July 28, 1991


“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” (Luke 14:26).

Jesus Christ is a troublemaker.  In fact, he’s the most disturbing and dangerous person who ever lived.  He causes conflict and divides families.  Some people even lose their lives because of him.  If you don’t believe me, just listen to the words of Jesus himself which the Bible records in Matthew 10:

Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth.  I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.  For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law–a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.

Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me;  anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me;  and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.  Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.    Matthew 10:32-39

Those are shocking words.  Jesus doesn’t bring peace but a sword, and he turns family members against each other.  Jesus puts it even more outrageously when he says in Luke 14:26, “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.”

Preachers often advertise Jesus as the solution to our political conflicts and family problems.  But it sounds here like Jesus might cause more problems than he solves.  If that’s the case, we would be crazy to follow him.  Who needs Jesus to bring a sword?  We have enough wars already.  Who needs Jesus to help us hate family members, when we already have more than enough resentment?  If Jesus is going to do more harm than good, we can certainly do without him.

These statements of Jesus are troubling, to say the least.  They don’t appeal to our desperate longing for peace and love, and they don’t seem consistent with other things that we know about Jesus.  The Bible calls Jesus the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6), and Jesus himself claimed to bring peace to his people (John 14:27).  He also taught his followers to love their families, their neighbors, and even their enemies.  Jesus constantly talked about peace and love.  How, then, can he bring a sword instead of peace, and demand that we hate the people closest to us?  How can his message of peace and love fit together with his call to division and hatred?  Isn’t Jesus contradicting himself?

Perhaps now you begin to understand why many people who met Jesus thought he was very abnormal.  According to John 7:5, “even his own brothers did not believe in him.”  On one occasion, his family even wanted to stop his teaching and take him home, because they thought he was out of his mind (Mark 3:21).  Many of the religious leaders didn’t think Jesus was merely crazy–they went one step lower and concluded that he was possessed by a demon (Mark 3:22).  And some of the common people also thought he was demon-possessed (John 7:20).  Jesus didn’t always make a good impression, to put it mildly.

If you read the Bible, you’ll find that Jesus was a startling, shocking person who offended many people.  On more than one occasion, people were turned off by Jesus’ teaching and stopped following him.  Jesus was a strange character who said some very strange things–at least they sounded strange to people who weren’t on Jesus’ wavelength.  Jesus seemed a little crazy, and you had to be a little crazy to follow him.  In fact, you still have to be a little crazy to follow him.

Jesus seemed weird to many of the people who heard him, and it’s really no wonder.  What do you think of a man who says, “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” (Luke 14:26)?

That’s a hard statement to swallow–or at least it should be.  If you enjoy hearing these words of Jesus, there’s probably something seriously wrong with you.  If you find it easy to hate your parents, or your brothers and sisters, or your children, these words of Jesus are not meant to encourage you in your resentment.  Jesus is certainly not placing his stamp of approval on people who are full of hatred.  Christ does not encourage hatred just for the sake of hatred.

Jesus talks about division and hatred in the context of following him.  We must not hate our family and friends out of spite;  Jesus calls us to a kind of hatred that also continues to love.  But the love we have for our family and friends may not interfere with our love for Jesus.  So Jesus isn’t encouraging us to feel bitter animosity toward others;  he is telling us that we must love him so much that, by comparison, our love for others is nothing.    Jesus calls us to absolute, unconditional, 100% loyalty to him, no matter what it might cost us, even if it means being rejected by some of the people we care about most.

Although this may sound crazy at first, it actually makes a lot of sense.  First of all, notice that Jesus calls us to a relationship of love, not one of convenience.  Maybe you’re interested in God only if you think he will help you to succeed in your personal life or in your family life.   You don’t love him or care about him, but perhaps he can make life better for you.

