If You Had to Choose Between Jesus and Your Spouse…

If someone comes to me and does not hate his father and his mother and his wife and his children and his brothers and his sisters and even his own life, he is not worthy to be my disciple.

Luke 14:26 (DHE Gospels)

I know I’m quoting this verse out of context, but I find it hard to reconcile with the following.

Have you not read that from the beginning the Maker “created them male and female,” and it says, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and cling to his wife, and the two will become one flesh”? If so, they are not two any longer, but one flesh. Thus, what God has joined, man must not divide.

Matthew 19:6 (DHE Gospels)

On the one hand, Jesus seems to value marriage quite highly (what God has joined) but on the other hand, we are to reject (hate) our family including our wives, presumably if our family opposes our becoming disciples of Jesus.

As an intermarried husband, this is particularly difficult for me, especially when I see my marriage through this scripture:

But to the rest I say, not the Lord, that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he must not divorce her. And a woman who has an unbelieving husband, and he consents to live with her, she must not send her husband away. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through [h]her believing husband; for otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy. Yet if the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave; the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God has called us to peace. For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife?

1 Corinthians 7:12-16 (NASB)

Also, Ephesians 5:22-33 says many fine things about marriage and how a husband and wife are to love one another. How can God join us together, tell us how to love, say that it is acceptable for a believing spouse to be joined with an unbelieving spouse if both are willing, and then tell the husband he is not worthy of being a disciple is he does not hate his wife?

intermarriageThis is one of those “difficult sayings of Jesus” that isn’t easy to answer.

Messianic or “Jewish-friendly” Christian commentaries on such specific topics aren’t always readily available, but I did find a conventional Christian response by Pastor Mark Driscoll. I know nothing about him, but he did write something detailed on this particular verse.

Jesus’ call to discipleship can be difficult. Contrary to common practice today, Jesus was not in the business of getting anyone and everyone he could in the door of his discipleship program. Instead, he took painstaking measures to clarify the costs of following him. Those who heard him often abandoned their pursuit after hearing his messages (John 6:52–71). In keeping with this truth, Jesus’ requirements for discipleship set out in Luke 14:26 are hard for us to hear.

Thankfully, there is another sense for the word “hate,” as it pertains to this passage. When it’s used in the Old Testament, particularly in the Wisdom Literature, the word loses its psychological force (Michel, “μισεω,” in TDNT, 4:687.). Instead, it carries a sense of intensified choice. For instance, in Proverbs, the writer often instructs the reader to choose righteousness over evil, often worded in terms of love and hate. The call is to reject (= hate) evil and to embrace (= love) righteousness. In Jesus’ statement here in Luke 14:26, the same principle is at play.

-Driscoll, “Tough Text Tuesday – Luke 14:26”

That helps a little but not as much as you might think. Still, the suggestion of a choice between two paths reminded me somewhat of a Kal va-chomer or “lighter to heavier” argument. If I reword the passage from Luke 14, I could say, “If you love your wife whom God has joined with you, how much more should you love Messiah, who God brought for the sake of the world?”

I suppose that could be worded better, but you get the idea. No, I’m not rewriting the Bible, far be it from me to do so. But I am suggesting in my own wee commentary (call it a small midrash, for what it’s worth) that, even if my wife is an unbeliever, I don’t have to hate her so I can love Jesus. I can love my wife, and I can also apprehend the great requirement to love and be devoted to Messiah, Son of David, who is the living embodiment of God’s promises for atonement, redemption, salvation, and the resurrection. He is the hope, not just for me, but for everyone. He is the hope that someday my wife will be saved, so in a way, by choosing him, I am also choosing her, for if I should choose her by rejecting Jesus, then how do I know I’m not dooming us both? Loving Jesus then, is also loving my wife.

14 thoughts on “If You Had to Choose Between Jesus and Your Spouse…”

  1. I am pretty sure that your view of salvation is a little broader than just assent or belief and that it has little to do with going to heaven when you die.

    If any Jewish person is doing his best to abide by the commandments I am at a loss to see how they are not ‘saved’ in the Kingdom of Heaven sense.

  2. When the LORD saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb, but Rachel was barren. (Genesis 29:31)

    I don’t think Jacob hated Leah. He probably preferred Rachel over Leah. This might be a clue to what Yeshua means here. He should be top priority and we should prefer Him over everyone else. I could be wrong though.

  3. We see people in the Muslim world especially facing this all the time, when the choice is put to them point blank, often backed up with violence and threats. I also see this verse as speaking of choice. We might also look at this in smaller ways, in that we often are faced with choices to please a spouse, family member, friend, colleague or Messiah.

