I coincidentally stumbled upon this old blog post the other day "The Cultural Implications of the Great Commission" and it reminded me that there are so many unclear definitions and beliefs about discipleship.
What is a disciple?
Fortunately Jesus Himself defines what it takes to be a disciple in Luke 14 beginning at verse 25.
The Cost of Being a Disciple25 Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. 27 And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
28 “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? 29 For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, 30 saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’
31 “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he 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, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.
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.
“Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”
Interestingly, while I have heard lots of talk about discipleship, the "Great Commission" of Matt 28 and our need to make disciples, I cannot ever recall hearing a sermon about the entire passage of Luke 14:25~35. Maybe I just forgot .... but surely this is a vital topic, in need of specific definition.
Just so I'm clear, I do not in any way seek to imply that I have this sorted out, and fully understood. Neither am I in any way qualified to be authoritive about what Jesus calls all of mankind to be - a disciple. But if we are to be making disciples, surely a clear understanding of what this means and costs is imperative.
As I was reading in Luke 8 the other day "18 Therefore consider carefully how you listen...." I was struck by Jesus words. Then reading Matt 17 today, God Himself says of Jesus "Listen to Him." Why would He say this? What was He saying? When we read through the Bible it becomes clear that the words listen, and hear are often associated together. Even more telling is how often listen, hear and obey are found together. How many times have we "tuned out" when someone is speaking? We may be "kind of" listening but not hearing, and thus unlikely to do or obey what we are being told. Let me suggest that it is VERY important that we listen carefully to what Jesus has to say, so carefully, that we actually "hear it", comprehend what He has said and then to develop and have the attitude of "Yes Lord Jesus" even before we might fully understand with our minds all the nuances of what He was saying. I'm not saying that understanding doesn't matter, just that our obedience needs to occur regardless of our mental understanding and concurrence. Why do I bring this up? Keep reading, all will be revealed.
I would like to explore each of the five key thoughts that Jesus boldly declares, as I believe our understanding of what He defined as necessary to being a disciple is vital! Jesus states there are three things we must do, else we cannot be His disciple. He also gives two very short parables that disclose some key processes we must have undertaken before we begin the journey of discipleship. Finally He finishes with likening those that fail to get these five items sorted out as worthless salt, not even any use for a dung heap. I guess we should really take note.
So, with that in mind, lets proceed.
As Jesus is travelling with the twelve, and with a large crowd around Him, He boldly declares "If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple"
How can Jesus tell us to hate our family? He is on record as saying in Matt 22:37-39 37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’
This could appear to be contradictory, however He also said:
32 “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. 33 But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven. 34 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn “‘a man against his father,a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law— 36 a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’ 37 “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it. Matt10:32-39
Taking these two passages together (letting scripture interpret scripture) makes it quite clear that he is talking about priorities. So when the (inevitable?) conflict arises, we should be in no doubt that the opinion of our family takes second place to that of Jesus, the one we have now pledged to follow.
Most of us care little for what a stranger or a mere acquaintance thinks about, or even says about us. However, when those closest to home start making comments about our actions in pursuit of Jesus, or our plans to do this or that for Him, it can often cause us to pull back, maybe even change our mind. Let me suggest that it is imperative that we hold the opinion of God much higher than anyone elses, even those we may love most dearly on this earth.
Jesus then went on to say in both the Matt 10 and the Luke 14 verses that those that do not take up or carry their cross and follow Him are not worthy and cannot be His disciples. It is a little difficult for those of us living some 2000 years after the fall of the Roman Empire to really understand the metaphor that Jesus uses here. In the time that Jesus walked on earth, all those that heard this statement had no doubt what it meant. Common Roman practice was to have the condemned man carry his own cross to the outside of the town or city where he was to be crucified. They had all seen this happen, they had all seen the condemned left hanging until dead on a cross.
So not only are we to hold the opinions and comments of those around us null and void, even our own desires and sense of self preservation needs to be placed second. Once again there comes the challenge of priorities. What do we value the most, whose opinion matters? That of those closest to us? Do we want or need their affirmation? Does their opinion rate more important than our walk of discipleship? What about a threat to my comfort?, or acceptance within a group of people, my peers maybe? How often have we heard the phrase "I'd just die if .....", may I propose that it is just such things that need to be weighed up and crucified so that we can become His disciple. It is going to cost us something - are you prepared to pay?
These initial two statements clearly define two non-negotiable attitudes we must have in order to be a disciple. As someone once said " ... the problem with a living sacrifice is it keeps crawling off the alter". Our resolve around the opinions of others as well as our regard for our own ego and skin need to be consistently examined and as it were "re-signed up" each day.
