Wisconsin Lutheran Chapel logo

God’s Word for You

Luke 14:28-30 the cost

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Friday, September 28, 2018

28 When one of you wants to build a watchtower, does he not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough money to complete it?  29 Otherwise, after he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, everyone who sees it will ridicule him,  30 saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’

How should we interpret Jesus’ words? This is not a warning about building projects. It isn’t a caution to avoid costly endeavors. The context is about becoming a disciple. Following Jesus with one’s life is the “watchtower.” The watchtower was no ordinary home or shed, but a fine thing that was necessary in Israel, to provide security in an ancient farmstead from invaders or thieves—not always human, since foxes and wolves stole more than their fair share of the livestock or the garden plot (Song of Solomon 2:15; Zephaniah 3:3). The tower was a necessary part of a good farm, but Jesus’ point is that to do it right, you need to consider what it will cost.

Perhaps no individual should think that he can carry out the cost of discipleship all by himself. This can be applied in two different ways. First, it’s a reminder that Jesus wants us to gather together, like two or even four farmers pitching in to build a watchtower that will overlook all their fields. Together, they can pool their resources the way many congregations pool their resources to fund a seminary to train future pastors and the way ancient Israel funded schools of the prophets to give training to men who would serve God and Israel (1 Samuel 10:10; 2 Kings 2:3; 2:5). Jesus said, “Where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them” (Matthew 18:20). Our life of faith should not be so private that no one knows about it. Jesus wants us to build up one another’s faith. Paul didn’t write his shortest epistle to one man, just to Philemon, but to a whole group, including “Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow soldier and to the church that meets in your home” (Philemon 1:2). No one encourages someone else’s faith by being silent about their own.

Second, this is a reminder that one of the costs of being a disciple of Jesus is the ridicule that will be heaped upon us when our endeavors sometimes fail, like Paul failing to make progress in Bithynia (Acts 16:7) or Jesus finding few believers in his hometown of Nazareth (Matthew 13:58). That doesn’t mean we should consider our endeavors pointless, but that success isn’t always based on our plans or hopes. When we cry out, “My plans are shattered!” (Job 17:11), we also take comfort that “the plans of the Lord stand firm forever” (Psalm 33:10). If we try a new kind of ministry, a new area for outreach, a new style of music in worship, a new community for evangelism, and our efforts seem to have little or no success, that doesn’t mean that our efforts were sinful or wicked. We try and try and try for the good of the kingdom. Who would ever have thought of carrying the gospel of Jesus Christ into the heart of ancient Greece, to the very center of Greek philosophy and debate? Paul did, and he heard sneers (Acts 17:32), but “a few men became followers of Paul and believed” (Acts 17:34). Luke lists one man (Dionysius) and one woman (Damaris) who were evidently well-known, but he also reports that “a number of others” also believed. So much for mission work in Athens. It was hardly a giant watchtower-style success, but by going, Paul saved a few souls. “By all possible means,” Paul wrote, “I might save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22).

There’s an old story I’ve told before, but it bears remembering. My friend and colleague Todd Wendorf told this to me almost twenty years ago. There was a man walking along a beach, and he saw that the beach was covered in starfish. The tide or a freak wave had washed them all up, and soon, he thought, they would all be dead, stranded out of the water as they were. Up ahead he saw a boy picking up a starfish and throwing it back into the sea. One by one, the boy threw some starfish back—a half dozen, a dozen, two dozen, but the sun was rising, and thousands would soon be dead. “Why bother?” the man said. “It doesn’t matter. You can’t save them all.” The boy threw another one back and said, “It matters to this one.” The man’s scorn didn’t stop the child from saving a few.

You know the cost. Go and build your tower.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.

Browse Devotion Archive