanaticism. Rather, Jesus’ focus here is rooted in the first commandment: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength’ (Deuteronomy 6:6).
Now, it is vital not to build doctrine on just one verse. True disciples, instructed by the counsel of God’s Word, will also be aware of the importance of family life – as we find for example, in Deuteronomy 5:16, 18; Matthew 5:27ff; Ephesians 5:3-5, and Ephesians 5:22-6:4.
Furthermore, elsewhere in his ministry Jesus even commands his followers to love their enemies, not destroy them (Luke 6:27).
In any age – and not least today – there are many who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ. But Jesus is telling us that unless our loyalty to him is not front and center in our lives, our claim is meaningless – “they cannot be my disciple”, he says (Luke 14:27b).
Bearing one’s cross is another expectation (14:27). The sight of someone carrying a cross would have been familiar to many of Luke’s first readers. Hundreds were crucified in Galilee at the time. Speaking figuratively, Jesus requires that any of us who would follow him must put aside anything that stands in the way of their loyalty to him and honoring him.
JC Ryle (Luke: Expository Thoughts, pp167f) comments: ‘The demand which our Lord makes upon us here is particularly stringent and heart-searching. Yet it is a wise and necessary one … Ungodly fathers cannot bear to see their sons ‘taking up new views’ of religion; worldly mothers are vexed to see their daughters unwilling to enter into the gaieties of the world …
‘It is a heavy cross to disagree with those we love, and especially about spiritual things; but if this cross is to be laid upon us, we must remember that firmness and decision are true kindness.’
How often has a firm but gracious resolve to follow Christ spurred family members to take Christ seriously?
Two parables illustrate the need to count the cost – the tower builder and the warring king.
Anyone who decides to build a tower – it is their choice – will want to calculate the cost. To do otherwise is to invite the scorn of others and even threaten the success of the enterprise.
Furthermore, it is a foolish leader (king) who goes to war without evaluating the resources needed for victory. It is the wise king who, realizing he does not have the necessary resources, finds a way to secure a peace.
To follow Christ truly is costly. It’s something that God’s people in every age should consider.
With the pandemic over the last two and a half years, many good Bible-believing churches are finding there is a renewed interest in the Christian faith. How important it is that when introducing men and women to the wonders of God’s grace and the hope of glory, they do not neglect to explain the cost of commitment. Too often people come into the life of a church with their own dreams and expectations – prosperity, or ‘God will let me live life the way I want’.
Salt – a warning. Jesus concludes his words here with the analogy of salt. Anyone who says they are his follower and yet who lacks the qualities of true discipleship is like salt that has lost it flavor. “Salt is good,” Jesus says. However, “if salt has lost its taste how can its saltiness be restored?” he asks (14:34).
Pure salt is one of the most stable compounds and therefore doesn’t lose its taste. However it is generally agreed that the common salt used in Jesus’ day was impure. It was therefore possible that the sodium chloride in the material called salt could be washed out and thus lose its salty taste. It became useless: “It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile…”
‘True discipleship,’ Jesus is saying, ‘both preserves and adds flavor.’ True disciples are not bland and insipid. Rather they have a cutting edge to their lives – living a life of discipleship, no matter the cost; praying for and looking for ways to introduce others to the Lord Jesus Christ.
A prayer. Lord God, you know us to be set in the midst of so many great dangers that by reason of the frailty of our nature we cannot always stand upright: grant us such strength and protection as may support us in all dangers and carry us through all temptations; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
You may like to listen to Holy Spirit, Living Breath of God from Keith and Kristyn Getty.
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© John G. Mason
Note: Today’s ‘Word’ is adapted from my book in the ‘Reading the Bible Today’ series, Luke: An Unexpected God, 2nd Edition, Aquila: 2018.
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