This week’s memory text is part of Jesus’ discourse on the cost of being His disciple. In His teaching on discipleship, Jesus regularly mentioned the need to count the cost of following Him, which could be high. Matthew 16:24–28 and Luke 14:25–33 are two of the key texts in understanding Jesus’ teaching on what it means for a person to follow Him (see also Mark 8:34–37, Luke 9:23–25). It is important to note that in His teachings on discipleship, Jesus does not speak about the evilness of money or the damnation of those who are rich. He simply warns us against letting our possessions stand in the way of our pursuit of eternity with Him. None of the things that money can afford us—pleasures, power, renown—will do us any ultimate good if, because of them, we forfeit eternity.
While the Bible does not condemn riches, it does warn about the potential danger. According to Paul, the love of money, not money itself, is evil (1 Tim. 6:10). Rich and powerful people, as well as poor and weak people, are equally welcome into God’s kingdom. As Peter realized in Cornelius’s house, “ ‘God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him’ ” (Acts 10:34, 35, NKJV). God is as concerned about the salvation of the rich and the powerful as He is for the poor and the weak.
The Cost of Being a Disciple of Jesus
In Matthew 16:24, Jesus uses extreme language to highlight the non-negotiable nature of the cost of following Him: “ ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me’ ” (NIV; see also Luke 14:26, 27). Jesus did not want a followership driven only by the desire to benefit from the various miracles He performed. Following Him for the gratification of our desires would amount to an opportunistic relationship with Him. Instead, Jesus wants His followers to die daily to self-interest, selfish desires, and any ambitions that would hinder their relationship with Him. His call to count the cost of following Him was His invitation to His hearers to, first and foremost, understand and consent to the terms of following Him.
Jesus also demands of His followers a devotion that surpasses their instinct to preserve their own lives. Disciples must prioritize their devotion to Jesus over life itself. As a symbol of an unavoidable and most excruciating death, taking one’s cross to follow Jesus epitomizes a commitment to the highest possible cost of being His disciple. Just as carrying a literal cross was an act of submitting to the Romans, taking one’s cross to follow Jesus refers to Jesus’ call for His disciples’ total submission to Him. Discipleship is not having Jesus at our beck and call. Rather, discipleship is about transferring to Jesus the ownership of everything pertaining to us. Jesus is up front because He does not want anyone to sign up for discipleship with Him and then later be surprised by the high cost for doing so. Jesus does not want His disciples to be possessed by anything or any person but Him.
In Luke 14, two absolutes are mentioned in connection with the cost of being Jesus’ disciple. The first absolute is “anyone,” in verse 26, and “whoever,” in verse 27. Rather than pertaining to a select few, the pronouns “anyone” and “whoever” mean that the cost of being Jesus’ disciple applies to every individual desiring to follow Him, no matter their social standing. The second absolute is “renouncing all” that one has (Luke 14:33). Renouncing all for the sake of following Jesus means not only physically giving something up but also letting go emotionally of what has been physically given up so that an individual is in no way possessed by that thing. Jesus was basically challenging those who contemplated following Him to set aside their own agenda and embrace His agenda. This absolute emphasizes the fact that a disciple must not allow anything to stand in the way of his or her total surrender to Christ. Jesus’ expectation is that every person who desires to follow Him must be absolutely willing, at any time, to give up all relationships, all possessions, and even life itself. Jesus requires from every individual desiring to follow Him a change of attitude, leading to a daily commitment to be His at any cost. This divine expectation is a warning to every person desiring to be His disciple to refrain from trying to make Him a means to his or her own ends. Jesus expects His disciples to exchange their will for His will and to fully surrender the control of their destiny to Him.
God Has a Heart for the Rich and Powerful.
God is as concerned about the salvation of the rich and the powerful as He is about the weak and the needy. Christ died for all people, regardless of their background, ethnicity, gender, or social status. His blood has sufficient merit for the redemption of every human being from the perdition of their sin. Consequently, every person has access to His free offer of forgiveness and acceptance with God. Simply stated, the scope of Christ’s atonement is unlimited; it is universally accessible to the poor, just as it is to the rich (John 3:16, 2 Cor. 5:15, 1 Tim. 2:3–6). Although an online search for “God’s heart for the rich and powerful” generates a negligible number of hits compared to a search for “God’s heart for the poor,” it should be emphasized that God has a heart for every single human being on the account of their creation in His image and Christ’s substitutionary death for them. While everyone will not be saved, every person who ever lived, or is now living, had or has access to God, either through general revelation (nature), particular revelation (God’s providential work among the unconverted), or special revelation (Jesus Christ and Scripture). Acts 14:17 says that God has not left Himself without witnesses among humans. In heaven, there will be people who were billionaires in their earthly life, as well as people who lived in utter poverty. Among the redeemed there also will be people who were considered great minds on earth, as well as people who never learned to read or write.
