What Jesus Really Meant By ‘Hate Your Family’

29 October 2021

6.4 MINS

God loves family. But if a Christian must decide between loyalty to family and loyalty to God, we must put God first. Read on to better understand this important teaching from Jesus.

Families are vitally important. The Judeo-Christian worldview has the highest regard for marriage and family. These institutions were ordained by God and are the bedrock of any stable and thriving society. If you mess with family, you mess with society.

All Christians affirm these truths. The vital importance I place on family is evidenced by the fact that I have penned nearly a thousand articles on this topic over the years! Much of what I have written examines the war against the family and the many attacks on heterosexual marriage.

Marriage and family are absolutes. But there are other absolutes too – and sometimes various absolutes will clash. Christian discipleship and the Lordship of Christ are also absolutes. Occasionally, giving complete loyalty to God may mean giving less loyalty to family.

Care is needed here as we seek to apply these principles. In the gospels, for example, we find Jesus communicating two sets of ideas about the family. On the one hand, he affirms the importance of the family. But on the other hand, Jesus teaches that the cost of discipleship may entail leaving your loved ones or being rebuffed by your family.

What Jesus Said About Loving Your Family

Of course, Jesus was entirely in sync with the Hebrew Bible and its teachings on the importance of marriage and family. He certainly knew of and followed the Fifth Commandment: “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.” (Exodus 20:12).

Consider what Jesus had to say about the centrality of family and the importance of honouring your father and mother:

He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, “What you would have gained from me is given to God.” (Matthew 15:3-5)

He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” (Matthew 19:18-20)

“You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother’.” (Luke 18:20)

When Loyalty to God Must Come First

But we also have other passages where Jesus seems to disparage the family or minimise its importance – at least in relation to honouring and obeying God. These texts tell us that to follow Christ may at times mean a break with one’s own family.

By my count, there are over a dozen such passages found in the Synoptic Gospels. Four are found in Matthew, five are found in Mark, and six in Luke. Consider those from Luke:

Then his mother and his brothers came to him, but they could not reach him because of the crowd. And he was told, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, desiring to see you.” But he answered them, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.” (Luke 8:19-21)

As he said these things, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Luke 11:27-28)

Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” (Luke 12:51-53)

Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, “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.” (Luke 14:25-26)

And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.” (Luke 18:29-30)

You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives. (Luke 21:16-19)

Did Jesus Really Say to Hate Your Family?

One of the most astonishing of these passages is found in Luke 14, where Jesus speaks about hating your family members. There is a parallel passage to this. It is a ‘softer’ or less harsh version of this saying of Jesus.

Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.

Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. (Matthew 10:34-39)

Here, Jesus speaks of ‘loving more’ instead of ‘hating’. It helps us to more accurately understand what he meant in the Luke passage. Jesus’ teaching is comparative: it is about who we love to greater or lesser degrees, not which family members we hate. R. C. Sproul offers some helpful commentary on the Luke passage:

Our Lord is not saying that we are to despise or abhor our parents or our children or our spouses, but the devotion we give to Jesus must be even greater than that which we give to the dearest ones of our family and friends. This sometimes leads to conflict with the ones we love the most.

So Christ tells us the cost: “What I demand from My Disciples is that their first devotion, their first love, must be to Me. You must love Me more than your family. You must love Me more than you love yourself; otherwise you can’t be My disciple. Unless you’re willing to bear your cross as I must bear Mine, you can’t be My disciple.”

Counting the Cost of Following Jesus

Another commentator, R. Kent Hughes, puts it this way:

Certainly, in the full light of the New Testament, Jesus was not demanding an unqualified hatred.

He could not command, “Honor your father and your mothers” (Mark 7:9-13) and demand that we also hate them. He could not command, “Husbands. Love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25) and then advise them to hate their spouses. Jesus, who so loved little children that “he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them” (Mark 10:16) could not advise their parents to hate them. Neither could he advise his followers to be “reconciled to your brother” (Matthew 5:24) and then encourage brotherly hatred. How could he command “Love your enemies” (Luke 6:27) and then call us to hate our friends?

The truth is, in the Biblically recommended sense that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves (cf. Mark 12:32-34) and to love one another as Christ loved us (cf. John 13:34, 35), we cannot love others too much! We can focus on our family too much, we can dote on our loved ones too much, but we cannot love them too much.

Further, in the final clause Jesus recommended that each of his followers must hate “even his own life.” Jesus could not be recommending a psychologically destructive loathing of existence. What Jesus was saying paradoxically was that our love for him must be so great and so persuasive that our natural love of self and family pales in comparison.

We are to subordinate everything, even our own being, to our love and commitment to Christ. He is to be our first loyalty. All other relationships must take second place.

So with a harsh enigmatic epigram, Jesus yanks us from our dreamworld. “Do you fancy yourself a disciple? Do you think you are going to follow me? Then you must love me so much that your love for your family seems like hatred in comparison! Hate your own life. Otherwise, don’t pretend to be following me! Jesus’ words astonish us.

Countless believers over the centuries have understood these realities. While they have certainly loved their friends and family members, they have had to put Christ first above all other loves. And some have also known rejection, enmity and even hatred from their own families when they become believers. That is part of counting the cost of following Christ.

Having said all this, we do have the wonderful promise that I quoted above: “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.”

This is good news indeed.

Originally published at CultureWatch. Photo by Luis Fernandes on Pexels.

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