I – who do not have that much to which to point to as ministry – do not wish to disparage or to discourage those who are in the Good Fight. There is, however, a frequently quoted statement by Jesus which I feel is being applied wrongly with the result that people are given what sounds like a profound call to action but which in the end is short on details and which action is not theirs to take. It comes from the following passage.
Now large crowds were accompanying Jesus, and turning to them he said, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother, and wife and children, and brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, wanting to build a tower, doesn’t sit down first and compute the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish the tower, all who see it will begin to make fun of him. They will say, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish!’ Or what king, going out to confront another king in battle, will not sit down first and determine whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot succeed, he will send a representative while the other is still a long way off and ask for terms of peace. In the same way therefore not one of you can be my disciple if he does not renounce all his own possessions. (Luke 14:25-33)
I quoted it fairly fully and there is a lot in there (I addressed the carry your cross statement here), but the thought I want to address is, count the cost. I’ve heard it, You’ve heard it. Your pastor or teacher or discipler calls you to count the cost before choosing to give all to Jesus. “Jesus calls on his people to count the cost”. This is, as I said, an inspiring call, but I think it suffers from some issues.
The first is, what are the details? How does one “count the cost”? What if someone counts the cost and says, “Wow! That’s too much! I’ll pass, thanks.” Certainly, the discipler has spared himself the bother of working with somebody who will let him down, but I really don’t see that as Jesus’ point. Is the “cost is too high” guy in the Body of Believers, The Church? As all the commentaries point out, every single one of Jesus’ listeners that day abandoned him in the not too distant future (in fulfillment of the Scriptures, I would add). How does it make sense to also say that Jesus’ point here is to get people “to examine their resolve”? Prepare them for his death, yes, but this passage does not prepare them for the utter failure of their resolve which was to happen.
Second, does any Christian – new or old, novice or mature – even know the costs much less have them counted? In other situations, the Christian refrain is that God does not tell you more than you need to know so as not to overwhelm you. But for this chapter the teaching is that you have to count the costs – all of them – and choose to give yourself – all of you – to Jesus. Frankly, this sounds more like the fake Faith teachings about how you did not muster enough faith up (or have some minuscule doubt hidden deep in there) and that’s why you are in such sad shape. It protects “God” (more likely, their theological agenda) by piling guilt on the weak believer.
Finally, there are the pictures involved. “Which builder …” and “which king …” I look at these images and wonder how they get applied to the believer when typically these images – especially king – refer to God. Uniquely among Scriptures, this passage is read and “king” means you? It seems to me to be more to the point that the pictures refer to God. God is the one who is building something and having counted the costs determined that he has the materials to build it. The materials are the members of the Church who love God more than their earthly lives. God is the king who has counted the cost and knows that his army of cross-bearers will win against the enemy. He will not seek peace with Satan. Jesus will go to Jerusalem and endure the cross because the cost has been counted.
When I hear the teaching that Christians should count the cost, I know what the teacher is getting at. He wants to encourage devotion and resolve. Who doesn’t want to lead a fired-up group? Yet, it seems to me that the typical teaching lends itself to encouraging someone to throw his flesh into it. To grit your teeth and push through. Jesus’ statement is not a pleading to buck up to the task. It is the statement of a king saying that having counted it all, his plan is victorious because the people he leads are his disciples, characterized by their single devotion for him.