Jesus isn’t interested in that kind of a relationship.  And that only makes sense.  What do you think of someone who pretends to be your friend simply to get what he wants from you?  Would you want to marry someone who is only interested in your money?  Most of us despise people who make a habit of using others.  Why, then, should the Son of God enjoy being used by people who don’t love him?  Don’t forget who Jesus is.  Jesus is a person, and he wants us to love him, not use him.  Jesus is God, and he wants us to obey him, not treat him as our errand boy.

The Lord insists that we either make him the unchallenged #1 person in our lives, or else forget about him altogether.  This is simply the appropriate response to who Jesus really is, and it is also essential if we want to be realistic about the cost of following him.  As long as we are bound by  our family ties, we cannot follow Jesus.  Unless we can break away from our attachment to our loved ones, we cannot be his disciples.  That’s not an outrageous demand;  it’s a simple fact.

Fathers and mothers keep some people from become disciples.  If you’re from a home that doesn’t follow Jesus, you grow up in a certain way.  You tend to identify very closely with your mother and father, your brothers and sisters, and with your family’s way of life.  You may take pride in a particular ethnic heritage.  Perhaps you even have a bit of religious ritual in your background.  Your family is a big part of who you are.  But if following Jesus is right, your family has been wrong;  they’ve completely missed what life is really about.  You must turn your back on your family background in order to follow Jesus.  And that’s not easy to do.

It’s very hard simply to accept for yourself that you must be a very different person from what your family has been.  And it’s even harder when your family actively opposes your decision to follow Jesus.  In some societies, family members actually try to kill their relatives who become Christians.  They feel it is their duty to oppose Christianity.  But even if you don’t face that kind of persecution, you soon sense that your family isn’t comfortable around you.  They think something has gone wrong with you, and they want you to return to the way you were, before you devoted your life to Jesus.  And so you can follow Christ only if you ignore your family’s wishes.

There are other relationships that are also affected by a decision to follow Jesus.  Once you become a Christian, you must not marry someone who isn’t a devoted follower of Jesus, and you shouldn’t even have a dating relationship with such a person.  If you’re already dating a non-Christian at the time you decide to follow Christ, you must end the relationship.  Otherwise, you can’t be a disciple of Jesus.

The Bible is very clear about the dangers of God’s people becoming attached to those who don’t follow the Lord.  Samson was a man of astonishing strength, but his downfall came when he became attached to Delilah, a woman who did not love God.  King Solomon was a great and brilliant man, but he married women who worshipped other gods, and they turned his heart away from the Lord.  So unless you’re stronger than Samson and smarter than Solomon, you’d better not risk your relationship with God by pursuing romantic relationships with non-Christians.  Don’t marry someone unless you want yourself–and any children you may have– to have a faith like that person.

Consider the case of Olivia Langdon.  Olivia was raised in a Christian home by devout parents, and she claimed to be a Christian.  One day she met Mark Twain, the brilliant writer.  Needless to say, Olivia was charmed by Twain’s intelligence and humor.  Mark Twain was an open critic of religion, but apparently Olivia thought she could marry him first and then help him become a Christian.

At first, it seemed to be working.  According to one of Twain’s biographers, Twain’s “natural kindness of heart, and especially his love for his wife, inclined him toward the teachings and customs of her Christian faith …  It took very little persuasion on his wife’s part to establish family prayers in their home, grace before meals, and the morning reading of the Bible chapter.”

As time passed, however, Twain got tired of pretending.  He told Olivia, “Livy, you may keep this up if you want to, but I must ask you to excuse me from it.  It is making me a hypocrite.  I don’t believe in the Bible;  it contradicts my reason.  I can’t sit here and listen to it, letting you believe that I regard it, as you do, in the light of the Gospel, the Word of God.”

Olivia had failed to persuade her husband to become a Christian.  But the worst was yet to come.  Some years later, Olivia told her sister that she no longer believed in a personal God who cared for every human soul.  Twain’s skepticism had eroded his wife’s belief, so that in time her faith vanished completely.  Years later, Olivia felt crushed by the death of a loved one.  Twain said to his wife.  “Livy, if it comforts you to lean on the Christian faith, do so.”

