“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. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.”
Luke 14:26-33 (ESV)
Did Yeshua really tell us we must hate our family? I’m not going to spend much time answering that question. If one were to read earlier, Yeshua had just taught using the parable of the wedding feast. The point of that message is that some that are invited are unwilling to prioritize their responsibilities in order to attend the wedding. Of course, a metaphor referencing that some will be invited to the Kingdom, but will be unwilling to put God as their priority. This lesson of counting the cost is merely a continuation of that parable, driving the point home.
In some scholarly circles there is debate on what word Yeshua really used. The odds are very high that Yeshua did not speak or teach in Greek. More than likely he spoke Hebrew or Aramaic. That’s not the point I am considering. The point is that more than likely, Yeshua did not use the word hate and certainly could not have been teaching to literally hate our family members. The intent of the passage is to prioritize our lives, being willing to put God ahead of our family, if necessary.
I don’t know what other people consider when they think about this passage, but I get anxious wondering how I would measure up to such a standard. Would I be willing to choose a path away from my family, if that is what God asked of me? God wouldn’t intentionally design a path for me that required me to turn my back on my family, would He? I would argue that the path to God is open to all, and if we choose to walk that path, our family is invited, but may choose not to walk that path. So in reality would we be turning our backs on our family, or would our family be turning their backs on God? Then again, perhaps a different understanding is that God may guide me to be part of a foreign county mission trip which would require me to leave my family for a period of time or put myself directly in the line of danger.
The author of the book of Hebrews had a little to say on the matter.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.
Hebrew 12:1-4 (ESV)
Many misunderstand the first part of this passage, picturing a crowd of cheering spectators, whether angels or spiritual forefathers. First, in further context, the author continues the message by relating the story of Yeshua enduring the cross. The author challenged readers to consider him who endured hostility and reminded readers that they had yet to shed blood.
The word witnesses was not used the same as we use it today. This word is actually derived from the word martyr. D. Thomas Lancaster did a thorough job breaking down the history and meaning of this word in one of his sermons. To summarize the thought, a witness was used in reference to one that was called by the Roman courts to renounce their belief in God. If they did not renounce their belief, they would often be put to death, being called a martyr or witness for providing their testimony without failing to renounce their loyalty to God.
The author of the book of Hebrews seems to have upped the ante a bit. Instead of expecting followers to leave behind their family, the writer is reminding and forewarning the readers about real persecution. The deaths of Stephen and James are both recorded in Acts. Paul recorded various punishments he received in 1 Corinthians. History has recorded several barbaric deaths of disciples and God followers for thousands of years.
How does one count the cost when living in a culture that the most difficult persecution we face is perhaps embarrassment, social pressure, or appearing socially awkward? The cost of loyalty for some, is taking a purity oath as a teenager, and living life as a virgin in high school or as a young adult. Perhaps it means admitting to your family that you have to be late for an event because of church.
As I write this, my family and I prepare to light the 5th candle in celebration of Hanukkah. The story of Hanukkah perpetuates the lesson of counting the cost of being loyal to God. The Maccabee family chose to rally and inspire enough in the community to stand up against Antiochus and take control of the temple back. A rag-tag crew of community members were outnumbered by 10 to 1, yet stood to fight against trained Roman soldiers. Those community members paid a hefty price for what they believed, but their faith proved enough for God to bring victory.
I don’t exactly fit in a typical Christian church because I observe the Sabbath, festivals, and dietary guides. That’s not typical for a Christian. I still believe Yeshua is the messiah so I don’t fit into a Jewish community. I’m sort of in between. Sometimes the cost for me is that I don’t participate in some church activities on Saturdays because I do observe the Sabbath. There is definitely some awkwardness between myself and other church attenders because the church I attend openly teaches against these traditions as “old law.” At the family Christmas dinner in a few days, I will choose not to eat the ham that my mother in law will prepare and possibly withstand a minor, but not ill intended, joke from my brother in law. Is that persecution? I hardly think Yeshua or the author of Hebrews would feel sorry for me.
How can I even understand the cost, let alone count it?