The Bible calls us in many places to count the cost of discipleship. And I want to start by reading one example from Luke 14. Christ said:
Which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it – lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see 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, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace. So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple.
Jesus is saying that people sometimes make a decision to follow Him not knowing what the cost is. When things get tough they will fall away. So Christ on occasion actually chased some would-be-followers away by telling them what the costs of Christianity really were. So in verse 28 he says, "sit down first and count the cost…" And that's what this sermon is all about. How can you count the cost? How can you help your children to count the cost?
Let the right things bind your spirit (v. 22a)
I had one person joke with me that if people counted the cost of having children, they would only be able to afford one and maybe not even that. He said that it is a good thing that parents don't count the cost. They agree that a baby is a great gift, but the cost of receiving that gift is over one hundred thousand dollars when you add up baby food, diapers, sleepless nights, worrisome days, braces for teeth, clothes, school supplies, repairs to the body of the car when the kid runs his bike into it, and increased car insurance when the kid turns 16, birthdays, Christmas presents, weddings, etc. It's costly. And yet people have children anyway. Why? In some cases it may be because they didn't count the cost and they pay as they go and as they are able. But for most of us, we did it because we value children more than we value the cost. We did count the cost. And it was worth it. And that hints at what this first point is all about:
Point 1 says, "Let the right things bind your spirit." Look at verse 22: "And see, now I go bound in the spirit to Jerusalem…" And there is debate as to whether spirit should be capitalized or be a small s. The New King James says that it is Paul's own spirit that is bound. ESV says that he is bound in the Holy Spirit. But either way, it is the real Paul – his person – that is bound by God's purposes. It probably should be a capital S here, but in one sense it really doesn't matter which way you translate it. God had called Paul to testify to His name in Jerusalem. He felt a holy compulsion to go to Jerusalem. He knew it was a huge risk, but his heart was bound by God's definition of greatness, not man's. His heart was bound by a desire to please God more than a desire to please his flesh. His heart was bound more by a desire to make his life count than it was by a desire to make his life long. The right things bound him.
When you have children, I think the right things are binding you. You know the cost in finances, time, emotions and energy, yet you do it with joy because having children to God's glory drives you more than having an extra 20 hours a day to watch football. Not that football was bad. We plan to watch some football on New Years day. It's not an issue of good or bad. It's an issue of seeing the costs, yet being so driven by God's values and priorities that these costs all of a sudden seem worthwhile.
Why do the elders put so much time into eldering when they could relax? I would say that they are bound in spirit by something that doesn't bind a lot of people. Why do fathers spend so much time shepherding their flock? Because they are bound by God's values to such a degree that what is considered a burden in some homes is a joyous privilege for you. Why do the volunteers in our church find joy in doing some pretty difficult stuff for the music team, setup crew, PHF and other ministries? I would say that it is in part because this point helps them to see the costs as being worthwhile. Why do I beat up my body going on missions trips? It's not because I enjoy the brutal travel or the sleepless nights. It's because I feel bound by God's will, and God's will is always worth sacrifices. God's will brings joy. And it is in this sense that being bound is totally compatible with joy and liberty.
Now I should hasten to say that just because Paul is bound in spirit in the joy of the Lord does not mean that he doesn't face the future with a bit of foreboding and apprehension. He's not a superman. He talks in 2 Corinthians about his fears. In Romans 15 Paul has already said:
Now I beg you, brethren, through the Lord Jesus Christ, and through the love of the Spirit, that you strive together with me in prayers to God for me, that I may be delivered from those in Judea who do not believe, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, that I may come to you with joy by the will of God, and may be refreshed together with you. (vv. 30-32)
He prays that he will be delivered from death because he loves life and because he wants so much to go to Rome before he dies. He's a normal guy just like you and I are. Nobody wants to suffer and die. And so the cost is not an illusion. It truly is a cost, just as having children truly is a cost, but for the joy that is set before us we gladly endure that cost. What football player doesn't have some cost in the way of fatigue, bruises, lost time and hard discipline. Yet it is worth it to him. He has counted the cost. And so did Paul.
