Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Counting the Cost and Forsaking All

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For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it— lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, 'This man began to build and was not able to finish.' Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace. So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple.
(Luke 14:28-33)

There’s some hard words from Jesus!  But what do they mean?

I’ve heard this passage taught as a call to self-reliant toughness, to making sure you have what it takes to succeed as a Christian.  “Take stock of yourself.  Are you good enough?  Can God count on you?”

The problem is, that teaching is the antithesis of God-reliance.  It appeals to pride, not to humility.  And nothing which appeals to pride could come from our Lord, who resists the proud but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6)!

So what is Jesus talking about?

I think the key comes from the last verse in the passage, and the key turns on the word “likewise.”

Likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has…

Now wait just a minute…the word “likewise” is supposed to connect two ideas by drawing on a similarity between them.  It means, “In the same way.”  But Jesus went from talking about seeing if you’ve got what it takes, to talking about forsaking what you have!  Where’s the “likewise” in that?  How is “forsaking all that you have” done in the same way with “counting the cost?”

Oh, how confusing the Bible can be when we look at it from a man-centered viewpoint, and how much clearer everything becomes when we take a God-centered approach!

Man-centeredness looks to self for strength, for success, for sufficiency.  God-centeredness looks to God for these things.  Man-centeredness says, “I am everything.”  God-centeredness says, “I am nothing, but God is everything!”

Look back at the passage.  Is it coming clearer yet?

What is Jesus saying to the would-be tower builder?  What is He saying to the king?

“Tower builder…do you have what it takes?  People will mock you if you aren’t able to finish.”

Boy, this is a bummer!  Modern-day health and wealth preachers would never take this approach!  Isn’t God here to stroke our egos, to bolster our self-esteem, and to assure us that we really do have what it takes?  Isn’t He supposed to encourage us with a vision of our success, not warn us about our failure?

What do you think?  As you’re pondering the question, you might want to look at something else Jesus said:

“Without Me you can do nothing.”
(John 15:5b)

While you’re chewing on that, let’s think about what Jesus said next in the parable.  I’ll paraphrase it.

“Hey, King, the enemy has a whole lot more soldiers than you have.  You’d better start thinking about finding out his terms for surrender.”

Now, some may accuse me of looking at this passage in an unnecessarily negative light.  Is Jesus really assuming our failure here, or is He just warning us about the possible consequences if we fail?  Why look at it so negatively?

I think we have to look at it in this “negative” way if we’re going to be true to the text, especially if we’re going to deal with that pesky little “likewise.”

Likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has…

The only way we can make sense of this “likewise” is to draw the conclusion that the tower builder and the king were supposed to forsake all that they have, and we are to do the same.

The tower builder is supposed to forsake his plans, because he sees he doesn’t have enough money. 

The king is supposed to find out the terms of surrender, because he realizes he can’t defeat his enemy.  He’s supposed to give up his throne to the opposing king, on that king’s terms, in order to save his neck.

Who is the enemy (the opposing king with his bigger army) in this parable?  According to everything I can figure out, the enemy is God Himself. 

Now, before you accuse me of being really depressing (or even heretical), think about this in light of the following verse:

And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works…(Col. 1:21a).

We are all enemies of God before we’re saved, and the best thing that can happen to us is to surrender.  To be reconciled and make peace with Him.  To be made holy, blameless, and above reproach in His sight.  That’s how the above passage ends.

And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight (Col. 1:21-22)

In other words, Jesus is urging us to forsake all of our own ideas of saving ourselves, and to cast ourselves helplessly at His feet to ask for His mercy.  What’s more, we’re to forsake all self-sufficiency and surrender all of our plans to Him, because we cannot build our towers (or our lives) on our own.  We don’t have what it takes. 

Oh, we may be able to succeed in our own eyes, and in the eyes of those around us.  But then comes Judgment Day, when all of our works will be tested in the fire.  Our manmade “towers” will burn up, because they were constructed of flammable things like wood, hay, and straw.  But whatever we build through His Spirit’s power will stand the test, for it will be made of gold, silver, and precious stones (1 Co. 3:11-13).

Jesus’ parable was anything but a call to self-sufficiency and “making sure you have what it takes!”  (After all, the Pharisees had convinced themselves that they had what it takes, and Jesus wasn’t impressed with them at all!)  He’s telling us to take an honest look at ourselves and see that we don’t have what it takes, until we are forced to cry out, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:10-14)

Does this sound like bad news to you?  Depressing, maybe?  Then perhaps you need to ask God to open your eyes to the eternal value of things.  You may find that what you’re clinging to is truly worthless, and what He offers you is immeasurably precious!

God gives wonderful promises to those who forsake all in order to take hold of Him (Matt. 19:29, for example).  And the apostles affirmed His worth as they forsook all…most even giving their life’s blood (Php. 3:7-10, Rom. 8:18, and more).

Do you really want to have what it takes?  Then forsake all hopes of finding it in yourself, and find it in Him instead.  For:

“Without Me you can do nothing.”

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!”

(John 15:5b, Php. 4:13)

1 comment:

LauraLee Shaw said...

This is the best news I've heard all day! It's a relief to know that I can only do things with the Lord's strength, because I've tried it too many times on my own and failed. I DON'T WANT TO DO ANYTHING WITHOUT HIS HELP!!!! This is fabulous teaching, and I appreciate your admonishment and instruction so much! Keep preachin' it, Sister!

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