The Bible is full of history and wisdom needed to guide our lives. But some sections of the Bible are confusing and, if we don’t understand the context, concerning. Am I really supposed to hate my family? Taken at face value, Jesus plainly told us that we must hate not only our mothers and fathers but our entire family and ourselves. In Luke 14:26, He says, “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.” That seems awfully harsh and even makes me question Jesus. Why would the embodiment of Love itself tell us to hate so many people? Does He really mean it?
We have to recognize that Jesus sometimes spoke in hyperbole, which exaggerated statements not meant to be taken literally. You and I speak in hyperbole often. My children, who refuse to wear coats, shout, “I’m freezing!” As dinnertime approaches, I say, “I’m starving!” When my husband comes home from a rough day at work, he says, “I had the worst day.” All of these are exaggerations that make the point we are seeking without being the absolute facts.
Jesus sometimes spoke in hyperbole in His parables. In Matthew 5:29-30, Jesus says, “If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.” Shortly after, He commands us to, “Be perfect…as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Later, He tells His followers, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:24). Jesus offended many people when He “said to them, ‘Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you” (John 6:53).
All of these are examples of Jesus using hyperbole to make His point. While not to be taken literally, these statements are examples of the bigger picture, the truth that Jesus is always pointing us to–that He is better than anything we could ever imagine, and the sacrifices that we must make in this short life are nothing compared to the beauty of eternal life with Him. Jesus’ hyperbole reminds us that earning our salvation is impossible and that “it is by grace you have been saved, through faith…not by works” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Knowing that Jesus used hyperbole, how can we know what He meant in Luke 14:26? The best way to interpret Scripture is with Scripture. We compare the information we have to the overall theme of the Bible. If something goes against the Bible, it is not true. When we look at one verse, we do not have the full picture. Yes, Luke 14:26 tells us to hate our mother and father, but while considering the use of hyperbole, we must compare that to the numerous verses that tell us to love others:
“Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.” Exodus 20:12
“Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.” (1 John 4:20)
“Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:39)
“Each of you must respect your mother and father…” (Leviticus 19:3)
“Listen to your father, who gave you life, and do not despise your mother when she is old.” (Proverbs 23:22)
“Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.” (Colossians 3:20)
“But if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this pleasing to God.” (1 Timothy 5:4)
“Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.” (Exodus 21:17)
Considering all of these verses, and many more throughout the Bible, that speak of loving others and ourselves, it is clear that God prioritizes love and wants us to respect our parents. (Of course, this does not mean subjecting yourself to abuse. If you have a difficult or dangerous relationship with a family member, you can love them from afar through prayer to keep yourself safe.) So why did Jesus tell us to hate?
What Does It Mean?
When Jesus tells us to hate our mother and father, He is using hyperbole to speak to a bigger point. One of the Ten Commandments is “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). When God says, “No,” He means it. Not even our mother or father shall be a god before Him. We should not treat ourselves as a god before Him. Jesus does not want us to hate our family; He clearly wants us to care for them. But He absolutely does not want us to worship anyone over Him.
The Bible speaks of physical idols that people created, but an idol can be anything that we worship or esteem above God. When we admire something more than God, then we have created an idol. In respecting and loving others, we must ensure they do not come before God. If what my mom thinks of me is more important than what God thinks of me, then I have made my mom an idol. If spending time with my dad is my priority over spending time with the Lord, then I have made my dad an idol.
When Jesus was asked to name the greatest commandment, He replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). When He said to hate our mother and father, He meant in comparison to our love for him. No one, not our selfish desires or even our parents, should get in the way of our love for the Lord. To be His disciples, we must be willing to have boundaries with others and always put the Lord first.
How can we care for our families and still put the Lord first? In all your love and serving or “whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord” (Colossians 3:23). When you seek the Lord first, the Holy Spirit works to help you “flee from idolatry” (1 Corinthians 10:14). It may seem impossible, “but not with God; all things are possible with God” (Mark 10:27). Continue to honor your parents, care for your family, be kind to your siblings, and love yourself. But do not let anyone come before the Lord your God.
Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/Aaron Amat
Megan Moore is a military spouse and mom of 3 (through birth and adoption). A speech-language pathologist by training, she now spends her time moving around the country every couple of years. She is passionate about special needs, adoption, and ice cream.