“If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.”
- Luke 14:26
- Some people think this text says we should despise or abandon our family in preference for the Lord and His work.
Is family a detriment to the work of God? Should we hate our families and love the Lord? What is Jesus saying?
Our Principle: Let the Bible interpret itself
A Biblical Background on Hate
Hate is one of the most despicable of human attributes. It is a strange type of emotion, if it is an emotion at all. Hate, like love, transcends mere emotion; it boils over into actions that hurt and destroy the hated and the hater.
Leviticus 19:18 says “‘You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall surely rebuke your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him.” However, in the Old Testament, the word “hate” was used also to mean “loving someone less”.
For example, Leah was “hated” while Rachael was loved by Jacob, in Genesis 29:31. Also, Deuteronomy 21:15 – 17 details property rights for the children of two wives, one of whom is hated, and the other loves. In all these contexts there is no need to assume negative, active hatred against the wife by the husband. What is simply meant is that if one is loved more and the other is loved less, God notices.
In the immediate context of the verse, Jesus had just finished telling the Parable of the Great Supper. A man threw a feast and invited his best friends. Each of them gave an excuse: the first said he had just purchased land, and had to go and inspect it. The second said he had bought oxen and had to test them in the field. Another said he had just married, and was on honeymoon at home. Clearly, all these friends were consumed with their property, domestic and family affairs. When the servant of the man told him what his friends had said, the master asked him to go and bring in the outcasts of society. The blind and lame and maimed were often abandoned by society. They didn’t have family cares and property to keep them from coming to the party. This is the context in which Jesus made the statement.
From the context and the Jewish understanding of hate, it is clear that Jesus’ concern is for people who are so consumed by their personal and domestic affairs that they cannot commit to the work of the kingdom. I myself feel frustrated sometimes when I ask friends to help with some gospel related work and they refuse because the children need to be cared for at home, or the husband must be cooked for, or something else like that. Jesus is saying if we love our families more than him, we cannot follow him. Indeed how can we follow Him if we cannot make the time because of family duties? It is important that He goes on to talk about taking up our crosses to follow him. He is talking clearly about sacrificing dear things for the sake of His work and kingdom.
Consider Jesus words in Matthew 10:37 – He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.
And also in Mark 10:29, 30 – So Jesus answered and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel’s, 30 who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time—houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions—and in the age to come, eternal life.
What About Family Responsibilities?
Does this mean that we should neglect family duties in order to fully commit to the work of the Gospel? Or does it mean we should abandon family altogether? Jesus did not abandon His mother, even on the cross. Peter took his wife with him on missionary journeys (1 Corinthians 9:5). So did the brothers of Jesus, likely including James. Paul similarly make it clear that
“Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” – 1 Timothy 5:8
Believing in Christ and doing his work then does not mean neglecting family. Family members are a gift from God and are to be cherished, but not more so than the gift Giver. However, Jesus was very clear in how he prioritized his family and his mission. When called in by his mother and brothers one day as he was preaching he said:
“He replied, “My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice.” – Luke 8:21
We should also be similarly clear in our minds who and what comes first. In practice we should aim to win our families to the gospel, so they can be a help rather than a hindrance. Take the children along on your evangelistic assignment. Develop your sermons and presentations with your spouse. Lead community Bible studies with your brothers and sisters. Together you will love the Lord, and He will be the most important person in your family.
Until next time, keep studying. Prove all things, and hold fast what is good!
F.F. Bruce. The Hard Sayings of Jesus. 1998. Hodder & Stoughton, London.