Parables of Counting the Cost
by Martin G. Collins
Forerunner, "Bible Study," February 2004
Self-renunciation is an indispensable condition of following Christ, required for accurately counting the true cost of allegiance to Him. This condition of full and selfless service to God demands our hearts and minds, not just our bodies. In Luke 14:25-33, two parables and an exhortation urge us to forsake all that we have as a mandatory condition to becoming Christ's disciples. One main lesson is emphasized in these scriptures: the nature and influence of true discipleship.
Three times (verses 26, 27, 33) the commanding assertion is "cannot be My disciple." One who faithfully follows Christ must be prepared to hate—or more accurately, "love less"—his father, mother, wife, and children, as well as his own life. Loyalty to Jesus Christ and God the Father must be above even the highest loyalties of earthly love, that is, all our love of self must be subordinate to our love for God, who must be first in our life.
1. Is that which costs nothing worth anything? Luke 14:25-27.
Comment: When King David needed to build an altar to the Lord, he would not accept the free gift of the threshing floor because it cost him nothing (II Samuel 24:21-25). To David, a sacrifice was worthless if it cost the offerer nothing. The discipleship to which Christ calls us means a life of surrender to God's will and sacrifice for His cause. If we count the cost of a full submission to Christ's claim on us, we also must count on His grace and help to become one with Him. His disciples do not make the journey to His Kingdom for free—it costs them their lives.
The costliness of commitment to God's will is seen in the example of Jesus. He requires nothing of us that He Himself has not done. Christ lived with the humiliation and agony that often accompanies living according to the will of God. Both the Father and the Son counted the cost before proceeding with their plan for the salvation of humanity. In being sent into the world, Jesus knew ahead of time what it would take to accomplish the divine goal. He left His Father's house to build His church so that the gates of Hades could never prevail against it (Matthew 16:18).
2. What is the significance of the tower-builder? Luke 14:28-30.
Comment: This parable contains three principles: 1) The truth is a costly thing; 2) before we enter into God's way of life, we should estimate the cost; and, 3) whatever it costs, it is worth it. Although it pleases Jesus when a person is called and responds with zeal (II Corinthians 7:11), He is far too humble and wise to pride Himself on the numbers of converted. Instead, He cares for quality rather than quantity, and He promotes truth and loathes counterfeits.
A builder who does not count the cost before laying the foundation is humiliated as a disgraceful failure, yet an unfinished life is far more tragic than a rock foundation without a building. Jesus warns, "No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God" (Luke 9:62). Thus, failure to count the cost of following Christ results in an incomplete life. "Holding fast to the word of life" is part of the solution for finishing one's life successfully (Philippians 2:16).
3. What is the significance of a king going to war? Luke 14:31-32.
Comment: The parable of a king going to war continues the theme of the previous parable: Both must count the cost. The king has to estimate men's lives, as well as money and equipment. He knows he must have resolve and fortitude to enter the battle. The king represents Jesus, who has already counted and paid the cost in His flesh, setting us an example. As King, Jesus must choose just the right people for the battle—those who will listen and obey with determination. He must test the quality of His potential soldiers to determine whether they can be used for such an important task.
The king also represents the saints battling against spiritual enemies (Ephesians 6:12). In preparation to be kings in the Kingdom, the saints must also count the cost of their lives. Solomon says, "By wise counsel wage war" (Proverbs 20:18), so with good advice we must enter upon religious dedication. We must be willing to be driven to triumph over Satan, the world, and our own human nature. Perseverance, endurance, willpower, and willingness to sacrifice are all traits of a king in time of crisis.
4. What does Jesus mean by forsaking all? Luke 14:33.
Comment: Not only must we count upon forsaking all, we must also be willing to run the full distance to arrive at the Kingdom of God (Hebrews 12:1). In the two illustrations, Jesus teaches that discipleship must include planning and sacrifice (Romans 12:1-2). In the first, He instructs that, before a person begins to build, he should be sure he is willing and able to pay the full cost of the project. Similarly, Jesus' followers must be sure they are willing to pay the full price of discipleship.
In the second, He explains that we must be willing to sacrifice pleasures, distractions, material possessions, even family, if we are unable to prevail with them—that is, if they would prevent us from serving God. This principle of sacrifice is essential in the realm of discipleship: One must be willing to give up everything for Jesus. Many professing Christians have been unwilling to renounce former, false beliefs. They syncretize God's truth with doctrinal baggage brought from their previous religious fellowships, never quite forsaking the traditions of men (Colossians 2:8; Galatians 1:13-14).
The first parable represents deliberation and adequate preparation, and the second calls for stamina and fighting strength to face a foe with greater strength. In this war against our powerful enemies—Satan, the world, and our human nature—we must be willing to count the cost and to sacrifice. We cannot enter the fray hastily or carelessly, but we must exercise self-control. Paul writes, "Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection" (I Corinthians 9:26-27). We will overcome them only with the help of the Spirit of our King.