Thursday, March 14, 2013

Count the Cost

Prospective members, in counseling with a minister before baptism, are advised to count the cost of their commitment to God before making that commitment.

"If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For 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" (Luke 14:26-33).

At baptism we commit ourselves to give ourselves totally to God, one hundred percent. We commit to a willingness to give up everything in this life, even to death, to do God's will. We commit ourselves to strive with all our strength to obey God's law, also relying on God to give us the extra strength we need but lack as human beings.

Mr. Armstrong emphasized God's law in his teaching. He taught that God's spiritual law defines a way of life that leads to happiness and everything good, but the violation of that law leads to suffering and death. He placed emphasis on the law of God bringing blessings because much of traditional Christianity teaches that the law is done away.

God's spiritual law defines a way of life that leads to happiness when everyone lives it. But all it takes is for one bad apple to live the opposite way of life, the get way, the way of sin, Satan's way, to bring misery to everyone around him. And in this world, Satan's world, it is not just one or a few who violate the law of God as a way of life, but the majority. And as a result, this world can be a miserable place for many who live in it, including Christians who obey God's law.

It is easy for a prospective member to assume that if he obeys God's law, obedience will bring such blessings in this life that he will be healthy, prosperous, and happy. God will provide a good wife for him and happy, healthy children, and God will protect him from all harm. His life, even in this evil world, will be physically and emotionally blessed.

Not necessarily so.

Obedience to God's law is certainly a way of life that produces happiness. Much unhappiness people suffer in this world comes as a result of their own law breaking. By sinning, they bring suffering upon themselves. Those who are obedient to God are spared that source of suffering. They do not have to suffer as a result of their own wrong doing and sin. And that can certainly be a blessing.

But all suffering we go through does not come from our own sins. And God does not promise the Christian an easy life.

Christ did not say in vain that we have to give up everything to be His disciples.

What if God does not provide a wife or husband for you? Are you willing to remain single all your life if that is the price of being a Christian?

What if, despite your hard work, your obedience, and your tithe paying, God afflicts you with poverty most of your life. Are you willing to pay that price?

What if you take care of your health and obey God's laws of health. You don't smoke, you don't drink alcohol to excess, you eat a good diet, avoid unclean meats, get plenty of exercise, etc. You even pray for God's protection from accidents. But a drunk driver hits you and you end up in a wheelchair for the rest of your life. Then, you are anointed for healing, you pray in faith for healing, but God does not heal you in this life. Can you pay that price, if that is what God requires? Or, if this happened, would you lose faith in God and conclude that God broke His promises to you?

God promises He will not put us through greater trials than we can bear (1 Corinthians 10:13), but He does not promise that we will be blessed with physical blessings in this life, even for an obedient Christian.

What God promises is eternal life in His kingdom, and in that kingdom everyone will obey God's law and we will have been perfected, and at that time, yes, we will be joyous and happy for eternity.

Not necessarily in this life.

The Old Covenant promised national, material blessings in this life, but the New Covenant gives us better promises. The New Covenant promises, not happiness in this physical life, but eternal life and happiness in the Kingdom of God.

It takes faith to trust that promise, and to the extent we have that faith we can be joyous even in our trials. But that joy will come from the hope and confidence of our salvation and our ultimate destiny in God's kingdom, not necessarily from the physical pleasures and blessings of this temporary life.

Look at the parable of Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16:19-31). Especially look at verses 19-22 and 25. Was Lazarus converted? Did he keep God's law? He must have, or if he didn't he would not be in the Kingdom of God (Matthew 19:16-17, 25:31-46, Romans 2:5-11). In this life, we are not yet perfect, and we slip and sin because of temptation, but we must be striving to obey God as a way of life. Since Lazarus in the parable ends up in the Kingdom of God, he must have been converted and striving to obey God.

Yet, did Lazarus's obedience bring blessings in this life? Was Lazarus healthy, prosperous, and married to a Proverbs 31 wife and his children all around his table? The parable doesn't say he was married and had children, and he was definitely poor and in bad health. Was Lazarus blessed with physical blessings in this life for his obedience? No, in the parable the rich man is told that in this physical life Lazarus received "evil things" (Luke 16:25).

Paul suffered after conversion, so much that he said that if it was only in this life he had hope he was of all men most miserable (1 Corinthians 15:19).


"Are they ministers of Christ? - I speak as a fool - I am more: in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness - besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches" (2 Corinthians 11:23-28).

What if God, instead of blessing you with health, prosperity, family, and happiness for your obedience gives you the kind of suffering, pain, and poverty He gave to Lazarus in the parable to test your faith and your commitment to him? Will you remain faithful, trusting God to bless you for eternity in His kingdom? Or will you have second thoughts about your decision to be baptized?

Some servants of God reached a point in this life that they hated their lives so much they wished they were never born. Job cursed the day of his birth (Job 3:1-19). Jeremiah went further than that. He not only cursed the day he was born, he also cursed the man who announced his birth (Jeremiah 20:14-18)!

Count the cost, then choose to pay the cost. Choose God's way of life. God may indeed bless you with the physical blessings of this life, or He may not, but He will work things out for your good in the long run if you obey Him, even if that good does not come in this life but in the Kingdom of God.

God is preparing us to live a perfect way of life in His kingdom forever, and in that kingdom everyone will be blessed because our character will be perfected and no one will sin in that kingdom to make a dent in our happiness. But in this life, God is molding and shaping our character, as well as testing us, and that may involve sacrifice and suffering. We have to learn to pay that price without grumbling, without looking back, without doubting God's righteousness and wisdom.

Trust God, believe God, and obey God, not just for a happy life now in the flesh (though God may give you blessings now), but for eternal life in God's kingdom and for God's honor and glory.

Sometimes God puts us through trials to teach us lessons, but we are frustrated because we don't understand the trial or what we are supposed to learn from it. But God doesn't promise we will understand every trial we go through while we are going through it. Look at the example of Job. He went through a severe trial for a long time without understanding it. Later, he understood, but not during most of the trial. This whole world is suffering under Satan's deception and rule, and the people of this world do not understand the purpose of it, but they will later. God can put you and me through long trials we do not understand to test and develop our faith, and then the understanding will come later.

"My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing" (James 1:2-4).

"Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy" (1 Peter 4:12-13).

"We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22).

" 'My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; For whom the Lord loves He chastens, And scourges every son whom He receives.' If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons. Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it" (Hebrews 12:5-11).

"No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it" (1 Corinthians 10:13).

If you are going through a trial you don't understand, hang in there and trust God to the end, even to the end of your life. Count God as true and faithful and continue to believe and obey His word. Trust God unconditionally. That is part of the commitment we make at baptism and the commitment we renew at Passover.

If God blesses you in this life, give thanks for it, but if it is God's will that you live a life of suffering, whether that suffering comes from pain, illness, poverty, loneliness, or any other physical or emotional cause, trust God, believe in his promises, count God as faithful, and continue to obey His commandments. Give God thanks for His promise of eternal life in His kingdom, and renew the commitment in your mind to trust, believe, and obey Him forever, no matter what.

This is part of counting the cost.

Eternal life is worth it.

"For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us" (Romans 8:18).

1 comment:

Cora said...

Another well written post, no fuzz, no frills, clear, and to the point. The topic is not new but the perspective is refreshing.

I have sent some of your posts to my brother who also finds them insightful, profound and restorative.

On his behalf and mine, thank you.