Health-wealth preachers try to entice people through material lusts to believe in Jesus, falsely promising a life of health and wealth. Quite the contrary, Jesus asks us to live a life completely opposite to accumulating things, one of giving up attachment to material things.
I want us to learn that the Christian life is one lived not only with faith in the cross, but of taking up our own cross of self-sacrifice.
We will discuss family, giving up things, and building something more permanent.
5 Ways to grow a large church
If size is more important than faithfulness to Jesus, then here are 5 ways to build a mega church. 1) Promise that obedience to Jesus will improve your worldly stature, 2) promise that people will not have to carry their own cross, because Jesus did, 3) tell them not to count the cost of building but just step out on faith, 4) tell them just to go to battle without counting the cost and rely on God for the victory, 5) tell them they do not have to give everything up to be a disciple of Jesus, but that Jesus wants them to have more not less. These rules will build a mega church with a large following. Of course there is only one thing wrong with them, they are the exact opposite of what Jesus taught (Luke 14:25-33).
Those words are appalling! They are all too real for many people. Many teenagers go through a stage where they hate family. In some cases it is the only course that they are able to take in order to grow up and become independent. In other cases it is the only way they can muster the strength to escape an abusive relationship. Jesus also uses similar words in Luke 14:25-33. In the exaggerated language of Hebrew teachers, he taught his disciples to hate family and even their own lives. Someone who claims to take the Bible literally finds difficulty in a passage which seemingly contradicts Jesus’ teachings on love. Some suggest that he meant love less by comparison. Hate is a strong emotion. It takes passion to succeed in life’s most important endeavors. Is discipleship impossible without passionate fervor?
What Jesus meant in Luke 14:25-33 when he said to hate family can be better understood when we consider the cultural context in which that hyperbolic statement was made. Some Bible commentators remove this from our modern sense of emotion associated with the word hate. Instead, it seems that family honor or tradition was often offended when a person became a Christian. This is certainly the case for some today, when either a family group or even a professional community is incensed when one member declares belief in the God of the Christian Bible. In this kind of scenario Jesus is not really professing a hate of individual family members per se, but the family dignity that has been idolized and stands between a believer and God. What did righteous kings of Israel do with idols? They smashed them.
What we Give Up
Some are proud to give up alcohol, card-playing or working on the Sabbath to follow Jesus, although he demanded none of those things of the Church. It is typical of human beings to invent something easy to give up rather than what Jesus actually taught. In the exaggerated language of Hebrew teachers Jesus’ demanded that we give up family and our very lives (Luke 14:25-33). In the cultural and linguistic context, disciples were not asked to hate family in the same sense that we use that word. It simply means that Jesus and what he actually taught must be the first priority in our lives. Being a true follower of Christ means that we are willing to give up anything else being a higher priority than Jesus. Jesus taught that we love others, but less than we love God.
Jesus vs. Health-Wealth Preachers
If Jesus were to confront materialistic health-wealth preachers today what do you think he would say? Perhaps he has already said it. First of all, what is health-wealth preaching? it is a false teaching often found among televangelists. It goes something like this: if you send the preacher a gift, it will be like a seed planted in God’s garden which will return to you as healing and wealth. Strangely, Jesus never asked for money to heal people and in Luke 14:25-33 he spoke to potential disciples about what they must give up to become his disciples. Does this mean that God will never bless us with money or health? Of course not, but it is not always promised. Often the best thing for us is not to be healed or become wealthy. God wants what’s best for us.
How not to grow a Church
I used to own dozens of evangelism and church growth books. I eventually gave them all away as being inadequate in their approach. While they contained good ideas, none of them approached church growth from Jesus’ point of view. Some things that Jesus taught would be unpopular among the church growth gurus. Imagine telling a crowd that they have to give everything up to become disciples, even their own lives (Luke 14:25-33). You catch more flies with honey than vinegar, yet Jesus at times seemed to use more vinegar than honey. Why? A famous church planter once admitted that he knew how to build a church that was a mile wide but only an inch deep. Church growth methods often forget that Jesus said that HE would build his church, and his church is being built on his teachings.
People outside the church often think of Christians as either namby-pambies or idiots with half a brain. How many would think of believers as self-sacrificing people who make a difference. That’s the example and challenge set before us by Jesus. Jesus is provocative. He dares us to think differently about everyday life. In Luke 14:25-33 he challenged would-be followers to be willing to renounce family, personal life and possessions. Succeeding in politics, climbing the corporate ladder or living a military life make similar demands but nobody thinks anything of that. When a religious leader makes such a challenge, why does it seem strange? Provocation is often used to refocus people onto what is important. Rather than attending church for the music, preaching, healing or social life, do Christians today also need to refocus on the important need for self-sacrifice?
Willingly to the Cross
Jesus didn’t stay at home in Galilee and wait for the cross to come to him. He willingly marched towards Jerusalem and certain death. He didn’t run away or find an excuse to avoid the cross. He didn’t defend himself or try to escape. He had counted the cost and was willing to pay the price. Along the way he challenged would be followers to count the cost of discipleship (Luke 14:25-33). Are we willing to be laughed at by family or friends? Are we willing to be ignored or treated badly by others? In some countries today, Christians are murdered or ostracized by family members for their faith. Would we be willing? Are we willing to be excluded from certain social or professional circles because of our faith? Do we willingly grab hold of and carry our cross?
