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How to Hate Your Wife (Luke 14:25-35)

25 Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. 27 And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

28 “Suppose251 one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? 29 For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, 30 saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31 “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace.

33 In the same way,252 any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple. 34 “Salt is good,253 but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? 35 It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out. “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

Introduction

Some years ago, a special program was commenced in one of the youth groups at the church we attended. The program was called “the company of the committed.” The idea was to identify those core, elite, young people who really were committed to following Christ, and having a special program just (and only) for them. I had a good sound, at first. But I sensed that there was something wrong with it. As I was studying our text in Luke chapter 14 I realized that this passage helps us to see why such a program is suspect.

The problem which arose in that youth group, years ago, is one that is frequently repeated. There are some church and parachurch groups which cater to the “committed” and think that they are doing a commendable work. As we come to our text, it seems on the surface to teach that discipleship is restricted only to the committed, those who are willing to hate father and mother and other family members, those who are willing to give up all of their earthly possessions. Discipleship seems to be something like the Marines—a select group of highly committed people, a few good men and women. I think that the text teaches us something a little different.

As we approach this passage, I want to acknowledge that it is one of the most difficult passages in Luke to put together. It is not easy to see how the various parts of this passage fit together.254 I am now convinced that our Lord deliberately spoke in a way that would not be immediately or easily comprehended. The final words of the passage, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear,” are words found elsewhere, which always seem to indicate that a difficult teaching is being given, and that only those who really wish to understand will be able to, after much thought.

The Tension of This Text

Perhaps the most crucial tension of the text is this: Jesus here requires every disciple to hate those whom He elsewhere commands us to love. We are told that to be His disciple one must “hate his own father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters” (v. 26). Elsewhere, however, we are not even given the luxury of hating our enemy, let alone those nearest and dearest to us. How, then, can Jesus command us to hate those whom we love, and those whom we are elsewhere commanded to love?

Jesus’ words are even more perplexing in the light of the very last words of the prophet Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament, as we have it. In speaking of the coming of John the Baptist, of the Messiah, and of the Kingdom of God, the prophet concludes his prophecy with these words:

“And he will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the land with a curse” (Malachi 4:6, NASB).

If the coming of the Christ was to reunite parents and children, how can Jesus tell His disciples they must hate parents and children?

The key to resolving this tension is to be found in an accurate definition of the term “hate” as it is used here. That we shall do in a moment. We will then consider the remainder of this text and its implications for 20th century disciples. Let us listen well to these difficult, but important, words of our Lord.

The Structure of the Text

The structure of our text can be summarized in this way:

(1) Verse 25—The Setting

(2) Verses 26-27—The Demands of Discipleship

(3) Verses 28-32—The Decision of Discipleship

(4) Verses 33-35—The Distinctive Nature of Disciples

In verse 25, the setting is described—a large crowd of people are following Jesus. Jesus turned around (v. 25b) and spoke (vv. 26ff.) to them of the demands (vv. 26-27), decisions (vv. 28-32), and distinctives (vv. 33-35) of discipleship.

The Setting
(14:25)

We do not know exactly where Jesus was, but we assume that He was continuing to press on toward Jerusalem (cf. 9:51; 13:22). The Pharisees, who were in focus around the dinner table in the previous section (14:1-24), are now left behind, and the focus is on a large crowd of people, following our Lord as He traveled. Some think that these folks knew who Jesus was, but did not understand the rigors of discipleship. I am inclined to think of these people as merely curious, caught up by Jesus, His miracles, and His teaching. They hardly realized, in my opinion, that they were following Him.

I can envision Jesus walking along the way from one town to another, encircled by His closest followers, and then, trailing along for a great distance, an animist endless stream of curious people. Jesus literally turned around to address this great multitude. He stopped them in their tracks with His words. Few, I suspect, grasped what He meant by what He said. I am inclined to see the crowd as vaporizing after Jesus finished, perhaps discussing among themselves on their way back home what He meant.

The Demands of Discipleship
(14:26-28)

Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple (Luke 14:25-28).

The words of Jesus are stunning. I can almost see the crowd reel in shock at the demands which Jesus placed on His disciples. The clear inference of Jesus’ words is that one can “go along with Jesus” without even being a true believer (cf. John 6:66). I think it is also implied that one can “come to Jesus” in saving faith, without becoming a disciple, a committed follower (cf. John 2:23-25). These people were, as yet, only followers, on-lookers.

If there is any one term that is crucial to our understanding of Jesus’ words here it is the term “hate.” What does Jesus mean when He says that one cannot be His disciple without hating? Fortunately, the Bible gives us a very clear definition of this term, beginning in the Old Testament.

