Have You Counted the Cost?
“WHAT! You are turning down such a wonderful offer?” The supervisor could hardly believe what she had just heard. Her subordinate, a woman respected for her skill and fine conduct, had just refused an offer to study abroad for two years at company expense. Why did she do so?
To accept the offer, the woman explained, would mean being separated from her husband and two children for two years. She would miss them very much. More important, she would also be neglecting her God-given duties as a wife and mother. The emotional and spiritual cost would be too high a price to pay. Thus, after counting the cost, she decided to turn down the offer.
What would you have done if you were in her shoes? Obviously, not everyone would agree with the decision that this Christian woman made. Some, such as her fellow employees, might feel she had squandered a golden opportunity for advancing her career. Others could even accuse her of not thinking of the future of her family, for, after all, two years would pass quickly. Yet, hers was not an impulsive or sentimental decision. It was based on sound reasoning and farsighted principles. What are these?
More Than Common Sense
The wisest man who ever walked on earth, Jesus Christ, provided the guideline in one of his parables. “Who of you that wants to build a tower does not first sit down and calculate the expense, to see if he has enough to complete it?” Jesus asked. “Otherwise, he might lay its foundation but not be able to finish it, and all the onlookers might start to ridicule him, saying, ‘This man started to build but was not able to finish.’”—Luke 14:28-30.
Everyone would agree that it makes good sense to count the cost before deciding to do anything important. For example, if a person wanted to buy a house, would he rush into signing a contract without even finding out the cost and making sure he has the financial ability to complete the deal? He would be considered foolish indeed if he did such a thing. Yes, it is common sense to count the cost before one begins an undertaking.
What really, though, was the point Jesus was making with that parable? Just before introducing the parable, he said: “Whoever is not carrying his torture stake and coming after me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:27) Thus, the context shows that Jesus was not just giving some common-sense advice for our ordinary, everyday undertakings. Rather, he was talking about counting the cost in relation to becoming his disciple.
By his parable, Jesus pointed out that to become his disciple involves changes and sacrifices. Why? Because the present system of things is materially oriented and motivated by self-interest. Most people are mainly concerned with satisfying their fleshly desires, paying little or no attention to their spiritual needs or their relationship with God. (2 Timothy 3:1-4) This attitude, or spirit, however, is in direct contrast to that shown by Jesus Christ. “The Son of man came,” he said, “not to be ministered to, but to minister and to give his soul a ransom in exchange for many.” He placed the highest value on spiritual rather than material things when he said: “It is the spirit that is life-giving; the flesh is of no use at all.”—Matthew 20:28; John 6:63.
Consequently, when Jesus advised those who wanted to become his disciples to count the cost, he was speaking primarily, not of material values, but of spiritual ones. What is more important to them, the material advantages the world offers or the spiritual benefits that discipleship offers? This is why after giving the parable and a related one, he concluded: “Thus, you may be sure, none of you that does not say good-bye to all his belongings can be my disciple.” (Luke 14:33) Is the would-be follower willing and ready to make such a sacrifice, or is it too high a price to pay?
A Balanced View
Even though material things may bring apparent benefits that are more noticeable and immediate, benefits from spiritual pursuits are far more lasting and satisfying. Jesus reasoned this way: “Stop storing up for yourselves treasures upon the earth, where moth and rust consume, and where thieves break in and steal. Rather, store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes, and where thieves do not break in and steal.” (Matthew 6:19, 20) In our time, inflation, stock-market declines, bank failures, and so forth, have caused the ruin of many who put their trust solely in material riches. Yet the apostle Paul urges us to “keep our eyes, not on the things seen, but on the things unseen. For the things seen are temporary, but the things unseen are everlasting.” (2 Corinthians 4:18) How, though, can we cultivate such a viewpoint?
We can do so by imitating our Model and Exemplar, Jesus Christ. When on earth, he was by no means an ascetic, as evidenced by the fact that he sometimes shared in wedding feasts and banquets. However, he obviously made spiritual things his priority. In order to accomplish his Father’s will, he was willing to forgo even what are considered necessities. Once he declared: “Foxes have dens and birds of heaven have roosts, but the Son of man has nowhere to lay down his head.” (Luke 9:58) He considered the doing of his Father’s will to be so vital and pleasurable that he said with heartfelt sincerity: “My food is for me to do the will of him that sent me and to finish his work.”—John 4:34.