Building Something Permanent
TV advertising often encourages us to do something useless. It may be to blindly follow a mindless fashion, put the latest overpriced thing in our mouths or waste hard-earned money on other fruitless pursuits. As we mature, we prioritize differently and many people leave such shallow and empty ideas behind, looking to invest in something more profitable and permanent. Few of us, even in the Christian community, seem to really focus on the most permanent things of all to build. In Luke 14:25-33 Jesus spoke of the planning and forethought it takes to build a tower. When building something more permanent in life it also takes a certain measure of sacrifice. A life that is only about partying and selfish pursuits is a waste. A meaningful life which builds something eternal begins by sitting down and estimating the cost.
Jesus’ challenge to give up everything we have (Luke 14:25-33) must not be taken in isolation from the entire Bible. Jerusalem went too far. They shared everything in common but failed to relieve long term poverty. They are an example of taking Jesus' hyperbolic teaching style more literally than he intended. Jerusalem’s story is of failure to alleviate poverty. When the generous sell everything only the selfish have resources left. Jerusalem church was unprepared for famine and later needed outside help. The grand experiment in sharing all things was a failure. Perhaps they misunderstood Jesus’ words. Perhaps Jesus did not mean to sell everything and so become poor ourselves. Perhaps a middle road, of giving up the use of personal possessions for selfish purposes, and investing resources in some way for sustainable giving makes much better long term sense.
Christians are quite familiar with being mocked. People criticize our faith or try to deconstruct it in order to justify their own lack of belief in God. We are accused of being stupid fools and illogical thinkers if we don’t blindly follow the modern scientific religion of a Godless Genesis. In a small way, our being mocked is a taste of the cross. Jesus was ridiculed over and over again as he endured heartless beatings and brutal crucifixion. On his journey to the cross, he mentioned another kind of ridicule which he was not willing to bear. In Luke 14:25-33 he discussed the mockery of someone who began to build a tower but did not finish it. As we build something permanent in a life of faith let’s count the cost lest we receive the ridicule of not finishing.
It is well-known in military circles that morale is a very important in battle. When combat is man-to-man, often those willing to die are the ones who succeed and live. Perhaps that is what Jesus referred to when he spoke of preparing for battle in Luke 14:25-33. Christians face a battle with the odds, at least humanly speaking, stacked against them. Far superior forces both in and out of the Church, are prepared to fight against the message of Jesus. Do we have the stamina for battle or should we settle for peace? Like Martin Luther, reformers of any age, face ostracism and living under dire threats. Pastors who put Christ ahead of tradition sometimes lose their jobs. Christians who put their faith ahead of their careers sometimes lose promotions. Before battle it is wise to consider the cost.
The cost of ignoring Jesus
What does it mean to ignore the message of the cross? Do we put family values ahead of Godly values? Do we put building a worldly edifice ahead of following God? Do we try fight against God or evil? In Luke 14:25-33 Jesus discussed the cost of being a non-follower of his. When Jesus literally carried his own cross, he was shouldering the instrument of his own death. Now that’s commitment! Most of us who are Christians are glad to bear his name and receive his blessings, but are we able to pay the price of discipleship? No, we are not, but somebody did. Commitment to Christ will also involve struggles, opposition and sometimes even death. But, what is the cost of ignoring Jesus’ Gospel. Can we afford the cost of not taking up our cross in total commitment?
Preaching smooth things
The smooth prosperity Gospel is popular among some Pentecostal preachers and televangelists. In Isaiah 30:10 the people asked their prophets to preach pleasant deceptions. A motivational speech is not real preaching, but it is more popular than the Gospel. Exciting music and dramatic speaking may shake our planet but cannot heal like the Gospel of Jesus Christ. How can we tell a preacher of the Gospel from a motivational speaker? Nehemiah describes the re-establishment of true religion in Israel and it began with real preaching (Nehemiah 8:8). The Bible was read and expounded. Paul encouraged Timothy to preach the Word (2 Timothy 4:2). A real preacher uses the Bible. The Gospel is not always pleasant-sounding. It demands that we put God first and that we count the cost. It demands self-sacrifice and total commitment (Luke 14:25-33).
Costs of salvation & discipleship
The cost of salvation has already been paid. Jesus paid that on the cross. There is nothing that we can do to pay that price. No amount of good living, no amount of money, no amount of sacrifice can replace the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus our Savior (Titus 2:11-14). However, there is a cost that we must be willing to pay, the cost of discipleship. As disciples we have so much to offer the world in our way of life. Luke 14:25-33 is a difficult and demanding passage. Jesus expects us to sacrifice. That means undivided loyalty, commitment of time and money. People sacrifice for a piece of gold at the Olympics, or a Super Bowl ring or a career. Ought we to be more willing to sacrifice for the only thing in our lives that is permanent?
We ought to love our families, but put God first. We ought to give up a materialistic attachment to things, and build something more permanent. Let’s learn total commitment to Jesus and his reign.