    The idea of a spouse sanctifying their partner must be linked to the fact that the Hebrew word for marriage is, “kiddushin,” and when one marries, one says, “m’kudesh/m’kuseshet,” which means sanctified, set apart. Children born to a union where the spouses are set apart only for each other are clean (tahor) while those born to non-sanctified unions are tamei (ritually unclean.)

    Think about it. We all would agree that no human being can determine the eternal destiny of another. Could, “save,” in this context, mean, “How do you know that you will be that influence of healing, deliverance and wholeness that comes from reconciliation with one’s creator, in the life of your spouse, or others for that matter?

  4. Steve said: If any Jewish person is doing his best to abide by the commandments I am at a loss to see how they are not ‘saved’ in the Kingdom of Heaven sense.

    One of the “game changers” Jesus introduced is to believe He is the Son of God, the Messiah, the Divine Emissary of Hashem, and the Divine Himself. I plan to write a blog post on this at some point, but essentially, the way I see it, we are to give honor and glory to Yeshua because he is the living embodiment of all of God’s promises, particularly those of atonement, reconciliation, and sanctification. He received the Holy Spirit in its fullness, as we one day shall, he died and was resurrected into immortality, as we one day shall. He is the bringer of peace and total reconciliation between man and God as well as man and man, which we shall one day experience. Denying Yeshua is, in some sense, denying God’s confirmation to humanity that He will do all that He said He will.

    Keith said: I don’t think Jacob hated Leah. He probably preferred Rachel over Leah. This might be a clue to what Yeshua means here. He should be top priority and we should prefer Him over everyone else. I could be wrong though.

    That’s an interesting interpretation. I haven’t thought of it that way before. Something to ponder.

    Chaya said: Could, “save,” in this context, mean, “How do you know that you will be that influence of healing, deliverance and wholeness that comes from reconciliation with one’s creator, in the life of your spouse, or others for that matter?

    I don’t see how it could mean anything else, Chaya. I wasn’t trying to be metaphysical, just offering a small midrashic commentary that supports Yeshua-faith in one spouse as a sign of love toward God and toward the unbelieving spouse.

  5. I heard recently (and, for the life of me, I can’t remember where…it might have been from Beth Moore, since I’ve been listening to her teach through Romans) that the term “hate” in Scripture can mean “love less.” That makes sense to me, especially since I see this passage as Jesus saying that we are to love Him best, that He is to be number one in our lives.

    Do I love my husband less than I love the Lord? That’s actually a question that I need to ponder, but I think that’s the point. Who has the prime place in my life? Who is my Master?

    I don’t know what you face each day in your relationship with your wife, but I believe that our Lord honors your love for her and the ways that you seek to share Him with her.

    1. The context though, at least as I understand it, has to do with having a spouse who is an unbeliever and who opposes you in your faith. As I recall, your husband is a believer, so I’m not sure this scripture comes into play. And although my wife is supportive (or at least tolerant) of my faith and church attendance, she is not a believer and a life of faith in something we can’t share.

      1. I’m going to have to study this, because I really don’t recall the context. Like I said, though, I do genuinely believe that the Lord honors your love for your wife. I can’t imagine He would do otherwise.

    1. I can agree that our first priority among all our relationships should be to God as disciples of Jesus, but I don’t think that means I have to throw my Jewish wife and children under a bus either (and I know you’re not suggesting such a thing). How many men would sacrifice, even their lives, to save their families? And for that matter, the apostle Paul said this:

      For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh…

      Romans 9:3 (NASB)

      Paul would have given up his own salvation if it would have saved some unbelieving Jewish people. How much more would some people give up their salvation to save their own families? I’m not saying it’s right, but sometimes love expresses itself in self-sacrifice. I’m not forsaking my faith at all, even for the sake of my unbelieving family. I just hope and pray that someday, they will turn back to God.

  6. I always thought these scriptures apply to believing spouses as well, except for the ones specifically about unbelieving spouses. I mean the point is that you should love The Lord more than you love your spouse. No matter what they believe.

  7. “…hate…even his own life…”

    The instruction to love a wife (even for a husband to give up his life for her) comes with the statement that no one ever hated himself, so the husband should see his wife as part of himself. In any sense that one might “hate” his wife, it would be in equal or lesser measure as hating himself (and not just in a rationalized way — as religious people are apt to do — that the poor man is suffering for putting his wife through suffering, or neglecting her).

    This is, I would say additionally, in a time when everything was about getting the mostest. Loving yourself was a very selfish thing in the general culture (still can be but also can be quite modified). Everything was about hierarchy, strength, power and force. Hedonism was seriously acceptable as well. Understanding of fear might help; the goal of fearing God is not fear itself. It is so we are encouraged not to fear otherwise in a way that overwhelms our courage.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.