“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.”- Jesus, Luke 14:26 (ESV)
In the course of His time on Earth, Jesus said some pretty crazy things. Of these “hard sayings,” though, none seems quite as confusing- or as offensive- as the one that heads this post.
“Hate my family, Jesus? Seriously?”
Most of us read this command and react initially in shock, dismissing Jesus’ words as the ramblings of a religious fanatic who is thoroughly out of touch with reality. While this may be understandable, to do so would be a massive mistake. Rather than pushing away from the table in the face of Jesus’ words, we must instead lean in and engage Jesus on this matter, asking the question, “What’s behind this command? What is Jesus really getting at here?”
As we do that, digging beneath the surface of this seemingly extreme instruction, what we find is that Jesus, in giving it, is providing us with a warning about a grave but subtle danger regarding relationships, and in turn offering us one of the practically freeing principles available to us as His people.
You see, Jesus is using hyperbolic language here to speak to the issue of what is ultimate in our hearts, minds, and lives- in short, what we treat as our god. And in doing so, He is telling us that as much as we are to love people, care for people, and build healthy relationships with people, we should never, under any circumstances, make the crippling choice to worship people.
Magnifying people- that is, making another person the absolute most important thing in your life- actually sets the stage for wrecked relationships. It is a tremendous irony, but putting someone on a godlike pedestal in your heart is actually one of the most unloving things you can do for them. Why? The reason is actually pretty simple- Because there is not a person in this world who can bear the weight of being your god. It isn’t their fault; they simply weren’t created by God to fulfill that role.
When we magnify people, we do incredible damage in four specific ways…
- We rob ourselves of individual identity
We believe the lie that our worth, value, and dignity is intertwined in others’ opinions of us and relationship to us, that outside of being someone to someone else, there is no true “us.” This deception that others can somehow “complete us” ignores the reality that we have inherent worth, value, and dignity simply because God has created us in His image, for a relationship with Him.
- We create crushing expectations of others
Everyone- everyone– will eventually disappoint you in some way, and the higher you have elevated that person in your heart, the harder that disappointment will fall on you. Unfortunately, those whom we first idolize, we often later demonize when they fall short of the unfair expectations we have placed on them. One of the fastest ways to squeeze the life of a relationship is to remove from another person the permission to fail.
- We are motivated to exclude and even abuse others.
If your identity is intimately tied up in another person or relationship, you will have no choice but to seek out and destroy any and all perceived threats to the security of that connection. Hear me well- It is important to love, provide for, and protect those whom God has placed closest to you, but be careful not to allow those good things to lead to justify neglecting or mistreating others.
- We devalue and displace God.
As with all forms of idolatry, or false worship, the ultimate offense is against God Himself. To remove God from His rightful role in our lives, and replace Him with another person, is to commit an act of cosmic treason, of ultimate betrayal. It results in a trade of ultimate joy in our Creator for ultimate judgment from our Creator. Though the ripple effects of magnifying people are many, in the end it is ultimately comes back to a fracture between us and the One who made us for Himself.
So then, if Jesus isn’t actually telling us to “hate our families”- a command which, if taken literally, would directly contradict others in God’s revealed Word- what is He telling us to do? How can we love people well, recognizing their great value in our lives while maintaining a rightly ordered heart that worships God and God alone? To do so, we must build every human relationship we have on the foundation of a right relationship with God.
When we love God supremely, and allow our love for others to flow out of this “first love,” we actually set the stage for the richest, most resilient relationships we could ever know. Why? Because the only way to learn how to really love others is to be loved– and in Jesus, we have been loved perfectly! Recognizing the amazing grace of God toward you in the face of your failings equips you with a deep well of grace from which to draw and give to others when they inevitably fail you.
What’s more, when you have tasted the perfect love of God in Jesus, that ache for something ultimate is satisfied, and you no longer need others to be your functional god. This is incredibly freeing, enabling you to love others radically even in the face of their inadequacies, because you no longer need them to fulfill a need that they were never equipped to fulfill in the first place. No matter how many times others fail you, Jesus never will, and the more you come to recognize and live in light of that powerful truth, the more pressure and tension will be released from your human relationships.
This week, I implore you- Let God alone be God, and let people be people. Love Him first and most, and in so doing, you will be given more grace to love them than you could ever muster up for yourself. Go ahead and “hate” your Momma this week, because as Jesus defines it, it could be one of the most loving things you’ll ever do.