On that day, Jesus was talking to a large crowd of people who liked Him and all the things He did for them. They liked the miracles, the signs and wonders, His teachings, and even how He welcomed them. Now, in His instruction, Jesus defines what it means to be a disciple. He paints a picture of what it means to follow Him, and it was hard for them to swallow. There remains much confusion today about what a Christian really looks like. Many follow Jesus on their terms not His. They follow Him for the way He makes them feel or the way He helps but when it comes to commitment, that’s a little too extreme. Sadly, some who believe they are Christians are not. So, just what is a Christian?
Before the followers of Jesus were called Christians, they were referred to as disciples. The word “Christian” appears only 3 times in the Bible, but “disciple” appears 269 times in the New Testament. Paul says the disciples of Jesus were first called Christians at Antioch. The word Christian is synonymous with disciple. Heather, my wife, can also be called my spouse; these words are synonymous. So when Jesus uses the word disciple, He also means Christian. And here’s the point of this difficult verse; to be a disciple of Jesus, you must be committed to Him above all else. In our hearts, Jesus must be first; above our loved ones, our own interests, possessions, careers, goals, and even our very lives. This commitment will often be tested and sometimes we will fall short, but to be a disciple means we’ve made a sincere commitment to put Him first and we will strive to live that out every day.
Jesus seems to make a pretty harsh statement in this verse. The word "hate" is not meant to be taken literally but is used figuratively to express a point. It is exaggeration; similar to what we use when we say, "I’d rather kiss a rattle snake than miss the Packer game." In Jewish culture the word "hate" was used to express lesser love, so Jesus is saying that we must love Him more than we love our closest family relationships or even our own lives. We must love Him more than our ministries, our goals in life, our careers, and our selves. Jesus is not speaking of our emotional feelings toward Him or our families but rather He is speaking of our level of commitment. He is saying that our commitment to obey and follow Him must be greater than any other commitment. In other words, Jesus must be first in our priorities and loyalties. Is this true in your life? If following Jesus obediently results in challenges or interferes with your closest relationships, will you still follow Him? The truth is that putting Jesus first makes us better; better spouses, parents, friends, employees and neighbors. Jesus wants us to know up front what it means to be a disciple. He must come first, before our closest relationships and before our very lives.