In Genesis chapter 29 we find the story of Jacob, Rachel, and Leah. We know that Leah was Jacob’s first wife, not due to his decision, but to Laban’s deception. Jacob really loved Rachel. In verse 30 we are told that Jacob “loved Rachel more than Leah. “ In verse 31, “the Lord saw that Leah was unloved.” In verse 33, Leah named her second son Simeon, because, she said, “the Lord has heard that I am unloved.” This last term, “unloved” literally is “hated,” as the marginal note in the NASB indicates. Rachel was loved more than Leah; Leah was unloved; Leah was hated. To be hated, here is to be loved less than another.

In Exodus the same sense of “hate” is found. In chapter 20, God is giving Israel the Law. He begins by commanding Israel to have “not other gods” before Him (Exodus 20:3). In verse 5, however, God said,

“You shall not worship them or serve them [other gods]; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me.”

To have other gods, is to love them above God. To have other gods is to hate God.

In Romans 9:13, we read Paul’s citation of Malachi 1:2: “JACOB I LOVED, BUT ESAU I HATED.”

We know that God chose Jacob above Esau, that He gave Jacob the preeminence and blessings that normally came to the oldest son. But God did not hate Esau in the way we think of hate. We see God’s compassion on Esau and on his descendants. God hated Esau in the sense that He loved Jacob more.

If we are not yet convinced, then let us listen to the Lord’s words in the parallel gospel account:

“Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came 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 MAN’S ENEMIES WILL BE THE MEMBERS OF HIS HOUSEHOLD. 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. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who has found his life shall lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake shall find it” (Matthew 10:34-39, NASB).

Here, Matthew’s wording does not speak of “hating” father and mother and other loved ones, but of loving them more than our Lord. Thus, to “hate” in our text means “to love less than.” Jesus is saying that in order to be His disciple men and women must love Christ more than their parents, more than their mate, more than their children, more than their sisters and brothers.

We now know what Jesus meant by the word “hate.” But whom does He command His disciples to hate?

  • They are all people.
  • They are all people whom we would normally, naturally, love.
  • They are all relatives—family.

There does seem to be a deliberate, descending order. Parents are listed first, mate and children second, with siblings last. Initially, I was inclined to think that this was the order of our sense of obligation or duty. I now look at this differently, based upon Jesus’ words in verse 33:

“In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.”

Jesus is coming to the conclusion of His instruction here. I believe that this verse sums up, in slightly different words, the demands of discipleship detailed in verses 26-28. In verse 27 Jesus was talking about one’s family, but in verse 33 (a supposed parallel) He speaks of one’s possessions. Do these two sayings really speak of the same thing? I believe they do. I believe that Jesus is here speaking of one’s family as a part of one’s possessions which he or she must “give up.”

Allow me to explain. Family is often thought of in terms of duty. Family can make many demands on a person, demands that can distract (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:29-35), demands that can interfere with discipleship. I believe that Jesus dealt with the matter of duty to family in chapter 9 (vv. 57-62). Here, I think that Jesus is speaking of one’s family in terms of his dependence, not his duty.

When I speak of our duty to our family, we speak of the demands which our family makes on us, so that we meet its needs. When I speak of dependence, I refer to the needs which we have, which our family provides for us. Family is thus a two-way street: it demands certain things from us and promises to provide us with certain things we feel we need. Few people would persist at meeting the demands of his family without the promise of having certain of his needs being met in the process.

When Jesus speaks of one’s family as a possession, it, like all other possessions, does something for us. What is it that family is believed to provide, about which Jesus warns? Think for a moment about all those things which a Jewish family provided for a Jew.

(1) The Jewish family provided status. To be a child of Abraham was to be a cut above all others—at least a cut, but probably more. Being a Jew made one vastly superior to a Gentile. Thus, family gave the Jews status.

(2) The Jewish family was also mistakenly supposed to give one salvation. To the Jew, being a “descendant of Abraham” assured him of having a place in the kingdom of God. This is one of the false conceptions about which John the Baptist warned the Israelites (Luke 3:8). Paul, too, strongly insisted that not all physical descendants of Israel were true Israelites (Romans 9:6). If one’s family could get one to heaven, one would surely have a great sense of dependence upon his family. When an Israelite repented, he was also baptized, indicating a decisive break with all of this mistaken dependence upon his identity as a Jew. Paul, too, shows how his salvation turned his “gold-plated” family pride to “dung.” There were certain elements of Judaism which Paul retained, but there was no dependence upon Judaism for his standing with God, his salvation (cf. Philippians 3:1-11).

(3) The Jewish family also offered one security. An Israelite of Jesus’ day did not measure his future security in terms of his insurance policies, or his Social Security, or even his bank account; he measured it in terms of his family (cf. Psalm 127:3-5).

