Any organization that requires money to fulfill its mission goes through the regular discipline of closely examining its profit and loss statement. The P & L is a financial statement that summarizes the revenues, costs, and expenses incurred during a specific period of time – usually a fiscal quarter or year. Organizations that neglect to do this fail.
Using the same financial analogy, Jesus said that a man does not begin building a tower unless he first calculates the cost of construction as well as whether his venture could financially support itself. Nor does a king declare war unless he has enough resources to fight it.
Calculating the cost of a venture seems self-evident.
While talking about important business principles, Jesus was not talking about money, but rather about keeping commitments. He wanted would-be disciples to know beforehand whether or not they would be willing to pay the costs necessary to being a disciple of his.
Jesus had a history of this truth-in-advertising approach to discipleship. “Have you really thought this through,” he would ask would-be disciples. To one wannabe Jesus said, “I don’t even have a house to sleep in; are you sure you want to follow me?” To another, “You can’t follow me without giving up other loyalties.”
It seems extreme, doesn’t it?
In a profit and loss statement a business person calculates what his/her expenses are. According to Jesus, the biggest expense of discipleship is the sacrifice of one’s personal ambitions. “Seek first the kingdom of God,” he tells us. First! Before every other interest one may have. A person doing this profit and loss assessment might well say, “The cost of doing business is too great.”
Seen through strictly human lenses, the cost is exorbitant.
“I work hard for my money and my success. I deserve what I’ve earned.”
We’ve probably all thought in those terms during our lives. Which is probably why a rich man once told Jesus he was not willing to pay the cost.
In a human P&L gross income minus expenses yields the net profit for that period. If you made more than you spent, you’re in the black, financially speaking.
But in Jesus’ world, this is all turned upside down. The cost of following Jesus is always greater than our measly human efforts at a profitable life. But those who take the risks and pay the exorbitant up-front expenses ironically end up with a vast net profit.
Jesus told the crowds that the way to increase your spiritual bottom line is to give away your life. It makes no sense, but we know its true. It’s what happened to Mother Teresa. She gave away her life to live in poverty with those she sought to help. She won the respect of the whole world by doing so.
Nelson Mandela gave away his life by not seeking revenge on those who imprisoned him for much of his life. By doing so he knit together his fractured county and won national praise.
In a spiritual profit and loss statement nothing is as it seems. Up is down; down is up. Rich is poor and poor is rich. People who mourn gain the attention of God and great comfort. The meek, not the powerful are the ones who end up getting the inheritance.
All this is why Jesus said it is necessary to lay down one’s life.
In Jesus’ economy you have to give away everything. But then you get it all back, only better and in greater proportions. That’s some profit and loss statement.