Friday, July 22, 2011

Forsake All but One

The Twelve Apostles were sent out in their first missionary capacity prior to Jesus being crucified. Jesus prepared them for the mission with a speech including instructions, precautions, and reminders, and we are nearing the end of that speech in our studies. Recently we observed how Jesus' message would not bring peace, but rather division, even among family members, which was odd for the so-called Prince of Peace.

Forsake All but One
There were Twelve Apostles, so the story goes, but the Apostles were also known as disciples. Disciple was a title open to all, and sometimes used in this general sense in the Gospels. Disciple means student, or pupil; and in the Biblical context usually means a follower of Jesus. That is not just someone who walks behind Jesus, going where He goes, but rather a person who has learned from Scripture and from Jesus, and put that learning into practice. These Christ-following disciples would today be known as Christians. Really, really good Christians. Or would they?

In Matthew 10:37, Jesus tells us that anyone who loves their parents or their children more than they love Jesus is not worthy of Jesus. Basically, if someone held Jesus and your mom hostage and gave you the choice to kill one in exchange for the other one's freedom, you have to opt to save Jesus, despite the fact that Jesus has supposedly conquered death.

OK, so maybe that is not exactly what it means, but the point is that Jesus should take priority in you heart over anything and anyone. Those who cannot do that are not worthy of Jesus, according to the Man Himself.

Jesus goes on to say in Matthew 10:38 that anyone who will not take up his cross (metaphorically the heavy burden of following Jesus' teaching) is not worthy of Jesus. In Matthew 10:39 Jesus concludes His thought by saying anyone who “finds his life” (that is, finds a type of fulfillment in this world in this life, like The Purpose Driven Life) will loose that life, but people who loose their life for Jesus will find eternal life as a reward. In summary, Jesus is saying that you had better be ready to suffer and die for your faith to be considered worthy of Salvation, but simply being prepared is not the full meaning here...

This passage in Matthew has its parallel Luke 14:25-27, which speaks in an even stronger tone:
Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them He said: "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. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow Me cannot be My disciple. NIV
First you will note that contrary to the Matthew 10:37-39 passage where Jesus is addressing the Twelve Apostles, here Jesus is speaking to the large crowd following Him, but the message is essentially the same. So this is not some special instruction given for the Twelve Apostles only, but rather a global message to anyone who would follow the ways of Jesus; to anyone who would like to be worthy of Salvation.

As mentioned, Luke's version is in stronger language, for sure. Now, instead of simply preferring Jesus over your own immediate family, you are required to hate your own family members, and your own life. Biblical scholars spin this as not so much “hate” of others (especially in light of the Sermon of the Mount where Jesus equated hate with murder), but instead see it as rather a very, very strong priority and preference for the ways of Jesus over all else.

Adding this up provides a clear meaning: Forsake all of the world and follow Jesus. This is not a message about becoming securely and comfortably couched in your belief that Jesus is the Savior while maintaining all other things constant. This is a message about complete submission, and leaving everything about the life you knew before you knew Jesus; everything from your job to your family.

To drive this point home, Luke's parallel continues on with a couple of parables. In Luke 14:28-33, you will find Jesus saying that deciding to be a Christ-follower is not something you do halfheartedly. Instead, you need to do some reckoning and make sure you are fully prepared to follow His ways, with the kind of serious deliberation that you would use when planning to build a tower or wage a war. Jesus closes the parables with this thought in Luke 14:33:
“In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be My disciple.” NIV
Give up everything to follow Jesus. Only then will you be worthy of Salvation. Leave your garden. Leave your job. Leave your wife. Leave your kids. Obey God and spread the Word. Is such a person really a good Christian, or would you rather expect a Christian to fulfill his responsibilities and stand by his obligations?

This kind of all or nothing philosophy is only practical if the Kingdom of Heaven truly is near; if very soon after Jesus' resurrection there would be His glorious return. After all, what good could come from propagating broken homes and unemployment for 2000 years?

Thankfully, this is one teaching from which the church has deviated.


  1. Here is an interesting parallel. In Genesis 22 Abraham is told to go and offer Isaac. We all know the story that Abraham was about to strike the blow when the angel of the Lord called to him.

    Abraham did the things Jesus calls His disciples to do, leaving his family, etc.

    It was not that Isaac actually had to die (and indeed we are told that Abraham trusted God to the point where if it meant that God had to raise Isaac from the dead, then that was what God would have to do to keep his promise). What we see is that Abraham was truly prepared to do (and did do - think about it self-circumcision!!!) what was expected of him by God.

    It is easy to play mind games with ourselves and say we are prepared to do these things knowing (or at least believing) we will not really be called on to do them. So yes, think about it. Consider it as if going to war. But as you consider remember, saving your live you will loose it, and it is only by loosing your life that you will save it.

    And what you get in return is the only kind of life worth living anyway.

    His yoke is easy after all.

