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Wisdom in setting priorities

Sep 06, 2014

It might be a matter of debate in studying Luke’s dinner parable, whether it is about faith or about priorities. To me, priorities are an expression or outworking of faith. Our faith is in whatever takes priority in our lives, not necessarily in the one we claim to worship. So if we relate this to a similar debate between faith and works, one’s priorities would be the works that express our faith.

After the dinner, Jesus left the house, followed by a crowd of people. Because Jesus seemed to expand on the dinner parable in addressing this crowd, it would appear that this occurred the same day while he was walking away from the Pharisee leader’s house. Luke 14:25 says,

25 Now great multitudes were going along with Him; and He turned and said to them…

Jesus “turned” to the crowd following Him. In other words, He stopped in His journey to tell them what was on His mind. The topic was still fresh, and He felt that it was important enough to be shared with a wider audience.

How to Hate with Divine Love

Luke 14:26, 27 says,

26 “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. 27 Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.”

We are told in 1 John 4:16 that “God is love.” Further, we read in 1 John 4:11, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” In fact, 1 John 3:15 says,

15 Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.

So how is it that we are supposed to hate not only our brothers but our families and even our own selves in order to be Jesus’ disciple?

Men’s hatred is not like God’s hatred. Men’s hatred is normally an emotional expression of their carnal mind, whereas God hates out of His Love Nature. Men’s hatred is lawless, while God’s hatred is lawful. We know that our love is expressed by keeping His commandments (John 14:15). Conversely, hatred is expressed by breaking His commandments. The Hebrew language was shaped and defined by the law and must be viewed in that way.

Therefore, “hate” by biblical definition is a legal term first, and an emotional term only secondarily. The question is how to hate lawfully, knowing that “the law is spiritual” (Romans 7:14). Such hatred must come out of the mind of Christ, not out of the carnal mind, in order to be truly spiritual, lawful, and conformable to His character. Men should not justify their own carnal hatred by pointing to God’s hatred as their example.

Jacob and Esau

Jesus’ words in Luke 14:26, 27 shows us the lawful way both to love and to hate. It is really about priorities. It was the same with Jacob and Esau, where we read in Romans 9:12-14,

12 It was said to her, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 Just as it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” 14 What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be!

In dealing with the question of God’s love and hatred, Paul’s concern was if God was being unjust—that is, unlawful, or contrary to His own character of love. No, Paul says, God is not unjust by establishing priorities. Most interpret this passage in terms of equal justice, wondering if God was being partial toward Esau. But it is not about partiality, but about priorities.

Priority vs. Partiality

This distinction is clear only if we first understand Romans 5, where Paul establishes the LOVE of God and then shows how His love extends to the whole world—even while they are yet sinners (Romans 5:8). The outworking of that love is then presented in the rest of the chapter, as Romans 5:18 concludes,

18 So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to ALL MEN, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to ALL MEN.

“All men” includes Esau, whom God “hated.” So God loved the very one that He hated! This appears to be contradictory according to the modern definition of hatred, which is so rooted in a negative emotion that we have difficulty defining it spiritually or lawfully.

If God loved, justified, and reconciled all men while they are yet sinners, this would certainly include both Jacob and Esau, though we might view Esau as the greater sinner. But lawful hatred is impartial in its judgments (Exodus 23:3). It is not swayed by personal dislike or any emotional reason. Everyone must be given equal justice in the divine court.

Hatred is just another application of the divine law, which is an expression of His character. God “hates” when He condemns the sinner whose actions have gone contrary to His character. Legal hatred is expressed by condemning sin and ruling against the offending party in a legal dispute. Legal love is when the judge justifies the one who is in the right, for by such love the judge is said to give “grace” to the innocent. Such grace is extended to sinners whose defense is that Jesus already paid the penalty for their sins. A few make this claim during their life time, but the rest will do so when every knee bows and every tongue confesses Him to be Lord at the Great White Throne.

When Jacob obtained the blessing in an unlawful manner by lying to his father (Genesis  27:19), God upheld Esau’s lawful rights, giving him the prophecy that the dominion mandate would be returned to him at some point in time (Genesis 27:40, KJV). We see from this that God’s “hatred” of Esau did not mean that God was unjust toward him. Instead, God exercised His sovereign right to prioritize, putting Jacob over Esau. Hence, when Jacob was unjust, God promised to rectify the situation and give Esau his allotted time to prove his unworthiness. It is clear that after God had set priorities in the divine plan, Jacob had tried to fulfill the prophecy in an unlawful manner that was unacceptable to God.

