Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Costly Discipleship

Luke 14:25-33 (New International Version)

25Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: 26"If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. 27And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

28"Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? 29For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, 30saying, 'This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.'

31"Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32If 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. 33In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.

The hyperbole in this passage of Luke stands out due to its extreme nature: to “hate” one’s whole family, even one’s very life if one desired to follow Jesus. He also admonished the crowd regarding the need to “carry his cross” (Luke 14:27b). Few besides Jesus had to carry a literal cross, so this should be interpreted hyperbolically as well. This was addressed to the crowd, who may have had mixed motives for following and were unaware of his impending death.

“The words are stern, using the Semitic expression ‘hate,’ i.e., ‘turn away from,’ ‘detach oneself from’ (v. 26). Even among primary relationships Jesus demands first loyalty.”[1] Ken Boa refers to this as “commitment to an eternal perspective.”[2] This is the message embedded in the hyperbole.

“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother’—which is the first commandment with a promise— that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth’” (Eph 6:1-3). This teaching, for one would certainly be contradicted if the hyperbole of hatred of family were taken literally. Ephesians 5:25 instructs husbands to love their wives, not hate them. Jesus would certainly was not suggesting the negation of such basic biblical teachings.

To neglect social customs pertaining to family loyalties would probably have been interpreted as hate. Jesus is not contravening the commandment to honor one’s father and mother. Moreover, he says a disciple should hate “even his own life,” whereas he speaks elsewhere of loving ourselves (10:27; cf. Matt 22:39; Mark 12:31). It is important to understand the Near Eastern expression without blunting its force.[3]

“…anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:27) as stated previously is also hyperbole, stressing the importance of living for Christ, not yourself. The Apostle Peter had to deal with a literal cross tradition tells us, which few of us are charged to do. We are not all called to carry the cross around the world, literally like Arthur Blessit (http://www.blessitt.com/).

The following two sections of this passage, verses twenty-eight through thirty and verses thirty-one through thirty-three are not hyperbole, but rather parabolic illustrations to make Jesus’ point in still another way. The first relates how someone building considers whether he can afford to complete the job before beginning. It is important to finish well. In the second parable, a king must “consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand” (Luke 14:31)? If he is unable, he must compromise, seeking peace with his enemy. Giving up everything is emphasized.

Christ’s sacrifice was costly. Dietrich Bonhoeffer stated, “Cheap grace is preaching forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession. … Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”[4] It cost Christ’s life and ours too.



[1] James L. Mays, ed., HarperCollins Bible Commentary: Revised Edition (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1988, 944.

[2] Ken Boa, Conformed to His Image: Biblical and Practical Approaches to Spiritual Formation (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), 382.

[3] Frank E. Gaebelein, ed., The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Volume 8 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984), 979.

[4] Christianitytoday.com. “Martyrs: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, German theologian and resister, 2007. Online: http://www.christianitytoday.com/history/special/131christians/bonhoeffer.html [27 January 2007].

The Bible. New International Version.

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