I believe that when our Lord demands that His disciples must “hate” their family He means that they must give up their dependence upon family, and must depend totally upon Him. To be His disciple is not only to love Him more than anyone or anything else, it is to depend upon Him. Independence of God is at the core of sin, and dependence on Him is at the core of discipleship.

There is another element demand of discipleship, which is found in verses 26 and 27: hating one’s own life and taking up his own cross. I think that these two expressions speak of one reality. When one decides to follow Christ as His disciple, one must surrender any other source of “life” than Him, and one must relinquish all self-seeking. Becoming a disciple of our Lord means to give up our goals and to pursue His goals. Just as in marriage the woman should find joy in giving up her goals and becoming a helper to her husband in reaching his goal (a not-so-popular idea today), so the disciple sets aside all his aspirations for those of the Master. And just as the Master takes up His own cross, so we, too, must take up that cross which God has ordained for us.

Please note that “hating one’s life” is not the same as “hating one’s self.” Self-love is surely suspect, in spite of pop psychology, but so is self-hate. The logical outcome of self-hate is suicide; the logical outcome of hating one’s life is taking up the cross which Christ has for us.

Discipleship as a Decision
(14:28-32)

“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace.”

Unlike many preachers of our day, Jesus did not desire a large following. He would rather have men count the cost of discipleship and opt to stay out than to merely go along with Him ignorantly. Jesus’ words here state that discipleship comes at a very high cost, but also imply that the price of discipleship often is collected later. Jesus informs these followers of what that cost will be, lest they commit themselves to a course they will not complete.

Our Lord cites two illustrations of those who commenced a project without counting the cost and determining if they had the needed resources. The first is that of a man who purposes to build a tower, but did not calculate the total cost, and so the tower was never finished. This “unfinished tower” became a monument to this man’s folly. What the man thought would bring him fame, brought him shame.

The second illustration is that of a king, who goes to war against another king, but without calculating whether or not he had the manpower to win. Because he was outnumbered two-to-one, he had to humble himself and surrender to his enemy, entirely at his mercy. Again, he was put to shame because he commenced without counting the cost.

In thinking about both of these illustrations, I believe that what they have in common is the key to understanding what our Lord meant to teach us by using them:

(1) Both the builder and the king committed themselves to a course of action without having counted the cost.

(2) Both the builder and the king discovered, after they committed themselves to a course of action, that they did not have the resources to complete what they had started.

(3) Both the builder and the king failed to finish, and ended in humiliation and shame.

(4) In both instances, the builder and the king should have sat down and reflected, rather than acting quickly.

Noting these common characteristics, let us now consider what Jesus meant for His listeners to learn. What was Jesus trying to say, especially to these crowds, who were following along after Him?

First, I believe that Jesus wanted all men to know, in advance, that the price of discipleship was high. Yes, they were all enthusiastic and eager now, but Jerusalem was coming, as was the cross. Jesus did not want men and women following Him without knowing that there was a “cross” for them as well. Jesus wanted men to calculate the cost of following Him as His disciple.

Second, Jesus wanted men to choose to be His disciple purposefully, rather than to unthinkingly follow after Him. If Jesus was not after a large following of uncommitted followers, neither was He pressing them for a quick decision. The very difficulty of His words caused the people to have to go away and ponder what He meant. Furthermore, in His two illustrations, Jesus said that each man should have sat down and considered what he purposed to do. Sitting down implied that some time and much thought should have been devoted to this matter of discipleship. Quick decisions are only for those who want unthinking commitment; slow, deliberate decisions are for those who want long-term commitments.

Third, Jesus not looking for those who had the resources to follow Him, but for those who, after thinking about it, knew they did not. For me, this is one of the most important conclusions I have reached from my study of this text. At first, I thought that Jesus was, like the Marines, “looking for a few good men,” those few who would count the cost, and who found in themselves sufficient commitment and resources to follow-through in their commitment to the end.

But then I realized that none of the disciples of our Lord followed through. When the “going got tough,” so to speak, the disciples “got lost.” They all forsook Jesus, even Peter, who assured Jesus that he was committed, that he would never forsake Him (cf. Luke 22:31-34). If Peter, James, and John, the three closest followers of Christ, could not follow through, why would we dare to think that we would?

It also occurred to me that in both of the illustrations which our Lord used, both of the men failed to follow through. Neither had the means to finish what they had started. Do we think that we have the means to be His disciples? Do we think that our level of commitment is sufficient to sustain us when family and friends forsake us, as the Bible says they will?

“Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came 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 MAN’S ENEMIES WILL BE THE MEMBERS OF HIS HOUSEHOLD. 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. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who has found his life shall lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake shall find it” (Matthew 10:34-39, NASB).

