Counting the Cost

What did your Bible cost?   A Bible’s price-tag varies widely depending on the ‘features’ you chose.   A paperback Bible costs as little as $0.75, while many kindle editions are free.   But if you want leather, wide margins, copious study notes, and niche devotional add-ons, you will pay more.  Of course, if your only concern is the text, the American Bible Society or the Gideons International will give you a free Bible.   In 2019, the Gideons placed 81 million free Bibles in hotels, hospitals, prisons, and schools.  They have placed over 2 billion free bibles since the 1950s.

The Bible is the best-selling book of all time.  Annual sales of all versions of the Bible routinely top $425 million.  In fact, the Bible is excluded from lists of “best-sellers” because it would always be at the top.   The average American owns nine Bibles and plans to purchase another.  But the cost of your Bible should be measured by more than its price-tag.  Perhaps a more meaningful way to think about its cost is to consider the personal cost of those who make it available to us.

The prophets and apostles, through whom the inspired word was given, were ruthlessly persecuted and many martyred.    The great hall of faith in Hebrews 11 gives a shocking account of the lives of faithful prophets.

Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.

Hebrews 11:35-38

Early church history chronicled the martyrdom of the apostles.   And likewise, many who labored to preserve God’s Word through transmission, translation, and distribution suffered great personal cost.   Reformers such as John Wycliff and William Tyndale, paid dearly for the ‘high crime’ of translating the Bible into English.   When warned by one of his persecutors, Tyndale famously said.  “If God spare my life, before very long I shall cause a plough boy to know the scriptures better than you.”  Tyndale was hunted down and burned at the stake.  

But persecution is not a thing of the past.  The Bible costs many their lives every year.  North Korea routinely imprisons and executes those who distribute, or even own, a Bible.  And despite the fact that China works tirelessly to suppress both online and print Bible distribution, half of the world’s Bibles are printed there.   Your Bible was probably made in China by someone who would face imprisonment for owning what they made for you.    What did your Bible cost?  Much more than you realize.

God’s Word cost Jeremiah everything.   Four decades of preaching fell on deaf ears.  No one listened.  No one responded.  He was not allowed to marry.   Forbidden to be a part of the life of the community.  He was hunted by the authorities and hated by his own friends and family.   He had no one to support him in his own grief over the judgment coming upon his people.   He was beaten and imprisoned, called a traitor.  His only refuge was the Lord, but even the Lord often seemed distant.   The cost of just one of the Bible’s sixty-six books is incalculable.   But Jeremiah is not the only one who paid the price.

His scribe, Baruch, paid dearly as well.     Well-educated and well-connected, Baruch’s career prospects had been excellent.  His grandfather, Mahseiah, had been the governor and his brother, Seraiah, was a high-ranking official in Zedekiah’s administration.  He was no nameless assistant.   The King knew his name.  But the King also had his number.   Baruch’s call to assist Jeremiah in bringing God’s Word to the people cost him.  

He shared all the sorrows of the prophet.    He wrote Jeremiah’s words.  And when Zedekiah destroyed his painstaking work, wrote them again.   When Jeremiah was banned from the Temple, Baruch delivered the prophet’s banned message to the people.   When Jeremiah went into hiding, Baruch went into hiding.  When Jeremiah was cast into prison, Baruch was cast into prison.  When Jeremiah was abducted and carried to Egypt, Baruch was abducted.   And when Jeremiah warns the remnant not to go to Egypt, Baruch is accused of treachery.  

As the cost of God’s Word grew in his life, Baruch struggled.   And in Jeremiah 45 we see inner conflict boil over into complaint and accusation.  The cost of following Christ is high.   And often disappointing at times.  In the introduction to his book, The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer famously observed that “when Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”  Baruch was struggling with God’s call “to come and die.”   What about you? 

So the question is not, ‘what did your Bible cost,’ but ‘what does your Bible cost?’  As with Baruch, your Bible grows more costly every time you open it.  It asks, “how far will you follow?”   In Luke 9 Jesus challenges three would-be disciples with this question.  How far will you follow me?  Through what adversity?  Through what difficulty?  Jesus concluded these encounters with a startling statement. “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”  

We are warned to count the cost and to follow.   The struggle is real.  It was real for Baruch.  It is real for you.   But we do not struggle alone.   God spoke to Baruch through the voice of the prophet.   And in the same way, God speaks to us through Baruch’s experience as we face crises of belief and struggle counting the cost of following Christ.   

Join us this Lord’s as we examine Jeremiah 45 and consider the calling, the care, and the comfort of God’s Word when we experience a crisis of belief.  We meet from 5:00 – 6:30 pm in The Commons at St. Andrews Anglican Church at 8300 Kanis Rd in Little Rock for worship.  Get directions here or contact us for more info.    You can also join us on Facebook Live @RiverCityARP.