  2. Are you sure they've gone away from that teaching? I could swear they still use those verses to beat up the faithful into being more devoted and give it all for Jesus.

    In any case, great article, as usual. (Where is the verb in that fragment? I suppose the "this is a" is implied).

  3. Thanks for the comment dsholland.

    It is an interesting parallel, indeed. I'm not sure how you would feel about it, but taking my own son up on a mountain, tying him up, and raising a blade in full preparation to take his life per God's instructions is not what I would call an "easy" yoke. That would be one of the most difficult things I had ever done. And if I had truly believed that God was good, I would be immediately disillusioned by God's request to sacrifice my own son; an act which felt wrong deep into the core of my soul; an act which I would not do except for the great fear of the consequences from God if I did not comply.

    Sure, it all turned out OK, but Abraham did not know that it would be all right in advance. Such a yoke is heavy, quite heavy at the time.

    Now self-circumcision, that's a heavy yoke too, but not nearly as weighty as nearly carrying out the act of slaying your own child to appease God.

    Then again, with life expectancy so horribly low back then, especially for children, maybe it isn't fair to compare modern fatherhood to that of Biblical times.

    In the same sense, giving up all you had ever known and loved in life, your parents and siblings, your wife and children, you work, your home, etc. to follow Jesus is not exactly a light yoke either, at least now for someone who has truly known the best of human love. Besides the broken heart, there would be a broken vow too, which God generally frowns on (Numbers 30:2). So in my assessment, to give up everything (Luke 14:33, above) and never look back (Luke 9:62) is not a light yoke either.

    And the reward? Well, we'll just have to wait and confer once it actually gets delivered. ;-) I must say though, that the sales brochures do make it look nice. :-)

  4. Thanks for the comment Lorena. :-)

    Yeah, I still hear that too, from time to time, but the message seems to stop short of telling people to leave their families and jobs, and primarily focuses on giving more. Presumably that corresponds to when the offering plate revenue starts to drop off. ;-)

    Do not fret over sentence structure with me. I had to giggle, because your aside reminded me of how a friend of mine used to reply back to my emails with quotes of what I had said, correcting grammar or filling in implied words inside of [brackets]. That is what you get from a friendship with a guy who studied linguistics. :-) That pain-in-the-butt did wonders for my hacked English.

  5. LOL! Well, I did study linguistics as well... But perhaps not at the advanced level your friend did.

  6. Of course I expect that you'll take a controversial teaching to its extreme. In doing so you've concluded the following:

    "Give up everything to follow Jesus. Only then will you be worthy of Salvation. Leave your garden. Leave your job. Leave your wife. Leave your kids."

    And of course you expect me to totally disagree with you, which I will, but before I do, are you *sure* you want to take the position that Jesus wanted his followers to leave their spouses? Their kids? Their jobs? Their gardens?

    I have no doubt that there are preachers and televangelists all across This Great Christian Nation of ours :-J who are indeed claiming that this is what Jesus wants. A friend of mine went to a church (just once and by mistake, I should add) where their motto was "hating for Jesus," and they used (or rather, *abused*) these verses to teach that Jesus truly wants us to hate our parents as well as everyone else who isn't a believer. Nice. There are certainly lots of nuts out there. But Jesus wasn't one of them. So let's look at what he actually meant:

    On second thought. . . without going into an exhaustive study of how Jesus loved his parents, taught that wives and husbands should love their spouses, showed tenderness and care for children, and had a career as a carpenter, let me attempt to settle this (wishful thinking, I know) by making two linguistic points. First, this is the language of exaggerated contrast. You might use it when describing Pepsi, if you're a Coca-Cola fan. It's the same language used in Genesis 29:30-31, for example, where clearly Jacob doesn't *hate* Leah but merely loves Rachel more. Second, if you look up the Greek word translated into English as "hate" in the verse you quote above, you'll see that it can be translated "to love less."

    Which is, of course, what I'm certain Jesus actually meant when he asked his followers to hate their parents. And how very often it really does come down to this--will a person follow Jesus or will she instead listen to the objections of her parents, friends, co-workers, or spouse? It's one or the other.

  7. Thanks for the comment, Mr. Wallflower.

    I'm not trying to take it to the extreme, just trying to take it in the context surrounding that verse. Do you remember who Jesus said your enemies would be, like those in your own house? When a man asks Jesus to go back to bury his father before following Jesus, do you remember what He said? Of course the above quote from Luke regarding giving up everything you have to be a follower of Jesus is, well, pretty self-explanatory.

    Please don't get hung up on the hate/love thing. If you read the post again, I never said that I thought these words meant that Jesus wanted you to hate everyone. Never. That was your own defensive reaction.

    (If you want to go a little deeper into that hate/love thing, why not start at your Genesis quote here, cross reference with Malachi 1:3, and then check out the surrounding context of Malachi 1:1-5.)