Some people have tried to psychoanalyze Paul on why in the world he would be so driven and take such risks just to give this gift of money to the church. I read one article that said that Paul had felt so guilty over all the persecution he had brought against the church in Jerusalem in his "Before Christ days" and he was so guilty over all the widows and orphans he made when he persecuted the church that he now wanted to help widows and orphans as much as he could. It's payback time. He was driven by guilt. I disagree. I don't think it had anything to do with guilt. He was cleansed. His conscience was free. He was not bound by guilt. In Acts 24:16 Paul said that he had a conscience without offense toward God or man. He was bound by the pleasure of doing God's will, and it was God's will for him to go to Jerusalem. When the right things bind you, you will be able to count the cost of being a godly Christian, and to do it with great joy. Guilt is a lousy motivator; it's the joy of the Lord that is our strength.
Carl F. Henry says that unfortunately most Christians can't count the cost because their souls are bound by lesser things (not simply enjoying lesser things, but bound by lesser things). He said, "The soul of modern man has been sucked dry by temporary concerns that eclipse the eternal world." If you get this point right, you are well on your way to being able to count the cost and to be able to do so joyfully.
Let the right information drive your concerns (v. 22b; Rom. 15:30-32)
There was a second thing that helped Paul count the cost. The second part of verse 22 says, "…not knowing the things that will happen to me there…" He was not paralyzed by his lack of information; he was driven by what he did know. There was a lot about the future that he didn't know. In the passage I read from Romans 15 Paul was asking the Romans to pray for his deliverance from the Jews, implying that he didn't know if he would ever get out of their clutches. He asked them to pray that he would not die in Jerusalem, implying that he didn't know whether that might happen or not. He asked them to pray that the Jewish church would be willing to receive this gift, implying that he wasn't sure about their attitudes. He asked them to pray that he might be able to eventually come to Rome, indicating that he really didn't know whether he would get there. In terms of his planning it was an imperative to get to Rome, but in at least five Scriptures he says that he doesn't know if he will ever achieve it. He said that he had often planned to go to Rome, but was hindered until now (Rom. 1:13). There was a lot about the future he did not know. Again, verse 22 says, "…not knowing the things that will happen to me there…"
For some people, that would be a deal killer. Those are pretty important things that he doesn't know. Would you go to Jerusalem if you didn't know whether you would come out alive? Maybe you would, if you did know that God had called you there. And I think this is a key to counting the cost. Some people are so driven by fears of the unknown that they don't take action. The unknown makes them paralyzed. But if you know God has called you to do something, then that should be sufficient. It doesn't mean that you can't seek further knowledge. Of course you should, but that knowledge might come after you have taken action. Part of counting the cost is being willing to obey with limited knowledge. Notice I didn't say apathetically failing to gain knowledge. I said that counting the cost is being willing to obey with limited knowledge. It's a trust issue: trusting God's perfect knowledge.
Realize that the Holy Spirit often sends faith challenges (v. 23a)
The third thing we see in this passage is that the Holy Spirit often sends faith challenges into our lives. And sometimes it feels as if our faith challenge is every bit as hard as Abraham's was when God told him to sacrifice his son. It seemed like a contradiction to God's promise that a multitude would spring from Isaac. A faith challenge is anything that tests our willingness to follow God's will no matter what the consequences. When these faith challenges come, we can sometimes begin to question whether we really have heard from the Lord or whether we really should be continuing to do what we have always believed God has called us to do. A faith challenge may come to a wife who questions whether God really wants her to stay married when things get tough. Or it could be a minister of the Word questioning whether he was ever called into the ministry. Some people call these "word checks," testing our capacity to follow the Word.
Look at verse 23: Paul said that he didn't know a lot about the future, but verse 23 qualifies: "…except that the Holy Spirit testifies in every city, saying that chains and tribulations await me." Now that could be very discouraging to have the Holy Spirit constantly reminding you that you will be in trouble if you go to Jerusalem. Let me read one particular occasion when this happened so that you can see why this could easily have been an excuse for Paul to not go to Jerusalem. Flip over to chapter 21, and let's read verses 10-14
Acts 21:10 And as we stayed many days, a certain prophet named Agabus came down from Judea.
