The Cost of Discipleship
It is normally understood that once a commitment is made to an organization there is a pledge to honor the expectations of the demands of that organization. There are so many examples of these commitments even for children. Take for instance sports. When a child is committed to playing a sport, by their own desire or that of the parents, they are saying they will be at the games and the practices and perform to the best of their ability. Young people do the same thing when they fill out applications, take tests, and hope to be accepted to a college. When applying, they are committing to attending classes, studying on their own time, and performing well on exams. As young folks mature they desire a source of income to finance their independence. Normally, employment is sought, applications are filed, and interviews are conducted. When the request to be employed is made, it is includes the commitment to work at agreed-to hours, accept training, and perform as trained according to the policies of the organization. Whether it be recreational, educational, or career oriented organizations, if performance of the membership leads to successful attainment of the set goals, rewards are given as initially agreed-to. Maybe trophies for the sportsman, degrees for the graduate, or full payment for work done.
It is no different with being a disciple of Christ. Most of us who claim to be a member of Christ's body, the church, understood we were making a commitment when we were baptized into Christ (Romans 6:3). The problem is that some people forget the commitment requires us to make changes to our lives and stick to them in order to maintain membership (Hebrews 4:11, James 5:12, 2 Peter 3:17). This is the same as the secular organizations we join. If we do not maintain our commitments then we lose the membership and the potential rewards.
But, what are you willing to give up in order to maintain your membership in the organization that is the Lord's church? Children that join a sports team must give up time doing other activities and time with family and friends that aren't on their sports schedule. Students in higher institutions of learning must commit to various class times, personal and group study times, along with balancing these with other commitments. An employee typically does not get to show up to work when they want to, but must give up activities that conflict with both the work schedule and the policies of their employer. Likewise, we as Christians must change based on the requirements set as terms of membership and reward. Some of the things that has to be given-up is considered too much by some people.
When becoming a Christian each person should understand that they put to death a person living in sin and become born again as a person alive in Christ (Romans 6:11-13 Ephesians 2:4-7, Colossians 2:13) through baptism. After burying the old person of sin through baptism based on faith (Romans 10:17, Mark 16:16) we can't hold on to the things of a dead world at the expense of the responsibilities we have in the organization of the Church. Jesus uses the opportunity of a disciple's inquiry concerning dealing with family or following Jesus to learn the gospel.
Another of the disciples said to Him, "Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father." But Jesus said to him, "Follow Me, and allow the dead to bury their own dead."
There are two elements in Jesus' answer. The living and the dead. It is implied that those who are with the Lord are alive and those that are not are dead. The dead in the spirit are as good to the Lord as the physically dead. Why are Christians not willing to sacrifice their relationships with the dead, no matter how close they are related to them, in order to keep from falling away from the Lord? Paul told Corinth that we are not to disassociate ourselves from the world (1 Corinthians 5:10) but we are to turn away from any commitment that causes us to neglect our commitment to God.
Coaches, teachers, and employers set the policy and rules for their respective organizations. Members of their teams must follow the rules to receive the benefits of membership. It is no different with members of the Church. Jesus gave instruction to the disciples concerning their work and their dependence on the Spirit:
"Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves. But beware of men, for they will hand you over to the courts and scourge you in their synagogues; and you will even be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. But when they hand you over, do not worry about how or what you are to say; for it will be given you in that hour what you are to say. For it is not you who speak, but it is the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you. Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved. But whenever they persecute you in one city, flee to the next; for truly I say to you, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel until the Son of Man comes."
If we will receive the reward promised by our leader, Jesus Christ, we must abide by the rules and instructions given by Him through the Spirit of God and the apostles. When we choose to try and change the rules on our own initiative, then there will be no recognition of us by the Lord. He will remove us from the number that will receive the benefits of membership (Revelation 2 and 3). We must execute the plan of the gospel in accordance to the instructions given us without adding to or taking away from the word of God (Proverbs 30:5-6). As indicated to the disciples in Matthew 10, our allegiance to the rules as set by or King can require tremendous sacrifice of family and even our lives.
We must see the value in maintaining our membership in the Christ's church which He builds according to His plan. Are you willing to give up things you have already worked hard for in order to attain something greater? Are you capable of moving out of a zone of comfort that is actually killing your spirit in order to attain eternal life?
The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.
Christ tells us His rules plainly and clearly. The things we must be willing to give up in order to maintain our membership in His church is everything. This includes assets and relationships.
Now large crowds were going along with Him; and He turned and said to them, If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. "For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, saying, 'This man began to build and was not able to finish.' Or what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and consider whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.
Christ's point in this scripture is that we must understand the commitment we are making when obeying the gospel. We cannot change the terms of membership latter when we are forced to make tough decisions. Our commitment requires us to love God and His commandments more than unbelieving, unfaithful family/friends and more than property which is going away with this physical world.
February 17, 2013