When couples get married, they do so with an expectation of exclusive love and loyalty from their spouse. We don’t want to share the love of our wife with other men, whether former boyfriends, or anyone else for that matter. We don’t want any rivals. We don’t want divided loyalty. And of course, husbands must be faithful and loyal and loving to their wives too. Many know the pain and destruction which marital unfaithfulness can bring into a family. It is totally unacceptable to have a rival love when we are married. We all know this. That’s why we must prayerfully keep far away from temptation in this area.
For all Christians, when it comes to our relationship with Jesus, the same principle applies: Jesus does not want to have any rivals. He must take priority in every single area of our lives. He must have the best of our love. He must be more important to us than our families, our very selves, and any material possessions we might have. This is the secret of true discipleship. All Christians are disciples of Jesus. This means that for all Christians, all their other relationships and aspirations must take second place.
In verse 25 we read of a large crowd following Jesus. If Jesus were interested merely in numbers, and having more and more people in the crowd, he would not have said such challenging things. But Jesus isn’t all about numbers. He wants true disciples who understand just how costly it is to follow him. He doesn’t want people to follow him lightly or without great consideration.
Perhaps you have heard these words in a marriage service: ‘Marriage is not by any to be entered into unadvisedly or lightly; but reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly, and in the fear of God.’ In the same way, following Jesus is not something we should do lightly, but rather with understanding of the implications, the cost, the responsibilities involved, and the expectations God has of us.
1. Three rivals of our discipleship
Jesus warns us about the rival of family. In verse 26 he says:‘If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.’ Of course, Jesus does not mean we are to actually hate our families. After all, the 5th commandment tells us to love our parents, and Jesus even instructs us to love our enemies. What then is Jesus saying, as he uses this hyperbolic language? He’s saying that our love and loyalty to our families should seem small compared to our love and loyalty to Jesus. Now that’s challenging. And yet that is a basic part of what it means to be a true disciple of Jesus.
Why does Jesus demand the best of our love? Is he some kind of megalomaniac? Of course not! It is because Jesus is the Lord God, the creator of heaven and earth that he demands first place in our lives. In one way, the statement in v26 is another way of expressing the first commandment: ‘You shall have no other gods before me.’ Who does Jesus think he is? He is LORD. That’s why his followers must give him primacy.
Think of how much you love your children or your spouse and what you would do for them. Do you love Jesus much more than that? If your spouse is pulling you in a direction away from serving Jesus as much as you could do, whether deliberately or not, will you seek to please your spouse or King Jesus in that situation? Who are you trying to please the most?
God has lovingly given us all kinds of relationships to be a blessing to us, but when we focus more on them than on Jesus, then we get ourselves into great spiritual trouble. This is actually a really common thing to happen.
JC Ryle: “If the claims of our relatives and the claims of Christ come into collision, the claims of relatives must give way. We much choose rather to displease those we love most on earth, rather than to displease Him who died for us on the cross.”
Husbands might have to say no to the preferences of their wives, and wives to their husbands if Christ and his church are taking second place. We must be willing to offend our family rather than offend Christ.
The next rival which Jesus flags up is the rival of ‘self’. We read in verse 27 ‘And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.’ Carrying our cross involves us dying to self-interest. So often, we live as if we were at the centre of the universe, rather than Jesus. Disciples of Jesus must not be self-seeking individuals. It’s not all about you, but all about ‘him’. Is that how you live? Are you willing to lay down your life for Jesus? The Christian life is a real battle against our own selfishness. Continually, we must be praying for the Holy Spirit to work in our hearts, so that we might decrease and Jesus might increase. Do you pray like this?
The final rival in this passage is that of possessions. Verse 33 ‘In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.’ Jesus does not want to play ‘second fiddle’ to your bank account, or to how nice your home is. Do you care more about Jesus and his glory than about making money and enjoying a quality holiday and having some ‘me time’? Do you think more about your appearance than you do about pleasing Jesus? Then you are not living as a disciple of Jesus, and you must totally reprioritise the things in your life. Jesus doesn’t want rivals. He doesn’t want to be less important than your spouse, children, yourself, or your possessions or work. In fact, he must be much more important to you than these things. This is a basic of discipleship. This is first commandment stuff.
It’s easy for us to hear ‘Make Jesus your number 1’ and then let this thought just wash over you, without having any impact whatsoever. How can we be shaped by this principle? We can ask ourselves some searching questions. Do I put Jesus first with spare time I have? Do I put him first in terms of what I do with my money? Do I intentionally use my gifts in his church? Do I enjoy spending time with Jesus reading his Word and talking to him in prayer? Am I willing to offend others close to me, rather than offend Jesus?
2. Counting the cost of discipleship
Jesus goes on to tell two parables about counting the cost of discipleship. You don’t embark on a building project without first carefully considering the costs involved. If you go to Oban you can see McCaig’s Tower, also called McCaig’s folly, because only the outer walls of this elaborate structure were ever completed. The same can be said of the National Monument of Scotland on Calton Hill in Edinburgh, sometimes called ‘Edinburgh’s shame’. You’d look foolish beginning an extension to your house, running out of cash, and then having your garden like a building site for years to come. You must count the cost.
You do not enter into a war without carefully considering the costs involved, both in terms of human lives and in the destruction of infrastructure. You need to be realistic. You need to consider what you are getting yourself into. You need to weigh things up. You don’t just charge into battle!
Jesus is saying to us, before following him you must carefully consider what it will cost you. Don’t make an impulsive decision. If you follow Jesus, you might lose some of your friends and family, especially if you are a Muslim or a Hindu. We have to give up our idols and sins. We have to give up on being self-reliant and self-righteous. Count the cost.
At the evening services, we are thinking of the armour of God and how the Christian life is an ongoing battle against the spiritual forces of evil. So, life becomes a battle. It’s not a life of ease. We must count the cost. But having counted the cost, surely, we must say that following Jesus is worth it! It’s not an easy life, but it is the best of lives, and the only life with hope of eternal life.
3. A solemn warning
Jesus ends his teaching on discipleship with a solemn warning about what can happen when we try to follow him in a half-hearted way, or when we follow him with very little commitment. He says it is like salt which has been so mixed together with other things (rivals) that it is of no use, and must be thrown away. This is serious. This speaks of a dead discipleship, as the salt (v34) is thrown away.
It reminds us of the parable of the soils (Luke ch 8) when it seemed there was life on the seed which fell on the rocky soil and shallow soil, but actually this seed was dead because it bore no harvest.
Are you a lukewarm follower of Jesus? Then you must pay careful attention to this warning. If you are always compromising your commitment to Jesus, and your commitment to coming to church, and your commitment to using your gifts, then you will be of no use in the Kingdom.
The opposite is thankfully also true. If we live lives of sacrifice and wholehearted devotion to the one who loved us and gave himself for us, then we shall be as salt and will play are hugely important role in this world.
This is a serious passage of Scripture which we need to reflect on further and pray over more. Following Jesus is radical, in that there’s a sense in which it is ‘all or nothing’. Jesus us saying, I must be your great priority each and every day. We must pay attention to him. ‘Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.’ In other words, pay great attention to these vital truths of discipleship.
Don’t be put off by the cost involved in following Jesus. We all must follow someone, and this will either be Jesus or the powers of darkness. Yes, being a disciple is costly and is a battle, but the rewards are certain and more than worth it. Geldenhuys says: “How insignificant is the price of self-renunciation in his service in comparison with the price to be paid for rejecting him.” Jesus wants to have priority in every single area of our lives. Is there anyone else we’d rather give our allegiance to? Surrendering everything to Jesus is the best thing we can possibly do.