Chapter 3: Don’t begin until you count the cost

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“Don’t begin until you count the cost.”
{Luke 14:28 NLT}


Yes, Jesus there is talking about our decision to become Christians. And yes, there definitely is a “cost.” But before we “count the cost,” I feel I should say one thing: I fear that far too many churches think they know a better way than Christ, for the sad fact of the matter is, those directions—“don’t begin until you count the cost”—are in far too many cases being almost completely disregarded. And as with everything else that’s contrary to what Jesus says, someday it will be shown to have been a terrible mistake.

Now to begin counting the cost. And for me, looking at the many specifics, though having its proper place and needing to be done, is not the real need or the real answer. As is so often the case, what we really need to do is get to the heart of the issue; and that’s the course I’ll be taking in this chapter. And I’m going to do it largely through the avenue of two parables Christ told—one right after the other.

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. Which when a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all that he had and bought that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man seeking goodly pearls: Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.”  {Matthew 13:44-46 NIV, KJV}

Obviously Jesus was repetitious for a reason. And obviously, it’s that there’s a lesson in those parables that He really wanted to emphasize; which of course means it’s a lesson we really need to learn. And while there are other important lessons in those parables, it’s that one all-important lesson Jesus was trying to emphasize that I want to devote this chapter to looking at: the value those men placed upon the treasures they found, and what it says to us. But before I begin doing that I need to touch briefly on a few basic aspects of the parables.

Both parables are said to represent “the kingdom of heaven.” In a very general sense I believe that includes everything God has to offer us, which is something we can hardly begin to comprehend or appreciate:

“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.”  {1 Corinthians 2:9 NIV}

(What a thought!)

But while we can hardly begin to comprehend or appreciate what God has to offer us, and I think this is not only the great lesson of those parables, but one of the most important lessons we can ever learn: the more we do comprehend and appreciate what God is offering us, the more closely, and gladly—“and then in his joy he went and sold all that he had”–we’ll follow in the footsteps of those men in the parables.

In a more specific sense: I believe the “field containing the hidden treasure” represents God’s word with all its treasures of truth, and the “pearl of great price” represents the greatest of all treasures, and the treasure that all the other treasures come from and lead to: Jesus Himself. And it’s of both Himself and the multitude of treasures to be found in His word that Jesus spoke those oh so important—and oh so challenging—words: “…he went and sold all that he had, and bought it.”

Lest there be any confusion as to what Jesus was teaching in those last words, let me stop quick and say that based on an abundance of evidence, a small sample of which I’ll share here, Jesus in those parables wasn’t teaching that heaven can be bought:

“Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.”  {Revelation 22:17 KJV}
“Being justified freely by his grace.”  {Romans 3:24 KJV}
“Freely ye have received…”  {Matthew 10:8 KJV}
“God’s generous gift… God’s bountiful gift.”  {Romans 5:15 NLT}
“Peter replied, “May your money perish with you for thinking God’s gift can be bought.”  {Acts 8:20 NLT}

Those two parables, with both men selling everything they had in order to come in to possession of the treasures they found is simply one of the ways Jesus saw fit to try to impress upon our hearts and minds to what degree we need to value heavenly things. And as I said up above, I truly believe this is one of the most important lessons we can ever learn. So, with that in mind, I think we would do well to spend some time considering a few things that will help us in that direction if we let them.

I’ll begin by looking at two of the greatest men the world has ever known. Two men who after Jesus have had a more lasting influence for good in the world than possibly any other men. Two men who wrote more of the Bible than any other men. And two men who, not coincidently, “sold all that they had” in exchange for the treasure God was offering them. Those two men are Moses in the Old Testament and Paul in the New. We’ll look at Moses first.