Acts 21:11 When he had come to us, he took Paul's belt, bound his own hands and feet, and said, "Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man who owns this belt, and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.'"
Acts 21:12 Now when we heard these things, both we and those from that place pleaded with him not to go up to Jerusalem.
Acts 21:13 Then Paul answered, "What do you mean by weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus."
Acts 21:14 So when he would not be persuaded, we ceased, saying, "The will of the Lord be done."
Notice that this was a "Thus saith the Lord" prophecy. This was God Himself speaking to Paul. Second, notice that this is the same message that Paul (in chapter 20) had said was given by the Spirit in every city. So Luke by inspiration says that this truly was from the Spirit. Agabus wasn't mistaken. Thirdly, notice that the Spirit wasn't simply warning Paul. The Spirit was making clear that Paul would indeed be bound in Jerusalem. This means that it would be a false prophecy if Paul didn't go there. Fourth, it was the people who tried to dissuade Paul from this course of action, not the Spirit. (And we will look at one verse that people say contradicts that thesis in the future. I won't get bogged down in the discussion of prophecy today.) Fifth, Paul is ready to be bound, and if need be to die in Jerusalem. Sixth, Luke and the others said, "the will of the Lord be done." It was God's will for this tribulation to happen to Paul in Jerusalem. Paul is not disobeying God's will when he goes to Jerusalem. He is submitting to God's will.
I'll comment on this passage a lot more when we get to Acts 21, because it is a key passage in the charismatic debate. But for today, I just want to point out that with constant warnings of what was going to happen to Paul, and with many of these people then concluding on their own that Paul should therefore not go up to Jerusalem, it might have been easy for Paul to question whether he had heard rightly from the Lord about going to Jerusalem. Every one of these things would have been a faith check.
Let's see if God has indeed called Paul to Jerusalem. Turn to Acts 19:21. "When these things were accomplished, Paul purposed in the Spirit, when he had passed through Macedonia and Achaia, to go to Jerusalem, saying, "After I have been there, I must also see Rome." There are two parts to this verse: first, what the Spirit purposed – to go to Jerusalem, and second, what Paul wanted in addition – to also go to Rome. In Paul's epistles he says that he knows he will go to Jerusalem, but he hopes he will come to Rome (he doesn't know that). He knows he will go to Jerusalem because he knows what the Spirit has willed by divine guidance (here), and he knows what the Spirit has willed by divine inspiration in his epistles. For example, Romans 15:25 says, "But now I am going to Jerusalem to minister to the saints." That's not just Paul's opinion. That is the divine Scriptures saying he will go to Jerusalem. Three times in Romans 15 Paul says (by inspiration) that he is to go to Jerusalem. If he failed to do so, the book of Romans would not be inerrant. When we get to the charismatic issues in later weeks you are going to be seeing the critical importance of these points. I think Charismatics have misunderstood the prophecy of Agabus. Anyway, earlier, in 1 Corinthians 16:3 Paul had told the Corinthians, "I will send to bear your gift to Jerusalem." This is not an "I hope so," but a divinely inspired "I will." This is why in Acts 20:22 Paul said, "I go bound in the Spirit to Jerusalem." He had no choice. So whatever views on the gift of prophecy that people may have, these facts need to be taken into consideration. And we will look at that again when we get to that chapter.
But for now I just want to point out that you will be able to count the cost if you are grounded solidly in the will of God; in the Scriptures. I've already quoted two inspired Scriptures that Paul has already written saying that he will indeed go to Jerusalem. And there were others. That's not an option any longer. Now as prophet after prophet gets a partial message from the Lord – "You are going to be bound and face tribulations if you go to Jerusalem" and then adds their own desires – "please don't go. We don't want to lose you," it would be easy for Paul's faith to be shaken. These are prophets speaking. But Paul was able to count this cost because he was certain of God's will. He was certain of it.
