Jesus mentions in Luke 14:26 that a disciple of Christ will hate his family. Teenagers today don’t need any more incentive for breaking the fifth commandment (Exodus 20:12), so last time I suggested that Jesus was using a literary form called hyperbole (the use of exaggeration). Jesus does not want us to literally hate our closest relatives, but he does want us to be shaken up so that we might see him in new ways and discover what it means to be his disciples. This can lead to new ways of relating to people, including our own family members.
One general barrier to Christian discipleship is sometimes we have too much attachment to family. I think of my own career development (and of my friends who heard the call of God) to serve in a pastoral ministry or when I answered the call to international missionary service. Family can often use whatever means possible to get their loved ones back on a more suitable or profitable career path (perhaps using intimidation, money, shame). Those called by God will find the courage to be faithful to Christ in spite of parents’ disapproval or lack of support. In a sense, we have to “hate” parents in order to be an obedient disciple of Jesus.
I have seen good church-going parents use the “priority of family time” rationale to get in the way of their teenagers’ spiritual growth. Family time would prevent regular involvement of their kids in Sunday School or youth group. Family vacations kept their teenagers from being part of life-changing mission trips. In some cases, the parents who prized family time so much were the same ones who later blamed the church when their children wandered away from Christ while in college. They graduated high school and graduated God at the same time.
I realize that there are times when parents rightly choose to have their children involved in family events rather than church events. But as a parent, I know how easy it is to choose what feels best for me without considering what’s best for my kids and their spiritual growth. I want to encourage parents to take a fresh look at family relationships in light of their primary commitment to Christ.
Parents can often help their children grow in their discipleship, rather than stand in the way of it. If we model sold out commitment to Christ in our lives, our children will be encouraged to imitate our example. No matter what we say, our actions will speak loudly and clearly of what authentic discipleship is all about.
Application: Can you think of adults whose example of faithfulness to Christ has influenced you? Are there people in your life who are being influenced by your discipleship? Do you ever find a tension between your personal discipleship and your family relationships? Recognize that there may be times when we feel torn. Other times, we know what discipleship requires, but we may not be sure we want to do it. Seek to set an example of faithfulness for your children. Live in such a way that they are encouraged to pursue Jesus above everything else in life.
There are a ton of commands that we find in the Bible; statements that tell us to do this and not do that. The Bible says to love one another (John 13:35, Romans 13:8, Galatians 5:13, 1 Thessalonians 3:12, 4:19, Hebrews 10:24, 1 John 2:7, 3:11, 3:23, 4:7, 2 John 1:5-6), and Jesus said we should even love our enemies (Matthew 5:43-44), so this line always caused me to take a second look at the words of Jesus.
“If you want to be my disciple, you must hate everyone else by comparison, your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26)
Let me begin with a couple of confessions. At first, I am tempted to avoid this verse altogether. I could have easily skipped Luke 14:26, but to do that would have been to dismiss the tugging of the Spirit in my heart.
My next thought is, perhaps I wish Jesus didn’t say what he did in Luke 14:26. Verses like this are so difficult to understand, much less explain. They’re the sort of thing that opponents of Christianity drag out to make Jesus look both contradictory and cruel. It gives teenagers a biblical excuse to hate their parents. The one who told us to love our neighbors and even our enemies now wants us to hate our closest relatives. What sense does this make? To follow Christ is a contradiction and the Bible cannot be trusted to be accurate or true.
How do we make sense of this teaching? If we’re going to be fair in our reading, then we have to be wise interpreters. This means that we recognize when Jesus is speaking hyperbolically. Hyperbole is what we informally call exaggeration. It’s a way of communicating that uses bold overstatement and embellishment.
Hyperbole, which was common among teachers in Jesus’ culture, is not meant to be taken literally. If I say to you that I’m so hungry I could eat a horse, I would be distressed if you actually slaughtered a horse and prepared it for my dinner. What I mean is that I am feeling very, very hungry. So, given everything else he said and did, we can be sure that he was speaking hyperbolically when he said that to be his disciple we have to hate our families and even our own lives.
Yet, there is a danger in identifying hyperbole in the teaching of Jesus. It’s the danger of dismissing both his point and his urgency. If we think to ourselves, “Oh, Jesus didn’t really mean that,” then we run the risk of missing what he wants us to hear. It’s no longer a question of interpretation, but rather an indictment of the state of our hearts. When we encounter a biblical text that is unsettling to us, are we open to hear what God is really saying? Are we willing to have our comfortable life disturbed by the Word of God? Will we let the hyperbole of Jesus shake us up so that we might be more truly and fully his disciples?
Application: Let me encourage you to consider the last three questions when you read Scripture:
- Are you open to understanding the deeper meaning of the words of Jesus?
- Are you willing to make adjustments once you understand them?
- Will you let the hyperbole of Jesus shake you up, and rouse you out of your comfort zone?
God wants not only to instruct me, but also to stir me up, to create within me a crisis of understanding. God wants to break through my defenses and self-serving assumptions. God help us to be wise interpreters of the bible. May we learn to read attentively. May our hearts be open to God and his Word, ready to receive even that which unsettles us.