As many of you probably already know, when Moses was just a baby he was spared from death at the hand of Pharaoh and by divine providence instead ended up being adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter and growing up as part of Pharaoh’s family. And while we’re not told a whole lot about that portion of his life, we are told:

“Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and in deeds… Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter… He thought it was better to suffer for the Christ than to have all the treasures of Egypt.”  {Acts 7:22; Hebrews 11:24-26 NASB, NCV}

Moses, not only being “the son of Pharaohs’ daughter,” but also “learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and mighty in words and in deeds,” was no doubt in line to inherit a good part, if not “all the treasures of Egypt.” And at that time, Egypt being the greatest nation on the earth, that was a whole lot of treasure—probably more than we can begin to imagine. Yet even with all that power and fame and money, and everything else that comes with them, Moses gave it all up—“sold all that he had”—to be numbered with God’s people. Do you think Moses made the right choice? Well, if we ever get to heaven I guess we can ask him. But until then, I hope this will be enough to convince you that he did:

“There has never been another prophet like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face.”  {Deuteronomy 34:10 NLT}

Our second great example, Paul, wasn’t called to make the same sacrifice as Moses—the world, with the better share of its treasures, at least the part of the world Paul lived in, were firmly in the hands of mighty Rome. Instead, he faced what for many is an equally difficult sacrifice: giving up the praise, the honor, and the power of being a young and rising religious leader in a nation in which the religious leaders stood at the very pinnacle of societal honor and power: “I am a real Jew if there ever was one! What’s more, I was a member of the Pharisees.” (Philippians 3:5 NLT) But the time came—in a most remarkable manner—when Paul, like that man in the parable, found “the pearl of great price,” at which point everything drastically changed:

“I once though all these things were so very important, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the priceless gain of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but rubbish, so that I may have Christ and become one with him.”  {Philippians 3:7-9 NLT}

“He went and sold all that he had, and bought it.”  (Our parables)
“I have suffered the loss of all things… so that I may have Christ.”  (Paul)

Surely we see in the life of Paul a perfect fulfillment of the parables. And once again I would ask you: Do you think Paul made the right choice? And do you think he was seeing things right when he said, “everything else is worthless when compared with the priceless gain of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord?” Or do you think that Paul may have been just a bit too extreme? As you’re contemplating those questions, allow me to remind you: our actions speak louder than do our words.

Before we leave our two great men, and as if one “hard teaching” per chapter isn’t enough, based on something Paul said somewhere else, “I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God” (Acts 20:27 KJV), I have to point out to you a second hard teaching that was revealed to us in those brief accounts of Paul and Moses. (Remember, they’re only hard teachings when we see through our less than perfect human vision. And hopefully I can help you to see this next thing more in the light God would have us to see it in.) You may have caught it the first time through. I’ll share it with you once again and this time I’ll tell you that it’s the one word the two passages have in common (we won’t count the words “for” and “the”):

“He thought that it was better to suffer for the Christ.”  (Moses)
“…for whom I have suffered the loss of all things.”  (Paul)

Generally speaking, none of us look forward to suffering; and for the most part, if we’re “normal,” we try to do all we can to avoid it. And while it’s right to avoid certain kinds of suffering, such as the kind that’s brought about by our own foolish behavior, or the kind of self-inflicted suffering the monks of Martin Luther’s day inflicted upon themselves in an attempt to crucify the flesh, there’s a different kind of suffering that comes from God, or maybe I should say, is allowed of God, that’s for our good, and that we need to embrace instead of trying to avoid. And while I don’t want to delve too deeply into this, I do want to share a few key passages that will help us to see it more in the light God would have us to see it in. (As with so many of the passages I’ll be sharing throughout the book, these are some we would do well to read often.)

“You have been given not only the privilege of trusting in Christ, but also the privilege of suffering for him.”  {Philippians 1:29 NLT}

Although it may not come quickly, and it may not come easily, we’ll have learned one of the great lessons of life if we can truly learn that suffering for Christ is a “privilege” that we’ve been “given;” and since the devil isn’t giving us any privileges, it must be God that has given it to us. And we need to ever remind ourselves that God is always right and He always does what’s best for us, which means this suffering must be something that in some way is good for us.

Going along with that:

“[Paul and Barnabas] strengthened the believers. They encouraged them to continue in the faith. They said, “We must suffer many things to enter God’s kingdom.”  {Acts 14:22 NLT, NCV}

Although they’re daunting words, they’re words we need to accept as true and Biblical: “we must suffer many things to enter God’s kingdom.” And let me inform you: all translations not only use that word “must,” but some variation of that word “many.”

