Luke 14:26-33 records another important parable of Jesus. It is sometimes referred to as “the parable of the tower and warring king.” More simply, it could be called “the parable of counting the cost.” The parable is introduced by the preceding verse, which states: “And there went great multitudes with him: and he turned, and said unto them” (Luke 14:25). Now why would Jesus give this parable to the mass of people? Jesus was not naive. We read in John 2:23-25: “Now when he was in Jerusalem at the passover, in the feast day, many believed in his name, when they saw the miracles which he did. But Jesus did not commit himself unto them, because he knew all men, And needed not that any should testify of man: for he knew what was in man.”
A multitude had assembled to hear Jesus, but many were not there for the right reason. Jesus knew this. Some, no doubt, were looking for a free meal. Jesus had miraculously fed 5,000 on one occasion and more than 4,000 on another (Matt. 14:21, Matt 15:38). Jesus didn’t mince words when on another occasion He told a crowd: “. . . Verily, verily, I say unto you, Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled” (John 6:26). In Luke 14:25, quoted above, some may have been there just to witness another miracle. Still there were others, most likely, whom friends or relatives had invited. Jesus’ preaching and personality, or the way He spoke, may have enamored some. So, there must have been an assorted number of reasons why this crowd followed Jesus.
Jesus knew these people needed to know what was really involved in following Him, so He laid it out for them. He told them: “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26). These people were told to count the cost. How many people today would be willing to do what Jesus had said in order to be His disciple? The fact is: Millions who profess Christianity today have never counted the cost. They have failed to examine themselves in the light of what the Bible requires. Many have “accepted” Christ, but have no idea what this means. For those who do understand and have accepted Christ, Paul warned that even they should examine themselves. Notice what he said: “Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body” (1 Cor. 11:27-29). Paul, like Jesus, told the Corinthians the seriousness of accepting Christ. Paul also emphasized this in 2 Corinthians 13:5: “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?” Paul urged the Corinthians to see if they had been deceived, or if they were really true Christians, by living up to what the Bible teaches.
Jesus continued the parable by speaking some very sobering words: “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26). There is one good Bible example of some who were willing to do just that. Take the case of the Levites in the Old Testament. At a time when the Israelites had turned from God, the Levites supported Moses and remained faithful to their calling. This is why we read in Deuteronomy 33:8-9: “And of Levi he [Moses] said, Let thy Thummim and thy Urim be with thy holy one, whom thou didst prove at Massah, and with whom thou didst strive at the waters of Meribah; Who said unto his father and to his mother, I have not seen him; neither did he acknowledge his brethren, nor knew his own children: for they have observed thy word, and kept thy covenant.” Compare Exodus 32:26-29. The Levites placed God above their own families and did not allow anything to stand in the way of their commitment. This was why Moses was inspired to pronounce this blessing upon them: “They shall teach Jacob thy judgments, and Israel thy law: they shall put incense before thee, and whole burnt sacrifice upon thine altar. Bless, LORD, his substance, and accept the work of his hands: smite through the loins of them that rise against him, and of them that hate him, that they rise not again” (Deut. 33:10-11).
The Bible teaches Christians not to hate anyone (1 John 3:15; 4:20). Therefore, Jesus’ words “and hate not” in Luke 14:26 must be understood in that light. Perhaps a more suitable meaning for the word “hate” would be “to love less by comparison.” Jesus’ statement would mean that a true follower must love his closest family members, and even his own life, less than he loves God. Strong words indeed! Jesus did not come to make this present world one big happy family. He said: “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household” (Matt. 10:34-36). To a large extent this depends on the attitude of the various family members. Some are tolerant of the beliefs of other family members. Others are not. The Truth that Jesus brought often separates family members and the closest of friends. Some are willing to accept the Truth, while many are not. The Truth sometimes separates husbands and wives. One who truly follows Christ must place Him above the things that are the nearest and dearest to his heart. At times he may be forced to give up those things. This was why in the next verse Jesus emphasized: “. . . Whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:27). There is a price to be paid for accepting Christ, but the rewards cannot be compared to what one may have to give up in this life. “. . . As it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him” (1 Cor. 2:9).
Earlier Jesus had stated: “. . . If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23). How many people are willing to deny themselves the pleasures of this world in order to follow Christ? In Luke 9:24 Jesus said: “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it.” Christ gave up the glory He had in heaven (Phil 2:6-7). He gave Himself a sacrifice for the sins of all mankind (1 Pet. 1:18-20). He gave us an example to follow (1 Pet. 2:21). This is why Peter wrote: “Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin; That he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God” (1 Pet. 4:1-2). God gives us the way to break from the enslavement of sin-the bondage that has ensnared all men. To deny oneself means giving up the wicked practices of this world. But one had first better count the cost. Is he willing to pay the price?
That price may mean giving up your friends or family. Peter wrote: “For the time past of our life may suffice us to have wrought the will of the Gentiles, when we walked in lasciviousness, lusts, excess of wine, revellings, banquetings, and abominable idolatries: Wherein they think it strange that ye run not with them to the same excess of riot, speaking evil of you” (1 Pet. 4:3-4). Many of us have heard of the book entitled, How To Win Friends and Influence People. But, there is a much more important book. It is the Bible. If one really puts to practice what is written in the Bible, it could be called, How to Lose Friends and Antagonize People. What often happens when one begins to turn away from the wrong practices of this world? Do your friends and family rejoice? Not likely! More often they begin to regard you as “odd,” or begin to think that you have lost your mind. This is why Peter wrote that they speak evil of you. And this is why Jesus said to count the cost. “For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, Saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish” (Luke 14:28-30).
