Question: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26). Can you help me with the “hate” part of this?
Answer: We know that Jesus wants us to love our family. Jesus loved his mother enough to entrust her to his disciple John (John 19:25-27). His apostles have taught us to love our families (for example, Ephesians 5:25). So Jesus must be speaking in a purposely exaggerated way to make a point. He said it another way on another occasion:
Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. (Matthew 10:37)
Jesus wants his disciples to understand that living for God and His kingdom is more important than anything, including any relationships. Now living for God and His kingdom, as we saw above, includes loving your family. But there are people who have chosen to reject God because their family members didn’t want them to become believers (think of conversion to Christianity among Muslims). And there are times when we mistakenly think that focusing on our family instead of God will actually help our family when just the opposite is true (think of those who won’t take their kids to church just because they say, “I don’t want to go.”).
To be sure people can abuse this principal in the opposite way. A pastor can think that he must spend all his time at the church helping parishioners and yet neglects his family. But Jesus is not addressing that issue here. He is addressing the issue of how much commitment is required to follow him. In the very next sentence in the Luke 14 passage he says, “And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”
We have to love him more than our own lives, as well. Knowing God is the most important thing in our lives. Nothing can eclipse it without endangering our souls. No other reality can make us the persons we need to be in order to love our families and make a positive difference in the world. This one commitment must trump all others or we will fail to be the people God created us to be.