I maintain that no one has the resources in and of himself to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, any more than he or she has the resources to earn God’s favor and eternal life. This is precisely why Jesus began by teaching that in order to be His disciple one would have to “hate” his family, to renounce his dependence upon family, so as to depend fully upon Christ alone. Our Lord is not trying to get these followers to muster up enough commitment to become His disciples, but to reckon with the reality that no one has the resources to follow Him, apart from His enablement. Discipleship, then, is not following Christ with sufficient means to do what He commands, but with utter dependence upon Him to enable us to do His will. Both the willing and the doing come from Him, and not from us. The whole concept of the “company of the committed” collapses, simply because no one is that capable or that committed. The key element of discipleship is not obedience, for we are incapable of that in and of ourselves, but dependence, for without Him, we can do nothing.

Christ’s Conclusion
(14:33-35)

“In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple. Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

Verse 33 really makes sense, when approached in the light of this view of discipleship, which we have just outlined. Discipleship is not a matter of how much we have to offer, but of renouncing all that we think we have to offer. The cults all seek disciples, but they usually do not encourage their “disciples” to “give up” all their possessions, but to “give them away,” namely, to give their possessions to the leader. In this way, the disciples of a cult sustain their leader. The cult leader does not sustain them. Jesus wants it the other way. To be His disciple you do not bring anything to Him, to prove your commitment and worthiness, you leave all behind, trusting only on Him and on His faithful provision of all that we need to do what He calls us to do. This is true discipleship. Discipleship, like salvation, begins by recognizing the high price required, and that we are unable to meet it, and thus coming to Christ empty-handed, looking to Him to do what we cannot.

Verses 34 and 35 conclude this passage. They explain for us why Jesus discouraged a large following. The key to the impact of His disciples is not their large number, but their distinctiveness. Very little salt is required to season a large quantity of food because salt has a very distinct flavor. When salt loses its distinctness, it loses its value. Great quantities of salt do not make up for its loss of saltiness.

So, too, great numbers of disciples do not guarantee great impact. It is not the sheer number of disciples that matters, but it is their distinctness, their utter differentness from the world. The world will take little note of a large group of people who think, feel, and act like them. The world will take note of a very few “disciples” who are Christ-like, whose lives are distinctive.

This is, I believe, our Lord’s view of discipleship, but I fear that it is not the thinking of many Christians, or even of Christian leaders. I fear that the reason is due to the fact that we view discipleship through the “political model,” rather than the “prophetic model.” The political model holds that given enough votes, anyone can be elected and any law can be passed. The political model finds its power at the polls, and thus numbers are the major consideration. In the prophetic model, it matters not that only one prophet speaks. What matters is that this one prophet is right, and that he speaks for God. The Joseph’s, the Daniel’s, the Nathan’s were not effective because they were great in number (Prophets were a lonely bunch —no wonder Elijah thought he alone was left!), but because God empowered them and spoke through them.

When we recognize that power and impact does not come through the number of disciples, but through their dependence upon God and their distinctive lifestyles, then we understand why Jesus did not seek a large following.

The final verse, “Let him who has ears, …” is one that is found several times in the gospels. It always is used in a context where our Lord’s words are not going to be understood by the majority, and where Jesus encouraged His listeners to ponder His words carefully to learn their meaning. Let these last words have their full impact on us as well, then, for not all will grasp what Jesus is saying, especially apart from serious meditation on this text.


251 The NIV does not do a good job of literally rendering the text here, as also in verses 33 and 34 (see below). The word “suppose,” found in verse 28, is not the best choice, in my opinion, for the first word in the original text is the term usually rendered “for,” indicating that an explanation follows.

252 “In the same way” is likewise not a literal rendering of the text. The first words should be “So therefore,” as found in the NASB, indicating that a conclusion is now being given.

253 “Therefore” is once again omitted in the NIV (but not, you will note, in the NASB).

254 Some of the commentaries view the passage as teaching four somewhat parallel requirements of discipleship. Plummer, for example, writes, “The section has been called ‘The Conditions of Discipleship.’ These are four. 1. The Cross to be borne (25-27); Mt. x. 37, 38). 2. The cost to be counted (28-32). 3. All Possessions to be renounced (33). 4. The Spirit of Sacrifice to be maintained (34, 35; Mt. v. 13; Mk. ix. 49).” Alfred Plummer, The Gospel According to S. Luke, The International Critical Commentary Series, (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1969), p. 363.

The problem with this approach is that it ignores the structure of the passage. Verse 25 introduces the passage by giving us the setting. Verses 26-27 contain the requirements of discipleship. Verses 28-32 are an explanation of Jesus’ words, beginning with the key word, “For.” Verses 33-35 are the conclusion, with “therefore” being found at the beginning of both verses 33 and 34. The four parallel requirements of Plummer virtually ignores the structure of the text.

Related Topics: Christian Home, Discipleship