“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? – Luke 14:28
I am quick to “count the cost” when I am asked to do something on top of what is expected of me in my job descriptions. Can I add this to my workload? Do I have the capacity at this time to take on this assignment? I wonder if maybe those are the wrong questions. At least, those are not the first questions I should be asking.
Estimating the cost is a good financial practice. I have seen too many building projects that were abandoned because the cost of finishing it exceeded the resources of the builder. But sometimes we don’t know what the cost will be, particularly in construction in the parts of the world where I have made my home for the past 30 years. Far too often, I have been told a particular building project will cost this much. Then two months later, after we have begun the project, I find that the actual cost is going to be much higher, due to the unpredictability of the price of building supplies or the kind of fees and building codes the government inspectors might apply to the project.
Jesus tells the great crowds who are following him to carefully consider what it will cost to follow him. Jesus did not want them to consider the cost, and then decide against following him. But he thought it even worse to begin to follow him and then turn away.
So what is the cost of following Jesus? Is it possible to estimate what it will take, and then compare that cost against the resources that we have at hand by looking at our bank accounts, our calendars, and our current job responsibilities? The answer is pretty clear at the end of the pericope.
In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples. – Luke 14:33
The cost to follow Jesus is everything we have. To follow Jesus requires a willingness to accept total bankrupty! He demands that no priority or loyalty can take higher precedence than him. Not even the expectations of our family or the preservation of our own life can be deemed as sufficient reason or excuse to not follow him.
“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. – Luke 14:26
In other words, Jesus firmly closed the door to the excuse that says,
“I would love to follow you, Lord, but my wife doesn’t want me to be away from home that much and my parents would be really upset with me. Besides I am already really, really busy at work, and any spare time I have needs to be spent with my kids. I am sure you understand, and will still let me into your kingdom.”
That excuse just doesn’t fly with Jesus. So what does these verses say about seeking balance in one’s life? All or nothing doesn’t seem at all balanced.
But that is only if we think our commitment to Christ is one of a number of commitments. In truth, Christ is our only commitment, and everything else must come under that commitment.
So Luke 14:28 and the illustration about “counting the cost” is not a verse that we can use to decide whether or not we have the capacity to participate in another ministry or not. Our Lord always requires more than what we can spare.
Paul was strongly encouraged by his friends to NOT go to Jerusalem after his third missionary journey. The cost was going to be too high. Paul responds:
“And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace. – Acts 20:22–24
The first question is not whether I have the capacity to complete the task, but whether this is part of the work that my Lord has given me to do. If the assignment comes from the Lord, then we will have the capacity to accomplish it.
Once we have answered that first question, then we can go on to consider priorities and calendars and work loads. But let’s not skip that first question.