IF ANYONE COMES TO ME AND DOES NOT
I-Bing Cheng, M.D., M.A.
Discipleship is fundamentally a call to
allegiance. Jesus is to have first place over everything and everyone. In the
gospel of Luke, the Lord mentions father, mother, wife, children, brothers,
sisters, and even one's own soul. Nothing else is to be first. Let's read
this passage. Luke 14:26.
Luke 14:26. "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.
I have already commented on
this verse when we studied Luke 14:25-33. Today I would like to come back to
it because I feel that there is much more that can be said. And I am going to
focus on the command 'to hate,' hating father, mother, wife ... 'If you don't
hate your family,' Jesus says, 'You cannot be My disciples.' What does 'hate'
mean here? This is what we are going to explore.
The call to hate
Jesus was speaking to large
crowds of people. They were traveling with Him because they wanted to hear His
teaching. Perhaps many of these followers considered themselves disciples of
this popular teacher. But too often, the call to discipleship attracts people
who are only interested in receiving the great benefits offered by God. And
Jesus was not interested in cheap discipleship. Yes, there are eternal
benefits, but salvation and discipleship involve much more. They involve an
unbelievable cost. Just what does it cost to follow Christ? Well, the first
thing that the Lord said is this. 'If you want to be My disciple, you must
hate your father and your mother.'
These words are very
strong, as you can tell, and they must have created quite a stir among the people.
Interestingly, Jesus made that controversial statement without any
clarification. It is as though He was deliberately driving the crowd away
because He knew that the only people who would stay back in the face of this
kind of saying are people who are drawn by God in search of the truth. Seeing
the growing number of hearers which now surrounded Him, Jesus used this language
to startle them, and impress upon them the difference between a mere interest
in Him and a true adhesion to Him.
The call to hate,
obviously, is not literal. Jesus does not demand actual hatred of one's own
parents. Otherwise, He would be going directly against the fifth commandment
to honor father and mother (Exodus 20:12). One
cannot hate what he honors. The command to love
one's neighbor as oneself as a summation of what
God desires would make no sense either (Luke 10:25-37). And besides, Jesus
taught that the believer is to love even his enemies (Luke 6:27).
Hate: loving less?
Many commentators say that
the 'hating' should be taken as 'loving less.' In support of this interpretation,
they quote Matthew 10:37 where Jesus makes a similar point. The main
difference is that He speaks of 'loving family less' than Him rather than 'hating'
Matthew 10:37. He who loves father or
mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter
more than Me is not worthy of Me.
Father, mother, son and daughter are not to be loved more than Jesus.
Luke 14:26 may thus be expressed in this way. 'If anyone comes to Me, and
does not love his father less than he loves Me ... cannot be My disciple.'
This argument, in my opinion, is not very convincing. From an exegetical
standpoint, we cannot compare directly Luke 14:26 and Matthew 10:37 because
these two passages are not parallels. The context is different and the period
of time in the Lord's teaching is different. Matthew 10:37 was addressed to
the twelve apostles when they were being sent out. This happened in the
middle of Jesus' ministry. Luke 14:26 came from the last part of Jesus'
ministry and it was addressed to the multitudes, not just to the apostles.
And besides, if all that Jesus wanted to say was simply that we need to
love God more and love family less, then the use of the word 'hate' is hardly
the way to convey the idea. If He had 'loving less' in mind (which He expressed
explicitly in Matthew 10:37), He could have just used those terms in Luke
14:36. But He chose to say 'hate.' When you want to teach a person that he
ought to 'love less,' why would you use the word 'hate?' 'Hate' is a much stronger expression and it
can easily be misunderstood.
To hate: an aversion
A safer exegetical method is to see how the Lord Jesus uses the word
'hate' elsewhere in His teaching. Can we find instances in which He also means
'love less'? If He often uses the word 'hate' in the sense of loving less,
then we could say that it is quite likely that it has this meaning in Luke
14:36. What we need to do is to take a concordance and look at the word
when it is used by Jesus.
Here is the list of all the passages (excluding
5:43-44; 6:24; 10:22; 24:9-10.
Luke 1:71; 6:22; 6:27; 16:13;
John 3:20; 7:7; 12:25; 15:18-19; 15:23-25; 17:14.
Let's take just a
couple of examples.
Luke 6:22. "Blessed are you
when men hate you, and ostracize
you, and cast insults at you, and spurn your name as evil, for the sake of
the Son of Man. The world is in opposition
to the disciples. It hates them. It ostracizes them, casts insults at them
and spurns their name as evil. That doesn't sound like 'loving less.'
