The Challenges of Discipleship

February 15, 2020

Jesus is about to leave the crowds behind him and cross the Sea of Galilee. Two men come to him expressing their desire to follow him: one is identified as a scribe and the other man as “another of the disciples.”

The scribe says, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” I suspect we would do everything to sign this man up. Jesus, however, reminds him of the challenges of discipleship. Jesus replies, “Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Matt. 8:20, ESV). If we were to distill this colorful statement, it seems to mean: The disciple must value Jesus above material comfort and possessions.

It’s a challenging statement especially for those of us living in the United States. We have very comfortable lives. Even the circumstances of our poor can be favorably contrasted with the past and with third world nations today. So how do I apply this principle? A few will become missionaries and go into third world nations and not live as comfortably as we do here. But even for those of us who stay in the USA, we may practice generosity pleasing to Jesus and so live below our means in order to be generous. And who knows what the future may bring on a national or international scale? Regardless of what happens, we must value Jesus above our comfort and possessions.

The second man identified as “another of the disciples” begins with a request: “Lord, let me first go and bury my father” (Matt. 8:21, ESV). Jesus replies, “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead” (Matt. 8:22, ESV). As we look at Jesus’ cryptic reply, we see some who are literally dead and needing burial. But Jesus says to allow “the dead” to do the burial. Obviously, the first “dead” cannot be literal, because literally dead people don’t bury literally dead people. So, the first dead must be figurative and most likely the spiritually dead who are not responding to the call to follow Jesus. What’s the principle for us to learn? Disciples must value Jesus above earthly relationships.

Fortunately, following Jesus does not always require separation. It is only when they force a choice between family or Jesus. (See also Matt. 10:35-37, Luke 14:26). But it can happen. I knew a new Christian in college who had converted from Judaism and his parents had cut him off: he was dead to them. Converts from Islam will often lose family and in some settings face the danger of losing their lives. Jesus is making a point. The disciple must value Jesus above earthly relationships.

Jesus wants us to know up front the challenges of discipleship. The value of following Jesus is higher than every earthly value, because Jesus offers the eternal. This is not always easy, but always worth it. As we make and renew our commitment, Jesus wants us to ponder the challenges of discipleship.

— Russ Holden


Rich, Riches, Richly

May 3, 2013

Paul uses the root word “rich” three times in 1 Timothy 6:17 — rich, riches, and richly. Examining these three occurrences will help us think through Paul’s teaching about material things (1 Timothy 6:6-10, 6:17-19).

God richly provides us with everything to enjoy. God is the creator of wealth. He has provided an abundant, fruitful world rather than one of mere subsistence. These blessings are for our enjoyment. This rich provision makes riches a possibility, but Paul provides us with some legitimate cautions. The desire for riches and the love of money can lead to temptations and spiritual ruin. People may through hard work, good stewardship, ingenuity, and inheritance find themselves with abundance. But the proper response should be thanksgiving to God.

The uncertainty of riches is a reality. The financial news may report the stock market is down, and billions of dollars of value is wiped out. Hurricane Sandy hits the east coast and property loss is estimated at $75 billion. Proverbs warns of this: “Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle” (Proverbs 23:5, NIV). Therefore, our hope should be on God and not on riches.

Paul is warning us of the danger of worshipping the creation rather than the creator. That is why greed can be classified as idolatry (Colossians 3:5). Jesus had also warned, “You cannot serve God and money” (Matthew 6:24, ESV).

Paul gives a charge for the rich in this present age. The phrase invites a contrast with the age to come. If rich now, what will be the status then? Jesus, after all, told a story of the rich man and Lazarus in which there was a great reversal. The rich man of this present age ignored the beggar Lazarus. He became the beggar whose pleas were by necessity ignored, while Lazarus enjoyed the riches of being at Abraham’s side (Luke 16:19-31).

So how does Paul want the rich of this present age to prepare for the age to come? We must worship and put our hope in God. We must learn contentment when our basic needs are met (1 Timothy 6:6-8). In other words, more things will not necessarily make us happier. We must be humble (not haughty) towards others. We must not think that material possessions make us better than others. All are created in the image of God; all are precious in his sight. We must learn to be rich in good works and be generous. The only treasure we take out of this world is the treasure we lay up in heaven (Matthew 6:19-21). We must take hold of that which is truly life, which is the life lived as a follower of Jesus Christ. We must all deal with material things. Paul’s instructions help us to live properly in this age and to have hope for the age to come.