If you want to be my disciple, you must, by comparison, hate everyone else—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple. And if you do not carry your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple. But don’t begin until you count the cost. [Luke 14:26-28a (NLT)]
His cautionary words to the disciples are difficult to understand. How can Jesus, who told us to love our enemies and do good to them, tell us to hate our families? Do we have to despise our relatives if we want to be his disciples? Fortunately, after getting the disciples’ attention with that unusual statement, Jesus followed with a parable about a man who undertook a project without counting the cost and then couldn’t finish what he began. Hating our family is just a hyperbole; it’s a way of saying that anyone who follows Christ must love Him more than anything else. Christ is to be first and foremost in our hearts and minds. In comparison to our love for Jesus, we are to love them less (or “hate” them). To be His disciple, Jesus demands total commitment; we must be willing to give up everything for Him, even if that means the things and people we love. Sadly, when we choose Christ over loved ones, they might perceive our love of Jesus as a betrayal and may even hate us for that choice.
I was raised in a family of believers and married a believer so I never had to choose between Jesus and family. For a moment, however, consider the disciples and their families. When they left their jobs to follow Jesus, did they leave behind loved ones? Did their families disown them or distance themselves from what seemed fanaticism or membership in a strange cult? What about the Apostle Paul? Originally known as Saul of Tarsus, he came from a family of Pharisees and spent many years studying Scripture under the celebrated rabbi Gamaliel. If not already a member of the Sanhedrin, he was well on his way to becoming a member of the high council and was an active leader in persecuting the followers of Christ. Saul was probably everything a devout Jewish family would want in a good Jewish son until he became a Christian evangelist named Paul! Think of what it cost him to follow Jesus.
While some of us gave up a few bad habits or unsavory friends when we accepted Christ, Christian apologist Nabeel Qureshi gave up far more. When this Pakistani-American gave up his Muslim faith, he gave up his loving family as well. His becoming Christian caused a devastating destruction of their relationship and it took nearly ten years for the healing to begin. I cannot begin to comprehend the difficulty of his choice to follow Christ and the pain experienced by both parents and son. When I read Qureshi’s story, I finally understood what Jesus meant when He said to count the cost before we give up our lives and pick up that cross.
How could I betray my family after all they had done for me? By becoming a Christian, not only would I lose all connection with the Muslim community around me, my family would lose their honor as well. My decision would not only destroy me, it would also destroy my family, the ones who loved me most and sacrificed so much for me. I began mourning the impact of the decision I knew I had to make.… “But Jesus,” I said, “accepting you would be like dying. I will have to give up everything.”… For Muslims, following the gospel is more than a call to prayer. It is a call to die. [Nabeel Qureshi]