The World Series of Poker was a big thing when I was in college. ESPN spent weeks covering the tournament each year and turned contestants into celebrities. It also caused a heightened interest in the game of poker.
My friends and I would have poker nights in the dorm. We’d take over one of the study lounges for our own tournament. Instead of poker chips, we’d use assorted pretzels. The sticks were one value and the minis another.
We’d play for a few hours eating extra pretzels from the bank until the inevitable moment: someone would go all in. The person would push their entire collection of pretzels into the center of the table ready to risk all they had for their hand.
Going all in isn’t an easy decision. If it works out and you win the hand, you get to keep playing. If you lose? Well, that’s it for the night. That’s the cost of going all in.
Everything in life has a cost. We can define cost as “what you willing to give up in order to acquire something.” For somethings, the cost is decided for us: we just look at the price tag and pay the money required. For others, like going all in during a poker game, we have to decide if the cost is worth the move.
Jesus’ final command to humanity was to spread his message and make disciples. We’re each called to be a follower — a disciple — of Jesus. We talk a lot about the benefits of following Jesus. There’s the grace provided to us, the forgiveness, the love we receive from our creator. But we don’t often talk about the cost of being a disciple.
I’m not talking about the cost of going to church — giving up an hour or two you could be doing something else, giving money, etc. And I’m not talking about the cost of God’s grace, which is free. Instead, I’m asking what are you willing to give up in order to follow Jesus?
25 Large crowds were traveling with Jesus. Turning to them, he said, 26 “Whoever comes to me and doesn’t hate father and mother, spouse and children, and brothers and sisters — yes, even one’s own life — cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever doesn’t carry their own cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
28 “If one of you wanted to build a tower, wouldn’t you first sit down and calculate the cost, to determine whether you have enough money to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when you have laid the foundation but couldn’t finish the tower, all who see it will begin to belittle you. 30 They will say, ‘Here’s the person who began construction and couldn’t complete it!’ 31 Or what king would go to war against another king without first sitting down to consider whether his ten thousand soldiers could go up against the twenty thousand coming against him? 32 And if he didn’t think he could win, he would send a representative to discuss terms of peace while his enemy was still a long way off. 33 In the same way, none of you who are unwilling to give up all of your possessions can be my disciple.Luke 14:25–33 (CEB)
Here, a large crowd is following Jesus so he turns to them and outlines the cost of being his disciple. As Jesus explains, the cost of being a disciple is three things: your family, your life, and your possessions.
Jesus says, “Whoever comes to me and doesn’t hate [their family] cannot be my disciple.” This sounds pretty harsh and can be confusing. Jesus, who tells us to love everyone and treat all equally, is telling us to hate our family? Not exactly.Jesus is using hyperbole to make his point. This is something he does often to capture people’s attention.
In the world of Game of Thrones a family’s name and a person’s place within that family determines everything about their life. Family name equates their value and worth in society.
During the time Jesus addressed this crowd, family structure was very similar. People’s entire identity was wrapped up in their family relations. So when Jesus said the cost of following him was hating one’s family, he was telling everyone their family name or its stature in the world was irrelevant.
When we define our family — be it our actual family or our close friends or whomever — we tend to draw an imaginary line around the people we want to include. In turn, we’re also drawing an imaginary line around people we want to exclude. Whenever we exclude anyone, we’re also excluding Jesus. So Jesus is saying we need to break our dependance on an imaginary line defining family and, instead, define our family as Jesus’ disciples.
The cost of discipleship is putting Jesus before our family.
Jesus says, “Whoever doesn’t carry their own cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” We know what the crowd Jesus is talking to does not: carrying one’s cross is a reference to Jesus’ eventual crucifixion. So is Jesus telling us to give up our lives in order to be his disciple? Well, kind of.
In high school I worked at a grocery store. When I asked for a week off to focus on exams, the manager told me I needed to reorder my priorities. He told me my job should always come first in life, and then my family, and then my schooling.
Here, Jesus is telling us being his disciple should be our first priority — before family, before ourselves, before everythingelse. That means being a disciple before any self-preservation or self-interest. This is super hard and we often don’t do it.
We want to be first and foremost in our own lives. We want to make decisions that benefit us, and then leave room to care for other people when we’ve got time. We want to be in control of our own life.
Jesus is telling us it doesn’t work that way and he repeats this message throughout the gospel. Baptism is a celebration of the old way dying so that a new life can emerge. This new life acknowledges Jesus’ primary place in our life.
The cost of discipleship is putting Jesus before ourselves.
Finally, Jesus says, “None of you who are unwilling to give up all of your possessions can be my disciple.” I don’t know about you, but I have a lot of possessions. Just on me right now I’ve got some clothes, a watch, my phone, this wedding ring. Then you’ve got my home and everything in it; my car. I possess a lot of things. But there are also intangible things I possess: my time, this ministry, church budget and facilities, ideas, etc.
Here, Jesus is talking about what motivates us. Motivation is a hard thing to think about. We might be super motivated to create a new ministry on our own terms, thinking it will be a great opportunity for people. But are we willing to give up our possession of the idea, are we willing to give up control so that Jesus’ needs are put first?
Jesus is telling us we have to put him before anything else in our life. That means before our phones or our vacation time or even our wealth. We need to be willing to give up the things we wish to own and to control. Be they physical objects or ideas. In a different passage, a rich young ruler comes to Jesus and asks what it takes to inherit the Kingdom of God. Jesus tells him to give up all his possessions and the rich young ruler walks away upset.
The cost of discipleship is putting Jesus before our possessions.
Go All In
A podcast I listened to about this scripture called Jesus the worst marketer of all time. He has a crowd following him and decides to take that moment to tell them what discipleship costs. This is Jesus’ honesty on display and he’s delivering a message we all need to hear: discipleship has a high cost.
Jesus is telling us that while God’s grace and love are free, to follow him we have to go all in. There is no halfway. Another scripture says there is no lukewarm, you can either be hot or cold. To be a disciple of Jesus we have to go all in.
- We have to be willing to love the smelly person, the addict, or the immigrant as much or more than we love our own family.
- We have to be willing to put the needs of the stranger, the foreigner, or the other before our own needs and desires.
- We have to be willing to not worry about our time, our possessions, or our control.
I’ll be honest with you all, this isn’t easy. There are some days when I’m able to go all in and there are others where I am not willing, or I don’t have the energy to do these things. Thankfully Jesus is forgiving. As one of our oldest members said the other day when talking about this verse, we have to strive to have more days where we go all in than days we do not.
While we might not be able to go all in every day, it’s important to look at these verses and remind ourselves the cost of following Jesus is very high. We can’t just say we follow Jesus and it’s so. Jesus calls us to trust him more than our family, our things, and ourselves. Being a disciple requires us to change our lives, to rearrange our priorities so Jesus is at the top of the list.
When the rich man asked Jesus what he needed to do, Jesus told him to go all in. Instead, the man walked away upset. The cost of discipleship is super high.
Are you willing to go all in?