Counting the Cost
Recently, I met with a couple who had been strongly encouraged by his very spiritual wife to help a family in their church struggling financially. He wasn’t so sure. So, when we met they explained the situation.
The family she wanted to help weren't lazy or wasteful of money. They have a modest income but had a financial event happen in their life, a large uninsured medical bill, coupled with a major car repair that crippled them. The husband in my office had no doubt this family had a real need and it was clear that although he was not wealthy, helping this family out financially was doable. But he had this hang-up:
"The Bible says that ‘The Lord loves a cheerful giver.’” I don’t feel very cheerful about this at all. Is it right for me to do something like this when I really don’t want to?I reminded him of this story told by Jesus;
“What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’
‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.
Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.
Which of the two did what his father wanted?
‘The first,’ they answered. Jesus said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.’”
“Here’s the point of this story,“ I told him. “The faithful son was the obedient son with the bad attitude! I think Jesus would prefer both obedience and a good attitude, but it’s clear he’ll settle for obedience.”
“But how do I know for sure that God wants us to help this family and for how much?” he asked. “Well you cant know that completely,” I answered. “But in God giving us the following verse, we have this general principle to follow.”
“If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.” James 4:17
But the man was still reluctant. “But Jesus also gave us this teaching,“ he said.
“And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you.” Luke 14:27-29
“Isn’t Jesus telling us to be cautious and count the cost before we commit to something?” he asked. This was my last word on the subject to this couple.
“Jesus was telling those who were thinking of following him, and each of us today, ‘count the cost’ before deciding to follow him. But once we’ve made that decision, true followers of Jesus stop counting the cost. Obedience, generosity and self sacrifice is the new benchmark.“
I don’t think that means this guy has to write checks forever, to everyone. Perhaps other family members of this family in need have to get involved, budgets reviewed, or expenses cut. The Bible teaches us to be wise. But when I think about the story of the Good Samaritan, who Jesus clearly admired, I don’t read that he asked the innkeeper for an estimate, or put a cap on what he was willing to do for the injured man. He did for that man what he would like someone else to do for him, if he were ever he in a similar circumstance. This is where, “Do unto others as you would have them do to you,” trumps counting the cost for those who dare claim to be followers of Jesus.