Scripture makes mention of rich and powerful individuals who loved and feared God. Old Testament examples include Abraham, Isaac, Job, and David. New Testament examples include Matthew (Matt. 9:9), Zacchaeus the chief tax collector (Luke 19:1, 2), the apostle Paul (Acts 9), the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26–40), and Cornelius the Roman centurion (Acts 10). What made these individuals distinctive was not so much what they possessed but their committed relationship with God, in spite of their wealth.
Besides the above examples of rich and powerful individuals who did not let wealth and power hinder their relationship with God, there also is the example of those who let their riches keep them from surrendering their lives to Jesus. A well-known example is the rich young man who rejected Jesus’ invitation to follow Him after he inquired about what he needed to do to inherit eternal life. Despite the rich young ruler’s rejection of Jesus’ invitation, Mark 10:21 says that Jesus still loved him. Just because Jesus asked him to sell all his possessions and give the proceeds to the poor before following Him does not mean that rich people cannot be His disciples. In this particular case, the problem was that this wealthy young man’s riches were an obstacle to the surrender of his heart to God. The young man’s heart was so captivated by his great wealth that it became the object of his fundamental allegiance.
The Timing of Our Message Matters
After his healing from leprosy, Naaman made two requests that would completely sound out of place today: (1) he requested to take two mule-loads of earth from Israel back to Syria as a sign of his commitment to worship no other god but the living God, the one Israel worshiped (2 Kings 5:17); and (2) he asked for permission to bow down with his king in Rimmon’s shrine, not as an act of worship but as part of his job description. He was, after all, the king’s right-hand man and needed to be at his side wherever he went (2 Kings 5:18).
If these two requests were not strange enough, Elisha’s response to Naaman’s request will be troubling in many missionary circles today: “Go in peace” (2 Kings 5:19). Elisha’s astonishing response was not an encouragement for Naaman to continue idolatrous practices. Elisha most probably trusted that God would continue to work in Naaman’s life. By his confession, Naaman had made a huge step forward in his spiritual journey. God Himself had orchestrated his encounter with Elisha. Elisha saluted that progress and probably thought it wise not to proceed too quickly to other faith matters that Naaman was not yet ready to accept.
The same teaching principle is found in John 16:12, where, after three and a half years of mentoring His disciples, Jesus tells them that He still has many things to reveal to them but that He is not going to do so because they are not yet ready to grasp them. Jesus knew their capacity for understanding new truth. He chose to reveal to them only what He thought was essential for them at the moment, leaving the rest to the ministry of the Holy Spirit in their lives. Ellen G. White advises, “While the teacher of truth should be faithful in presenting the gospel, let him never pour out a mass of matter which the people cannot comprehend because it is new to them and hard to understand.”—Evangelism, p. 202.
A significant portion of human existence revolves around money: earning it, spending it, saving part of our earnings, and giving some, first and foremost, as tithes and offerings. Money, and especially how we relate to it, should not be taken lightly. Rich people are not the only ones faced with the danger of becoming mesmerized by earthly possessions. Poor people also can become slaves to the little they have or to the desire to acquire more to the point where they may be in danger of losing sight of eternity.
As Christians, it is important that the way we relate to money and all that it can afford does not hinder our relationship with God. Here are two things we need to keep in mind in relation to money: (1) the fragility of earthly investments: all the acquisition the world has to offer (pleasure, security, power, etc.) is fleeting; and (2) on the day we appear before God and render an account of our lives, we will be evaluated by the health of our souls rather than by the wealth of our estates.
Because God is no respecter of persons, He still longs for rich and powerful people to become Christ’s disciples. What God cares about most is not what is in a person’s hand but what is in his or her heart. Bible examples of rich and powerful people teach us that this category of people also can be receptive to the gospel. It is the responsibility of committed believers both to pray that God will directly intervene in the witnessing process in order to reach powerful unbelievers and also to avail themselves to the Holy Spirit to become bridges to reach them.