But, First Let Me…

Luke 9:59-62  To another (Jesus) said, “Follow me.” But he replied, “[Lord,] let me go first and bury my father.” But he answered him, “Let the dead bury their dead. But you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” And another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but first let me say farewell to my family at home.” [To him] Jesus said, “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.”

We generally know evil when we encounter it. For most everyone, it is easy to choose between evil and good. But, what about choosing between two good things? 

Such is the situation described in the passage in Luke 9. Jesus is calling people – us – to be His disciples. Wow! What an honor. Thank you, Jesus. Of course, I will follow you. But first, let me go…

Those “but, first” things: burying parents and saying goodbye to loved ones, are good things. Jesus responds with what sounds like harsh words. Really, can I not say goodbye to my family before I leave to go follow you? 

I think rather that Jesus is telling us that God is to be first in our lives ahead of everything else, even our loved ones (Mt 10:37). The cost of discipleship is detachment from anything and anyone who could come before God. Many Bible verses teach us this cost. Here are just a few:

  • Everyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:33)
  • Go, sell what you have, and give to [the] poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me. (Mk.10:21)
  • Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? Or what can one give in exchange for his life? (Mt.16:24-26)

These teachings on detachment sound so dramatic. Renounce my possessions? Sell all I have? Deny myself and lose my life? Is this cost worth it? It comes across as so counter to what we hear, read, and see in the world around us. What would we get in return if we agreed to pay this seemingly exorbitant price and truly put God first in our lives? 

When I finally gathered the courage to step out in faith and put God first in every area of my life including in my budget, I got a sense of peace I can not explain. The world and its consumerism and materialism does not give this peace. This is a peace that only God can give. It is the peace beyond understanding (Phil 4:7).

Isn’t peace what we truly want in this life? Peace, joy, contentment, and to eliminate worry and stress. Again, there are many Bible verses that support our receiving God’s peace when we trust in Him. Look to Phillipians 4:4-13, 1 Timothy 6:6-8, and Hebrews 13:5 for some encouragement. One of my favorites is Matthew 6:25-34:

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat [or drink], or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they? Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span? Why are you anxious about clothes? Learn from the way the wildflowers grow. They do not work or spin. But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them. If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith? So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’ All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom [of God] and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides. Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil.

And look at what Jesus told His disciples right after He told the young man to sell everything, give to the poor, and follow Him, “Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the gospel who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age: houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come.” (Mark 10:29-30) 

This should not be read to mean that when we give, we get back material gain. We do not prescribe to a prosperity gospel. But, Jesus does promise us His abundance, His blessings. He came so that we may have life and have it more abundantly (John 10:10). The blessings we receive when we respond affirmatively to God’s call to discipleship are so much more impactful on our lives than anything money could buy. They are the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit: peace, joy, wisdom, generosity, obedience, and a deeper faith and trust in God, and love of our neighbor. 

I say “Yes”, the price is worth it. Step out in faith, trust God, put Him first, detach from the earthly and worldly things that get in the way of what will bring you true peace. Don’t be a “but, first…” person. When God calls you, don’t say something like, 

“Yes, Lord, I will follow you. But first, let me advance my career and build my retirement plan.”

“Yes, Lord, I will give to support the mission of the church. But first, let me pay off my credit cards and other debts.”

Using your God-given talents to cultivate your career, saving for the future, and getting out of debt are all very good things. But not if they get in the way of God being first in your life. 

Forgive me if I sound preachy. Know that I am preaching to myself! I still respond too tentatively too often. But what would life be like, what would our world be like if we all eliminated “but, first…” from our response to God’s call? 

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