She replied, “I can’t.  I haven’t any.”

I’ve seen this tragic story repeated many times–people who thought they could follow Jesus and at the same time marry a non-Christian eventually abandon all faith in God.  That’s why the Bible says, “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers.  For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common?  Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?  What harmony is there between Christ and Belial?  What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever?” (2 Corinthians 6:14-15).

Maybe this warning has come to late for you.  You’re already married to a someone who doesn’t follow Jesus. If that’s the case, you have a difficult road ahead of you, but you can still follow the Lord if you are willing to love him more than you love your husband or wife.

You can ask Jesus to forgive your past sins, and then commit yourself to following the way of Christ, living by what the Bible teaches and worshipping each week with other Christians.  If your husband or wife becomes upset about your faith, that’s unfortunate.  But you can’t let that stop you.  You can’t compromise your commitment to Christ in order to make your marriage easier.  God is more important than your spouse.

Please don’t misunderstand me.  This doesn’t mean that you deliberately cause trouble with your spouse, and you should not break off a marriage the way you could have ended a dating relationship.  You’ve already made those marriage vows, and you must still take them seriously.

In 1 Corinthians 7, the Bible says, “If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her.  And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. . . .  But if the unbeliever leaves, let him do so.  A believing man or woman is not bound is such circumstances;  God has called us to live in peace” (1 Cor. 7:12, 13, 15).

Clearly, God doesn’t want new Christians deliberately trying to get rid of their husbands or wives.  God hates divorce.  But if you become a Christian, you will be different than you were before, and that can make the situation with your spouse very uncomfortable–you might as well face it.  If your husband or wife can accept the new you, great!  You may even win that person over to Christ.  If, however, your spouse refuses to accept the fact that you have become a follower of Jesus, you must not stop following the Lord just to keep your marriage comfortable.  You must follow Jesus no matter what the consequences.

Loving Jesus more than you love your own family is the only way you can continue to follow him.  Otherwise, as soon as your family members refuse the way of Jesus, you will be tempted to reject the way yourself.  So you must love Jesus more than you love your father and mother, you brothers and sisters, your husband or wife.  And you must also love Jesus more than you love your own children.  Otherwise, your attachment to your children can destroy your loyalty to God.

Here’s how it can happen.  Your son informs you he is gay, and for the first time in your life, you wonder whether homosexual behavior really is a sin, after all.  What if the Bible is mistaken about that?  Or your daughter decides to live with a man, and you think, “Well, maybe marriage isn’t the only proper context for sexual intimacy, as the Bible claims.”  Or some of your loved ones ignore Jesus, and you can’t bear the thought of them going to hell.  You’re more concerned about their destiny than about God’s honor, so you begin to wonder whether people might go to heaven even if they don’t accept Christ.  You may even doubt the reality of heaven and hell.  Your faith and convictions begin to crumble.  Your ideas gradually change to fit the situation of the people around you, because you love them more than you love Jesus.

And, ironically, when you care more about people than about Jesus, you are no longer in a position to help those people.  Because you care so much about these people, you have a very hard time accepting the plain teaching of the Bible, and you also find it almost impossible to confront them with their sin.  You say what they want to hear, rather than what they need to hear.  You won’t urge your loved ones to repent;  you don’t want to risk offending them.  The relationship has become so important to you that you can’t risk losing it.  And because you can’t risk losing them now, you allow them to be lost for all eternity, and you may well lose your own life at the same time.

Even if your family remains devout, it is fatal to your own faith if you love them more than you love Jesus.  What will happen to your faith when tragedy strikes?  The Bible tells us about Job and his wife.  They had a very close-knit, devoutly religious family, and they were very prosperous.  Then they lost it all.  Their children were all killed;  their wealth disappeared in a variety of disasters;  and Job was struck by an illness that caused excruciating pain.  At that point, Job’s wife said to him, “‘Are you still holding on to your integrity?  Curse God and die!’  Job replied, ‘You are talking like a foolish woman.  Shall we accept good from God and not trouble?'”

