Do you have what it takes?


widetowerIf  not, the Bible has news for you!

Nowadays a lot is being said and written about “discipleship”. That is because our Lord himself had such a lot to say on the subject. While much of what is circulating is good, we don’t usually get our Lord’s real perspective, that is, we’re usually just having a great time in the shallows, ignoring the Master’s call to launch out into the deep. Consequently, our “nets” remain empty. In other words, our towers are not built and our wars are not won.

Of course, I am making reference to that controversial passage of Luke 14:25-34, beginning with these words of Jesus to the large crowds following him:

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters – yes, his own life also – he cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”

Let us be clear at the outset about what a disciple really is. The words ‘follower’ and ‘learner’ come to mind. But what about ‘apprentice’? In as much as it suggests ‘on-the-job-training’ we have hit upon a valuable description of what our Lord was talking about. knightHe trained his followers and He did so on the job. They were true apprentices. Christian discipleship is Christian apprenticeship. Jesus was looking for those who would go through with all He taught them until at last they would be fully fledged workers. Was He talking here to the twelve disciples? No, He was addressing the huge crowds that were following him. The bulk of these people were not intending to become “workers”, they were just having a good time listening to marvelous wisdom and even getting to see a miracle now and again. They obviously considered themselves “disciples”, but that didn’t necessarily mean that they were true disciples, not in our Lord’s estimation. And so He made very sure that any misunderstanding was dispelled.

It is important to understand, that becoming a disciple of Christ is absolutely free; we are saved by grace, not by works or by anything else. But being a disciple is costly, tremendously costly, though worth it every bit. Our faithful Master warns us that it doesn’t pay not to be fully committed disciples; that uncommitted disciples will have to face a lot of pain that could be avoided. They will be a laughing stock to those around. Defeat awaits them, deep embarrassment and humiliation. He wants to save his many followers from all that. In other words, He faces them with a stark choice: “Either go through with the whole apprenticeship, pay the price for the complete training and I will be sure to make complete workers of you; or … don’t count the cost, don’t pay the price, and be for ever useless to Me. In that case you had better go away …; it is not in your interest to be so-called disciples, and it certainly isn’t in my interest! Be true disciples, accepting the necessary discipline, or don’t be disciples at all, but never pretend to be disciples!”

All the “hating” of verse 26 boils down to the “cross” in verse 27. We must presuppose that the close relatives mentioned by Jesus, all these dearly beloved ones, were unhappy about the prospect of losing the close bond with their protégé, their influence on him, their control, if he took discipleship seriously … And what would the neighbors say?

Jesus is perfectly aware of all that is going on. A father, a wife, a dear sister, even a child – they could be standing in the way of total apprenticeship, i.e. standing in the way of what He wanted to accomplish in and through his disciple. Any one wanting to take apprenticeship seriously would have to come to terms with all those near and dear. It must be either them or the Master. No way could there be full and unswerving allegiance to both! So what is Jesus telling the crowds? Simply that being truly his disciples, his apprentices, means that their allegiance to family, to human beings, to their very own “soul” (for the word ‘life’ in verse 26 is literally ‘soul’) must be dealt with drastically. If they mean business, they must realize that they cannot be his apprentices on their own terms.

HE is the one to lay down the terms. The Master must exercise full control. On the spiritual level there can be no allegiance to anyone else, either open or hidden. Not even to one’s own interests and ambitions and pursuits. All of these, when not in submission to the Master, have their own agenda and it clashes with his agenda. It would mean havoc in the Lord’s work. What the Lord leads us to understand then in these verses, is that cheerfully laid foundations would be abandoned. Equally, our stand against the enemy king would be given up and a compromise worked out with him. Just what we find everywhere today!

