Jesus Calls Us to Love Him Supremely

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : Luke 14:26

Now great multitudes accompanied him [that is, Jesus]; and he turned and said to them, “If any one 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.”

Luke 14:25-26 rsv

It was surely the most difficult, daunting charge that any leader ever gave to his potential followers. Even if we’ve heard these words many times, they still jar us and leave us, mouths agape. Who must Jesus be and what must He want from us to make such a demand? Listen. I’m reading from Luke, chapter 14, verse 25:

Now great multitudes accompanied him [that is, Jesus]; and he turned and said to them, “If any one 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.”

What was in the Lord’s mind when He said this? We can only surmise. Great multitudes were following Him at the time. Perhaps He wondered about them. What were their motives? How much did they know of Him? How earnest were they about following Him?

Did the Lord want to thin out this admiring crowd? Did He want to discourage those who were only hangers on? Was He seeking, Gideon-like, to cull out from the multitude an elite band? These words of His must surely have had that effect. They must have given pause to many a would-be follower. They seemed to make the choice so forbidding that only the most devoted and courageous would respond.

I often think about that in connection with present-day calls to Christian conversion. We preachers seek to celebrate the freedom of the gospel, that men and women and young people are saved simply through trusting Jesus Christ and not through any works or deserving of their own. But in our zeal to do that, we often give the impression that following Jesus Christ is a relatively simple matter, that it scarcely causes a ripple in the average person’s lifestyle. We seldom sound the note that though salvation is a free gift, discipleship may cost us everything. Whereas Jesus made the choice seem momentous, even forbidding, we often make it appear no more demanding than joining a civic club. The wisdom and value of Jesus’ way appears in the staying power of His recruits and the staggering contribution they eventually made to His cause. Isn’t it right and good that we should know, going in, what discipleship really involves?

HATE THEM?

But even that consideration hardly prepares us for the shock of what Jesus says here. What can He possibly mean by saying we are to hate father and mother, hate spouse and children, hate brothers and sisters, hate our own lives, as a condition of being His followers? Remember, this call comes from the one who said He had not come to destroy the law and the prophets but to fulfill them. This issues from the Messiah who honored every one of God’s commands, even the least. These words, then, must somehow fit with God’s other precepts: “Honor your father and mother.” “Husbands, love your wives.” Be a nurturing, gracious parent. Care for your neighbor as you care for yourself. How do we put it all together?

There must be a way in which we can love, honor, and care for these relatives in all our interactions with them, and yet in another sense “hate” them. Here’s where it helps to know something about Hebrew ways of expression. In the Hebrew idiom, when loving and hating are contrasted with one another, we’re often being faced with different levels of loyalty, responsibility and commitment.

Think about this word of God through the last of the Old Testament prophets Malachi: “Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated” (see 1:2-3). What can these words mean? Esau and Jacob were both the sons of Isaac. Both were numbered among the people of God. Both were objects of His covenant love and received numberless blessings from His hand. But the word of the Lord at the time of their birth was that “the elder shall serve the younger” (Gen. 25:23). Though Esau was the older twin, Jacob was in a special sense the heir of God’s promises. Hating Esau and loving Jacob does not mean different emotions toward each on God’s part so much as different ways of acting toward them, different choices about them in His all-wise purpose. Jacob He chose for a special role in His covenant. Esau He did not so choose. To Jacob was given the promise, the birthright, the blessing denied to Esau.

Let’s say a young man is attracted to three different girls. Both out of Christian conscience and social custom, he knows he can marry only one. Eventually, he must make a choice among them, set his love upon one. For her, the sequel will be proposal, marriage, enduring love. The other two, though he may still admire them and feel affection toward them, are rejected or set aside by him as potential wives. In saying yes to the one, he inevitably says a kind of no to all others.

Jesus is saying that the claim of our dearest family members upon our love, loyalty, obedience and service is to be subordinated to His claim. The simple maxim “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29) applies here also. Jesus makes it plain that we cannot be His disciples, His followers, His own ones, without this.

It’s a bit like the break involved in a marriage. As he grows up in the family home, a young man’s relationship with his parents is as close as any on earth. But when he marries and forms a new home, there’s a profound sense in which he must leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife. That new relationship now takes primacy. From marriage onward, the husband-wife bond becomes the most significant human relationship for both spouses. Marriages have a notoriously poor survival rate where the tie of a husband or wife with parents is still regarded as most significant. In a similar way, we cannot cleave to Christ without in some sense leaving every other tie. We can’t be truly devoted to this master without saying no to every other would-be lord. Being a disciple means simply that we love Him supremely, giving Him the solitary throne. We cannot serve two masters, follow two lords, love two persons first and best. It’s a profoundly significant choice.