Remember Jesus’ words: “And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:27). Today, millions claim to be Christian. Notice what the Apostle John wrote: “He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked” (1 John 2:6). There are many well-meaning people who believe they are following Christ, yet most have never even read the Bible. They have little idea what Jesus taught, let alone how He lived and what He practiced. The fact is: What most Christians practice today in the name of Christianity is not what Jesus taught or practiced. They do not really know what is involved in becoming a true follower of Christ. They have never counted the cost.
Jesus never said that following Him would be easy, though He did say that His burden is lighter than that of the world (Matt. 11:30). He warned: “Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able” (Luke 13:24). One reason is that they have never counted the cost. They did not know what was involved. They responded emotionally to the Truth and did not base their decision on the facts. The fact is that unless one really understands with what he is becoming involved, he will likely become disillusioned. How many times have you seen someone begin a project or a hobby only to drop it a short time later? That is why Jesus said to count the cost. As we saw above, He emphasized this by the example of building a tower. But this is an illustration only. What Christians are required to build is a spiritual house. Much toil is required along the way. Each must see the task to completion. Realize this however: One who builds a spiritual house will not be accepted by the world. The world hates true Christians. Christ said so. His words were: “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you” (John 15:18-19).
Once he accepts Christ, the Christian must never look back, desiring once again to embrace the world. Jesus said: “. . . No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62). What is in store for one who gives up, who returns to his former life? Here is the answer: “For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them. But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire” (2 Pet. 2:20-22).
In the parable Jesus went on to say: “Or what king, going to make war against another king, sitteth not down first, and consulteth whether he be able with ten thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is yet a great way off, he sendeth an ambassage, and desireth conditions of peace” (Luke 14:31-32). To enter into the kind of struggle Christians must endure for a lifetime is likened to a war. The decision to enter into this war requires wisdom and perseverance. There must be a determination to see the battle through to the end. This is why Jesus said to count the cost. Then, notice how He closed the parable: “So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple” (v. 33). Christians must not let anything stand in the way of achieving the goal Christ has promised. This means family members, loved ones, friends, or even their own lives. For many, these may not be a hindrance, but for some they are. One who has determined to follow Christ must count the cost. He must make sure what he is embracing, and that he is willing to go all the way-to endure to the end. This is why the parable of counting the cost is so important.
The next parable we need to examine is found in Luke 18. It is called “the parable of the Pharisee and the publican.” Because it addresses the self-righteousness of the Pharisees, some believe the parable was given because of the demand made upon Jesus by the Pharisees in Luke 17:20. Others feel the parable was precipitated by what Jesus said in Luke 18:1, “. . . that men ought always to pray, and not to faint.” Whatever the reason, we can be sure of one thing-the Pharisees appeared to be righteous, but in reality were hypocritical and wicked (Matt. 23:28).
The parable begins as follows: “And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others” (Luke 18:9). What does the Bible say about human righteousness? Here is the answer: “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags . . .” (Isa. 64:6). The fact is: Without the indwelling of God’s Spirit, there can be no true righteousness in man. True righteousness comes from faith-a gift of God: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8). Paul explains true righteousness: “Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe . . .” (Rom. 3:22). But, in Luke 18:9, Jesus speaks of those who did not have the righteousness that comes by faith. They “trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others.” They were puffed up in their own minds. They disdained those who did not meet their standard of righteousness. They had no compassion, understanding, or patience for the weaknesses of others. They did not trust in God to strengthen and to help them to be righteous. Rather, they trusted in their own human abilities.
The parable continues: “Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican” (Luke 18:10). Keep in mind; the Pharisees were the establishment of the day, the religious leaders, and the ones to whom the people looked for the right standard. Many young men aspired to join the ranks of the Pharisees. Even the Apostle Paul had been one (Phil. 3:5). And who were the publicans? They were the hated tax collectors. It quickly becomes apparent that there was a fundamental difference in the attitude of these two men. Notice the Pharisee: “The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess” (Luke 18:11-12). His prayer was completely subjective. He was thinking only about himself, his accomplishments, and his merits. He was consumed with self-righteousness. But what did the publican say? “And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner” (v. 13). This man did not have a high opinion of himself. He knew where he stood. He knew he needed God’s kindness and mercy. He knew he was a sinner in God’s sight. He would not even approach the holy place. From a distance he smote upon his breast and repeatedly said, “God, be merciful to me a sinner.” The Greek text has “the” in the place of “a” in verse 13. The meaning is clear. The publican felt he was the sinner, that is, he was the worst sinner above all sinners. He did not deem himself worthy to even come near to God in prayer. But, he knew he needed God’s mercy and forgiveness. He knew he needed help.
How did Jesus view this attitude? He said: “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted” (Luke 18:14). The publican may well have been doing many things wrong, but he knew it. He was willing to admit his sins before God. He was willing to abase himself. Did the Pharisee do that? Of course not! He was not aware that he had any fault or sin, so how could he confess? He was too wrapped up in his own glory and accomplishments. He was too busy exalting himself than to be willing to be abased.
The parable of the Pharisee and the publican emphasizes one important thing. It illustrates the attitude one must have in order to be accepted and forgiven by God. Why? “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Human righteousness falls far short of the righteousness of God. The Pharisees led many to believe they could be righteous by themselves, but Paul wrote: “. . . Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness. Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law . . .” (Rom. 9:31-32). They believed they could accomplish the will of God by their own merits. They did not need God’s help. But, the true righteousness of God is manifested in the life of each believer by the righteousness that comes by faith. That righteousness cannot come by human efforts and works alone. It comes by the faith of Jesus Christ living in each of us. This is why Paul wrote: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). “For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith” (Rom. 1:17). No wonder Jesus said: “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other . . . ” (Luke 18:14).