So how to be drastic, how to be radical, without half measures, how to be either hot or cold and be done with lukewarmness? The Lord’s answer is “the cross”. Apply the cross to your family ties, apply the cross to your own soul. And that is perfectly compatible with being a better son than ever, a better husband, a better father, a better brother. The cross always leads to resurrection, and there will be resurrection, not only in the sense that there will be wonderful new ties with the greater family of Christ himself, but also in the sense that in this way many of the “spurned” relatives will eventually be motivated to seek the Lord themselves. Some of them, if not all, will understand that, in opposing Christ, they went too far, standing in his way. They will see that they, after all, are the great losers, and they will repent and want to know Christ as well and be his apprentices. Obedience to Christ and total commitment to him will have produced its first fruit. To double check turn to Matthew 10:21, 34-39.

The seven principles of verses 28 to 34

1) Jesus considers his disciples to be apprentice builders and apprentice warrior kings.

2) To be effectively that, they must sit down and count what it is going to cost them; which is: simply everything. It means possessions, occupations and relations – all of them are to be at his command. (Watch the roles they play in the preceding parable.)

3) If they are not willing for that, it will be better to quit before even starting.

4) But even if they are willing, they will find that they are unable to finish the “project”. No human being has what it takes.

5) An unfinished project brings defeat, shame and reproach on them and on their Master.

6) The answer lies in total and continued surrender to the Master. His grace is there to make sure the end result will be complete and victorious!

7) A would-be apprentice of our Lord had better be dead serious about the choice (or choices) he is about to make, because if not, losing his “saltiness” may cost him, and, above all, may cost his Lord, his usefulness for ever.

Commenting briefly:

1) It is clear in the Bible that Jesus himself is THE Builder (e.g.: Mt. 16; Ps. 127), and that He is THE King, up against a terrible adversary king, who disputes his kingship (e.g.: Lk.11:20-22; Rev. 19). It is also clear that, as He faithfully builds his church, he needs (and I say that hesitatingly about the omnipotent God, but nevertheless it must be said) .., He needs apprentice builders, who will work in total unison with the Master Builder, not daring to change one tittle or iota of his master plan. Compare: Eph. 4:7-11. Notice the “e-word” Paul uses right at the start of the passage and again at the end.

We may lustily sing about “.. marching as to war” and about “.. the cross of Jesus, going on before”. But does it remain something totally abstract, not really touching our lives? In any case, “the cross of Jesus” is not “going on before”. The cross only makes sense if it has been implanted firmly into our lives (past participle). See Gal. 2:20. We look back on it; even as we continue to commit to it all these issues that seek to distract and usurp and neutralize (Gal. 5:24). It is then that we are enabled in the power of his resurrection to face the foe … and overcome!

2) As mentioned before, the one apparent problem with this passage is this “counting-the-cost”, because we have become so used to the idea that everything is free. A second look at our beloved Bible heroes should convince us though that nothing could be further from the truth. Just think of 17-year old Joseph and all the unspeakable sufferings he went through, the sufferings he had to go through, being molded in his Master’s hand, before he could be used to save his father Israel and all the children of Israel from starvation. The apprenticeship of dire afflictions prepared him to sit on a throne in Egypt, the key position to help and bless his people.

The same principle we see at work over and over again right through the Bible, even in our Lord himself. God did not spare his own Son; He gave him up for us all (Rom. 8:32). He is not going to spare us either. He has no choice if He is going to mold the lives of these apprentices into something beautiful and above all useful. So we had better stop “discounting” any cost. By grace we may say: “Master, here is my life and my body, have your way with me, as long as I may become truly useful to you. I have counted the cost and I am willing ..!” (Rom.12:1).

3) How unlike our modern way of thinking and working is the Lord. Whereas we would say: the more the better; the Lord seems to say: the fewer the better. Numbers meant something different to him. Even Gideon had to send 29,700 soldiers away. They were more of a hindrance than anything else. A band of 300 (1% of the original number) was enough to rout the Midianites, who covered the land like swarms of locusts without number. In our passage in Luke 14 Jesus is using that divine realism, stopping all these well-intentioned, but useless, folks in their tracks. The ones who remained were the ones He could work with. It is certainly good to realize how great a privilege it is to be among that band. All true Christians simply are true Christians, but not all of them are in that small band of apprentices, who have counted the cost of discipleship, willing for whatever; the ones who actually get beyond the foundation.

