Q: Is hatred toward someone ever justified? For example, how do we take Jesus’ words, ‘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’ (Luke 14:26)?”
A: The words of Jesus you cite may at first appear to be at odds with his remark from the Sermon on the Mount, “But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…” (Luke 5:44). But the context of the passage from Luke 14 shows that Jesus in that instance is speaking of the seriousness of discipleship. If anything or anyone to which one is earthly connected interferes and detracts from a person following Christ, that hindrance (even if it be a person – yes, even a close relative) has to be detested. Only in this respect is such “hatred” justified. Naturally the loving desire for the soul of a hardened unbeliever to experience conversion through the Gospel is always a part of every Christian’s prayer life. But when a choice has to be made between loyalty to Jesus and his Word and loyalty to a person with whom one has external affiliation, the only option for the believer is severance (painful as it may be!) from the obstructionist.
Frequently commentators try to explain the hard words of Jesus in Luke 14 by insisting that Jesus was only using hyperbole, that he didn’t really mean “hate” in the precise sense of the term. This approach seems unwarranted. Why take away from the harsh edge of his words? All rival interests battling for top billing in our life must be hated, not just “loved less,” when our obedience to Jesus Christ is at risk. Didn’t Jesus say, “Anyone who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37)? Christ reminded his disciples just how heated their confession of him could become: “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other…” (Luke 12:51, 52).