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. Luke 14:26
There are times when I read the Gospels and wonder if Jesus didn't just get fed up with people misunderstanding Him, following Him for the wrong reasons, and just plain being silly. The verse above represents one of those times for me. Looking at those words one can only wonder if Jesus had simply had enough and laid into the people who were following Him just to see the next cool miracle. In the previous verse it says that "large crowds were going along with Him; and He turned and said to them, if anyone comes to me..." you know the rest. Clearly Jesus wasn't up to speed on the current trends in mass evangelism and church growth strategies. That's right folks, Jesus used the word "hate" and He said if we don't we can't follow Him. It almost sounds like Jesus didn't want all those people following Him. Hmmmmmm, I wonder.
The fact is, large crowds of shallow followers who just wanted to see the next amazing thing or get the next blessing was never Jesus' goal. He was, and is, after people who will count the cost of following Him, buckle down and go with Him wherever He may lead. After He lays down that track about hating everyone who you're supposed to love the Lord goes on to explain that if we're going to follow Him we had better count the cost and be willing to give up everything for Him. This is a difficult teaching indeed.
To fully understand and better appreciate what Christ is teaching here we have to go back to the verse referenced at the beginning. Jesus is not telling us that we should literally hate our family. That would be utterly contrary to so many things He has already taught us, and will reveal to us through the New Testament. How are we to love God and love our neighbor (the two greatest commandments) and, at the same time, hate our family. That would be ludicrous and that gives us a pretty good idea that Jesus is speaking in hyperbole in Luke 14:26.
The kind of hatred that Jesus is speaking of here is a relative hatred. I understand that I may be making that term up but hear me out. What He is trying to get across to us is that if our love for Him isn't so great and overwhelming that every other love in our life seems like hatred in comparison, we don't love Him enough. Let me see if I can make this more clear. We use the word "love" for many things in our culture; food, games, sports teams, people, etc., etc. If you read one of my recent posts you know that, as far as cars goes, I love Corvettes. Now, if I compared my "love" for Corvettes with the love I have for my wife, my love for Corvettes would pale in comparison to the point that it would look like hatred. This is what Christ is teaching us.
Christ demands to be our first love. He will not accept second place, or even first place by a narrow margin. He wants to win the race for our hearts by a mile. Revelation 2:2-7 paints a clear picture of this truth. In this passage we have the letter John was to write to the church in Ephesus. In first bit of it God is commending the Ephesian church for their perseverance and discernment. He is basically giving them a divine pat on the back and praising them for the things they have gotten very right. However, He says this in verse 4;
But I have this against you, that you have left your first love.
Then He goes on to say that if they do not repent, and return to their first love He will remove their lampstand. In essence, "All those good things don't mean a hill of beans if you don't love Me above all else." Individually, or as churches, we can have all the right doctrine, theology, programs, good works and all of that but if our love of Christ is not the defining characteristic of our identity then it is all for naught.
Our love for the Lord is not something that is expressed only on Sunday morning, or Wednesday evening, or when we are doing a church sponsored service project; it is to be expressed in every part of our life. As with so many other things Christ Himself acts as our example for this kind of love. In Philippians 2 Paul give us some insight into the love of Christ that we are to embody.
Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking on the form of a bond-servant... Philippians 2:5-7.
I would be willing to bet that Christ was quite comfortable seated at the right hand of God being the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. However, His love for us was so complete that He was willing to empty Himself, lay aside all of those royal privileges and become a man for our sake. A good leader does not merely order those underneath him or her to do difficult things, they lead by doing the difficult things before their followers. If Christ demands our ultimate love then we can rest assured that He has paved the way, by example, in what that love is supposed to look like. If this incredible example of total love does not motivate us to return it, then I do not know what will.
Friends, Christ will not settle for partial love. He doesn't want to work out a visitation deal in a custody battle. He wants our heart, soul, and mind, our total being. If we are only willing to offer a portion of ourselves to Him we are not willing to follow Him at all. As we draw near to the celebration of the first coming of Christ let us remember the total and complete love that He showed us by becoming one of us and let us strive to return that love to Him.