There were several books in my teenage years that shaped my spiritual journey and love of Jesus. I found it easy to relate to Phillip Keller’s A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 since we raised sheep as 4-H and FFA projects. The grand sweeping tale of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings caused me to consider how those who are seemingly insignificant can have a world-shaking impact. David Wilkerson’s The Cross and Switchblade and Corrie Ten Boom’s The Hiding Place exposed the risk and reward of radical obedience. A 1970’s autobiography of a football star provided three simple words as a framework for the choices of life and the radical priorities Jesus calls His followers to embrace.
One day a large crowd was following Jesus. Luke records that Jesus turned and addressed them with some rather shocking words. “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 carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.” (Luke 14:26–27, NASB95) Hate our family and even our own life? That’s about as far from pro-family as you can get. Or is it?
Jesus went on to encourage his followers to “count the cost” using the metaphors of a building project and a king marching out to war. Jesus’ apparent point is that following Him will require an expenditure of some kind as we “carry our cross.” This is not cheap grace which Bonhoeffer describes as “grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.” That kind of grace as we’ll see is tasteless and bland.
Jesus continued His abrupt statement to the crowd by saying, “So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions. (Luke 14:33, NASB95) Hate father, mother, brothers, sisters, spouse, children, and even yourself. And give up ownership of everything you call your own, this sounds very radical to our self-centered, family oriented, capitalistic way of life. But Jesus wasn’t finished, there was one more “therefore” which seems unconnected.
Jesus concluded, “Therefore, salt is good; but if even salt has become tasteless, with what will it be seasoned?” (Luke 14:34, NASB95) If the salt of our faith in Jesus is not flavoring our world, maybe we need to take a step back and consider our priorities. That’s what Jesus was really driving at. He was calling His followers to a live by the radical priorities of His kingdom. To order our lives, our choices, in a completely different way. This is radical in a world that is “looking out for number 1” and is centered on our own feelings. It is also radical for those that take a family-first approach to life or find significance in anything other than Jesus.
Jesus call to “hate” our family members does not release us from the commandment to love. Matthew records a similar statement which provides clarity. “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.” (Matthew 10:37, NASB95) So, Jesus call to “hate” means that we are to order our lives, our priorities, and our choices a certain way.
Nothing is to hold our love more than Jesus. It doesn’t mean that we don’t love others or ourselves but that no one and nothing stands higher than our love for Him. This causes us to make some radical choices at times which could be interpreted by others as rejection. Here’s the part we miss. Somehow we think that love is finite, that it has its limits. But here’s the real formula: as we grow in our love with Jesus, we have more love for others not less. Jesus isn’t contracting our world to a hermit-like existence, He’s expanding it in ways we couldn’t dream of.
This radical priority can be summed up in three words from the 1970’s autobiography I mentioned earlier. Gale Sayers was a running back for the Chicago Bears around that time. His book told the story of his rise from the ghetto of Omaha Nebraska, his football career, and his poignant relationship with another Chicago Bear running back, Brian Piccolo. Some of Sayer’s story became a movie called Brian’s Song. Sayers had the same radical priority that I wanted. He simply said, “God is first, friends (family and others) are second, I am third.” By the way, his book is called I Am Third.
To be honest, it’s not always easy to sort how these priorities play out. Loving Jesus by going to church and small group is a high priority. But there are times when loving Jesus means laying those aside so that we can love others. Isn’t that part of Jesus’ parable of the good Samaritan? But neither should family events, and activities necessarily keep us from going to church. Sometimes we do need to take an Eric Liddle like stand (Liddle was the Olympic runner that refused to race on Sundays). Sometimes though we do need to bend some to love others.
These radical priorities affect more than just deciding whether to go to church or not when schedules collide. “I am third” should effect everything. There is a cost involved to carry our cross and follow Jesus. Count the cost! In the same way that Jesus laid down His life for you and me, we are to lay down our lives and loves for His sake and the sake of others. While that could mean actually dying for someone more often, it means laying down our own needs, wants, desires, loves, time, resources, possessions, and pride to love someone like Jesus.
Maybe it’s time to examine your own priorities. To repeat, I don’t think that Jesus is advocating a hermit-like existence where you separate yourselves from everyone. But it is very easy to elevate anyone, anything, or any experience (be they positive or negative), as greater than Jesus in our lives. Maybe it seems impossible, but that’s the adventure. Remember, as we grow in our love of Jesus our capacity and desire to love other’s increases. That’s what being salt is all about.