If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. (Luke 14:26–27—NKJV)

Around my house hate has always been a word reserved for a rational judgment, passed only after serious reflection. This proviso assured that the word was rarely uttered and that it retained its shock value for my kids. Apart from promoting civil discourse among family members, this policy also allowed God’s use of the word to stand out during family devotions and instruction. After all, God does list at least eight things He hates.

If you have followed a similar policy in your life and home, then I am sure that our text gives you pause. Not only did Jesus use the word but also He uses it is in the context of close family members. The hatred He speaks of is not the type of hatred that most likely comes to mind first. It is for this reason that I also quoted a part of verse 27, though the entire portion to the end of the chapter provides insightful context.

Biblical use of the word “hate” has three general meanings. It is used to describe malicious and unjustifiable feelings (as in John 3:20—evil doers hate light). It is used to describe a correct feeling of revulsion toward wrong and evil (Jude 23—we are to hate the garment spotted by the flesh). And finally, it is used as a comparative statement of preference of one over another (Matthew 6:24—seeking to serve two masters will lead to comparative love of one with disregard the other). This last usage illustrates the meaning of our text. A similar meaning is intended in John 12:25–26, “He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves Me, let him follow me.”

Our Lord was teaching vital truths about discipleship that His audience needed to understand. At this point in His earthly ministry there were multitudes following after Him. Among them were the twelve and other serious learners as well as vast crowds of occasional followers. Motivations for following ran the gamut from intense belief in Him, to those who had benefited from His miracles, those who loved hearing a fresh, well-spoken teacher, to the mildly curious, the self-absorbed, or to those seeking to cast off the yoke of Rome. Jesus’ task was to starkly outline the significance, personal costs, characteristics and irrevocable nature of being a disciple. Discipleship is serious business because it may cost you your life.

The two verses of our text press home the concept that real discipleship requires such a high degree of personal loyalty to the lordship of Jesus Christ that all other human relationships, ties, and familial identities are meaningless by comparison. You are to love the Lord so much that no matter how devoted you are to family, your devotion to the Lord is unquestionably first and foremost.

You have heard that “blood is thicker than water,” meaning that family identity is paramount. What our Lord is saying is that devotion to Him and doctrinal allegiance is thicker than even blood relations. In the world of human relationship, this brand of practical loyalty will appear to be hatred, for it can feel no other way to the non-disciple. Even among the Christianized (those who claim to be Christians but have never been born again) and immature believers, undivided loyalty to the Lord and His Word is thought of as fanatic, imbalanced, and offensive when paths must diverge. This diverging point is often the time when your effectiveness as a disciple is determined.

Our Lord casts further light on this in Matthew 10:32–39. Verses 37–38 read, “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.” As much as we are commanded to love our parents and family, we are to love Christ more. In Bible times, to neglect social customs pertaining to family loyalty would have been interpreted as hate. So in our day when a young family takes the grand-babies and goes to the mission field, or when allegiance to Christ and His Word forces a believer to stand up for His Lord in ways that his own family may not understand, it can be interpreted as hate. Biblical discipleship is not easy but it is commanded.

Are you purchased by the innocent blood of the Savior, Jesus Christ, and eligible to be a disciple of His? Is your loyalty to Christ your highest loyalty? Trust and obey.