When we understand the divine plan to save all mankind, we are able to maintain God’s justice toward all, even while the divine plan calls for an order of priority. God prioritized when He called one man, Abraham, to be His agent of blessing to the all families of the earth (Genesis 12:3). God had the right to do this, because He owns all things by right of creation. But if this meant that God would save only Abraham and a limited number of “chosen people,” then God may certainly be charged with injustice. Such a plan would go beyond priorities into partiality.

Prioritization may give the appearance of unequal justice, but when we understand that its divine purpose is to use the few to save the rest of humanity, all injustice is removed. That is why one must first understand the salvation of all men in Romans 5 before trying to understand the sovereignty of God in Romans 9. Most people today do not truly understand Romans 5, and so they have difficulty with Romans 9. But here we see the importance in understanding the distinction between priorities and partiality.

To set priorities is God’s lawful right; to be partial in judgment is unlawful.

The Disciples' Priority

Once we understand the proper definition of love and hatred, we may then comprehend what Jesus said in Luke 14:26, 27. A true disciple is one who knows what is most important and can make his discipleship the top priority in his life. Family is good, and certainly, we ought to love family—but it must come second to our love for God Himself. We must love ourselves as well, having a healthy self-image that is free of guilt and fear—but self-love must not get in the way of our love for God.

Such priorities will inevitably cause division among those who live according to the dictates of their carnal minds, for their priorities are inevitably based on self-interest. Such people will find it hard to understand a disciple of Christ that puts God above family. For this reason, we read elsewhere in Matthew 10:34-38,

34 Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; 36 and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household. 37 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. 38 And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.

We do not know if Matthew was recording the same teaching session as found in Luke 14, but the topics were the same. Yet Matthew’s account speaks of priorities in a clearer manner than what we find in Luke. Luke only says that disciples should “hate” family members, while Matthew says that disciples cannot love family “more than Me.” It is apparent that a disciple is not forbidden to love his family, but is commanded to love Christ more than he loves his family.

The Wisdom of the Divine Plan

In this way Jesus’ teaching shows the connection between love and priorities (and faith). In a way Jesus was teaching the application of love and faith. Knowing such application falls into the category of wisdom. It is by the wisdom of God that He has established priorities in His plan for the salvation of the world. He calls and saves the few in order to use them to save the many at a later time.

Such wisdom is not unjust. It would be unjust only if God chose to reveal Himself to a few while discarding the rest of humanity. If Christ could appear to Saul on the Damascus Road and make him an offer he could hardly refuse, then why could He not do so with the rest of humanity?

Again, God opened the eyes of the young man to see the mountain full of the chariots of God in the days of Elisha (2 Kings 6:17). Why, then, would He not do with the rest of humanity? With a proper revelation of God, would they not turn to Him at once? These questions are unanswerable unless we understand the difference between priorities and partiality.

God will save all men, as He promised, but “every man in his own order” (1 Corinthians 15:23). God’s wise plan calls for priority, which necessarily calls for disciples to carry out His plan. Abraham was an early disciple, along with Isaac and Jacob after him. In every case God required them to set priorities, even as He had done by calling them.

When disciples follow the word of father, mother, brother, sister, or church, instead of following the voice of God, they disqualify themselves as true disciples and limit their calling in the divine plan.

Luke 14:27 says, “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.” It was well known in those days that crucifixion was a punishment for certain crimes, and that the criminal was required to carry his own crossbeam to the place of execution. Jesus did this as well (John 19:17), and John found it unnecessary to explain such a practice to his audience.

The cross was the final burden that such a man would have to bear, and as such Jesus related it to the ultimate burden of a disciple. Of all the burdens of discipleship, the most difficult and painful can be that of placing family below God. That is the “cross” (or crossbeam) in this metaphor.

Yet this instruction should also come with a warning. Realize that family is still a high priority in the life of a disciple. Being second in priority places family just under God Himself. So a prospective disciple should not “hate” family members, nor separate from them without receiving a specific word from God to do so.

The disciple should be certain of the word from the Lord when it means dividing families, and even then one should ask for divine wisdom in carrying out that word. If at all possible, be at peace with all men (Romans 12:18).


This is the eighty-first part of a series titled "Studies in the Book of Luke." To view all parts, click the link below.

Studies in the Book of Luke


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Dr. Stephen Jones


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