    Oh, and you know that carpenter thing? You may want to double check your resources. It seems the only NT references we have to carpentry are Matthew 13:55 and the parallel passage of Mark 6:3. Matthew claims only that Jesus is the carpenter's son, while Mark claims that Jesus actually was a carpenter. Alas, a contradiction of what was recorded being said. Which one is true? I would claim neither, but odds are better placed on Matthew's account for a believer based on linguistic structure; the dad, mom, brothers, sisters structure that is.

  8. I only got "hung up" on the love/hate issue because of your comment:

    "Biblical scholars spin this as not so much “hate” of others...."

    It's either hate or it's not. If Bible scholars are indeed "spinning" it to mean "to love less" when it truly means "abhor"--as it appears you believe--then that's a major problem that must be addressed. I would have a big issue with Jesus if he wanted us to abhor our parents.

    Yes, I remember that Jesus said that members of a person's own household might become his enemies. I've seen it happen. Just a few months ago my friend's mother sent back the Mother's Day card he sent her because he had become a Christian and she has apparently disowned him because of it. It's a sad reality. I don't have an issue with that teaching.

    Yes, I remember that Jesus told one of his disciples to follow him immediately and not worry about burying his father. Sounds extreme and urgent, but Jesus was all about extreme and urgent. I don't have an issue with that.

    And I'm okay with the instruction he gave to those who wanted to follow him to give up all of their possessions. Quite possibly he knew that they were cavalier in their attitude and he wanted them to count the costs before signing up. Whatever the case may be, I'm okay with that teaching.

    But abhorring one's own parents? I'm not okay with that. Hence the long discussion of semantics.

  9. Ah, I understand how you would be caught by that "spin." In writing, I had hesitated to use that word, but overall I judged it appropriate because the overwhelming majority of English translations (which are actual translations and not "the message") rendered "miseó" as "hate." The people who wrote those translations were not skeptics, such as myself, but instead had a biased interest in being accurate to what they thought God's word meant. When you have such textual scholars choosing "hate" over "love less" (or perhaps what I think may be a better match from the World English bible using "disregard"), but you have the commentaries saying "well, this does not really mean 'hate'," then that seems like a bit of a spin to me.

    To "love less" is a much more comfortable translation for sure. If love was put on a scale of 0-100, that would mean you could love Jesus at 100 and love your wife and kids at 99, and everything would be OK. However, I do not think that is entirely accurate.

    The language Jesus used is very strong and dramatic: "miseó" your entire family and even your own life to be Jesus' disciple. (Luke 14:25-27) Give up everything to be Jesus' disciple. (Luke 14:33)

    Clearly, being a Christ-follower was/is not something you can just limp into when it's convenient for you. You cannot just love Jesus on Sunday. Like the verse of you cannot love God and money, similarly, based on Jesus' words you cannot love God and your family. This is not to say you have no use for money or family, but that the level of preference for things other than Jesus must be significantly suppressed by comparison.

  10. You make a very good point there. Translators were trying to accurately convey the intensity of the language used by Jesus, and maybe they did a good job with that. Jesus was intentionally using strong and dramatic language (as he often did). I don't think he wanted to say, "And guys, listen, if it comes down to it, you might have to put me above even your own parents." I think he wanted to shock his audience, and I think he succeeded (he certainly continues to shock people who read these words 2,000 years later!). Greeks understood "miseo" to *usually* mean "hate" in the traditional sense--although it also carried the meaning "to renounce one choice in favor of another." The English word "hate" does not carry that meaning, and so the verse in question can be misleading when taken out of the context of the entire Bible, which goes to great lengths to promote loving and honoring one's parents. As a Bible scholar, you know this. But for those whose who might not, here are a few verses dealing specifically with parents that give a broader picture (note that I'm leaving out all the passages about loving others generally):

    Exodus 20:12 “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you."

    Leviticus 19:3 "Every one of you shall revere his mother and his father."

    Proverbs 30:17 "The eye that mocks a father and scorns to obey a mother will be picked out by the ravens of the valley and eaten by the vultures." [ouch!]

    Proverbs 1:8-9 "Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching, for they are a graceful garland for your head and pendants for your neck."

    Colossians 3:20-24 "Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord."

    2 Timothy 3:1-5 "But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be...disobedient to their parents...."

    Luke 2:48-52 [Concerns the relationship between Jesus and his mother]

    Ephesians 6:1-4 "Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right."

  11. Thanks for the verse references. There is quite a lot about obedience and respect. Not so much about love, at least not what you have quoted. ;-)

    I would throw out one more example into the discussion; one from the mouth of Jesus which seems to speak directly to the subject of this post (and will itself be the subject of a later post). Matthew 12:46-50, Mark 3:31-35, and Luke 8:19-21 record an incident where Jesus redefines who His mother and family are, which had to be a bit of a slight to His mother who was outside. This represents the kind of complete transformation and dedication Jesus expected of His followers, as well as a representation of what Jesus meant by hating/disregarding your own family and everything you had in order to follow Him.