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To be a disciple one must pay a severe cost. Sacrifice and hardship are required. So Jesus urges people to consider the cost before becoming disciples. Many, after becoming disciples, will find that they are unwilling to continue, so they will be rejected. One should realize from the outset what he is getting into.
Does this mean we must literally hate our own parents, wife, children, etc.? Notice that Jesus says we must even hate our own lives. Clearly this is not absolute or literal. We are told to love others as we love ourselves, and no one hates his own flesh (see again Matt. 22:36-40; Eph. 5:29).
"Hate" here does not mean to have no love at all nor to actively seek the harm of others. All Bible passages must be understood by comparing them to other passages. Many other Scriptures command us to love everyone (Matt. 22:36-40). Surely that includes our family. Ephesians 5:22-25 commands men to love their wives, and Titus 2:4 commands wives to love their husbands and children. Clearly, then, Luke 14:26 does not literally mean to hate our family members.
Sometimes the Bible uses the term "hate" in a comparative sense. Genesis 29:31 says that Jacob hated his wife Leah, but v30 shows that really this means he loved Rachel, his other wife, more than he did Leah. So "hate" is used in a comparative sense to mean "loving one thing or person less that we love another." See also Genesis 25:34.
This is the point in Luke 14:26. Jesus is not saying that we are to have malice or ill will toward our family. That would contradict other plain passages. Instead, Christ is saying that we must always put Him before our families. Our love for Christ must be greater than our love for anyone or anything else.
Matthew 10:37 helps to explain Luke 14:26. Jesus said, "He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me."
We may never actually be required to literally give up our relationship with our loved ones to please the Lord, and we may never be required to actually die for His cause, but we must be willing to do so. Many have had to do these things. And even if we don't actually give up our family, their desires must always come second to the will of Jesus. And even if we don't physically die for His cause, we must devote our lives to seeking His cause above all else. This is what it means to bear our cross and follow Him (see Luke 9:23-27).
Jesus plainly says that people who are not willing to pay this price simply cannot be His disciples. They may think they are disciples, they may appear to others to be, and no one may know till judgment that they are not true disciples. But Jesus does not consider such half-hearted followers to be true disciples, despite their pretensions. There is no point starting to serve the Lord, unless we are willing to give true, whole-hearted commitment, seeking His will above all else. See also v33 below. Cf. Matthew 6:19-33; 10:34-39; 16:24-27; Romans 8:5-8; 12:1,2; John 6:27,63; Luke 12:15-21; 1 Timothy 4:8; 6:6-19; 2 Corinthians 4:16-18; 8:5; 10:3,4; Colossians 3:1,2; Galatians 2:20.
On v33 Jesus added that the price we must be willing to pay is to forsake all that we have. Again, we may not physically lose all we possess, but we must be willing to do so if necessary to please the Lord. And many have made exactly this sacrifice. And even if we do not lose them physically, we must commit ourselves to using them for His service. Far too many of us are too attached to our material pursuits. If we are not willing to sacrifice them for His cause, we simply cannot be disciples.
Note that Jesus is not teaching a blanket requirement that all disciples must give up all possessions or that it is a sin for Christians to own property. If so, what do we do with our possessions when we are converted? Do we give them to others? No, they could not possess them either, or they would be in sin! Many other passages show disciples who were acceptable though they owned property. Zacchaeus was accepted by Jesus when he committed to give only half his goods to the poor (Luke 19:1-10). Cf. Acts 12:12; 21:8; etc. Just as we are not literally required to "hate" our family members, so we may not be literally required to give up all possessions.
But, while we may not have to give up all possessions, there is a real warning here for us. We must not be so attached to our possessions that we would not be willing to give them up for the Lord (Luke 14:33; Matt. 6:19-33). If we are so attached, then we are not true disciples.
Are we willing to pay the price?
(c) Copyright David E. Pratte, 2005; www.gospelway.com
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Scripture quotations are generally from the New King James Version (NKJV), copyright 1982, 1988 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. used by permission. All rights reserved.