What our Lord asks of us can have only one response as a disciple - Yes!
Before moving on to the two parables ..... Just in case we treat this decision too trivially or lightly, let me suggest that the choice we're facing here: to become a disciple? is the most important decision we ever face. Making this decision, does not mean we then need to do everything perfectly from now on; suddenly we are no longer allowed to make mistakes or fail, - rather it has to do with a heart attitude, a humility we need to embrace and walk in - we are choosing to become totally dependent upon His grace and Holy Spirit that now seeks to work within us - every moment of every day.
Then Jesus tells of the need to weigh up all the costs of doing something, else we may get started and run out of funds, and not complete what we have begun. Then those looking on and observing will ridicule the aborted attempt. This ridicule may also encompass the cause that one has embarked upon. How many have looked at those that have begun to walk as Jesus walked, but then observered their love and passion grow cold? They could be forgiven for thinking the cause was not worth it.
The writer of Hebrews in chapter 6 makes these statements:
4 It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age 6 and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace. - fairly intense statements, let's remember God the Father's investment in this choice we face: He gave us His only Son, to suffer and die a horrendous death so that we can go free, can become adopted into a new family, become His Kingdom representatives here on earth.
As disciples we are told that once having put our hand to the plough, there should be no looking back ... remember Lot's wife. Let us determine in our own minds, having weighed up all the costs involved, if we are "all in" or not.
Yes, He is asking for ALL of our lives, not just a part, not just on Sunday, not just a mental acceptance of who and what Jesus is. It must make us different from those that are not disciples. Just as it is with the one undertaking a building project, it is visible to those looking on. Our lives as disciples should be observably different from the world from which we have been purchased and redeemed.
Then Jesus tells another parable, that on the face of it would be a "no brainer," surely a king with 10,000 soldiers facing an army of 20,000 must seek terms of surrender. Yet there are a number of things that I believe we need to consider here. There are many times in history where inferior forces have overwhelmed much greater opposition. Thus part of what we must consider here is that our resolve is in question. How committed are we? Do you have "skin in the game"? If we have carefully considered and committed to the earlier challenges Jesus gave, then we have nothing left to loose, we're committed to the cause of the gospel. In this situation each one may be worth 2 or more of the opposition, thus the king can proceed into battle, knowing that his army will not turn aside, they will overcome what may to the natural eye look like an impossible situation. Am I that kind of disciple?
There is another perspective this parable exposes, there may be times when we need to seek terms of peace, the time for battle is not now. Take the time when the Pharisees brought the women caught in adultery to Jesus, thinking to trap Him. Last time I checked, it takes two to commit adultery, yet only the women is brought before Jesus. Rather than deal directly with the issue being presented, Jesus utters those amazing words "let him without sin, cast the first stone". In no way was Jesus condoning the actions being presented, yet justice could not be done with only a single party present. A much bigger issue needs to be recognized first, we all deserve judgement and punishment, we all stand in desperate need of His grace and forgiveness.
So how does this help in our consideration of what it takes to be a disciple?
There is a time and place to deal with everything in our lives, sometimes we need to press through despite the things we face, the things we may not have dealt with. Having done everything, to stand, not to fold. Then there will be those times where we seek terms of peace, not compromise, until such time as it is right to confront the issue and see it resolved. How do we know the difference? that needs us to be listening, hearing and obeying Him,
Finally Jesus gives the last ultimatum, "in the same way" we are asked to give up EVERYTHING, otherwise we cannot be His disciple. Once again, letting the bible interpret itself: Mark 8:34~35 also covers this same discourse, each of the synoptic gospels helps shed light on what it means to be a disciple. 34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? 37 Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 38 If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”
Nothing held back, all in, all our dreams and aspirations, our passions, our abilities, our energies, our possesions, our talents and gifts, our reputation, our ego ..... our very lives. The divine exchange, what are we given in exchange for making this discipleship commitment. He is no fool that gives what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot loose.
Salt is good, BUT... Jesus' disciples are designated and called to be salt - a flavour enhancer, a preservative. It is this aspect of the Christian life that needs to be redeemed in 2015. Unless we understand and submit to Jesus' definition of discipleship, we are destined to become worthless salt, not fit for dumping on the manure pile. Strong words, unequivocal .... do we listen?, do we hear?, will we obey?
If persecution should arise, you should be willing to part with all that you possess—with your liberty, with your life itself, for Christ—or you cannot be his disciple. Charles Spurgeon
Jeff Durbin presents this passage as an imperative - well worth your investment of 44 minutes.