Job’s wife began to hate God when he allowed her children and prosperity to be taken away.  That happens to many people who, in the midst of tragedy, discover that they have always loved their children more than they love God.  They would rather let go of God than let go of their children.  Job wasn’t like that.  Job was a man who loved God even more than he loved his wife and children, and more than his own life.  He grieved his losses and asked many questions, but he refused to stop trusting God.

I’ve given just a few examples of how your loved ones can prevent you from following Jesus.  It’s clear that a half-hearted relationship to God cannot survive.  When your loyalty is tested, you will abandon Jesus rather than risk losing a relationship with someone you love.  So if you consider yourself a Christian, or are considering whether to become one, I hope that you’ll count the cost of following Jesus.  There are great and eternal rewards, but there are also risks and losses.  God may give you many blessings, but he may also take some things away from you.  Can you follow him when that happens?  Or does that seem a crazy thing to do?

If Jesus’ demand still seems unreasonable to you, don’t forget what Jesus himself has done.  Remember that Jesus doesn’t just ask us to give up everything for him–he first gave up everything for us.

Jesus left his place in heaven at his Father’s side to become a tiny baby.  He gave up his position of power to become a weak human being.  And once Jesus began his ministry, he had to ignore the earthly family he loved.  They wanted him to stop preaching and return home.  They couldn’t understand him, and they didn’t want him making a fool of himself.  After all, they didn’t want to be known as the relatives of the weirdest man in the country.  At that point, if Jesus had loved his family more than he loved his Father in heaven, he would have gone home with them quietly and kept a low profile.  But instead, Jesus decided:  “It doesn’t matter what my family thinks.  I’ve got to do what God sent me to do.  My real family is anyone who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Mark 3:21, 31-35).

Jesus even had to hate his own life.  When he was facing his impending death on the cross, Jesus was filled with dread at the suffering he would have to endure.  But Jesus always put his heavenly Father first, and so he prayed, “Not my will, but yours be done.”  His horrible crucifixion broke his mother’s heart and tore his own life away from him.  But Jesus loved God more than he loved anyone in his family and more than he loved his own life, and so he went to the cross as God directed him.

So yes, if it’s crazy to ignore your own family’s desires and to sacrifice yourself, then Jesus was out of his mind.  But if Jesus had done what we consider the sensible thing, he would simply have destroyed every person on earth who had sinned against him.  Then none of us could be saved.  But, as the Bible says, “The foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength” (1 Cor. 1:25).  By ignoring his own welfare and the wishes of his family and following the foolishness of God, Jesus provided eternal life for all who believe in him.  Even his own brothers, who had thought him crazy, eventually believed in him and found salvation.

You, too, can take that step of faith.  Trust that by his death on the cross and his resurrection from the dead, Jesus has opened the way to eternal life.  He invites you to accept him, and to follow him wherever he leads, whatever it costs.  Accept his love, and give your love to him unconditionally.  Love Jesus more than you love anybody else in the whole world–be crazy about him!

There is a wonder and an excitement when we dare to follow Jesus in this risky fashion.  Playing it safe and calculating every move is bland and boring.  Worrying constantly how others will react is stifling and dull.  You will know what it means to be really free when you no longer depend on the approval of others, and instead follow the Lord Jesus wherever he leads.  They may think you are crazy, but they also thought he was out of his mind.  The most sensible thing you can do is to fall madly in love with the Lord and become absolutely crazy about Jesus.


Lord, thank you that you didn’t seek your own life, and that your family ties did not prevent you from offering yourself for our salvation.  Forgive us when we try to manipulate you for our own purposes, and when we fail to love you as we should.  Now fill us with love for you.  Help us to love you so much that nothing else matters by comparison.  Help us to keep loving those around us, but don’t allow that love to become an unhealthy attachment that keeps us from obeying you.  Give us the boldness to step out and follow you wherever you want us to go.  Thank you, Jesus, for joy in this journey, for the freedom of obeying you.

By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.