Does Following Jesus Mean Leaving Family Behind? - Visionary Family Ministries

Does Following Jesus Mean Leaving Family Behind?


Hate your family?

Did Jesus teach that following Him meant leaving family behind? Beyond that, didn’t Jesus say that loving Him fully means hating our family members? Here is what Jesus said:

Now when Jesus saw a crowd around him, he gave orders to go over to the other side. And a scribe came up and said to him, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Another of the disciples said to him, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead” (Matthew 8:18-22).

Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, “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. Who- ever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:25-27).

Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved (Matthew 10:21- 22).

For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. 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 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 10:35-39).

Understanding Jesus’ words above are essential for a Christian understanding of family life and God’s Kingdom purpose for family relationships. We must consider these teachings both in their specific contexts as well as within the full context of God’s Word. I will work through these texts by answering three questions.

Question #1: Does following Jesus require leaving family relationships behind?

Following Jesus may require leaving family behind. This was not the case for James and John, as they served Jesus together as brothers, and their mother accompanied them during their travels. If following Jesus meant abandoning one’s family, Jesus would not have permitted Salome to travel with her sons. In the case of Jesus Himself, He lived ninety-one percent of his holy, perfect, and righteous life on earth with His family. As we have seen in the Old Testament, and as we will continue to see during the formation of the first local churches, God often uses family members to partner together to advance His Kingdom.

Question #2: What did Jesus mean when He said that brother would kill brother, and father would kill son?

He meant exactly what He said. In the first century, it was a life-threatening decision to worship Jesus. From the Roman perspective, worshiping Jesus as a god was no problem. There were many gods. Take your pick. But to worship Jesus alone as God was unacceptable. Not only would your life be in danger from the political powers, but from your parents and siblings as well. Jesus was simply speaking the truth of what was to come, that if you follow Him, your family might try to kill you. Jesus’ words remain true to this day. In many families and countries around the world, particularly in Muslim contexts, to trust Christ means putting one’s life in jeopardy. Who would kill you for simply “changing your religion?” Your father. Your brother. In the western world, where we generally enjoy religious freedom because of our Christian heritage, it is hard for us to understand how such things could happen. We read these words of Jesus about family members killing each other and find them difficult to understand, or think Jesus may have been speaking in hyperbole. There was no exaggeration here. This was reality for many Christians in the first century, as it is reality for many Christians around the world today.

Question #3: What did Jesus mean when He talked about following Him and hating our family?

Here again, we have essential doctrine regarding family relationships. The key to understanding this teaching in Luke 14 is the context. Jesus is speaking to the crowds. This is a message to the lost. This is a message to those who are apart from God. Just as Jesus made it clear following Him might mean your family members will execute you, here He makes it clear following Him might require breaking relationships with a hostile, unbelieving family.

Jesus practiced what He preached. In Mark 3, Jesus’ family thought He was crazy. They tried to force Him to come back home. In Mark 3:31-35, Mary and Jesus’ brothers were outside a house where Jesus was teaching. They sent someone to bring Jesus out, but He refused to come.

What should we conclude? Do we think Jesus hated his family? Do we want to make the case that Jesus had hatred in His heart toward His mother and His brothers? Such an argument is absurd. To conclude this would be to accuse Jesus of sin. In Matthew 5:44, Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” First John 2:9, which are no less the words of Christ, says, “Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness.” Again Christ speaks in 1 John 3:15, “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer.”Jesus directly quotes from the Old Testament in saying:

For Moses said, Honor your father and your mother; and, Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die (Mark 7:10).

In Luke 14, Jesus was teaching the truth that following Him may require separating one’s self from a hostile, unbelieving family. This is as true today as it was in the first century. This message has nothing to do with Christian families. It has no application to how a Christian should relate to believing parents, siblings, or children. If a text like this is used to call Christians to “put their ministry ahead of their family,” it is both an abuse of people and abuse of God’s Word.

Excerpted from Visionary Church