Question: “What did Jesus mean when He instructed us hate our father and mother (Luke 14:26)?”
Answer: First, we must take this verse in the context of the chapter. Jesus is teaching His disciples, and like any good teacher, He begins with a truth statement that is hard to understand in order to get His students thinking. Then, He clarifies the difficult truth statement with a metaphor. The truth statement is the confusing verse 26, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple.” So, if we don’t hate our family and our own lives, we can’t be His disciple. But does He mean we are to have real hatred for our parents?
Next, Jesus relates a metaphor about a man who builds a house without counting the cost and finds that he cannot follow through with what he set out to do. He leaves the house unfinished because he cannot pay what is required. Jesus is showing us the explanation to His difficult statement—that we must count the cost of discipleship. This is the point of the passage. In order to be a disciple, we must be willing to give up everything for Jesus. Therefore, if our parents will not follow Jesus, or even if they disown us for being Christians, we must still choose Him over them. It is in this sense that we are “hating” our family members who reject the Lord or reject us because of the Lord. This is not easy, and of course it is right that we should love our family members and want our family members to love and follow God. After all, 1 John 4:7-8 says “Beloved, let us love one another for love is from God and everyone that loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God for God is love.” And that is only one of many passages commanding us to love others. But despite our love for the people we know, here is the key: if they don’t love Jesus, He must still be our first priority. We must esteem Him more highly than the people we love here on earth and we must love Him more than our own lives. In fact, we must love Him so much that our earthly loves pale in comparison, even to the point of seeming like hate.
Second, let’s take it in context of other places in the Bible. Matthew 19:29 says, “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.” So, here is the promise: God has required total commitment from His followers, to the point of heart-breaking separation from any natural family members who reject Jesus, but in heaven we will have a hundred times what we lost—an entire family of believers who love Christ and who love us! Even the material things that we had forsaken in order to follow Him will be given back to us in a form a hundred times better than what we lost! So, He is a good God, after all, and, no, He does not want us to literally hate (viciously despise or wish harm to) the members of our family. All we are required to do is choose Jesus over them even if they force us to do so by rejecting Him.
Jesus may have chosen the word “hate” to show us that this is how a mother or father will perceive the actions of a child who chooses the Lord above them. They will see it as disloyal, especially if we try to witness to them. The love of a Christian for a non-Christian is almost always seen as hatred, intolerance, bigotry, etc. But we must be okay with being seen as “hating.” After all, our unbelieving relatives are part of the world, and Jesus said, “"If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first” (John 15:18).