As a leaving date for the mission field is set and the notion of leaving the country indefinitely has become more real, I find myself gaining a better understanding of what it means to hate my family. Clearly Jesus does not mean a literal hate of your parents. Throughout The Bible and Jesus’ ministry we see that we are to be all about love. In fact the greatest commands from God and summarized by Christ are to love God and others (Luke 10:27; Matt 22:37-39; Mark 12:30-31). Furthermore, we see throughout scripture that we are to love, honor, obey, cherish, and even take care of our parents.
So what does it mean to hate our family? What we find in the context of this passage is that our love of God and our obedience to Christ must be even greater than that of loving our own family members or our loyalty to our parents. When we read the short parables that follow this statement, we see that He is clearly teaching that we must “count the cost” of being a disciple of Christ. It surely means that we must take up our cross and put more weight into following Christ than even our own family or personal possessions.
What does hating our parents look like? In our case through our “hatred,” we are honoring our parents by not departing from that which they have trained us (Exodus 20:12; Proverbs 22:6). They have been pointing us to faithfully and whole-heartedly following Christ since we were little. God’s Word has not returned void and their discipline, prayers, example, and direction has guided us to “hate” them. We love and praise God for our parents. We are torn between heartache and excitement to leave them and follow hard after Christ. We are so thankful for their following after the Lord and sending us away on a journey that puts Jesus ahead of the ones we love the most.
As disciples of Christ, our love for Christ must be so great that it may look to others like hate for the things of the world. We so highly esteem Jesus that everything else, even our families, get second place. Not only are we to put Christ above anyone else in our lives, but He must take first place even in front of ourselves (Matthew 16:24). We so passionately follow Christ that people see that we love Him more than we love our own lives. We knew following Christ would be hard going in, though, because we have already counted the cost of knowing Christ. When it gets tough, like now when we actually have to leave family and give up possessions, it doesn’t keep us from following Him.
Our heartache isn’t over the chance of harm or the setting aside of American comforts. We’ve worked hard from the beginning of our marriage to hold loosely the things of this world. We’ve attempted to have a focus on glorifying and following our Lord more than attachment to safety or comfort. Like David Sills in his book The Missionary Call explains, we don’t want to get to the end of our lives and look back just to realize that we’ve lived it in selfish comfort and convenience. Our real heartache is over leaving our loved ones. This heartache is why I have better understood Christ’s teaching that we are to so love Christ more than our great love for anything else, that we put following Him ahead of anything and everything.
While we are reminded that it will not be easy to follow Christ, not just the hardship of leaving family or possessions but also taking up our cross and promised persecutions, we find that in doing so we have rich blessings and future hope (Matthew 10:37-39, 19:29; Mark 10:29-20; Luke 14:26-27). We know that God will give us, our families, and friends the grace needed to faithfully press on. He is our comfort and will lavish us with joy and blessing as we so lovingly hate our own loved ones for the sake of following Christ and giving Him a rightful first place in our lives.