Allow me to say something else concerning that passage. If you’ve been walking in the way of Christianity for any length of time and haven’t been taught that “you must suffer many things to enter God’s kingdom,” then I think maybe you should ask yourself the questions: Why hasn’t anyone ever taught me that? And what else haven’t I been taught?

After looking at those last two passages hopefully this next one will be that much more precious:

“Our light and momentary sufferings are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we don’t fix our eyes on the troubles we can see right now; rather, we look forward to what we have not yet seen. For the troubles we see will soon be over, but the joys to come will last forever.”  {2 Corinthians 4:17, 18 NIV, NLT}

(I just have to say: Every one of us would be incalculably blessed if we could learn to keep those words ever in mind.)

If you take a minute to read chapter eleven, verses twenty-three to twenty-seven of that same book of 2 Corinthians you’ll see that Paul went through no ordinary amount of sufferings, yet he still refers to them as “light.” That’s because he thought of them in relation to that “eternal glory that far outweighed” all that suffering:

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”  {Romans 8:18 NIV}

Paul also kept in mind that the suffering part was “momentary,” and would “soon be over,” while the glory part would “last forever.” And that’s how we need to learn to think.

Along with all that, he also kept in mind another wonderful truth: that “all things work together for good to them that love God.” (Romans 8:28 KJV)

I want to include one more passage on suffering; and while it’s not quite the same as the others, I think it deserves to be included here:

“No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it is painful! Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it… God’s discipline is always right and good for us because it means we will share in his holiness… without holiness no one will see the Lord.”  {Hebrews 12:11, 10, 14 NLT, NIV}

I want to say one more thing about suffering: We here in America don’t face the kind of suffering Christians do in other parts of the world like the Middle East and Communist countries. But there’s a different kind of suffering that for many—especially the young—is every bit as difficult as physical suffering. It’s the suffering that comes with being different than your friends and peers and even family. And make no mistake about it: Christians will be different that non-Christians in many, many ways; and sometimes those differences result in some very sad and very painful experiences, but thankfully Jesus has given us some wonderful consolation to help us to face them:

“Everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children (or friends) or property, for my sake, will receive a hundred times as much in return and will have eternal life.”  {Matthew 19:29 NLT}

Back to our subject: Now I want to share with you two very special passages from two very special men. In the first we’re told that the treasure worth selling everything for is wisdom and understanding. And the man who tells us that, as you’ll recall from our last chapter, is the man who when he walked with God was the wisest man that ever lived; so if anybody ought to have a correct estimate of the value of wisdom and understanding it’s him. Our second passage complements our first and was written by a man whom God Himself tells us was “the finest man in all the earth;” and hopefully God telling us that will add a little extra weight to his counsel:

“Happy is the man that finds wisdom, and the man that gains understanding… Wisdom is more precious than rubies; and all the things thou canst desire are not to be compared to her… Getting wisdom is the most important thing you can do. Though it cost all you have, get understanding… whoever finds [wisdom] finds life.”  {Proverbs 3:13-15; 4:7; 8:35 KJV, NLT, NIV}

“Then the LORD asked Satan, “Have you noticed my servant Job? He is the finest man in all the earth” …This is what he says to all humanity: ‘The fear of the Lord is true wisdom; to forsake evil is real understanding.’”  {Job 1:8; 28:28 NLT}

I have one last passage I want to share; one that may vey well be the ultimate passage on selling all that we have to get “the pearl of great price.” You’ll notice that our title passage is found in it. And because it’s so undeniably challenging, I think it’s fitting that I follow it with our main passage from chapter one.

“Great crowds were following Jesus. He turned and said to them, “If you want to be my follower you must love me more than your own father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even more than your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple. And you cannot be my disciple if you do not carry your own cross and follow me. But don’t begin until you count the cost… you must give up everything you have to follow me. If you don’t you cannot be my follower!”  {Luke 14:25-28 & 33 NLT}

“On hearing this, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it.” …Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them… “those very words that I have spoken to you, they are spirit, and they are life.”  {John 6:60-63 NLT, NIV, KJV}

I think I should point something out: While Jesus truly means it when He says that we must love Him more than our “father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters,” it is at the same time a wonderful heavenly truth that the more we love Him the more we’ll love our “father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters,” and everyone else.