According to TMZ, Justin Bieber has been receiving counselling from Hillsong Church, and part of that advice involved cutting ties with friends who were deemed bad influences.
This apparently led to the Canadian pop star unfollowing the boxing champion Floyd Mayweather ahead of his superfight with Conor McGregor on Instagram. Apparently it was part of Bieber's 'boundary reset'. TMZ went on to say that Mayweather was furious at Bieber, labeling him a 'traitor' (which seems a bit much, given all Bieber did was press a button on a smartphone app...)
It should be stated that the story on TMZ came from a single unnamed source. It may not be true. But whether this particular story in the ongoing saga of Justin Bieber's Christian faith is true or not, it raises an interesting question about the true cost of discipleship - should we cut off people for the sake of our spiritual growth?
The answer is yes, I’m afraid so. The cost of discipleship is the mandatory price that has to be made if a person wants to follow Christ, and Jesus himself said in Matthew 16:24: "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me."
This is something Jesus reiterates throughout the gospel. Every believer - no matter their background or position in society - will be required to give up at least someone or something for the sake of the gospel.
Growing up in church I was always fearful of the verse which says: "And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell" (Matthew 5:30).
It was only many years later that I learned through the grace of God that this verse was not meant to be taken literally!
Yet there are many things which can stop us from entering into the Kingdom of God. Firstly ourselves (we're often our own worst enemy).
The young rich ruler (Matthew 19:16-22) is a classic example of the cost of discipleship. He loved his wealth, and the stark realisation that he had to give it up in order for him to have treasure in heaven caused him great sadness.
This is not to say that you can't be rich and serve God. After all, Abraham, David and Joseph are a few examples of men of God who had great wealth. But God wants us to have the same mindset as Job. If you have possessions, you should praise God, and if you don't have possessions, you should still praise God (Job 1:21).
The people we associate with, regardless of the nature of the relationship, can hinder our own salvation if we’re not careful. We see this in Acts 13:7 where Elymas the sorcerer was struck with temporary blindness because he tried to stop the Proconsul Sergius Paulus from hearing the word of God. Samson’s relationship with Delilah is another example of how those closest to us can sometimes be determined to turn our heart away from God, and Satan will use any and every trick in the book to manipulate those closest to us in order to achieve this.
The cost of discipleship involves giving up what we used to love before we came to know God. There will always be earthly issues that will get in the way of us following Christ, and if we are to be his disciples, we need to prioritise the gospel because the enemy is very cunning, and he knows that whatever you replace God with (money, career, family etc), becomes your god.
The Christian walk isn’t an easy walk. In fact it is the hardest walk on earth. Jesus said: “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you” (John 15:20). We see this scripture played out to this day, as many believers from strict Muslim backgrounds for example, have had to flee from their families for fear of torture and even death. For some of us, we literally have to give up everything we have in order to follow Christ (Matthew 19:27).
Bieber's sacrifice, by contrast isn't as stark. But (if true) it will still be painful. Mayweather himself (not to mention the press) probably won't understand Bieber's reasons. But the young popstar is choosing to put his friendship with Jesus before any earthly relationship. And that's something we Christians should be applauding him for.
Ultimately, we should all rest in Christ's promise that "everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or property, for my sake, will receive a hundred times as much in return and will inherit eternal life" (Matthew 19:29).
Andrew Hamilton-Thomas is a social commentator, aspiring political journalist and co-presenter for a weekly Christian radio show - The Genesis Show