(Crossposted from Wheat and Chaff)
We talk a lot in Christian circles about how to love our wives, and rightly so. But I fear that we neglect another command of our Lord, which is that we must hate our wives. And I do not believe these are separate commands in tension, which we must learn to balance; I do not believe we can learn to love our wives until we learn to hate them first.
“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.” (Luke 14:26 NKJ)
What is Jesus commanding us to do here exactly? A similar passage in Matthew 10:37 says it a little more gently: “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.” (Matt. 10:37 NKJ) Some interpreters reading the Luke passage simply explain it away with the Matthew passage; Jesus isn’t telling us to actually hate our family members, but just to love them less than Jesus.
But those aren’t the words that Luke uses. He quotes Jesus as saying “hate”, and sound Biblical exegesis tells us that while Scripture certainly must interpret Scripture, we should not simply explain away one part of the Bible with another. The word “miseo” translated there “hate” is used by Luke in other places to describe the hatred that followers of Jesus would experience from the world (Luke 6:22; 21:17). Also in Luke 16:13 we are called to choose between loving God and loving the world; Jesus tells us we will love one and “hate” the other. This is not a matter of loving one less than another; Jesus presents it as a choice.
This is also what I believe Jesus is telling us in Luke 14. We must choose. Following Christ always has costs; in Luke 14 Jesus goes on to tell us to count the cost of discipleship. I don’t know a single serious Christian that hasn’t lost relationships as a result of being a Christian. We are faced with a choice, many times in our lives- either we can have a good relationship with some loved one in our lives, or we can be faithful Christians, but we can’t have both. The Christian should never be the one forcing this choice on others; being a Christian never means shunning unbelievers. But it is the unbeliever that forces the choice on us. Jesus tells us in many places, like Luke 6:22 and 21:17, that the world naturally detests the followers of Christ, and will pressure them to compromise their faith. Many in the world will only have a relationship with the Christian if the Christian softens or downplays or even denies aspects of his faith that the world finds repulsive. (Exhibit: Tim Tebow)
Where is the ultimate source of our happiness and satisfaction? In Christ, and only in Him. Family is a great blessing from God, but family can never provide for me what Christ provides for me. I am blessed to have a good family, but God may one day take that away from me. He can still provide for me and comfort me even without my family. And if I expect my wife or my parents or my children to be for me what only Christ can be, the ultimate source of joy, of significance, of contentment, in my life, then I will put a burden on my family that they can never bear. A great many problems in families come from just this error; a man comes to hate his wife because he expected her to satisfy his every desire, to give him full contentment, which she can never do.
This points us to the irony of the Christian life, an irony well expressed by Jesus’ statement above. A man who loves his wife above all will ultimately come to hate her. But a man who learns to hate his wife for Christ’s sake, to be willing to lose his wife, to recognize that his wife is a fallen sinner just like he is, that man will finally be able to truly love his wife as the Bible tells us. It is a paradox; only by hating my wife can I truly love her; whereas loving her above Christ or instead of Christ is the most hateful thing I can do to her. This is just what Jesus meant when He told us that “He who loves His life will lose it; He who loses his life for my sake will find it.” Jesus’ statement works just as well substituting any good thing there for the word “life”.
Many have been lost to the faith because they could not bear to lose their loved ones. Many have contemplated Christianity but rejected it because they knew what their parents would say, what their spouses or children would say. Many who started out in the faith lost it when one of their loved ones abandoned the faith. To be Christ’s disciple you have to be prepared for that. You have to be prepared to consign any one of your loved ones to the judgment of God, to reject them and forget about them and write them out of your life. Some of your loved ones will end up in hell. Can you bear that? Do you love them so much that you will follow them there?
I’m not advocating shunning. As long as our loved ones who reject the faith are willing to talk, willing to have a relationship, we should be willing as well. And some of them might be willing to have that relationship. But some of them won’t be, and you never know which ones. So Jesus is telling us to be prepared; count the costs. You can bet that one day God’s finger will be laid on the idol in your heart, and you will be asked what you are willing to lose for the sake of Christ.
So men, learn to hate your wife. Parents, learn to hate your children. Brothers, hate your sisters, and sisters your brothers. Be willing to lose all for Christ; look to nothing and nobody to be to you what only Christ can give to you. If you cannot do that, then you cannot be His disciple. If you cannot do that, you will lose your wife and children anyway; trying to hold back things from Christ just results in losing them and losing Christ.
But when you do that, when you are willing to lose all for Him, to despise all, to count it all as dung in comparison to Him, then Christ will give back to you far more than you were ever prepared to lose for Him. Only by pursuing Christ alone can you ultimately have good relationships with other people; just as only by pursuing Christ alone will you learn to truly enjoy food, nature, work, or any other good thing that God gives us. He gives us everything in Christ; rejecting Christ, we can have nothing.
Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. Everything else will be added unto you.