I have heard it said that reading the Bible in English is kind of like watching a movie in black and white. You can understand what is going on, but you do not get the full picture in color like you do when you can read it in the original language.
This is really important when looking at the passages in Luke that, at first read, seem to indicate that God condones hating and abandoning loved ones if it’s for the sake of following Him.
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.
There’s a personal story behind what brought me to this passage in the first place, but I think it is more common than many may realize…Many times family members and loved ones of a person in ministry get neglected. This can go for both men and women serving in ministry. We may be tempted to say, “Well they should know that comes with the territory.” But years and years of family neglect will eventually negate a person’s ministry outreach in one way or another. Truly, how can a person be entirely effective in ministry if he (or she) is not consistently and actively stepping into his (or her) role in leading (or helping) his (or her) own family?
In the Luke passage above, Jesus was not commanding His followers to hate their families. Other places in the Bible where hate is used simply as a means of comparison include Genesis 29:30-31 (comparing Jacob’s feelings for his wives, Rachel and Leah) and Luke 16:13 (in describing a servant having two masters and favoring one over the other).
He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.
“A person who commits himself or herself to Christ will develop a greater love for both neighbor and family, although at times loving and following Christ may be seen as renunciation, rejection, or hate if the family does not share the same commitment to Christ.”-Robert H. Stein.*
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 as much at this time and in the age to come, eternal life.”
First, it’s important to understand why Jesus said this in the first place. When we look at verses 18 through 28, we see the context in which this was written. The rich young ruler had just asked Jesus how to “inherit eternal life.” Jesus told him to sell all his possessions and follow him, which troubled the young ruler because he did not want to give up all his earthly possessions. Jesus then said that it is nearly impossible for the wealthy to enter God’s kingdom, but “The things that are impossible with people are possible with God” (v. 27). Peter then responded to Jesus, wanting reassurance from His Lord, by saying ,”Behold, we have left our own homes and followed You” (v.28). So in the passage above, Jesus was assuring Peter and His disciples that they would be rewarded in heaven for the sacrifices they were making here on earth.
Jesus was NOT making a blanket statement commanding all believers that neglecting and abandoning their families for ministry’s sake.
Take a look at what Robert H. Stein commentates on this passage (emphases added by me):
“Wife. Only Luke included “wife” in the list of relatives. He also did this in 14:26. This probably refers not so much to breaking up a present marriage as renouncing the possibility of marrying, as in Matt 19:10–12.
For the sake of the kingdom of God. Mark 10:29 has “for me and the gospel” (cf. Matt 19:29, “for my sake”; cf. also Mark 8:35). In the setting of Jesus, the Lukan version may be more authentic, but the meaning of the Lukan expression can be translated “thought for thought” as Mark and Matthew have.
18:30 Will fail to receive many times. This is emphatic (a double negative in Greek). Following Jesus brings reward, but this reward is granted, not “merited.”
In this age. In the present life believers may lose this family as a result of following Jesus, but they will receive a much larger family, the family of believers (cf. Luke 8:21; Mark 3:35). What a person gives to God is returned many times over not just in the age to come but even in this life.”**
You may have heard it said that we need to interpret Scripture with Scripture. So when reading the passages listed above, also keep in mind the passages below:
Ephesians 5:22 & 25
Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord…Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her.
1 Timothy 5:8
But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
He who trouble his own house will inherit wind
As we see from Scriptures, followers of Christ are commanded to take care of their families and be faithful to them. The main exception for separation from one’s family is when they are so against Christ that you are forced to choose between them and Him.
So I encourage you, if you have any kind of ministry, to minister to your own family first and foremost, above everything and everyone else. By having a healthy (NOT perfect, but healthy!) family, it makes your own ministry and testimony that much stronger.
*Robert H. Stein, Luke, vol. 24, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 397.
**Robert H. Stein, Luke, vol. 24, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 459.