Did Jesus teach that following Him meant leaving family behind? Did Jesus say that loving Him means hating our family members? Let’s explore these important questions. 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. Whoever 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.
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 (Matthew 20:20-21). 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.[i] As we see in the Old Testament, and in the early church, God often uses family members to partner together to advance His Kingdom.
[i] Thirty out of his thirty-three years.