4) When the Lord spoke about the man setting out to build a tower, was He thinking of Prov. 18:10, where the Lord’s name is said to be “a strong tower and a refuge for the righteous”? Was it Psalm 61:3, where He is worshiped as “a tower of strength”? Most probably He was thinking of both. However, that one “tower of refuge” has now been built, once and for all! Our risen Lord is our tower of strength and our tower of refuge. The verb “to build” must remind us at the same time of what He said on the subject in Mt. 16: HE builds his church. It is a perfect work and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. On the local level, however, like in Mt. 18, the apprentices are involved in the building. Two or three minimum, gathered in his name, are safe in the tower of his name. At the same time, in Christ, they are the tower of refuge for the ones lost outside. It isn’t what they do, it isn’t what they have, it isn’t what they are, it is what they are in Christ. Countless ones, having started to build for their Lord, have found themselves utterly frustrated. Whether they had set out to get a house church going or a huge denomination. Were they, in reality, out to make a name for themselves? When you sit down and honestly count the cost, what you find is that the prospects for that tower are hopeless. No way can you build it. Once you turn your back on all those resources of human ingenuity and strength, having found them but “broken cisterns” (Jer. 2:13), and surrender all of yourself to the Master builder, it will be a very different story.

The same thing is true about the king going to war. In our own strength we have not a chance. The adversary is always superior, but our Master is the King of kings. If we go forward like David did, to meet giant Goliath, in the name of the Almighty God, one small stone slung in faith is enough to fell him, when directed by the Master.

 In our own strength we have not a chance. The adversary is always superior, but our Master is the King of kings. If we go forward like David did, to meet giant Goliath, in the name of the Almighty God, one small stone slung in faith is enough to fell him, when directed by the Master.

5) Talking about David and Goliath .., the armies of the Living God were being defied, day after day (1 Sam. 17). They had become a laughing stock, the butt of every Philistine joke. That is the situation of the “church” in most of the western world. Israel trusted in Saul, their very tall king. But that didn’t get them anywhere. God himself was not in the picture. “Cursed is the one who trusts in man, and depends on flesh for his strength and whose heart turns away from the Lord. He will be like a bush in the desert; and will not see prosperity when it comes. He will inhabit the parched places of the desert, a salt land where no one lives” (Jer. 17:5-6).

6) Christianity may trust in its “popes” or in its “Billy Grahams”, in its pastors or ministers, there may be strong Christian theologies and traditions, there may be a “Bible belt” and lots of other good things, but only deep personal surrender to Christ and acceptance of the cross will bless us in the way Jer. 17:7-8 has it, only that will earn us the respect of those who are in search of reality. That surrender, as Luke 9:23 shows, is not something once and for all. It is a daily ‘transaction’!

We might very well sum up God’s idea of a  C-h-r-i-s-t-i-a-n  in this semi-acronym:

C H R I S T,  I  Am Nothing. If that is God’s idea of a Christian, what is our idea? By God’s grace it may increasingly become our idea as well (Phil. 1:21).

7) Both our Lord and Peter remind us of Lot in Genesis. He is an interesting prototype of the abnormal Christian, or the carnal Christian, the Christian who wants the best of both worlds. God could have done, and would have done, great things for Lot, in Lot and through Lot, if there had been that simple consecration and commitment by faith that he had known so well in the life of his uncle. But Lot counted the cost and was not willing to pay. It was easier to be at ease in Sodom. Righteous yes, but nothing more. A foundation yes, but no tower; a marching-as-to-war, yet a peace treaty dictated by the enemy. The “saltiness” was completely gone and Lot in his cave ended up being no good for anything. His wife, left behind as a pillar of salt, that is of saltless salt, has been, and will be for ever, a monument to utter uselessness. Avoiding the cross always leads to that ..! Accepting the cross, or as Jesus puts it in Luke 14:33: “giving up everything”, leads to being a true disciple, a true apprentice and co-worker of that Master builder and Master warrior!

“He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”