14:25–35 The cost of discipleship (cf. Mt. 10:37–38; 5:13; Mk. 9:50)
Before taking up directly the theme of ‘the gospel for the outcasts’, foreshadowed in vs 21–24, Jesus indicates the stringent demands which accompany his invitation to God’s banquet. Discipleship means a person’s readiness to place his or her claims above those of both family and self. Disciples must be prepared to deny themselves completely—whether carry his cross means literally to be ready for martyrdom or metaphorically to ‘die’ to all personal desires. People should count the cost involved in saying ‘No’ to self before starting on a course which they may not be able to follow to the end. How foolish is the builder who leaves a building unfinished because his funds run out before he anticipated. How foolish, too, is the army commander who does not reckon up on the strength of his army before engaging a stronger foe in battle. A disciple who gives up in midstream because the going is too tough is like salt which has lost its taste and is unfit for seasoning food or even for use on the ground; it cannot be made useful again.
Notes. 26 To hate means to ‘love less’. 27 Crucifixion was a sufficiently common event in Judea for people to understand readily what Jesus meant (cf. 9:23)
The Multitudes: False Expectancy (Luke 14:25–35)
When Jesus left the Pharisee’s house, great crowds followed Him, but He was not impressed by their enthusiasm. He knew that most of those in the crowd were not the least bit interested in spiritual things. Some wanted only to see miracles, others heard that He fed the hungry, and a few hoped He would overthrow Rome and establish David’s promised kingdom. They were expecting the wrong things.
Jesus turned to the multitude and preached a sermon that deliberately thinned out the ranks. He made it clear that, when it comes to personal discipleship, He is more interested in quality than quantity. In the matter of saving lost souls, He wants His house to be filled (Luke 14:23); but in the matter of personal discipleship, He wants only those who are willing to pay the price.
A “disciple” is a learner, one who attaches himself or herself to a teacher in order to learn a trade or a subject. Perhaps our nearest modern equivalent is “apprentice,” one who learns by watching and by doing. The word disciple was the most common name for the followers of Jesus Christ and is used 264 times in the Gospels and the Book of Acts.
Jesus seems to make a distinction between salvation and discipleship. Salvation is open to all who will come by faith, while discipleship is for believers willing to pay a price. Salvation means coming to the cross and trusting Jesus Christ, while discipleship means carrying the cross and following Jesus Christ. Jesus wants as many sinners saved as possible (“that My house may be filled”), but He cautions us not to take discipleship lightly; and in the three parables He gave, He made it clear that there is a price to pay.
To begin with, we must love Christ supremely, even more than we love our own flesh and blood (Luke 14:26–27). The word hate does not suggest positive antagonism but rather “to love less” (see Gen. 29:30–31; Mal. 1:2–3; and Matt. 10:37). Our love for Christ must be so strong that all other love is like hatred in comparison. In fact, we must hate our own lives and be willing to bear the cross after Him.
What does it mean to “carry the cross”? It means daily identification with Christ in shame, suffering, and surrender to God’s will. It means death to self, to our own plans and ambitions, and a willingness to serve Him as He directs (John 12:23–28). A “cross” is something we willingly accept from God as part of His will for our lives. The Christian who called his noisy neighbors the “cross” he had to bear certainly did not understand the meaning of dying to self.
Jesus gave three parables to explain why He makes such costly demands on His followers: the man building a tower, the king fighting a war, and the salt losing its flavor. The usual interpretation is that believers are represented by the man building the tower and the king fighting the war, and we had better “count the cost” before we start, lest we start and not be able to finish. But I agree with Campbell Morgan that the builder and the king represent not the believer but Jesus Christ. He is the One who must “count the cost” to see whether we are the kind of material He can use to build the church and battle the enemy. He cannot get the job done with halfhearted followers who will not pay the price.
As I write this chapter, I can look up and see on my library shelves hundreds of volumes of Christian biographies and autobiographies, the stories of godly men and women who made great contributions to the building of the church and the battle against the enemy. They were willing to pay the price, and God blessed them and used them. They were people with “salt” in their character.
When Jesus said this he was on the road to Jerusalem. He knew that he was on his way to the cross; the crowds who were with him thought that he was on his way to an empire. That is why he spoke to them like this. In the most vivid way possible he told them that the man who followed him was not on the way to worldly power and glory, but must be ready for a loyalty which would sacrifice the dearest things in life and for a suffering which would be like the agony of a man upon a cross.
We must not take his words with cold and unimaginative literalness. Eastern language is always as vivid as the human mind can make it. When Jesus tells us to hate our nearest and dearest, he does not mean that literally. He means that no love in life can compare with the love we must bear to him.
There are two suggestive truths within this passage.
