CONSIDER THE COST OF DISCIPLESHIP
- Cut your losses
- Count your blessings
Text: Philippians 3:4(b)-11
Rick Henderson couldn’t take it anymore. He couldn’t take it anymore than prominent Christian preachers in America, whose smiling faces appear on televisions in millions of American homes each week, preach a gospel that is not the Bible’s gospel. He couldn’t take it anymore, so Pastor Rick Henderson called out some of these preachers by name from his pulpit in a sermon last month at South Mountain Community Church in Draper, Utah. And he wrote a blog post about it—a post that, just over a month later, has generated well over one thousand comments and who knows how many hits.
His point is one that is shared by devout, traditional, Bible-believing Christians across denominational lines. Jesus never said that the Christian faith makes your life better; in fact, he said just the opposite. Didn’t Jesus shock you in today’s Gospel (Luke 14:25-33)? Didn’t he offend the sinful nature inside you when he said, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26-27)? Jesus’ hyperbole is clear. He does not command us to literally hate the people that Scripture calls us to love. But he does call us to get anything and everything out of the way that would keep us away from him, even if that means disappointing or even disassociating with those we love when they would keep us from loving Jesus with our whole heart. That’s not your best life now! That’s a life of potential persecution and family fighting starting the second after the baptismal waters first touch your forehead!
Jesus urges his followers to consider the cost of discipleship. The apostle Paul urges us to consider the same in the Second Lesson for today. In that account, Paul urges us to consider the cost of discipleship by way of his own personal example. In our day and age, this is a lesson that we all would do well to learn. Consider the cost of discipleship! The cost of being Jesus’ disciple means that you need to learn to cut your losses and count your blessings.
Our sermon today comes from Paul’s joy-filled letter to the Philippians, written while he was under house arrest in Rome. Our section for today comes in chapter three of this four-chapter book. At the start of chapter three, Paul warns his readers to watch out for false teachers who promote the idea that believing in Jesus was not enough to make a person right with God. A prominent false teaching in early Christianity came from some Jews who had converted to Christianity but then said that a person still had to follow certain Old Testament laws and customs in order to be on God’s good side. These false teachers are sometimes called “Judaizers” today, because they attempted to import Old Testament Jewish ideas into the New Testament Christian faith. The Old Testament laws and customs God gave the ancient Jews were meant to direct Old Testament-era believers forward in time when the promised Savior would come. But those Old Testament laws and customs had no practical use pointing people forward in time when the Savior had already come in the past. Insisting that a person got right with God by following these customs placed their focus away from Christ and onto themselves.
So Paul takes on the challenge. If any of those false teachers, the ones who mixed Old Testament laws into the Christian faith, thought they had a reason to brag about themselves, Paul could trump any of them! “If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.” How many of these Judaizers could match Paul’s claims? His parents followed Old Testament laws and had Paul circumcised on the eighth day of his life. Paul was not only an ethnic Jew but he was from one of the two tribes of Jews that continued to worship in Jerusalem after the nation split into two. He had been a member of the strictest law-abiding group of Jews that existed, the Pharisees. He was so zealous for God that in his pre-conversion ignorance he persecuted and arrested and even killed Jews whom he thought had abandoned God by believing in Jesus. None of his fellow countrymen could have found fault with Paul for his religious intensity and zeal. Who knows how far he could have advanced in his previous way of life?
But now he threw it all away and didn’t look back. “Whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ.” Paul’s long list of Jewish achievements used to mean the world to him. Now, when he compares his old achievements to his newfound faith in Jesus, he calls them a “loss.” In fact, he calls them more than a loss: He calls them “rubbish”—and at the risk of being too direct from the pulpit, let me inform you that the Greek word translated “rubbish” actually means excrement. As far as Paul was concerned, nothing was more valuable or precious than faith in Jesus, so much so that he gave up everything that was once so precious to him when Jesus brought him to faith.
American Christians of the twenty-first century do not experience the same kind of losses that Paul did when he left Judaism and became an apostle of Jesus Christ. But American Christians of the twenty-first century will experience losses when they confess their faith in Jesus. The only question is are we willing to cut our losses, or does our sinful nature lead us to love something more than our Savior? Am I willing to cut my losses and potentially lose friends because I am willing to state my agreement with God’s Word on marriage when our culture has opposed and persecuted Christians on this matter in recent months? Am I willing to return a greater portion of God’s blessing to me back to him to help sustain a congregation’s ministry that has already taken several hits in recent years? Am I willing to keep working on my marriage when things at home are rocky? Am I willing to carry my cross? Am I willing to cut my losses, to put aside the things I want, and to pursue the things that God wants?
