Hate Your Family


Week of May 19, 2019

The Point: Loving Jesus should be so intense it makes everything else look like hate.

The Cost of Discipleship: Luke 14:25-35.

[25] Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, [26] “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. [27] Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. [28] For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? [29] Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, [30] saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ [31] Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? [32] And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. [33] So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple. [34] “Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? [35] It is of no use either for the soil or for the manure pile. It is thrown away. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” [ESV]

“The Cruciform Life [14:25-35]. Jesus tells us in advance how much it will cost us to follow Him to the very end. Even before we come to faith in Christ, He calls us to count the true cost of Christian discipleship, which demands us to love Him more than anything else in the world and to carry the cross of our own sacrificial love. Never was this accounting more important than when Jesus was rising to the height of His popularity. Luke tells us that great crowds accompanied him [14:25]. Some of these multitudes wanted to see more of His miracles or hear more of His teaching, but many of them were just following the crowd. The atmosphere was electric, and people wanted to get in on the excitement. Jesus was there to do something more than make people curious, however: He was calling them to make a commitment. So Jesus turned around and told His followers – three times – that unless they met His strict criteria, they could never be His disciples. If people wanted to follow Him, they had to hate their families [14:26], carry their crosses [14:27], and count the cost [14:28-33].

Hate your Family [14:26] Jesus had given many generous invitations to come into His kingdom, but now He was making sure people knew how much it would cost them to enter. Telling people to hate what they love is hardly the way to become more popular, and Jesus knew this demand would have exactly the opposite effect. Rather than increasing the number of His followers, such a confrontational statement would cause many of them to walk away. But Jesus was not looking for spectators; He was calling for recruits, and He knew that the only disciples who would go the distance with Him were the ones who had counted the cost. What Jesus said about hating our families is hard to accept and often has been misunderstood. Was Jesus really tearing down all the natural ties that we have in this life? If not, then what was Jesus really doing? We should not understand what Jesus said about hating our families and even our very own lives in any way that contradicts the rest of the teaching of Scripture. It cannot contradict the fifth commandment, which tells us to honor our fathers and mothers [Ex. 20:12] – a commandment that Jesus Himself defended against the impieties of the Pharisees [Mark 7:9-13]. Nor can it contradict Christ’s own command to love as He loved us [John 13:34], to love our neighbor as ourselves [Matt. 22:39], and even to love our enemies [Luke 6:27]. More than anyone else, Jesus taught us to love. So what does Jesus mean when He tells us to hate our families? According to Scottish theologian Thomas Boston, He means that “no man can be a true disciple of Christ, to whom Christ is not dearer than what is dearest to him in the world.” Here it is important to understand that the Bible sometimes uses the absolute language of hatred to express a comparative degree of affection. A notable example comes from the book of Genesis, where Jacob is said to have loved Rachel more than Leah [Gen. 29:30]. Yet in the very next verse the Scripture says that Leah was hated [29:31]. To “hate” in this sense is to have a preferential affection. It is to love one thing more than another, so that if it comes down to a choice, there is no doubt as to which affection we will choose [cf. Matt. 6:24]. To hate is to give second place to, and if need be to let go, all else. Love for Christ is the true disciple’s only ultimate loyalty. Here Jesus takes our dearest affections and says that He must mean more to us than anything else in the world. He must mean more to us than our daily work, however much time we give to it; more than our pleasures, however much we enjoy them; and more than life itself, however dearly we hold to it. Jesus must also mean more to us than our own families, however much we love them. There are times when our love for our families can get in the way of our love for Jesus Christ. It does this when we let our parents discourage us from making a more complete commitment to Christ. It does this when a marriage turns inward instead of outward to serve others out of the strength of a godly partnership, or when we have an idolatrous attachment to our children and their activities, with little time left over to show mercy or share the gospel. Jesus is not telling us to neglect the responsibility we have to care for our families (any more than He is telling us to loathe our own existence). Even when we “hate” our families in the biblical sense, we still have to love them. But Jesus is telling us not to let the claims that our families make on us interfere with the claims that He makes on us. Many temptations come with focusing on our family, and our love for Jesus must take precedence over everything else – even life itself. For some Christians this will mean going against the family religion to be baptized as a believer in Jesus Christ, even if they are disowned. This is a trial new Christians face in many hard places of the world. For some it will merely mean resisting the subtle pressure to pursue worldly success. But whenever we face a choice between doing what our families want (or what we want) and what Jesus wants, our supreme affection must be for Christ alone. It is really only then that we are able to love our families in the right and best way – not for ourselves and our own benefit, but for God and His glory. A true disciple “hates” his family, loving Jesus more than anything else he loves in this world. Unless Jesus is our highest affection, we cannot be His disciples.

