Luke 14:25-26, “Now great multitudes went with Him. And He turned and said to them, “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”.”
This has always seemed to be a strange passage, for we have always understood Jesus as being the embodiment of love, yet here he seems to ask us to hate those we should love dearly. Maybe the translators went overboard and Jesus really meant something else. But a simple check of the original Greek shows that the word ‘hate’ in this verse is the Greek word ‘miseo’, which always means ‘hate’. There is no way to accurately translate the word as anything else or of lesser import, though some translations do try to soften the impact. This is the same Jesus that tells us to “love our neighbour as yourself”; to “love our enemies”; the same Jesus that fulfilled the Law which commands us to honour our father and mother. Yet in this verse He admonishes us that we cannot be His disciples unless we hate those we would normally have the most closely loving relationships with. In the words of the esteemed Professor Julius Sumner-Miller, “Why is it so?”.
The people Jesus lists in this verse are those with whom we would normally have our closest relationships with, but Jesus is seeking for us to make our relationship with Him to be of greater importance. Those listed in this verse can let us down: parents die, or may treat us badly; a wife can leave; brothers and sisters can turn from you. Yet in Proverbs 18, verse 24 it is written, “A man who has friends must himself be friendly, But there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” Other than Jesus, there is one who we love more than all those others – ourself! Is this not why there is so much anger and strife in the world? Do not marriages break up because either one or both of the spouses love themselves more than their partner? We hear things like, “you don’t fulfil my needs”, or “You don’t care about me”. And much the same can be said about how we view other people as well. Is it also how we treat Jesus?
But Jesus implores us to have a better relationship. In the Old Testament we often see Israel portrayed as a bride, especially in ‘Song of Songs’, often in the Psalms, and also in the Prophets. Through the prophet Hosea, God uses this allegory very strongly, with Hosea’s wife Gomer acting out the role of unfaithful Israel. But Israel is also an allegory for a child of God. Are we, as children of God, or the bride of Christ, capable of the unfaithful adultery portrayed by Gomer to her ever forgiving and loving husband? For in James 4:4 we are admonished with, “Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”
So what makes us spiritual adulterers? Romans 1:24-25 gives us a clue, “Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonour their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.” So when we believe the lie that we are not the beloved children of God, and start to love the physical world more than our Father in heaven, then we have committed adultery against God. Does this mean that the physical world, of which we seem to be a part, is evil, that all flesh is evil? This is the doctrine of Gnosticism where the world, and all that is in it, is so evil that a pure and holy God cannot have anything to do with it, and so only those with the secret knowledge (gnosis) will be shown the way our spiritual beings can leave it behind for its final destruction. But our scriptures tell us that our loving Father who created all things for us says that He “saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good”.
So how should we act? In Ephesians chapter 5 we find the oft-abused verses 22-24, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Saviour of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.” Do we submit to the Lord, or do we seek our own pleasures? To submit means to give up your own desires so as to fulfil the desires of the one to whom you submit.
Continuing the Ephesians 5 discourse, we read in verse 25, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her”. Therefore, it is imperative to ask, “How did Jesus love the church?”. The answer is the last part of the phrase – “gave himself for her”. Jesus laid down his life in love for us.
And that brings us to verses like Revelation 12:11, “ And they overcame him (Satan) by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death.” Although often used in relation to martyrs, and rightly so, it also strongly relates to each of us on a daily basis. Are we prepared to lay down our self-centredness for our spiritual and everlasting Lord? How can we do this? Is there a way of getting practice of putting ourselves to death to the physical without actually dying, so that we may live in Christ?
Strangely enough there is a simple solution. The Lord did not tell us to destroy the earth, or to escape the earth, or even to ignore it; but he did tell us to subdue the earth. Our earth, our bodies, our flesh, our emotions, our thoughts. How can we do this? Simple. We fast. Fasting is how we can concentrate on the things of God and not listen to the demands of our earth. Is it easy? Not at first, but as with most things in life, if it’s of value, practice until you get better at it. Now your fasting of food will subdue your stomach’s earthly desires, but you may also need to fast from your other carnal desires, like money, sex, power or status. All which Jesus spoke of. Thus we can understand why Jesus said that we need to fast and pray when his disciples were confronted with a demon-possessed boy. But the fasting and prayer had to occur before the confrontation.
However, Jesus has made it even easier. For He subdued the earth, and was given dominion, yet He has given all of us His spirit, His life (It is not I that lives, but Christ that lives in me). Therefore, going back to our Ephesians passage, by submitting ourselves to Him, our earth is already subdued. We can enter into His rest.
Therefore, Jesus can say, “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”, for anything else will not allow Jesus to be Lord in your life. Do you want to be one of the crowd, seeking only what Jesus can give you? Or do you want to be a true disciple?