(i) It is possible to be a follower of Jesus without being a disciple; to be a camp-follower without being a soldier of the king; to be a hanger—on in some great work without pulling one’s weight. Once someone was talking to a great scholar about a younger man. He said, “So and so tells me that he was one of your students.” The teacher answered devastatingly, “He may have attended my lectures, but he was not one of my students.” It is one of the supreme handicaps of the church that in it there are so many distant followers of Jesus and so few real disciples.
(ii) It is a Christian’s first duty to count the cost of following Christ. The tower which the man was going to build was probably a vineyard tower. Vineyards were often equipped with towers from which watch was kept against thieves who might steal the harvest. An unfinished building is always a humiliating thing. In Scotland, we may, for instance, think of that weird structure called “M’Caig’s Folly” which stands behind Oban.
In every sphere of life a man is called upon to count the cost. In the introduction to the marriage ceremony according to the forms of the Church of Scotland, the minister says, “Marriage is not to be entered upon lightly or unadvisedly, but thoughtfully, reverently, and in the fear of God.” A man and woman must count the cost.
It is so with the Christian way. But if a man is daunted by the high demands of Christ let him remember that he is not left to fulfil them alone. He who called him to the steep road will walk with him every step of the way and be there at the end to meet him.
Ver. 26.—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. The Lord’s teaching throughout, in parable and in direct saying, pressed home to his followers that no home love, no earthly affection, must ever come into competition with the love of God. If home and his cause came ever into collision, home and all belonging to it must gently be put aside, and everything must be sacrificed to the cause. Farrar quotes here from Lovelace—
“I could not love thee, dear, so much,
Loved I not honour more.”
Vers. 28–30.—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. The imagery was not an unfamiliar one in those days. The magnificent Herodian house had a passion for erecting great buildings, sacred and profane, in the varied cities under their away. They would doubtless be often imitated, and no doubt many an unfinished edifice testified to the foolish emulation of some would-be imitator of the extravagant royal house. Now, such incomplete piles of masonry and brickwork simply excite a contemptuous pity for the builder, who has so falsely calculated his resources when he drew the plan of the palace or villa he was never able to finish. So in the spiritual life, the would be professor finds such living harder than he supposed, and so gives up trying after the nobler way of living altogether; and the world, who watched his feeble efforts and listened with an incredulous smile, when he proclaimed his intentions, now ridicules him, and pours scorn upon what it considers an unattainable ideal. Such an attempt and failure injure the cause of God.
Vers. 31, 32.—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. It is not improbable that this simile was derived from the history of the time. The unhappy connection of the tetrarch Herod with Herodias had brought about the divorce of that sovereign’s first wife, who was daughter of Aretas, a powerful Arabian prince. This involved Herod in an Arabian war, the result of which was disastrous to the tetrarch. Josephus points out that this ill-omened incident was the commencement of Herod Antipas’s subsequent misfortunes. Our Lord not improbably used this simile, foreseeing what would be the ultimate end of this unhappy war of Herod. The first of these two little similes rather points to the building up of the Christian life in the heart and life. The second is an image of the warfare which every Christian man must wage against the world, its passions, and its lusts. If we cannot brace ourselves up to the sacrifice necessary for the completion of the building up of the life we know the Master loves; if we shrink from the cost involved in the warfare against sin and evil—a warfare which will only end with life—better for us not to begin the building or risk the war. It will be a wretched alternative, but still it will be best for us to make our submission at once to the world and its prince; at least, by so doing we shall avoid the scandal and the shame of injuring a cause which we adopted only to forsake. The Swiss commentator Godet very naturally uses here a simile taken from his own nationality: “Would not a little nation like the Swiss bring down ridicule on itself by declaring war with France, if it were not determined to die nobly on the field of battle?” He was thinking of the splendid patriotism of his own brave ancestors who had determined so to die, and who carried out their gallant purpose. He was thinking of stricken fields like Morgarten and Sempach, and of brave hearts like those of Rudolph of Erlach, and Arnold of Winkelried, who loved their country better than their lives. This was the spirit with which Christ’s warriors must undertake the hard stern warfare against an evil and corrupt world, otherwise better let his cause alone. The sombre shadow of the cross lay heavy and dark across all the Redeemer’s words spoken at this time.
Ver. 33.—So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple. “We must live in this world as though the soul was already in heaven and the body mouldering in the grave” (St. Francis de Sales). There was much unreasoning; possibly not a little sentimental enthusiasm, among the people who crowded round Jesus in these last months of his work. The stern, uncompromising picture of what ought to be the life of his real followers was painted especially with a view of getting rid of these useless, purposeless enthusiasts. The way of the cross, which he was about to tread, was no pathway for such light-hearted triflers.
14:26 If anyone comes to me. “Comes to me” means seeks salvation or makes a decision to follow Jesus (cf. 18:26, 28).
And does not. The decision to follow Jesus must be accompanied by three conditions (14:26–27, 33).