Luke 21:16-17. But you will be delivered up even by parents and
brothers and relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death, and you will be hated
by all on account of My name. Just
before the end time, there will be an intensification of persecution
throughout the whole world. The world will hate Christ's followers as never
before. As you can see, it is not a matter of being loved less.
I invite you to look at the other verses. You will make the same
observation. When Jesus uses the word 'hate,' it means 'hate,' not 'love
Now, some people who favor the 'love less' view quote OT passages. They say
that 'to love less' is not an uncommon meaning of the word 'hate' in the OT.
The example that is most often given is in Genesis 29:31.
Genesis 29:31. When the Lord saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb; but Rachel
Here Leah is said to be hated. Some commentators explain that Leah was
not properly and simply hated by Jacob, but comparatively. In comparison to
Rachel, Leah was less loved. And they say that it is in that sense that we
are required to hate father and mother in Luke 14.26 where the comparison is
with Christ. We are to love our father and our mother less in comparison to
our love for Jesus.
But is this a valid argument? Can 'hate' take the meaning of 'loving
less' in the OT? The Hebrew word for 'hate,' sane, usually 'expresses an emotional attitude towards persons or
things which are opposed, detested, despised and with which one wishes to
have no contact or relationship. It is therefore the opposite of love'
(Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, #2272). That is why we find in
certain translations the term 'unloved,' ...
the Lord saw that Leah was unloved...
It is true that it can include, to a certain extent, the idea of loving
less, but when you look at the facts of Genesis 29, it seems to me that it is
much stronger than that. There the word 'hated' means 'rejected, disliked,
despised,' and not merely 'less loved.'
This is not hard to understand. Jacob loved Rachel very much and so he
worked seven years for his father-in-law in order to get her. After these
seven years, he thought he had Rachel, but he got tricked by his father-in-law,
Laban, into marrying Leah. When Jacob demanded an
explanation, Laban simply said, 'In our country, it
is not right to marry the younger daughter before the older one.' In that
context, you see why he felt bitterness and frustration towards Leah. He certainly
loved her less. There is truth in that. But it is not just that. It is much
stronger than that. He despised her because she was imposed upon him through
deceit. He was forced to marry her, or he could not have Rachel, the woman he
loved. And Leah complained to God about her rejection. The Lord has heard that I am hated, she said in Genesis 29:33.
The same observation can be applied to Deuteronomy 21:15-17. There Moses
talks about the 'hated one' (sane),
the wife who is 'hated' by her husband.
Deuteronomy 21:15. If a man has two wives, one greatly loved and the
other hated, and the two of them
have had children by him; and if the first son is the child of the hated wife:
16 Then when he gives his property to his sons
for their heritage, he is not to put the son of his loved one in the place of
the first son, the son of the hated
17 But he is to give his first son his birthright, and twice as great a part of his property: for
he is the first-fruits of his strength and the right of the first son is his.
The hating that is referred to here is the aversion a husband has for his
wife. It is not just that he loves her less. Moses used it to state that an
aversion to a wife is no good reason for the husband to disinherit her son as
the firstborn. The firstborn son must be given the double share of the
father's inheritance even though he was the son of his father's hated wife.
Hating and killing
The ultimate manifestation
of hatred is murder. You hate a person to the point of killing him. In Deuteronomy
19:4, we find this relationship between hatred and killing. It discusses the
case of a man who killed somebody without hating him.
Deuteronomy 19:4. And this is the case of the manslayer who flees there, that he may live: Whoever
kills his neighbor unintentionally, not having hated (sane) him in time past.
The wording of this passage
implies that normally you kill when you hate. But sometimes, a person may
kill somebody without hating him previously. What does that mean concretely?
It means that he killed unintentionally. It was an accident. He did not hate
the person. And here in Deuteronomy 19, we find a legal discussion on how to
deal with a person who killed someone he never hated in the past.
So you see, whether it is
Jesus who uses the word 'hate' or whether it is the OT that uses it, there is
little evidence that 'hate' means 'love less.' 'Hate' means 'hate.' It might
appear to have the meaning of loving less sometimes, but when we examine the
context, we always find some form of aversion.
By now, I am sure that some
of you are feeling uncomfortable and you are wondering what I am getting at.
You are probably saying to yourself, 'I don't suppose that you are trying to
tell us that the Lord is teaching us to literally hate our parents.'
Of course not! I explained
the reasons at the beginning of the lesson.
Jesus' language in Luke
14:26 is much sharper than in Matthew 10:37. There is a certain amount of
hyperbole in the passage in Luke, it is true, but its interpretation must not
be watered down till the point is gone. And I don't agree with those who say
that 'to hate' simply means 'to love less.' Jesus deliberately chose the term
'hate' and it is important for us to interpret His declaration without
blunting the force of that word.