Let's translate that for today. You are convinced of the truth of a doctrine, but because of constant opposition from family, friends and relatives, you begin to weaken. You are failing a Word test. Or you stop tithing because things have gotten tight. You are failing a faith test. Or you click on the porn invitation that comes on your computer – of course, just for educational purposes - to see what others are struggling over. You have failed an integrity test. One pastor told me that he was going to get a divorce. As he began to describe the reasons, I told him "Those are not Biblical grounds for divorce." He retorted that God was leading him to get a divorce. I told him that the Bible is the only infallible, inspired and inerrant revelation of God, and to follow anything that contradicts the Bible is to not only fail an integrity check, but to fail the word and faith tests that God was giving. There are a great variety of ways in which your faith in the Scripture can be challenged. It may be an evolutionary professor who mocks six-day creationism, or it may be a problem child that you are tempted to go to a pagan psychologist with because the Scriptural method doesn't seem to be working right away. If you are to face the cost of being a Christian successfully, you will need to have a strong confidence in the Word of God. You will also need to realize that God Himself allows these integrity checks, word checks and faith checks to come your way. God sent these faith checks to Paul. If you recognize them for what they are, you will actually have joy in facing those costs. You will be able to say to a trial, "Oh, this is another test from a loving God, and I plan to pass it."
Be prepared to face hardship from God's hand (v. 23b – "chains and tribulations")
The fourth way to be prepared is to not be naïve. There are so many Christians who think that God only wills health, wealth, prosperity, and fun for a Christian. And they are devastated when bad things happen to them. They are not prepared. They think, "What's wrong with me?" Or sometimes, "What's wrong with God?" They haven't been prepared with point number IV. Point IV says, "Be prepared to face hardship from God's hand. Verse 23 says, "…except that the Holy Spirit testifies in every city, saying that chains and tribulations await me." The Spirit has already told Paul to go to Jerusalem, and the Spirit adds that chains and tribulations are going to greet you there. Paul is prepared to suffer. His faith is not shaken in the goodness of God when bad things happen to him. Right up front at his conversion God gave him the good and the bad news. Here's the message that God had Ananias bring Paul when he got converted: "But the Lord said to him, ‘Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name's sake." And you know what? Paul gives the same message to us. He told Timothy, "…all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution" (2 Tim. 3:12).
That's a lot more honest advertizing than I have seen at recruiter's offices for the army, navy and air force. Here's the upfront advertizing to get people to sign up: "Sign up today and receive $50,000 for college!" "Get a $20,000 signing bonus!" "Join the Navy and see the world!" "The US Airforce Reserve. Where else can you get paid to train with the best, travel around the world, make life-long friends and get an education?" "You can Fly High in the US Air Force!" "We are looking for a few good men, can you be one of us?" Those are great incentives, aren't they? They talk about travel, college, bonuses, pride and belonging. And you might think that people would never sign up if they knew that bad things that would happen to them. But that is simply not true. People aspire to greatness despite the costs.
The movie Braveheart portrayed the incredible sacrifices people were willing to make in Scotland if the cause was right. There was something about the cause of freedom and liberty that made our founding forefathers risk their lives and fortunes. Even the honor of being able to be associated with a great man has sometimes inspired people to do their all to please him. This was certainly true of David's valiant men who loved him and his valor so much that they risked their lives constantly for him. Never once did David promise his men pain free lives. He was honest with them upfront just like Jesus was.
Listen to the advertisement that Shackleton gave in the London newspaper when he was looking for a crew. "Men wanted for hazardous journey, small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful. Honor and recognition in case of success." The ad was signed, Sir Ernest Shackleton, Antarctic explorer. You know what? Thousands responded instantly to the call. The honor of serving with Shackleton was so great that no amount of danger and cost was too great for these people. They counted it a joy.