Jesus demonstrated his sense of values by the way he rejected Satan’s temptations. The Devil tried to get Jesus to use His God-given power to benefit Himself, to satisfy His physical needs, and to achieve worldly fame and popularity. Jesus knew very well that such questionable benefits could be had only at a very high cost—the loss of God’s approval—a cost higher than what he was willing to pay, for he treasured his good relationship with his Father above everything else. That is why he rejected Satan’s offers unequivocally, without hesitation.—Matthew 4:1-10.
As Christ’s followers, we certainly want to have the same sense of values as our Master. In the present system of things under Satan’s control, there are many things that may seem to promise fine benefits but can actually be damaging to our relationship with God. Such things as climbing the corporate ladder, pursuing higher education to advance one’s position, courting unbelievers, or engaging in questionable business schemes can easily lead to a loss of faith and an eventual fall from Jehovah’s favor. We must carefully count the cost when confronted with such temptations.
True Wisdom a Safeguard
A few years ago, a young Christian man in a large city in the Far East had the opportunity to go abroad to further his study. Though he already had a good secular education and a well-paying job, he felt that this was not enough; he wanted to better his lot in life. Fellow Christians tried to reason with him in line with the Scriptural points we have just considered, but he was adamant and went ahead with the plan. Though he tried to hold on to his faith at first, gradually he lost his appreciation for Bible truth, and doubt began to set in. In just a year or so, he lost his faith completely and claimed to be an agnostic. Granted, gaining a higher degree through advanced secular education brought him a measure of satisfaction. But for the temporary glory, what a heavy price he had to pay—the shipwreck of his faith and the risk of losing eternal life!—1 Timothy 1:19.
On the other hand, those who refuse to let anything jeopardize their relationship with God have reaped great blessings from Jehovah.
A case in point is that of a young man who owned an interior decorating business in the same city referred to above. Only a few months after he started to study the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses, he was confronted with a tempting offer—to do a $30,000 renovation job. However, it would involve skirting the building codes and regulations to put up some illegal structure. Since he had learned that Christians must be law-abiding, he realized that to accept the job could mean losing God’s favor. (Romans 13:1, 2) After weighing the matter carefully, he turned down the job. The outcome? This act of faith proved to be a turning point in his spiritual progress. Within the year, he advanced to the point of dedication and baptism. He sold his business and got a job that allowed him much more time for spiritual pursuits. He is now serving Jehovah with joy and zeal.
Both of these young men counted the cost. What made the difference in their choices? Godly wisdom! How so? Wisdom is the ability to put knowledge to use in a way that usually brings lasting benefits, and godly wisdom means using knowledge in line with God’s purpose for us. While both young men had some Bible knowledge, their application of it led to different results. The book of Proverbs says: “When wisdom enters into your heart and knowledge itself becomes pleasant to your very soul, thinking ability itself will keep guard over you, discernment itself will safeguard you, to deliver you from the bad way.”—Proverbs 2:10-12.
God’s Word, the Bible, is the source of true wisdom to which you always can turn for guidance when you have to make important decisions. Rather than becoming wise in your own eyes, heed the advice: “Trust in Jehovah with all your heart and do not lean upon your own understanding. In all your ways take notice of him, and he himself will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5, 6) We must be humble and willing to be taught, avoiding the self-willed and independent spirit of the world so prevalent today.
Yes, we cannot avoid reaping what we sow, and it is only fair and just that we have to bear the consequences of the decisions and choices we make. (Galatians 6:7, 8) So count the cost before every undertaking. Do not allow any seeming advantage to rob you of your spirituality or your relationship with Jehovah God. Pray for wisdom and good judgment to make the right decisions, for the decisions you make now may mean the difference between life and death—everlastingly!—Compare Deuteronomy 30:19, 20.
[Pictures on page 28]
Would he put spiritual activities first in life or a secular career?