There are but seven Revelatory letters to the churches, and yet, when one reads this passage about counting the cost of building, it resonates across all seven letters, and could very well the 8th letter for the church at large.
“And there went great multitudes with him: and he turned, and said unto them, If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.
And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.
For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, Saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish.
Or what king, going to make war against another king, sitteth not down first, and consulteth whether he be able with ten thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand?
Or else, while the other is yet a great way off, he sendeth an ambassage, and desireth conditions of peace.
So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple. Salt is good: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be seasoned? It is neither fit for the land, nor yet for the dunghill; but men cast it out.
He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.”
Notice the Lord Jesus finished this short dialogue the same way as the seven letters, with, “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.” He, therefore, means us to take heed of the implications of what he is saying; to comprehend the information that is too lengthy to write into his sermon.
Christ was informing that great multitude of listeners that there is long-term and costly work to be done when we follow him, and to understand this from the outset.
He wants all followers to look at the principles explained, and realise what he is saying. That is, he is to become more important than anyone or anything in a follower’s life.
On the whole, this is not being taught in churches today. Maybe ministers are so excited about bringing people to the Lord, that they neglect or forget to inform them of the details of that cost. Maybe they are reluctant to tell them so early in their Christian walk? I get that. I am the same. However, Christ didn’t seem to be!
Perhaps this is why so many Christians struggle in their walk, as they did not realise earlier of the challenges they would face; and maybe this is why the Christian backsliding rate is so high.
Christ was not afraid to tell these young followers that the walk they were embarking on meant even putting the family relationships on notice; such was the cost of the building. Thus, implying that if they couldn’t face that cost — if they thought it was too expensive, like Lot’s wife, don’t start the building!
How do we examine the full project of following the Lord? How do we look into the future and see what might happen? How do we cost it? For, if 5 of the seven churches had cost their projects and stuck to the project plans, they may not have fallen!
Followers of tabernacle teachings understand to some degree about cost, as we converse about ‘building’ in a real sense.
Even so, when we think of costing the project over the long term of one’s life, what do we factor into the equation? We have governments today that can’t even supply accurate costings on a three-year project, so how are we to account for one that takes sixty years to complete?
To underpin my point, here are some questions you can ask yourself about the project of finishing YOUR race.
TASK: Get with a friend or by yourself, then answer every question honestly and openly, as if you were both the contracted Project Manager as well as the eventual owner and financier of the Project. This may take some days or weeks.
Background/Context: (Provide a brief explanation of the background and/or context of the project….Try and keep this to little more than half a page).What this means is to document your life up to when you got saved, and then after it.
Objective: (What is the aim of this project? A useful way to frame the objective is to answer the question ‘why are you doing the project?’ The result is a one sentence statement, or series of statements, starting with the word ‘To’)
Target Outcomes: (Target Outcomes are expressed in the past tense and usually start with a word ending in ‘ed’, such as improved, increased, enhanced or reduced. They are the benefits that the project intends to achieve.)
How will the success of the project be measured: (Describe the measure(s) that will used to indicate that the project has been successfully completed. Each measure will be linked to one or more target outcomes. At the end of the project the measures will help answer such questions as ‘what have we achieved?’ and ‘how do we know?’)
Output(s): (What things will be delivered by the project? Outputs link with outcomes, in that the outputs are used by the project’s customers to achieve the outcomes. Outputs are usually expressed as nouns.”
Governance: (Describe the management arrangements that will be put in place to govern the project and briefly describe the accountabilities of each party. This may be your accountability partners).
Reporting Requirements: (What is the reporting frequency, format and to whom? This is about accountability)
Resources: (What human resources, internal, external, consultants and/or working groups will be required for the project? Is the project is being conducted within existing operational resources or have specific funds been supplied? If the project has a specific budget provide details of the proposed expenditures.)
Stakeholders & Communication Strategy: (List the key stakeholders or stakeholder groups who will impact the project or be impacted by the project and describe how they will be engaged.)
Assumptions and Constraints: (Provide a list of any underlying assumptions and/or constraints.)
Major Risks & Minimisation Strategies: (What are the barriers to achieving project success (ie the major risks)? For each of these risks, what steps will be undertaken to minimise them?)
Risk Management: (What will be the process used to manage risks throughout the project, particularly in relation to risk identification, review and reporting?)
Issues Management: (What will be the process used to manage issues throughout the project, particularly in relation to issue identification, review and reporting? This might be anticipating the possibility of spiritual struggles, etc)
Related Projects: (List any projects which are dependent on this project, or projects that are interdependent on this project, or projects upon which this project is dependent. Briefly describe the relationship. this might be helping getting your siblings or children through: those under your charge)
Guidelines/Standards: (What guidelines, standards or methodologies will be applied manage the project? (e.g. Bible, tabernacle teachings, faithful commentaries and preachers)
Quality Control: (What levels of review will be undertaken throughout the development of the project? For example the timing of output reviews, how the reviews will be conducted and who will be involved.)
Capturing the Lessons Learnt: (Describe any review process (internal or external, e.g. yourself or with others) to capture the lessons learnt throughout the project). How do you write it all down? In what format?
Now it seems absurd to fill out a lengthy project management exercise just to live a Christian life. However, so far, how have you counted the cost as Jesus Christ decreed?
Jesus had an advantage over us in the sense of knowing what was before him. The world’s most accurate historical document, the Bible, prophesied his birth, life and death and the reason for his existence.