Carrying Our Cross [14:27]. To show how serious He was about hating our very lives, Jesus gave a second criterion for true Christian discipleship: Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple [14:27]. To follow Jesus is to carry our cross. What did cross-bearing mean to the first disciples? Even before Jesus was crucified, they would have recognized the cross as a symbol of rejection, humiliation, and excruciating pain. Crucifixion was the most gruesome form of execution in the Roman world, a death penalty reserved for traitors, criminals, and slaves. To see a man carrying his cross was to see a man going to die the worst of all possible deaths. The disciples knew this, but they did not yet understand that Jesus was going to die this kind of death. He had been trying to tell them, of course. He had told them that He would suffer many things, and that He would be rejected and killed [9:22]. He had also told them that if they wanted to follow Him, they would have to carry their crosses every day, laying their lives down for Him [9:23-24]. Jesus Himself was walking in the way of the cross, and anyone who wanted to follow Him would have to walk that way too, suffering for Him. This was especially true for the first disciples, who suffered when Jesus died, and in most cases later died a suffering death for His sake. Yet cross-bearing is for any and every disciple. This is the way we live and die for Jesus because it is the way that He lived and died for us. The very image of cross-bearing reminds us that we have given up any claim to our own lives, and are now prepared to face any kind of suffering, up to and including martyrdom. Today it is not uncommon to hear people say, “Well, I guess that is just my cross to bear,” Usually people who say this are talking about some ongoing medical, financial, or relational burden they have to carry through life. But not all of our burdens are crosses in the biblical sense, and to talk this way may have the unintended effect of minimizing the Christian’s true cross. The New Testament scholar Norval Geldenhuys is emphatic on this point: “The general idea that these words of Jesus about ‘bearing the cross’ refer to passive submission to all kinds of afflictions, like disappointments, pain, sickness and grief that come upon man in this life, is totally wrong. The people to whom Jesus spoke those words fully realized that He meant thereby that whosoever desires to follow Him must be willing to hate his own life and even to be crucified by the Roman authorities for the sake of his fidelity to Him” (The Gospel Of Luke, p. 398). In other words, cross-bearing is a particular kind of suffering: it is the suffering we endure for the very reason that we are followers of Jesus Christ. Taking up our cross means the acceptance of all sacrifice, suffering, persecution experienced in the whole-hearted following of Jesus, and not just ordinary suffering. Cross-bearing therefore includes any form of persecution. Whenever we are disrespected at school, or disadvantaged at work, or disowned by our families because we take a strong stand for Christ, we are bearing His cross. Whenever we face the spiritual and other hardships that come with whatever ministry we are doing in the name of Christ, we are bearing His cross. We are also bearing His cross whenever we share the sufferings of others because we love them for Jesus’ sake. Jesus says that unless we bear these kinds of crosses, we cannot be His disciples. The exclusion He makes is absolute because a cross-bearing disciple is the only kind of disciple there is. If we claim to follow Jesus Christ as Lord, then our lives must be patterned after the cross where He died for our sins. Therefore, the first question any would-be disciple needs to ask is, Am I willing to die with Jesus and for Jesus, just as He was willing to die on the cross for me? Because if I am not willing to die for Jesus, then I am not ready to live for Him either – not in the way He calls me to live. The Christian community is cruciform; it is cross-shaped. Because of our connection to Christ, our lives will be marked by the sufferings of the cross. This is the same pattern we follow in our own Christian experience. The life of discipleship is also cruciform. As we follow Christ, our lives are conformed to the pattern of Jesus and His sacrifice. Rather than living for ourselves, we lay down our lives for others, giving them our time, our help, our service, our sympathy, and our charity. Jesus has given His life for us; now we give our lives to Him by serving in sacrificial love.

Renouncing Everything You Have [14:28-33]. It is very costly to follow Jesus in the true way of discipleship. It means releasing our claim on the things we love the most and carrying a cross of suffering and pain. We must count this cost very carefully. Jesus gives many warm and gracious invitations to come to Him for salvation. Indeed, what Jesus says here about costly, cross-bearing discipleship follows immediately after His parable of the great banquet with its emphasis on the free and gracious offer of the gospel [14:21-23]. But before we decide to follow Jesus, we need to know exactly what we are getting into. Salvation by grace is free, but following Him will cost us everything we have. Unless we count this cost before we begin to pay it, we will never reach the goal of our salvation. In order to help His disciples calculate the cost of following Him, Jesus gave them two examples from daily life. His first example came from the building trade [14:28-30]. There is no sense starting a project – especially a big project that requires a strong foundation, like a tower – unless one has the resources to finish it. Jesus wanted to make sure that we do not make the same mistake in the Christian life. It will cost us everything to follow Him, so before we begin, we need to sit down and decide whether we can pay that price. Jesus then took a second example from the ancient and expensive art of war [14:31-32]. Like the parable of the unfinished tower, the parable of the two kings warns us to count the cost. Only this time what Jesus calls us to consider is not the cost of discipleship, but the cost of non-discipleship. Verse 31 encourages us to see things from the perspective of the weaker king, who is about to be invaded, and perhaps also to connect the stronger king with the person of God Himself. Faced with the threat of a superior army, the weaker party should consider his resources carefully before deciding to defend himself. According to verse 32, he should also consider the consequences of inaction, and choose instead to sue for peace and settle terms with his opponent. Can we afford to follow Jesus?, the first parable asks. To which the second parable offers a rejoinder: Can we afford not to? Jesus calls us to do some careful reckoning before we decide to follow Him. What He requires is nothing less than the total surrender of all that we are and have. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple [14:33]. Here is a third statement of complete exclusion. Unless we “hate” our families, carry our crosses, and count the cost to renounce our right to everything we have, we cannot be His disciples. A disciple who has renounced everything to follow Jesus is the only kind of disciple there is. It may well be that Jesus will want us to keep some of what we have in order to use it for His glory. But if Jesus calls us to do it, we must be ready to give up anything and everything for Him. This is what it means to count the cost. Have you counted the cost to follow Jesus? Many Christians give up precious little for Jesus, especially those of us who enjoy abundant material prosperity in the United States. How tempting it is to treat Christianity as a religious justification for doing what we already do, and how tempting it is to hold on to what we want in life and refuse to let God have it – our money, time, possessions, relationships, and ambitions, even the wounds we lick to nourish our self-pity. What are you clutching that is keeping you from following Jesus the way He demands to be followed? Jesus calls us to renounce everything for Him, and then to receive back from Him whatever He wants us to have. Once I have given Jesus my family, my life, and my all, what else is left? Only the life that Jesus wants me to have, the way He wants me to have it. Know this: the Savior who calls us to do this is the very Savior who counted the cost of His own obedience. Jesus knew that He would be betrayed. He knew that He would suffer and die a God-forsaken death. Long before He ever went to the cross, Jesus had counted the cost and determined that He would pay it for our salvation. Jesus set His face toward Jerusalem [9:51]. He determined to continue on His way until He finished His work [13:33] – which He did, the agony of His body and soul. Now Jesus rightly calls us to imitate Him in our discipleship, giving up everything to follow Him.

