“I love you, but really you’re unimportant—it’s all about me.”
“In fact, you should love me so much that you hate everyone else by comparison.”
It’s easy to hear these perspectives in television or films. We might, sadly enough, hear them in people’s homes or even our own. But hopefully we recognize them for what they are: warped and twisted.
So while reading Kyle Idleman’s not a fan (a recent Christian publication that garnered some acclaim) I was dismayed and saddened to find these perspectives not only meekly hidden but openly espoused.
Here are two examples:
First, the author explains about being filled with the Holy Spirit: “The only way to be filled with the Spirit is to empty myself of me. . . . The more he fills me, the less room there is for me” (95). Sure, God loves me, but the more of God there is in me (and the less of me), the better.
Second, the author describes the type of relationship that God wants with us: “Jesus isn’t just saying, ‘I want to be first place in your life.’ He is saying, ’I don’t even want there to be a second place.’ (page 59). This means that if you follow Jesus “you’re so committed to him that by comparison, you hate everyone else.” (65).
Where does he get this stuff?
The Bible. Or so he claims.
For reasons of space I’ll focus on his second idea, which Kyle takes from Luke 14: 26, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father or mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.”
But because he misunderstands the verses he uses to support his view, Kyle also misunderstands what it means to follow Jesus (and love God) .
As I discussed earlier, verses cannot be rightly understood when taken in isolation either to the book that contains them or to the remainder of, in this case, the New Testament. So the meaning of Luke 14:26 is understood in light of the greater context of Luke and its parallel account in Matthew. Let’s see how.
Matt 10:37-39 offers a slightly different rendering of the same idea: “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”
Next, Luke 8:20-21 contextualizes Luke’s view of ‘family’: “And [Jesus] was told, ‘Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you.’ But he said to them, ‘My mother and brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.’ “
So what does this mean?
One commentary puts it this way: “In antiquity the extended family meant everything. . . . But a surrogate family, what anthropologists call a fictive kin group, could serve many of the same functions as a biological family. The Christian group acting as a surrogate family is for Luke the locus of the good news.” (page 335). 1
Concerning the passage immediately prior to Kyle’s verse—the story of inviting everyone and anyone to dine with you (Luke 14:15-24)—the same commentator notes that “Jesus’ call for inclusive table fellowship . . . is here made explicit and the price to be paid for it [(i.e., Luke 14:26)] is spelled out.” (369).
Taking this information together, we should read Luke 14:26 as follows:
As those who are “to love the Lord your God” with all their being and love their neighbours as themselves (as per Luke 10:27), Christians are to embrace each other even to the point of violating traditional norms of interaction (such as restricting table fellowship to those of the same class or family), even where such violations—in the culture of antiquity—could be perceived as hateful acts towards one’s own family.