Hate: a sacrifice
There is a sense in which the
Lord was speaking from appearances. In that statement, the person appears to
hate those who are supposed to be the closest to him. It seems like he is expressing
hatred in his action. What did he do exactly? He forsook, he sacrificed the
people whom he loved the most - his parents, his children, his siblings,
himself - in order to become a disciple of Christ. So I would like to make
this suggestion. To hate, here, does not mean to love less. It means 'to
offer up to God what you love the most.'
This implies that it is
costing you something. It is very easy to give away what you dislike anyway.
It is very hard to offer up what you love. What makes the Lord's teaching so
hard here is precisely because I love my father, my mother, my children, my
sister and brother, and myself.
You know, under the law of
sacrifice, no animal would be offered to God unless that animal was perfect.
You could not offer a lame animal. You could not offer it if it had so much
as one spot. It had to be absolutely the best. If you offer what is of no
value to you, you have given nothing at all. If you offer what you love, only
then is there a cost to count. Remember that Jesus was speaking about
counting the cost in Luke 14. To count the cost is only necessary when you
offer something that you love dearly.
I would like to illustrate
the meaning of hating what we love by this dramatic OT passage. Genesis
Genesis 22:10. And Abraham stretched
out his hand, and took the knife to slay his son.
It is one thing to claim to believe God's word; it is
quite another thing to obey it. This was the greatest test in the life of
Abraham: he was to sacrifice his son as a burnt offering. God said to him in
v. 2, "Take now your son, your only son
Isaac, whom you love, and
go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of
which I shall tell you."
The test was designed
to prove faith. And for it to be a real test, it had to be something Abraham
would resist. If Isaac did not mean anything to Abraham, offering him up to
God would not have been a problem. But Isaac was his son, 'whom he loved' we
are told. God said, 'You shall offer up Isaac to Me. You shall hate him. You
shall kill Isaac on a mountain that I will point out to you.'
'You shall hate what
you love. You shall kill Isaac.' That is the ultimate expression of hatred.
Here hatred is not so much a feeling. It is an action, the action of putting
someone to death. Outwardly, it seems like Abraham hated his son. You don't
normally kill someone you love, do you? Of course not. But Abraham was
commanded to kill a person he loved. He had to hate what he loved. He had to
offer up his son to God.
Abraham obeyed God's
command to the last extremity. He had his knife in his hand and was about to
give the fatal thrust. But in the nick of time, the angel of the Lord
appeared and said, 'Stop! Do nothing to your son. I now know that you fear
God. You proved that you have faith because you have not withheld your son
from Me.' Abraham showed that he had the full intention of putting his son to
death and this was taken by God as if it was actually done. What a beautiful
picture! This passage portrays an obedient servant worshipping God in faith
at great cost.
And this is what Jesus was
pointing at in Luke 14:26. He was saying, 'I want you to offer up as a
sacrifice to Me what is precious to you, even yourself, in the same way that
Abraham offered up Isaac.' So we are to hate, not in the sense of any
emotion, but in the sense of offering up to God what we value. We are to hate
ourselves in the sense of offering up ourselves to God as a living sacrifice.
Here you recognize the writing of Paul in Romans 12:1. Therefore,
I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living
sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God.
Having Abraham's faith
Basically, Jesus is talking
in Luke 14:26 about faith, about saving faith. He is saying, 'Without faith,
you cannot be My disciple.' How is faith to be expressed? In hating your
father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters and even your own life. In
offering up to God the very thing that you love, as Abraham offered up Isaac,
the son whom he loved.
Understand this. The only
faith that saves is the Abrahamic type of faith in
which one hates what he loves. That is why Abraham is called the father of
the faithful. If you are a spiritual son of Abraham, you have this kind of
faith and you will do what he did. What did he do? At least two NT passages
link Abraham's faith to his willingness to sacrifice his son for God.
Hebrews 11:17. By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac; and he who had received the promises was
offering up his only begotten son.
James 2:21-22. Was not Abraham our father
justified by works when he offered
Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect?
This is exactly what
Jesus is dealing with in Luke 14. 'You must have Abraham's faith. Just as
Abraham hated what he loved, so nobody can be My disciple unless he has
committed himself to hate what he loves.' You love yourself? Give your body
as a living offering to God. You love your parents? Offer that relationship
to God. You love your wife? Do the same thing.
So remember. The
command to hate in Luke 14 means that we are to offer up what we love to God.
If you have Abraham's faith, you will sacrifice everything to God and you
will regard nothing as your personal possession anymore. In that sense, Isaac
was never again Abraham's. He had actually killed Isaac in the sense that in his
heart, he had finished with him. Isaac became the Lord's possession.