From Empty Promises: The Truth About You, Your Desires and the Lies You’re Believing by Pete Wilson (Thomas Nelson).
I think I get more questions about Jesus’ teaching in Luke 14 than probably any other text in the Bible:
Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters — yes even their own life — such a person cannot be my disciple. (vv. 25-26)
What? Hate your mother and father? Hate your wife? Your children? What was Jesus talking about?
Well clearly he’s not calling us to actually hate our families. Just a few chapters before this text, when he was asked what the most important law was, he’s quoted as saying, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’ and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Lk. 10:27)
Later he told his disciples, “This is my command: Love each other.” (Jn 15:17)
So what’s going on here?
First, you need to know that Jesus was using hyperbole. He was using exaggeration to make or reinforce a point — something we do all the time.
The other day my son wanted to go to a basketball game, and I told him we couldn’t go, he said, “But Dad, everybody is going to be there.” Did he literally mean the world’s population of 6.9 billion people would be at that game? No he was exaggerating to make his point and I understood exactly what he meant.
I believe Jesus was doing the same thing when he told his followers to hate their families. He was using hyperbole to say, “All other relationships and activities should pale in comparison to following me.”
In other words, “Don’t take what is good and make it ultimate.”
And isn’t that what often happens with religion? We take traditions and preferences, which are good and lovely things, and we make them ultimate things. We give them idol status.
After an extended amount of time reflecting on this passage, I once wrote this in my journal: “Pete, your greatest temptation in life will be to chase after not what is ridiculously evil, but what is deceptively good.
While I may not know you personally, I believe this is probably your greatest temptation as well.
You see, Jesus never said you can’t have religious preferences.
There’s nothing wrong with preferring traditional music over contemporary music (or vice versa).
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to go to church in a gym or even under a bridge instead of in a building with a steeple.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to take Communion weekly instead of quarterly.
There’s nothing wrong with having a heart for social justice, Scripture memory, or being part of a comunity group.
Jesus just said, don’t allow those preferences and traditions to become rules that you force other people to obey if they want to follow him. Don’t take good tings and make them ultimate things.
Another way to say this is: Be careful not to worship a good thing as a god thing, for that is an idolatry thing that will become a destructive thing.
Why? Simply because no religious tradition or preference can purify the sinner’s heart or give eternal life. No law or rule can ever lead to an explosion of love and joy in the human heart. What the Law could not do, God did through his own Son, Jesus. But religion tends to take the focus off what Christ did and put it on our own efforts instead. It tends to make us focus on what’s in the blank of
Jesus + ______
rather than on the cross.
~Pete Wilson; Empty Promises pp. 118-120
Pete Wilson is the author of Plan B (Thomas Nelson) and pastor of Cross Point Church in Nashville, TN. He blogs regularly at Without Wax and is on my top five list of people I’d like to be seated next to on an airplane.