Jesus says I must hate my family
Luke 14:26 Jesus said to them, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”
Talk about setting the bar high! If we want to be disciples of Jesus we must hate the very people who brought us into the world, who raised us, whom we are most likely closest to, whom we no doubt love, cherish and care for. Who would want to follow Jesus if that is what is required?
Hate doesn’t seem like the sort of thing Jesus was about anyway. God is love, right? Jesus healed the sick, befriended the outcast, loved the lonely, died for sinners. So what does he mean?
Understanding the Bible rule #1 is not to take verses out of context. And to be fair in this case we can see in verses 14:26-33 that Jesus said these challenging words in the context of the cost or sacrifice that is required in Christian discipleship. Jesus isn’t telling his listeners that they should be mean or nasty to their family – that would seem to contradict the 10 commandments that say “Honour your father and your mother” (Exodus 20:12). Jesus’ words on the surface definitely seem to contradict 1 John 4:20 which says “If anyone says ‘I love God’ and hates his brother, he is a liar, for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” Hating in the language and culture of the day was an expression commonly used to mean loving less. Therefore what Jesus was really saying is that nobody could be a true disciple if they love anything or anybody more than him. Hating our family in the context of the cost of discipleship means we don’t despise our family but that there’s no way our family or anything else should matter more than following Jesus Christ.
However, I don’t think that makes the verse any less challenging unfortunately. Famous writer Mark Twain once said “It isn’t the parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.” This is a great example. If Jesus is saying that following him must take priority over any earthly relationship that doesn’t make putting it into practice any easier!
It may be quite hard for us to relate to such a cost being made to follow Christ. But for many Christians around the world, Jesus’ words in this verse are a challenging reality. For many, in countries where other religions are the cultural norm, there is shame and stigma attached to those who convert to Christianity. By rejecting the faith of their family and wider society, they risk being thrown out of their home and being abandoned by their closest relatives. In such countries, the church, secretly meeting for worship and fellowship, becomes a family is a whole new real and effective way.
It’s not that those Christians don’t love their family, but that giving up that close relationship is part of the sacrifice that is made in order to pursue a relationship richer and greater than any earthly relationship, with God himself.
Closer to home we know that sometimes our choice to live for God can result in difficulty amongst our own friends and family, as we are mocked or scorned for the things we say and the lifestyle decisions we make. But Jesus never promised it would be easy, just that his Holy Spirit would be with us (John 15:20, 26).
Do not think that Jesus’ instruction in this verse is giving you the freedom to argue, fight and be nasty to your brothers or sisters or your parents, even if they aren’t Christians. But sometimes we have to be wise to at the same time obey God and obey our parents, particularly if they don’t share our faith. In Ephesians 6 (verses 1-9), Colossians 3 (verses 18-23) and on other occasions as well, Paul writes to his readers to respect those over us, parents, masters, officials and to submit to their authority. By respectfully obeying them, we are actively serving God, if we do this with the right motivation. This isn’t a lived-out hate but love.
We know that the two most important commandments are this: to love God, and to love our neighbour. When Jesus tells us to we must hate our family, it is not because our family are deserving of being treated badly, but because nothing must come between us and Him. No money, job, house or relationship should hold us back from the one who holds the words of eternal life (John 6:68). It’s not easy, and on the surface it seems harsh, but ultimately why would we let anything else get in the way!