Hate. This is the first condition. From Matt 10:37 we know that this means to “love [one’s family] less.” This is evident from Gen 29:30–31, where Jacob’s greater love for Rachel (29:30) is phrased as hating Leah (29:31, RSV). Compare also Deut 21:15–17, where the same love-hate dichotomy is used. (The KJV translated the Hebrew literally as love/hate, but the NIV and RSV have translated the Hebrew as loves/does not love and love/dislike.) Compare also 16:13, where a love-hate, devote-despise dichotomy describes preferring one master over another. 184 A person who commits himself or herself to Christ will develop a greater love for both neighbor and family, although at times loving and following Christ may be seen as renunciation, rejection, or hate if the family does not share the same commitment to Christ.
Father and mother. “Father and mother” is the first of three matching sets. The Matthean parallel lacks “wife” in the second set and in the last set “brothers and sisters.” Compare 18:29 for a similar grouping.
Wife. Compare 14:20; 18:29.
Even his own life. Compare 9:23–24; 17:33; John 12:25. This is the fourth set in the series. For Luke’s love of “fours,” see comments on 6:22.
Cannot be my disciple. This refers to becoming a Christian, i.e., becoming a “disciple,” 185 not to becoming an apostle or one of the “twelve disciples.” 186 Matthew 10:37–38 uses these words in the same way, for the person not fulfilling these conditions “will not be worthy of Jesus” (10:37), which is further described as “losing one’s life” (10:39).
14:27 Does not carry his cross and follow me. This is the second condition for discipleship. Compare 9:23.
14:28 Suppose. The following similitudes illustrate the need to consider carefully what it means to become a Christian.
One of you. “One of you” is literally Who out of you . Compare 11:5, 11; 12:25; 15:4; 17:7; cf. also 14:31.
Build a tower. Compare 13:4. This may have served as a protection for a house or vineyard or was perhaps some sort of farm building (cf. Mark 12:1).
Estimate the cost. This term was used both for counting votes and for adding up numbers in business ledgers.
14:29 Will ridicule him. Compare 18:32; 22:63; 23:11, 36.
14:30 This is a derisive comment, a jeer, not a statement of fact.
This fellow. A derogatory use of the article “this.” The point of the similitude was not made explicit because it was self-evident. Do not promise to follow Jesus unless you understand the “cost” and are willing to “pay” it. This does not imply that salvation must be earned. Rather the point being made is that God’s grace can only be received by those who, in repenting, place him above everything else.
14:31 Or suppose a king. Whereas 14:28 has “one of you,” here Luke omitted “of you” because Israel had no king in his/Jesus’ day.
14:32 A delegation. Compare 19:14.
14:33 The third condition is described. A disciple must relinquish everything. Similar teachings are found in 12:33; 18:22; cf. also 5:11; 11:41. See comments on 5:28.
Give up. Compare 9:61, where the same term is used. The present tense emphasizes that this renunciation must be continual (see comments on 9:23).
3404. μισέω miséō; contracted misó̄, fut. misé̄sō. To hate.
(I) With the acc. of person, usually implying active ill will in words and conduct, a persecuting spirit (Matt. 5:43 where it stands as opposite to agapáō , to love, in Matt. 5:44; 10:22; 24:9, 10; Mark 13:13; Luke 1:71; 6:22, 27; 19:14; 21:17; John 7:7; 15:18, 19, 23–25; 17:14; Titus 3:3; 1 John 2:9, 11; 3:13, 15; 4:20; Sept.: Gen. 37:4; Lev. 26:17). By implication, meaning to persecute (Rev. 17:16; Sept.: 2 Sam. 5:8; 22:18).
(II) With the acc. of thing meaning to detest, abhor (John 3:20; Rom. 7:15; Eph. 5:29; Heb. 1:9; Jude 1:23; Rev. 2:6, 15; 18:2).
(III) Specifically as the opposite of agapáō (25), to love, or philéō (5368), to be a friend to, it is equivalent to not loving, loveless, to slight, with the acc. of person (Matt. 6:24; Luke 16:13; John 12:25; Rom. 9:13; Sept.: Gen. 29:31; Deut. 21:16; Mal. 1:3).
(IV) To love less. In Luke 14:26 Jesus contrasts love to family with love to Himself “If any come to me, and hate [miseí, pres. act. indic. 3d person sing.] not his father, and mother, and wife, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.” Here Jesus asserts His deity. Every member of man’s family is a human being, and the love shown to humans compared to the love shown to Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, must be so different that the former seems like hatred. The meaning of miséō as loving less is made clear in Matt. 10:37, “He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” In His commands for loving other human beings, the Lord never said, “Love other human beings as you love Me,” but “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (Matt. 19:19). When it comes to loving God, however, He is placed in a unique position (Matt. 22:37, 38).
Syn.: apéchomai (567), to refrain.
Ant.: agapáō (25), to love; philéō (5368), to befriend.
185 In the sense used in Acts 6:1–2, 7; 9:1, 10, 19, 26, 38.
186 In the sense used in 5:30; 6:1, 13.