We, on the other hand, tend to see ourselves as unimportant and minor, without prophecy or clear direction for our life. We see God in our lives, but not a clear sense of the future or calling, as Christ had. Therefore, we tend not to use a risk management approach to it, but just expect to deal with issues as and when they arise.
Christ said, “Count the Cost”. He expects us to do some homework on our future, so we do not get surprised when some things occur; realising that ‘Expectation’ is half the battle won.
Yet, many of us hope to sail through life without major issues, and when they unexpectedly appear, we are not only taken by surprise but can be quite dejected or demoralised. Why?
The early disciples including the Apostle Paul used a risk management approach. They proclaimed cleanness and salvation in a sinful world. They went against the tide of their era and knew it, and realised there would be a significant cost attached to that. Why would they think anything else?
We don’t need to live a life of conflict, but we do need to ‘expect’ challenges to our belief and manner of life from both people and Satan.
Our aim is to get to the degree of Job, who said, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust him…“, or Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who stood against all the odds in their time. We must, therefore, expect the testing of our faith to come in very real ways in our era; and then, like these heroes of faith, entrust ourselves in the arms of our saviour, regardless of the outcome.
Therefore, it is wise to undertake a risk assessment that foreshadows the issues we might meet, along with the manner in which we might address them; to have clearly thought out predetermined goals, accountabilities and strategies beforehand. Much like writing a Will.
When Jesus asked those in the crowd to count the cost, he was directing them to factor in the expense of their social relationships, income or work, family ties, future children and grandchildren, organisations to which they were attached, as well as their current place and manner of worship.
Jesus said, “If any man (or woman or child) will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.”
This comment may mean the sacrifice of everything close and is heartbreaking. But it is also heart healing, as Jesus intimately understood the forfeiture of all things for the sake of duty and calling. His love overcame the loss, ridicule and physical trauma of standing as a spiritual light and firstfruits in a world full of darkness.
Likewise, when we look at his wisdom and understanding in this comment within the passage, “And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple” we comprehend the true burden of the cross we are to bear. It is similar to his, as we walk with it on our shoulders of responsibility through time, ignoring the ridicule, attempts at humiliation, ostracising, and in some countries even death, in our effort to become mature followers as the harvest approaches.
In this section of our original passage, we get considerable insight into fallen Christian soldiers. “Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, Saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish.”
When a tall, sturdy tree falls to the ground, it is divided amongst the people. Likewise, when a soldier of Christ falls to the ground after some years of testimony, the locals share him or her among themselves, mocking and lambasting, and looking in disgust. The ‘fallen’ had laid the foundation — getting saved — perhaps thinking that’s all that was needed, but the ongoing cost of being a perpetual witness was not accounted for and found to be too expensive, so he or she stopped building and walked away from the site.
By linking this passage to 1 Corinthians 3, we can see why Paul said he had to still feed them with milk and not with meat. They had not built anything other than the foundation, basic salvation, which shows a lack of understanding of our servanthood job.
Paul could only undertake ‘foundation’ teaching, unable to discuss topics on the deeper development, as they did not understand. Much like the Laodiceans, the Corinthians were content with remaining shallow, ignoring Paul’s more profound teaching.
In that scripture, Paul informed them of how the building was to take shape. They were to determine the cost of locating and excavating the exact type of materials he proposed and use them in the building.
In like manner, we are to understand our shortcomings, then pay the price of the searching of scriptures, agonising in prayer, listening to in-depth Bible teaching, and then, as time goes by, through humility, assembling it into the form which suits us as individuals, little by little.
We are to find the gold, silver and precious gems of life — the wisdom, knowledge and understanding — then build them into our lives, so they look like a part of our building — a standard feature; thus, completing the three stages of spiritual growth, Vision, Knowledge and Practice.
These materials are the wisdom, knowledge and understanding to create a house fit for God. They make us wiser and able to place God’s needs above our own.
Also, they make us:
more loving and lovable
At peace all day long.
Able to suffer much without grumbling
Full of goodness and seeking the good in people and situations.
More faithful to both God and people,
have a meeker, quieter spirit, and, of course,
able to abstain from those things upon which God frowns.
This is the shaping of our house!
We are labouring, not lazing, to acquire the materials God has called us to obtain and then instill them into our lives. People will find us at all times walking and working in the ways of righteousness and holiness. We become known for it.
Scripture says to take the time to build (little by little), as some get puffed up, trying to put it together too quickly, and all they do is assemble a kit house. Kit houses resemble an actual model in appearance, but are often full of ego and soon have problems.
This dilemma is one reason we see great Christians falling from Grace, where a quick build has taken place, but with a disregard for the master builder’s instructions.
The Apostle Paul stated, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith:”
He was confident that he had finished his course, and yet often we don’t understand what our course is or where it finishes. Would that be accurate?
So how do we proceed along the same path as Paul of building our house?
Able to place God’s needs above our own:
On the right day in prayer, praise or thanksgiving we can think that we have given all our lives to God. A day later we find ourselves planning our next year’s holidays and talking about what we will do in two or three years, with not a mention or thought of servanthood.
Placing God’s needs above ours is difficult from day to day, and is to be learned. Look at it as if we are a Queen on a chessboard, not a pawn as you might imagine. A pawn can only move in one direction, but the Queen can move in any direction, according to the chess master’s needs, even backwards.
Yes, even when we appear to be going backwards or just standing still, if we are on the chess board and willing, it is part of the chess master’s overall strategy to win.
Clearly, we cannot be the King, as Jesus Christ is king. But if we are married to him, we are his Queen, his church, and his hands and feet on this earth ready for use.
…for the continuation of this article, see the Fruit of the Spirit series.