WHEN CLAIMS CONFLICT

Do these claims on our love come into conflict very often – those of family members and those of Jesus Christ? Perhaps not, but at a few major moments in life they may. Think about the choice of a vocation. Mr. Reynolds, say, desperately wants his son Bart to take over the family business. It’s been the father’s lifelong dream. But the boy finds his interests developing along other lines. After a great deal of consideration and prayer, he feels that God would have him become a teacher of handicapped children. The wish of a father and the call of God seem to pull him in different directions. Which loyalty will ultimately prevail?

Think about the choice of a mate. I came home at summer’s end after my senior year in college and announced to my parents that I’d found the girl I was going to marry. They were understandably taken aback. They had never met her, but here I was talking like it was all settled. For a while, there was considerable tension. What I had had a few months to consider, think about, pray about, they were hearing for the first time. They weren’t sure about my wisdom, judgment and maturity, perhaps with good reason. But I knew that my love for Helen and God’s leading had come together, and I was sure. Being the wonderful parents they were, as soon as they realized that this is what I deeply wanted, they were all for it. But I was facing for a little while the possibility that I might have to say no to my parents in order to say yes to the woman I loved. Sometimes it happens that way.

Or think about the call of God to some special ministry, perhaps missionary service. Here’s a young father and mother who feel strongly the call of God to labor at a mission station in Indonesia. But their parents can hardly bear the thought that their only grandchildren are to be taken out of the country. Other family members also disapprove. It’s a situation that may involve some risk to the missionary family. How are these conflicts of interest resolved, these strong wishes of people – all well-meaning – given their due? It isn’t easy. Sometimes common sense and consideration for the people involved may all seem to point one way while obedience to God’s call beckons in another direction.

THE HIDDEN BLESSING

This seems a hard saying, doesn’t it? The road of discipleship is a lonely, risky path at times. But isn’t this another instance in which Jesus’ words prove true? “Whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it” (Mark 8:35). Could this be true for our relationships with loved ones as well, that to subordinate such ties to Christ’s lordship is finally to exalt them? I believe it. If we love the Lord first and best, He will see to it that we love our loved ones in a far better way than we otherwise could. He will put His greater love toward them in our hearts.

According to Jesus, the two great commands, “Love God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind” and “Love your neighbor as yourself,” are inseparably joined. Jesus and His apostles make it plain that we cannot truly love God unless we love one another. If we don’t love our brothers and sisters whom we have seen, how can we love God whom we have not seen? The converse is also profoundly true: We cannot rightly love our neighbors unless we give to the Lord our whole hearts. Have you ever thought of that?

And, when we genuinely love our family members, where home ties are hallowed by loyalty to Christ, this releases them to love God freely and fully. We can sometimes love our loved ones in a way that cramps them and makes it difficult for them to abandon themselves to God. The right kind of love doesn’t demand from anyone in our families what rightly belongs to the Lord alone.

It’s becoming clearer to me all the time that to renounce the idolatrous claim of my self-love in order to follow Jesus is to find my true life. And to renounce the idolatrous tie and appeal of a human relationship is to receive that relationship given back again, now hallowed and enriched. When you abandon everything to be Christ’s person, you only seem to lose. Remember that marvelous assurance of Jesus, “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well” (Matt. 6:33).

The supreme call is there before us. Jesus is making it clear that we can’t start out saying, “I’ll follow You, Lord, if my parents give me permission.” Or, “if my spouse approves,” or, “if my children understand,” or, “if my brothers and sisters will support me in it.” Or we can’t say, “I’ll follow You, Jesus, if I keep on feeling like it.” No, the claims of all of those, along with the imperious demands of our own self-will have to be relinquished to His higher claim. No reservations allowed, no qualifications. No hidden loyalties that would make wholehearted following impossible.

Who is Jesus to make such a claim? To send forth such a demand upon our lives? He’s the Lord of glory, yes. He’s the Son of God in human life, yes. But more than that, He is the One who became poor that we might be rich, the One who died so that we could live. Those who decided that day on the way to Jerusalem to follow Him didn’t know all that. They had to make their decision in the light of what they saw and knew and believed. We have stronger reasons than they to make Him our life choice, don’t we? We can say in the soaring words of the apostle, “He loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). So now we sing from our hearts, “The dearest idol I have known, what e’er that idol be, help me to tear it from Thy throne and worship only Thee.”