One of our regular readers, fastmov4, brought up a great challenge to yesterday’s post:
OK, I’m not quite sold on who I’m to love and why. And this is why.
“‘You have heard it said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy’. But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.’” – Matthew 5:43-45.
As a reminder, here is the text I originally addressed to which fastmov4 is responding:
“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.” (Luke 14:26, ESV)
I’ll admit these are difficult passages to reconcile…and hey, if I knew everything about Scripture I’d be Jesus, and clearly I’m not Him. As always I’m making educated guesses about how Jesus expects us to live in order that we will be motivated to examine our hearts and lives and to push forward in faith and love.
On to my educated guesses! If my conclusions yesterday were wrong and our readers Mary and fastmov4 are right, then there are at least three possible ways to reconcile Luke 14:26 with Matthew 5:43-45:
- Luke 14:26 is hyperbole; Jesus didn’t really mean to “hate” our families, He just doesn’t want anything to come between Him and us (I believe this is the argument fastmov4 and Mary are making)
- Luke 14:26 was added to Scripture to address a specific group of people, namely, late-First and early-Second Century Christians dealing with expulsion from the Temple and/or being ostracized from their families for their faith
- Not all Christians are created equal; there are different classes of Christians. On one end of the spectrum you have people who “confess Jesus as Lord” but never change or serve the Kingdom; on the other end of the spectrum you have Peter & Paul who plant churches, preach boldly, and are murdered for their faith
The answer to our questions could be one of these, all of these, or none of these…That’s the beauty of Scripture, it forces us to keep learning and growing! So let’s learn and grow together by looking at the first possible way to reconcile Luke 14:26 with Matthew 5:43-45.
Luke 14:26 Is Hyperbole
If you believe Luke 14:26 is hyperbole, I assume you think something like this: “Jesus didn’t really mean we should hate our families. He just wants His disciples to be really committed to the kingdom; He doesn’t want anything coming between us and God.” It’s a good explanation, if in fact Luke 14:26 is hyperbole. It makes sense to me that Jesus would warn his followers that they might have to sacrifice everything, including their families and their own lives, to follow Him. It doesn’t mean we necessarily have to sacrifice those things…If they’re not getting in the way, no big deal. That sounds nice, certainly much easier than my conclusion that Jesus literally meant for us to “hate” or “despise” those things in the world which oppose God, including ourselves and our families.
But there is a major flaw with the theory that this verse is just hyperbole: It virtually ignores the words Jesus chose to use, and it absolutely ignores the verses which follow it (Luke 14:28-35). After telling the crowd that they must carry their cross and follow Him, Jesus goes on to tell two parables about “counting the cost” of being a disciple. In my mind these parables reinforce, rather than detract from, the idea that Jesus not only expects us to be willing to sacrifice everything for Him, but that we will sacrifice for Him. In fact, it occurs to me that if we’re not sacrificing for Jesus we are doing something wrong.
Shifting gears a bit, note that Jesus ends His teaching with the words, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” This phrase is occasionally used by Jesus after He tells a parable, and has its roots in the Old Testament. More than once Jesus taught His disciples a major point in plain language but also explained it with a parable to help them understand. The parables and the plain-language points were always the same, and in our study Luke 14:25-27 is reinforced, not contradicted, by the parables that follow. Jesus tells the crowds that in order to be His disciple they must hate their lives, their families, and carry their cross. Then He tells two parables about people who start something they can’t finish and suffer the consequences. Translation: Don’t think you can become a disciple of Christ without paying a heavy price. Expect to pay that price so when the bill comes due you don’t give up on Jesus and become defeated.
After these two parables Jesus mentions the “salt of the earth” and compares people who try to become disciples but quit with salt that loses its saltiness, which isn’t fit even for the manure pile. Why would Jesus offer so many warnings of the heavy cost of discipleship if we weren’t expected to pay it? It’s not like Jesus was saying, “Odds are you’ll live a comfortable life as a Christian. You’ll go to church, join a small group, and read devotionals. Once in a while you might catch some flak on Facebook but otherwise it should be smooth sailing.” That isn’t the fanatical Jesus of Nazareth, it’s the cartoon Jesus decorating the walls of your church nursery!
Finally, let’s look at other Bible verses which use the phrase “ears to hear”. I think you’ll agree these are powerful commands and warnings in Scripture to take God seriously and to not write off His words as hyperbole (all verses below are from the ESV translation):
- Matthew 11:13-15 “‘For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.'”
- Mark 4:21-23 “And he said to them, ‘Is a lamp brought in to be put under a basket, or under a bed, and not on a stand? For nothing is hidden except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret except to come to light. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.'”
- Deuteronomy 29:2-4 “And Moses summoned all Israel and said to them: ‘You have seen all that the Lord did before your eyes in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, the great trials that your eyes saw, the signs, and those great wonders. But to this day the Lord has not given you a heart to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear.'”
- Proverbs 22:17-19 “Incline your ear, and hear the words of the wise, and apply your heart to my knowledge, for it will be pleasant if you keep them within you, if all of them are ready on your lips. That your trust may be in the Lord, I have made them known to you today, even to you.”
- Proverbs 28:9 “If one turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination.”
- Mark 4:9 “And he said, ‘He who has ears to hear, let him hear.'” (Parable of the Sower)
- Jeremiah 5:21 “Hear this, O foolish and senseless people, who have eyes, but see not, who have ears, but hear not.”
- Ezekiel 12:2 “Son of man, you dwell in the midst of a rebellious house, who have eyes to see, but see not, who have ears to hear, but hear not, for they are a rebellious house.”
Tomorrow I’ll continue our investigation by addressing a second possible way to reconcile Luke 14:26 with Matthew 5:43-45:
- Luke 14:26 was added to Scripture later than Matthew 5:43-45 to address a specific group of people, namely, late-First and early-Second Century Christians dealing with expulsion from the Temple and/or being ostracized from their families for their faith