In a desiringGod.org article titled ”If You Don’t Hate Your Father, You Cannot Be My Disciple” John Piper writes:
“Radical obedience to Jesus relativizes natural relationships.”
These relationships could be between parents and children, siblings, marriages, best friends etc. Our relationship to Jesus must be above any natural relationship we have, and we must follow Him at all costs.
Not all families will be happy and supportive about one of their own following Jesus. You may be in one of those families where you are the only follower of Jesus and your beliefs may be met with hostility or possibly silence.
God’s Word tells us we must choose truth and obedience over sentimentalism and comfort. Once your heart has been transformed by the power of the gospel, no earthly relationship you have will ever be the same. Piper explains,
“Some will be exquisitely deeper and happier — as we discover who our true family is (‘Whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother,’ Mark 3:35). Some will be shattered (‘A person’s enemies will be those of his own household,’ Matthew 10:36).”
Here are 3 ways Jesus relativizes our relationships with others in the gospels:
1. We may be called to leave our family.
Mark 10:28-30 says,
“Then Peter spoke up, ‘We have left everything to follow you!’ ‘Truly I tell you,’ Jesus replied, ‘no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.”
Matthew Henry’s commentary explains,
“The greatest trial of a good man's constancy is, when love to Jesus calls him to give up love to friends and relatives. Even when gainers by Christ, let them still expect to suffer for him, till they reach heaven..”
And John Wesley’s explanatory notes state,
“He shall receive a hundred fold, houses, &c. - Not in the same kind: for it will generally be with persecutions: but in value: a hundred fold more happiness than any or all of these did or could afford. But let it be observed, none is entitled to this happiness, but he that will accept it with persecutions.”
Though there will be persecution, there will be blessing in the body of believers now and into eternity. As Piper comments, “… even though there is greater gain, the loss is still loss, at least temporarily.” Jesus wants us to learn to depend entirely on our heavenly Father, who will always take care of us.
2. We may be called to see our family as our enemy.
In Matthew 10:34-39 Jesus states,
“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn “ ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law— a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’ “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.”
As the NIV Study Bible comments, this of course does not mean that Jesus came to start wars, but that there would be some families where not every member would believe; the sword represents the interpersonal hostility that can occur within families.
We know that part of Jesus’ mission on earth was to bring peace, as we can read in Luke 2:14, John 16:33, John 14:27, Luke 19:42, Acts 10:36, and Ephesians 2:17. Piper writes,
“Jesus offers himself as peace, but when supreme love for him is not shared in a family, he becomes a divider.”
Some family members will not love Jesus more than they love their family, and despite His offering of peace they will not make Him supreme. Part of taking up our cross means embracing “the pain of relational brokenness for Christ’s sake,” says Piper.
In C.S. Lewis’ work of fiction, The Great Divorce, he describes a mother who loved her son more than God. In a fictional purgatory the mother was met by a believer who told her if she could just learn to love God more than her son, she would be able to enjoy freedom in heaven. But she could not understand why her son was not with her and why God would keep him from her; she even went as far as saying she would rather have her son in hell with her because at least they would be together.
God will not settle for second best or even tying for first.
3. We may be called to “hate” and "renounce” our family.
In Luke 14:26-27, 33 Jesus says,
“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. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. . . . Any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.”
Just as we read in other scriptures that Jesus did come to bring peace, but the context of what He was saying in Matthew 10 was for division in families so we face a similar concept and context here. In Matthew 19:19, Matthew 22:39, Matthew 5:44, and John 13:35 we read about our command to love and honor others.
So how can we understand this statement to hate and renounce? The first step is to read John 12:24-25, “whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” Piper explains the meaning here:
“We will be called upon to make choices in this world that look as if we hate our lives in the sense of caring very little for their well-being. For example, we may have to die for Christ. “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10). To the world, this will look like the ultimate self-hate — throwing your life away for a myth! Jesus says it is a kind of “hate,” but it’s also a way of preserving our lives for eternal life — which is a very radical form of love for our lives.
Similarly, when Jesus says we cannot be his disciples unless we “hate” our fathers, he probably means something similar. That is, we may be called on to do things that look as though we hate our fathers when, in fact, we long for them to join us in eternal life.”
As an example, for believing parents it can be very hard to watch their child leave and go live in another country for missions…and sometimes this means they will not be able to take care of their aging parents. Now imagine how this would look to a non-believing family when their child leaves them to live in another part of the world. It could look like hate to those who do not believe and love Jesus.
Jesus knows what He’s doing when he uses a strong word like “hate” in talking to his disciples; it is an extreme perspective to test them. “The radical sayings of Christ expose our self-protective reflex,” writes Piper.
As believers will we say, yes I choose You over everything and everyone else Jesus without hesitation? Will we be OK with others possibly misunderstanding our actions and wondering why we are not doing certain things for our family and putting our family first?
Though you may never have to make such painful choices, there are Christians all around the world who make such choices every day. When they trust Jesus, they must leave their old life behind. They can no longer follow the same traditions and rituals; for many to return home would be to meet death. By breaking with their family tradition they are viewed as destroyers and haters. As believers, we are called to be faithful unto death (Rev. 2:10); our faith must take precedence over all things, even what we hold most dear.
Piper wisely concludes,
“Whatever you do, don’t domesticate the radical teachings of Jesus. If they make you uncomfortable, let them do their work. They are designed to create real disciples who are ready to lose all to gain Christ. The world may call it hate. They may call it foolishness. It is not. It is love. And it is the wisdom of God."
To read John Piper’s article in its entirety please visit desiringGod.org.
Crosswalk.com contributor Eric McKiddie writes,
“In John’s vision of the seal judgments, the fifth seal depicts the souls of those who had been martyred because of their witness for Christ. “They cried out with a loud voice, ‘O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?' Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer” (Rev. 6:10-11).
In Revelation, white clothing represents a pure life (see also Rev. 3:4-5; 7:9-14; 19:8). Those who are persecuted are viewed to be in the wrong, even evil, by their persecutors. But when we face opposition for our faith, we can be assured that God regards us as righteous before him. Knowing that God is pleased with us, despite what others might say or think, helps us persevere.”
What Jesus tells us about how the world works is often upside-down from how non-believers see it. Our cultures will continue to change, but the Word of God remains the same.
5 Promises for the Persecuted
Image courtesy: Thinkstockphotos.com
Publication date: March 6, 2017
Liz Kanoy is an editor for Crosswalk.com.