Today we’ll wrap up this intriguing series on comparing God’s love and hate by testing a third possible way to reconcile the two following verses:
“‘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
“‘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
I thought I had Luke 14:26 all figured out until one of our readers, fastmov4, made a good challenge and (darn it!) made me think harder than I’m used to. So we talked about two possible ways to reconcile the verses above:
- 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
I think the first bullet point is a bit of a cop-out. It sounds good, but that’s the problem; it appeals to my flesh. It gives me a way out of doing “the hard thing” which usually ends up being “the right thing”. Then again, maybe I’m just showcasing how much I like to beat up on myself and not give myself grace!
I really like the second bullet as a way to reconcile the two verses because it makes logical sense. Though the second bullet lets us off the hook more than the first, it does so in a way that appeals to my reason and intellect rather than my flesh. Another way of wording the second bullet might be: “Unless you’re in a situation that requires you to hate your family for Jesus’ sake, ignore this verse.” The obvious caveat, and conflict with the first bullet, is this: You may be required to hate your family at some point, and literally so, not figuratively.
So let’s wrap up this series with a third possible way to reconcile the verses above:
- 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
There’s a possibility this conclusion will offend people (especially Americans) because of the modern notion that we should be considered equal in all things. Well, Scripture tells time and again that there will be greater and lesser people in the kingdom of heaven. Jesus never said we’d all be equal in God’s kingdom; He clearly points out that the greatest among us will become the servants of all. Why provoke us to greatness through service if there is no greatness to be had? Of course there will be different rewards in heaven based on our work here on earth! Don’t misunderstand: It is through faith, not works, that we are saved in Christ Jesus. But faith without works is dead, and once you’ve got your “butt into heaven” do you really think you work here on earth is done? Of course not!
Let’s start our final analysis on this subject by comparing the contexts of the two verses above. The verse from Matthew is of course an excerpt from the Sermon On The Mount, which rather than being a single uber-sermon, is more likely a collection of Jesus’ teachings. Regardless, the literary context of the Sermon is Jesus sitting on a hillside preaching to the masses. Matthew chapter 5 begins with the following brief narrative:
“And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him: And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying,” (Matthew 5:1-2, KJV)
The rest of chapter 5 is red-letter text…as is all of chapter 6…and all of chapter 7 save the last two verses. So the key to understanding the context of the Sermon On The Mount, and thus the verses from Matthew we are studying, is found in Matthew 5:1-2. Three “people” are identified in this narrative: 1) The multitudes; 2) Jesus’ disciples; 3) Jesus. In my mind Jesus uses the Sermon On The Mount to teach the wisdom of God. It’s like the book of Proverbs: Good advice for everyone to follow. As chapter 7 closes Jesus tells the parable of the two men who built houses, one on the rock and one on the sand; He tells the story to reiterate the point that people should not only listen to Jesus’ words but also do what He says. In my mind the Sermon is a wisdom-school pep talk. A fantastic pep talk with fantastic advice, no doubt, but still a pep talk for the masses.
These same masses, after witnessing years of Jesus’ preaching and miracles, are following Jesus as He nears His triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Emotions are running high, people are excited, the bandwagon is standing-room only. Jesus in the only one who knows the truth: In a matter of weeks he will be rejected by the people, suffer crucifixion, and die. By the time chapter 14 of Luke rolls around Jesus’ disciples are probably giddy with anticipation of the coming kingdom of God…at least the kingdom they thought was coming.
Luke sets up Jesus’ words with the following verse:
“Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them,” (Luke 14:25, ESV)
Explicitly identified in this verse are: 1) Great crowds; 2) Jesus. Implicitly you can assume that Jesus’ disciples were present as well. In other words, the same setting as the Sermon on the mount. But this time something is different. Jesus is not just dispensing gems from the School Of Wisdom; He’s got a serious point He’s trying to make:
“‘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)
Jesus looks at the great crowds (and his disciples) following Him anticipating (incorrectly) His coming kingdom and glory on earth and issues a warning. In my mind Jesus is saying something like this: “So you want to be my disciple and share in my glory. Fine, but understand this: You cannot be my disciple unless you…”
In Matthew 5 Jesus offers Godly advice to the masses. In Luke 14 Jesus doesn’t offer advice, He warns people there is a difference between following Him as part of the crowd and following Him as a disciple. Is it likely that the great crowds of the Church have faith that Jesus is the Son of God? Only God knows the answer to that. But why does Jesus warn people of the cost of becoming disciples if discipleship carries equal reward in heaven with the masses?
The question I’m left with is this: Is it possible to “follow” Jesus and His good advice as one of many in a great crowd, but not “follow” Him as a disciple?