Jesus too promises you great cost in your Christian life, but the sufferings we receive are nothing to be compared to the eternal weight of glory we will receive in heaven. If you know upfront that you will face pain, you won't question God when it happens. You will just consider this part of the package deal. It is an essential part of counting the cost. Don't promise unbelievers that everything will go great once they become a Christian. Don't give such illusions to your children. Promise them that the cost will be worthwhile, but that there will indeed be a cost. This was one of the major points in Hyde's book, Dedication and Leadership . Don't be like the army recruiters when you talk with your children. Give them the whole story.
Don't be moved by lesser things (v. 24a)
Verse 24 illustrates a fifth point with Paul – "Don't be moved by lesser things." Paul said, "But none of these things move me…" They happen to him, but they don't move him. We need to think through what things will move us. Some people are moved off center by the slightest little irritation. They are moved by pride being hurt. They are moved to give up by the immaturity of others. Some people keep hitting the snooze button on their alarm clock because they are moved by the dictates of their bodies. In fact, the snooze button could be an appropriate symbol of this generation. The motto of this generation is, "I don't feel like it." They are driven by their feelings more than they are by principle. We've got to teach our children the discipline of being moved by the right things if they are to be a success. If you are moved more by your feelings than you are by God's will, you still have a lot of growing up to do.
And someone might say, "Well, how do I get moved by greater things like Paul was?" Let me give you two steps: Crucifixion is the first essential component. Your flesh must die. And if you don't know how to crucify the flesh, read John Owen's book, The Mortification of Sin , or some modern condensed version of that.
Vision is the next essential component: you must be inspired by what could be. Read great missionary biographies. Read great books by John Piper, Jerry Bridges and any of the old guys. They will cause your heart to burn and to cry out for more. They will increase your vision of what could be. So those are the two essential components of point V – crucify the flesh and get inspired with a great vision of what could be. Don't be moved by lesser things.
Don't love your life more than Christ (v. 24b)
Sixth, don't love your life more than you love Christ. Verse 24 goes on to say, "…nor do I count my life dear to myself…" I think you can see that counting the cost for eternity does not come naturally. It is the Holy Spirit who stirs up such desires within us. But many times He uses means to stir up those desires. He uses the means of the body, of Scripture, of prayer, of reading books. And if you read Foxe's Book of Martyrs , you will see that God's grace enables frail children and women to not count their lives dear as they were beheaded for Christ. For those who think the Christian life is intended to be a self-absorbed, self-serving life, read Foxe's Book of Martyrs. Did you know that all of the apostles except for John were martyrs? Talk about health and wealth and having fun?!! Give ma break! No way! They won their race, but they weren't winners in the eyes of the world.
When Peter was sentenced to be crucified at Rome, he was crucified with his body upside down at his request.
Andrew was nailed to a tree at Edessa. He hung on the tree for two days in pain. On the third day he died still preaching Jesus.
Jacob (son of Zebedee) was killed by the sword in Jerusalem by Herod.
John was put into boiling oil at Jerusalem. Actually, he miraculously survived that, was banished to Patmos Island, and later died in Ephesus.
Philip was hanged from a pillar at Hierapolis.
Bartholomew was burnt to death by the Armenian king.
Mathew was killed in a town in Ethiopia.
Jacob (son of Alphaeus) was pushed down from the top of the temple and when he didn't die right away, someone beat him to death with a club.
Jude (Thaddaeus) was put to death by an arrow at the town of Oruch.
Simon, the Zealot was crucified in Persia.
Mathias was beheaded after being stoned.
Paul was beheaded by Nero in Rome.
They did not count their lives dear. You might think that you could never be a martyr, but God gives His grace when the time comes. According to Romans 15, Paul is not looking forward to dying. He begs the Romans to pray that there would be deliverance for him. He wasn't suicidal. But by being willing to go, he shows that he loves Christ more than he loves his life.