Or does friendship in life and likeability at work trump a clear confession of faith? Does my sinful flesh’s squealing and squawking drown out the calls for generous stewardship? Do my desires to take the easy way out somehow supersede God’s will for my marriage and family?
Why do people “cut their losses”? If you find that your investments have been losing money, you cut your losses by recognizing you lost some principal, and then by moving your investments into something where a greater return is likely. People cut their losses because they hope that redirecting their future will benefit them; there is something to be gained.
What did Paul have to gain after he cut his losses? When Paul considered the cost of discipleship, he acknowledged that he had to cut his losses from his pre-conversion days, but he also realized that he had many new blessings to count. These weren’t earthly blessings that promised an easier life in this world; these were spiritual blessings that provided peace for his soul now and the promise of heaven forever. Paul said, “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.”
Paul’s previous way of thinking led him to put his trust in himself. He thought about his righteousness, his good deeds, his honorable and zealous way of life. But in the end, none of that mattered at all. He had once put his faith in his own righteousness, but now he realized that his faith and confidence before God could only come in the righteousness of Jesus from God. Instead of trusting in his achievements, God led Paul to know and trust in the perfect achievements of Jesus, who not only died to remove the guilt of our sin but also lived a flawless, sinless, righteous life that now counts for everyone who trusts in Jesus Christ.
In the final two verses of our reading, Paul goes on to explain what it means to have faith in Jesus’ righteousness. He wrote, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” What exactly does it mean to trust in Jesus’ righteousness? What does that look like? Paul defined it in three ways. First, he knows and understands well who Jesus is. He knows and understands well that God powerfully raised his Son from death to life on Easter morning as living proof that Jesus’ holy life and death on our behalf really did achieve the world’s salvation. And finally, Paul knows and understands well that as a Christian, he is going to imitate Jesus in the sense that he will suffer for his faith. In Paul’s case, that suffering would result in his martyr’s death several years later. But Paul even counted that as a blessing, because just as Jesus rose from the dead, so Paul would rise someday also and enjoy the eternal blessing of eternal life in heaven.
When we talk about cutting our losses for Christ, an honest person is probably going to feel some degree of guilt. Take the examples I cited earlier. Have I hidden my confession of faith so that I don’t offend anyone or lose friends? Have I withheld generous gifts from God when ministry needs were clear and the ability to help was there? Have I pondered the easy way out of my troubles at home? You can come up with more examples, but sooner or later every one of us will confess that all too often we have not truly considered the cost of discipleship and cut our losses, because that wasn’t what the sinful nature in us wanted to do.
But our past cannot undo what Jesus has done for us in the past. From eternity, Jesus considered the cost of our salvation, and he was determined to erase the sin and selfishness that stained our status before God. And so the eternal Christ became the infant Jesus in the manger. He grew up as the boy Jesus who loved his heavenly Father perfectly and obeyed his earthly parents perfectly. He lived as the God-man, Jesus Christ, who was placed under the same divine standards you and I are under, but he kept every command and requirement God demands from us, and did it perfectly for us. He willingly listened to his heavenly Father’s plan and obediently went to the cross where his righteous, innocent blood was shed to wipe away every spot and stain of our sin. And in the power of his resurrection from the dead, we see God the Father proclaim to the world that his perfect, righteous Son really has won forgiveness for a world full of sinners.
Through faith in Jesus, you have blessings from God that are worth counting and celebrating every day. Through faith in Jesus, the forgiveness he won for the world is now your personal possession. Jesus’ righteousness is now yours. Jesus’ perfection changes your record before God: It erases every moment from your past when you failed to consider the cost of discipleship; it eliminates every time you didn’t cut your losses; but most importantly, it delivers spiritual blessings so great that we will be pleased to count them for eternity.
Following God is not always easy. It was not easy for Abraham to leave his family and go to the land God directed him to go to in today’s First Lesson (Genesis 12:1-8). It was not easy for Paul to leave his Jewish and Pharisee background behind and suffer persecution and ultimately death for his newfound Christian faith. And it is not easy for us today to be willing to prioritize faith above family, to consider the cost of discipleship and to cut our losses as we carry our crosses. And yet we do—not to impress God, but because he has impressed our hearts with such great spiritual and eternal blessings that eternity will not be enough time to count them. Amen.