If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26).
Yeshua spoke those words to “great multitudes” who were following him as he traveled about and ministered. The passage begins a section that admonishes all who would follow Jesus to count the cost. It is as though Jesus were purposely trying to keep his following from becoming a mass movement. He was not interested in gathering hordes who had been attracted by curiosity or a desire to be part of the “in crowd”—part of the action. Jesus obviously was looking for those who were willing to make a radical commitment.
In my Bible, the word “hate” in the above passage is footnoted. The explanation at the bottom of the page reads: “i.e., by comparison of his love for me.” Obviously the footnote was intended to prevent the reader from mistakenly concluding that Jesus was contradicting the Fifth Commandment to honor one’s father and mother. I agree with the editors, inasmuch as I believe that Yeshua meant to draw a comparison between the intensity of our love for him and our love for anyone else. But the question arises, “How much more are we to love Jesus than anyone else?”
As a new believer, I heard it explained that so long as we loved Jesus more than anyone else, it was sufficient. That made sense to me, and at first it seemed easy enough for me to live up to it. I was wrong. It is not that easy. I found that the depth of love and commitment God requires is far above merely loving him more than we love anyone else. The commitment God requires sometimes really does make our love for others seem like hate.
In the ten years that I have known the Lord, he has blessed me in ways too numerous to list. However, with each blessing, my love for others and my love for God have come face to face. Two of the “bigger” blessings that God brought into my life were attending Bible college and serving as a missionary with Jews for Jesus. In each of these situations, I found my love for my mother and father seemingly pitted against my love and commitment to God.
For three years prior to my attending Bible college, I worked in the U.S. headquarters of the North Africa Mission at Upper Darby, Pennsylvania. Toward the end of the third year, two great blessings came into my life. First, my wife Cynthia informed me that she had the “Egyptian flu”—in nine months she would become a “mummy.” Shortly after Cynthia’s news, I received an offer from some friends to pay my tuition at Bible college. Needless to say, I was delighted over both of those blessings. Then came the conflict!
I am the youngest of three boys, and at that time my parents’ only grandchild lived far away in Los Angeles. My parents, especially my mother, are avid grandparents, and being so far from their first grandson grieved them. When I told them that Cynthia and I were expecting a child, my mom was ecstatic. Not only would she soon have another grandchild to spoil and show off, but this one would live close by, within easy driving distance of their home in New York City. At last, she and my father would have the pleasure of seeing a grandchild grow and mature on a frequent basis.
Shortly after I told them of Cynthia’s pregnancy, my parents came to Upper Darby to visit us. You cannot even begin to imagine how excited they were. My mother nearly danced out of the car to hug and greet Cynthia and see if she was “showing” yet. Mom was so high on expectation that I thought we might need to tie her down before she floated away in ecstasy.
During that same time period, however, something else was happening. I was also making application to Columbia Bible College in Columbia, South Carolina. I knew that if I were accepted, we would be moving to Columbia in early September, just three months prior to Cynthia’s delivery date. My parents came to visit in May, and I felt that in all fairness, I had to tell them about the possibility of Bible college and our subsequent relocation before the baby came. I cannot describe the obvious grief and pain my mother tried so hard to hide.
I had to ask myself, “Can this be right? Can this be God’s will, for me to hurt the ones I love so much? Won’t this drive my parents farther away from the Lord? As non-believers, they cannot possibly understand. Does God really expect me to ‘hate’ my parents to that degree?” I made the painful choice and went to Bible college.
A similar situation arose when the time came for me to graduate. Although I had not known what God was preparing me for when I began school, by graduation time we were seriously considering Jewish missions. The summer before I graduated, I had participated in the Jews for Jesus Summer Witnessing Campaign to see if Jewish evangelism and the Jews for Jesus organization were for me. After a good experience on campaign and positive counsel from others, Cynthia and I felt more and more certain that Jews for Jesus was to be our future. Of course my parents had been waiting anxiously to know what I would be doing after graduation, and where I would be doing it.
Again my love for my parents came into seeming conflict with my love and commitment to the Lord as I seriously contemplated becoming a full-time missionary. In the eyes of unbelieving Jewish parents, just about the worst thing in the world their child can become involved in is the active evangelization of other Jews. In their eyes, the only worse thing would be to become an active member of the Neo-Nazi movement and go around murdering other Jews. All the old questions came to me again. Was God really asking me to “hate” my parents to such an extent as to become a missionary? Again, I knew that I must serve God.
In both of those instances, and in many other less dramatic ones, God has used two sets of Old Testament verses to encourage me and to confirm the truly radical nature of the commitment he requires from a believer.
In Exodus 32 we read about the Israelites and the golden calf. In verses 25-29, we read how the faithful among the Levites were instructed by God to go throughout the camp and kill “every man his brother, and every man his friend and every man his kin.” For that most radical act of commitment to God, they were praised and blessed (verse 29). Later, in the book of Deuteronomy, Moses apparently is referring to that incident when, in blessing the tribes of Israel, he says of Levi, “who said of his father and his mother, ‘I did not consider them’; and he did not acknowledge his brothers, nor did he regard his own sons, for they observed thy word, and kept thy covenant.” Based on the merit of that kind of commitment, the Levites, in addition to serving as intermediaries between God and his people, were to be Israel’s teachers.
The tribe of Levi had been faced with a fundamental choice. They had to decide whom they loved more—their own families, or God. They had to decide whose approval they desired more—that of their fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters and other relatives, or that of God. The Levites had come to a place in their lives where, by a drastic act of obedience, they must demonstrate to whom they really belonged. They chose to love God, even at the cost of their most cherished relationships.
Fortunately for us, God does not ask us to gird ourselves with swords and go throughout our homes, slaying all those in our families who have not committed themselves to him! Nevertheless, God has called us who believe to the same kind of radical commitment. The choices we make for him can lead to deep wounds and the ultimate demise of a relationship.
Yet there is comfort in total commitment to God. Just as God gave the Levites an inheritance for their total commitment, he also has an inheritance for us who give him our lives. Jesus said, “… Verily, I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel’s, But he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the age to come eternal life” (Mark 10:29-30).