I love the phrase by William Wallace when people warned him that he might die. In the movie Braveheart, he says, "Everyone dies; not everyone really lives." And that phrase gives a great perspective. Everyone dies, but not everyone really lives. There are plenty of people who have lived safe lives, but they have lost out on so much and they don't realize it. Jesus said that you can't be His disciple if you love your own life more than Him. Paul enjoyed living to the full, but he also looked forward to heaven. And the secret was stated in Philippians 1:21 – "For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain." He loved life to the fullest, but he looked forward to dying because he knew that too would be gain. So to love Christ supremely is to find gain in every circumstance.
Maintain a deep desire that your life would count for eternity (v. 24c)
The seventh factor that helped Paul to count the cost was that he maintained a deep desire for his life to count for eternity. This is another way of saying that he had developed an eternal perspective on life. The last part of verse 24 says, "…so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God." This is future orientation to the max. He wasn't just driven by present joy, but also by future joy. Every word in this clause drove Paul: The word "finish" implies a beginning, and he could not ever forget the mercy that Jesus had upon him when he knocked persecuting Paul off of his horse, picked him up, converted him and commissioned him to preach. What mercy! What grace!
The word "race" implies the need for endurance.
And the word "joy" points to what made all these costs so worthwhile.
His words, "the ministry which I received" show him living under heaven, rather than just under the sun (the highest material thing visible in our sky). You will remember in Ecclesiastes that when Solomon acted as a materialist (living under the sun) that nothing under the sun has any meaning; nothing is worthwhile. But when we live our lives under heaven, everything has a purpose, and everything is worthwhile and joyful. And that book speaks of joy in a sunset, food, water, and family relations. Paul's life was lived under heaven, not simply under the material sun. If God is in none of your thoughts, you are living under the sun.
And of course, the phrase, "the gospel of the grace of God" was what gave life its joy. It speaks of salvation, security, and God's riches at Christ's expense. It is truly good news. Paul lived all of life in light of the cross, which gave all of life an eternal perspective. If you want your children to learn to count the cost, you must help them to live in light of the grace spoken of in this verse.
Receive friendships as temporary gifts, not idols to be clung to (v. 25)
The last thing that helped Paul to count the cost was that he saw friendships as wonderful but temporary gifts from God's hand, and not as idols to be clung to. "And indeed, now I know that you all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, will see my face no more." According to verses 36-38 that was a painful parting for Paul. He didn't love people any the less when he knew he had to leave them. He loved them dearly. You can tell that from the weeping and kissing in verse 37. But verse 25 shows that serving Christ sometimes means you will lose the joy of some relationships. As one author said,
Even if he survived the present visit to Jerusalem, he never expected to be back in Asia Minor. There were still those untold millions still untold in far-off places. His future plans were for Rome and Spain and the regions beyond.
Many a missionary has been criticized for leaving friends and relatives behind to go to Africa or other regions. But this is part of counting the cost. Following Christ often involves hearts that are homesick and long for mom's home-cooked food.
If you have the attitude of verse 25, you can enjoy your family and friends to the max while you have them. But you can also follow Christ's call when it means leaving them for a time.
The bottom line is that Christianity is not a bed of roses. The Health and Wealth Gospel will try to tell you otherwise. I don't know of any speeches by Jesus to unbelievers where he did not make them count the cost in some way. And certainly Jesus called believers to count the cost. But He always showed them such joy in following Him that the cost was worth it. And that's all I can promise you. If you make Christ your pearl of great price, the Christian life will be worth the cost.
When Alexander the Great conquered Babylon, he allowed his soldiers to pillage the palace. And in one of the rooms a soldier found a leather bag that had the crown jewels. He had no idea that these crown jewels were worth anything. As far as he was concerned, they were no different than marbles or decorations. But he was fascinated with the ornately decorated leather bag. He dumped out the jewels and took the bag, bragging to his comrades on what a fine bag he had found. Apart from the Holy Spirit's enlightening, we are like that foolish soldier. We settle for leather when we could have crown jewels. It's not to say that leather is bad. It's just to say that we won't be able to really count the cost in life until we understand the enormous value of the crown jewel of Jesus and His grace. Realize the real treasure, and you will endure the cost with joy. Amen.