Being Worth Our Salt [14:34-35]. If we are not committed disciples of Jesus Christ, then we are of no spiritual use. This is the point of the miniparable that Jesus gave to close this discourse [14:34-35]. Jesus used this expression, he who has ears to hear, let him hear, when He wanted people to pay attention to something important. What is important here is that unless we follow Jesus in the true way of Christian discipleship, we are worthless to the kingdom of God – as worthless as salt that isn’t even salty. Salt has many useful purposes, unless it is salty, however, it is not good for anything at all. This is a surprising image because the very essence of salt is to be salty. How can salt possibly lose its taste, and still be salt? This could never happen to pure sodium chloride, or course, but it could happen to the kind of salt that Jesus used. When people “passed the salt” in those days, it was an impure chemical compound produced by the evaporation of saltwater from the Dead Sea – sodium chloride mixed with other crystals. Thus it was possible for the salt to leach out of the compound, and when this happened, what was left was completely useless. There was nothing that anyone could do with it; it was not even good enough to use for fertilizer. What Jesus said about salt that isn’t salty can also be said of a disciple who is not really a disciple. In the same way that salt has to be salty in order to be salt, so also a disciple has to be a disciple in order to be a disciple! This means being a disciple in the biblical sense: a hating-your-family, carrying-your-cross, renouncing-everything-for-Jesus disciple. A disciple who does not love Jesus more than anything else he loves is not His disciple. A disciple who does not carry his cross in daily death to self is not His disciple. A disciple who does not give everything over to Jesus is not His disciple. However extreme this may sound, it is Jesus Himself who says that unless we do these things, we cannot be His disciples. Be worth your salt in the kingdom of God. Live a life of useful Christian discipleship. Let your love for Jesus grow stronger, surpassing all other affections. Make self-renouncing sacrifices for the glory of God. Conform your life to the cruciform pattern of Christian discipleship. If the cross is the only pattern for our discipleship, then every Christian has a cross-shaped life. Jesus tells us to count the cost of living this kind of life at the very beginning. Then He calls us to keep living it to the very end, so that when the time finally comes for us to die, we will be ready, because we have been laying down our lives for Jesus all life long.” [Ryken, pp. 88-100].

Questions for Discussion: 

  1. Jesus, in this passage, gives three criteria for becoming His disciples. If people wanted to follow Him, they had to hate their families [14:26], carry their crosses [14:27], and count the cost [14:28-33]. What did Jesus mean by each of these three criteria? What do they mean to you personally as you seek to be His disciple? How do you put these criteria into practice in your daily Christian walk?
  2. Once again in this passage we see the importance of the hermeneutic that Scripture interprets Scripture. We must compare the teaching of one passage with the teachings of Scripture in other passages. How does this practice help us in understanding what Jesus meant by “hating your family”, “carrying your cross”, and “counting the cost?”
  3. Ryken writes: “Salvation by grace is free, but following Him will cost us everything we have.” What do you think about that statement? Many of us were probably introduced to the gospel with an emphasis on only the first part of that statement: the free offer of grace. Have you given thought to the second part of that statement as you seek to live your life for God’s glory? Have you experienced your salvation costing you “everything”? Are you ready to follow Jesus’ words in order to be His disciple: any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple?


Luke 9:51 – 24:53, Darrell Bock, BENT, Baker.

The Gospel According to Luke, James Edwards, Eerdmans.

Luke, David Garland, Zondervan (ebook).

Luke, vol. 2, Philip Ryken, REC, P & R Publishers.

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