The Demands of Discipleship

Plowing

We have been called to be disciples of Jesus, yet this is not an easy life. Discipleship is demanding. There are certain things required of us and not everyone will be willing to do what is necessary to be a disciple. In the following passage, Jesus encountered three prospective disciples:

As they were going along the road, someone said to Him, ‘I will follow You wherever You go.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.

And He said to another, ‘Follow Me.’ But he said, ‘Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father.’ But He said to him, ‘Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God.’

Another also said, ‘I will follow You, Lord; but first permit me to say good-bye to those at home.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God’” (Luke 9:57-62).

In Jesus’ responses to these individuals, He showed just how demanding it is to be one of His disciples. Let us consider what He said and how it applies to us today.

Disciples Must Be Willing to Surrender an Earthly Home

The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head” (Luke 9:58).

When Jesus came to earth, He came as a humble servant. Paul said that Jesus “emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:7). Paul explained to the Corinthians that Jesus left heaven for us, showing an example of sacrifice: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). He was willing to give up His home in heaven in order to come to earth – a place where He would have “nowhere to lay His head” – in order to help us.

The disciple is not above his master” (Matthew 10:24, KJV). Therefore, we must be willing to sacrifice what Jesus did. Just as He was willing to leave His home in heaven and not even enjoy the real comforts of an earthly home, we may need to give up the same.

Why might disciples have to surrender their earthly home?

  • They might have to move in order to escape strong worldly influences – something that Lot should have done rather than remain in Sodom (Genesis 13:10-13).
  • They might relocate where they can more effectively serve the Lord. Paul moved around to be able to help Christians in different areas (cf. Romans 1:11).
  • Under extreme circumstances, they might sell their property to contribute to an extraordinary need (Acts 4:32-35).
  • They might leave a well-paying job or a “successful” career that is harmful to them spiritually, just as Paul did when he converted to Christ (Philippians 3:7).
  • They might have to endure persecution for the cause of Christ that makes permanent residency impossible (cf. Hebrews 10:34).

We need to value our heavenly home more than our earthly home. Paul wrote, “For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Corinthians 5:1). If we are truly longing for heaven, we should be willing to give up anything that would hinder us from reaching that home.

Disciples Must Be Willing to Forfeit Family Relationships

Allow the dead to bury their own dead…” (Luke 9:60).

Jesus was not teaching that we must forsake family in every situation. There are many passages in the New Testament that emphasize our responsibility toward our families (cf. Ephesians 5:22, 25; 6:1, 4; 1 Timothy 5:4; et al.). His point was that following Him must take precedence. He said elsewhere, “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me” (Matthew 10:37).

Jesus also placed His disciples over His earthly family. Notice the following event: “While He was still speaking to the crowds, behold, His mother and brothers were standing outside, seeking to speak to Him. Someone said to Him, ‘Behold, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside seeking to speak to You.’ But Jesus answered the one who was telling Him and said, ‘Who is My mother and who are My brothers?’ And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, ‘Behold My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother” (Matthew 12:46-50). Jesus was willing to put His disciples over His earthly mother and brothers. We must be willing to do the same when necessary.

Why might disciples be forced to choose to follow Christ over family relationships?

  • Their families are directly opposed to Christ. Under these circumstances, Jesus said, “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword…and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household” (Matthew 10:34-36). Before His crucifixion, Jesus’ brothers did not believe in Him and even mocked His work for the Father (John 7:3-5).
  • Their families might tempt them to sin (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:33).
  • Their families may not understand their commitment to put Christ first and could “malign” them because of it (1 Peter 4:3-4).
  • Family activities may conflict with spiritual responsibilities, in which case disciples are to leave family and put the kingdom first (Matthew 19:29; 6:33).

We need to value our relationship with Christ over our relationship with others – including family. We have the great privilege of being “called children of God” (1 John 3:1). That is more important than any other relationship.

Disciples Must Be Willing to Make a Lifelong Commitment

No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62).

Again, Jesus was not saying we must unconditionally sever family ties. This was about one who started to follow, then turned back. He made it clear that if we are going to follow Him, we must continue to the end. “But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved” (Matthew 24:13; cf. Revelation 2:10).

Jesus was fully committed to doing the Father’s will, even though it meant suffering death. Paul explained this about Christ: “Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8). We must be willing to do likewise. Jesus said, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me” (Luke 9:23).

Why might disciples be tempted to look back after having already started following the Lord?

  • They might be tempted to sin, causing them to fall away from the Lord (Hebrews 3:12-13). They choose to give in to the “passing pleasures of sin” (Hebrews 11:25).
  • They might experience persecution (cf. 2 Timothy 3:12) and fail to “be faithful until death” (Revelation 2:10).
  • They might become discouraged by the “many tribulations” they have to endure in this life (Acts 14:22). Facing tribulations is inevitable, but the only way they can cause disciples to turn back is when they take their eyes off of Jesus (Hebrews 12:3).
  • They might become distracted by the “worries and riches and pleasures of this life” (Luke 8:14), trying to “serve two masters” (Matthew 6:24) rather than being wholly devoted to serving the Lord.
  • They might take their eyes off of the goal (Philippians 3:14), fail to set their minds on things above (Colossians 3:2), and follow after the things of this world instead – just as Demas did (2 Timothy 4:10).

We need to value the eternal reward that God offers more than the temporary comforts of this life. Jesus asked, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26). Nothing in this world – even if we could gain all of it – can compare with the glories and blessings of eternity in heaven with the Lord.

Conclusion

Each one of us has been called to be a disciple of Jesus. Yet as Jesus explained, we must be willing to surrender our earthly home when it becomes a hindrance to us, forfeit family relationships when they become detrimental to our faith, and make a lifelong commitment to following Him.

Sadly, many are not willing to do this. Yet if we are willing to meet the demands of discipleship, we will be greatly rewarded in the end.


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