1. Competition for Attention
We live in a society where many things compete for our attention. We have family and friends, work, and home life. We have clubs and organizations for just about anything—from service clubs, sporting clubs, and clubs where you can just go and meet people. There are help groups and charities, and … Well the list goes on. And if you are young with children, much time is probably also spent in being a taxi service for many of the things and events competing for your children’s attention.
In fact, there are so many things competing for our time, and our money, that it really shouldn’t come as any surprise when we hear of organizations collapsing around us—and some that do very valuable work indeed.
After all, how many organizations have you heard about that used to be financial viable, but are now on the point of collapse—because of lack of financial support? How many organizations have you heard about, that used to have plenty of members, but are now about to close their doors because of lack of interest? They just can’t get the numbers to maintain their existence. And how many organizations have you heard about that people even claim to support, but when it comes down to it—when a special event is put on or money needs to be raised—those members are conspicuous by their absence?
2. The Place of the Church
Now one of the organizations that seems to suffer from all of these, in different ways, is the church. Some churches have found themselves in financial difficulty; some have closed, and some are teetering on the edge. And that is even though more than half of the population of Australia identify themselves as being affiliated in some way with the Christian Church.
In our growingly complex world things are not always what they seem. Yes, there are many things that seek our attention. And yes, we are all limited to the amount of time, and resources we can offer. But the fact is that we can’t do everything and be everywhere. Somewhere along the line we have to choose what is important to us; what it is that’s going to hold our attention. And unfortunately, that often means we have to let other things go.
So today, what should our level of commitment be to God and to his church? Should I response be different to any other organization? And how deep does one really need to be to be committed to God, and the Christian faith?
4. Introduction to the Gospel
Well, in our passage, Jesus talks to the disciples about this very thing. And Jesus draws a cameo of what it means to be a follower. And although the picture is not intended to be a comprehensive view of discipleship, nevertheless the ideas raised, and the three points he makes are very telling:
B. THE DEPTHS OF DEVOTION (37)
And the first point that Jesus makes is in regard to the depths of devotion needed to be his follower.
Now, at the heart of his point was a cultural understanding that nothing was more important than the relationship between a parent and a child. In fact, the Jews found it abhorrent that anyone should claim a higher relationship. And yet, Jesus categorically told his disciples that whoever placed more importance on family relationships than on a relationship with him had missed the whole point, and could have no part of him at all.
Now this might seem a bit rough, particularly regarding the strong belief of the importance of the family, and family relationships. But Jesus’s claim on the lives of his disciples was on the basis that he was more than a mere human teacher and leader. He was the Son of God. Therefore, being a follower of Jesus was not something that could be done on a superficial level, mixed up with all the other activities of life.
Indeed, the depth of devotion he required was total. Which meant not only putting him first before father, mother, son or daughter. But it required a loyalty that went beyond mere family relationships.
To the disciples at the time this would have been radical thinking, and it probably still is. But the implication for us is not that we should not hold family relations dearly, but rather that we should not allow family, or anything else competing for our attention, to get in the way of us and God.
Yes, we may have family pressures, we may have work pressures, we may have pressures from friends or from our club mates, or from one of a number of other sources—all that require our urgent attention. However, the message from Jesus is clear. If we allow anything or anyone to get between us and putting him first, then we really have no relationship with him at all.
C. THE DEPTHS OF COMMITMENT (38-39)
The second point that Jesus made was in regard to the depths of personal commitment.
In other words, how much does a follower need to give in order to be a follower of Jesus? And at the heart at his point, Jesus likened what he was saying to his disciples having to take up their own crosses and following him.
Now crucifixion, at that time, was commonplace. People were aware that anyone who was condemned to be crucified was on a one-way journey to death. So, having to carry your own cross to the place of execution was tantamount to giving up any claim on life.
So, in Jesus’s illustration, we find again that his demand on his followers was total. It was not good enough even to place him above their families in their affections. He needed to be placed first before themselves. His disciples were told that unless they were prepared to face persecution, even to the point of martyrdom, for his sake, they could have no part of him.
The life that mattered, was life for the sake of Christ—the life that took the same road of self-denial that Jesus took. And what was important, was not any benefit that they could secure on the way. What was important was the need to serve God and to serve one’s fellow man.
So, if putting Jesus before family was radical, then this was even more so. The implication for us on this second point, then, is that we are called not only to put Jesus before any other call on our time and resources, but we are to put our lives on the line for him too. We have to risk death for him—in the service of God, and for the benefit of others.
The things we like to do in life, our hobbies, our interests, the things we belong to, and the things that we support, may be important to us, and may give us much pleasure. However, they may also be the things we have to give up, or modify our involvement, to stop them getting in the way of our relationship with God.
In short Jesus says we have a choice. We can live for now and face the eternal consequences. Or we can live for him now and live with him in eternity.
D. THE DEPTHS OF CARE (40-42)
And the third point that Jesus made, is in regard to the commitment to care for our fellow believers.
And at the heart of this point is the idea that amongst all believers, the people who are likely to have the hardest time are those in leadership positions. And in New Testament terms this meant Apostles, Christian prophets and teachers.
It was the leaders of the church that faced an uncertain reception, as they went about declaring the message of the kingdom. It was the leaders of the church that were more likely to face persecution, and hostility. And it was the leaders of the church, because of their greater exposure to the public, who would sometimes need protection and a safe haven.
Indeed, Jesus taught his disciples, that whether it was the Apostles, the Christian prophets and teachers, or even ordinary church members, only false disciples would refuse help.
Jesus’s demand on his followers, then, was that they would help one another—from providing shelter from persecution, to providing a simple cool refreshing drink. If one was a true disciple, that sort of level of care needed to be given.
And the implications for this third point of Jesus? Well, even leaving the shelter of physically persecuted Christian’s aside, it raises the issue of needing to encourage one another in the battles of life and faith. To build up and encourage those in leadership roles, and to be always willing to give our fellow Christians the support that’s needed. Indeed, anything from our physical support to the provision of a refreshing drink.
Being a disciple, then, is not something that one can do in isolation to the church. The words of Jesus here makes that very clear. Because the faith that is demanded not only covers a commitment to put Jesus first, but it involves a commitment to provide for our fellow believers as well.
So, what Jesus describes in this passage from Matthew’s gospel, is a commitment that no other organization or person should demand of us.
He described a depth of devotion, where nothing and no one should get in the way between us and God. He described a depth of commitment that risks putting our own life on the line in order to carry out his will. And he described a depth of care, of hospitality and of willingness to provide encouragement and support towards our fellow believer. And that puts the kind of commitment required for God and the church, well beyond that of any other organization or being. With Jesus, there are no half measures. He expects, and demands total commitment.
Now in one sense, you could describe what Jesus stated as being impossible. How could we possibly meet all three criteria? We make mistakes; we could never be like he described. And you’re right, in this world we can’t, and Jesus knows that. But they are goals we need to take seriously. And ones, if we have any faith, we should strive, with God’s help, to attain.
So, yes, we do live in a world where there are so many things that compete for our attention. There are many things that compete with both our time and resources. As a consequence we need to spend time to work out our priorities.
Because whilst there are import things, good fun things, and some very worthwhile things that we enjoy doing, we also need to get our faith, and our church responsibilities into perspective.
The number of people in this country, who affiliate themselves in some way with the Christian church, is more than half. Yet the number who attend church, in contrast, is only very small. This then would suggest that most people, have very little idea about what it means to be a Christian, and what the demands are for those who claim to have a Christian faith.
But do we?
After all, none of us is perfect; none of us have got everything right. And in a world where so much is vying for attention, it’s very easy to be distracted from the demands that Jesus makes on our lives.
Posted: 1st July 2017
© 2017, Brian A Curtis