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. Luke 14:26
Luke 14:26 is a challenging verse that records Jesus' charge to love God above all else. The most important thing to do when you encounter a difficult Bible passage is to understand the context, which is the events, the people, and the setting of the passage. In Luke 14, Jesus is at a dinner party hosted by a ruler of the Pharisees. The Pharisees were very devout Jewish men who took great pride in their strict keeping of the Law of Moses and the other ceremonial laws of Judaism. By their piousness, they believed themselves to be righteous before God. This setting and gathering is the occasion which prompted Jesus to confront their error.
In Luke 14:3, Jesus asks if it is lawful to heal on the Sabbath. When they could not answer, Jesus healed a man in their midst (Luke 14:4). He then asked them if they found their son or their ox had fallen into a well, would they not pull him out? Again, they had no answer. Then, noticing how the guests had tried to find the seat of greatest honor, Jesus asked them why they tried to exalt themselves over others by sitting in a seat nearest the host. He then taught that those who try to exalt themselves would be the ones who would be humbled in the Kingdom of God.
Building on this, Jesus further challenges the guests by saying their motivation for choosing whom they invite to their homes is most likely motivated by what they can receive in return. In the Kingdom of God, Jesus says, this too is wrong. Instead of inviting the rich in hopes of getting an invitation in return, true righteousness is displayed by inviting those in need; the poor, crippled, lame and blind (Luke 14:13). Those who do, He says, will be repaid at the resurrection of the just (Luke 14:14). Upon hearing this, one of the Pharisees said, "Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the Kingdom of God." His statement shows that he assumes he is righteousness enough for the Kingdom.
At this point, Jesus tells a story, a parable about the Great Banquet God will host in His kingdom. The point of the story is this: Those who assume that they are right with God because of their heritage (being a Jew) or because their self-righteousness through law-keeping assures them a place at God's Great Banquet are sadly mistaken. Instead, God welcomes the lowly, the needy, the lame and blind because of their need, not because of their worth. This was a radical statement and probably put a real wet blanket over the rest of the night.
Later, as great crowds followed Jesus (Luke 14:25), Jesus drove home His earlier point. He said that anyone who truly desires to follow Him would deny the things of this world and put their trust in Him. In a way, He is exaggerating to make His point crystal clear that if someone wants to follow Jesus, they must consider that to be their number one priority, even over the love of family and one's own life. In other words, while it is good to love family and friends, a true disciple must be willing to give that up, along with all the other worldly things they love, if they become a distraction from following Jesus first. And as we all know, we have family and friends who do not have faith in Christ and would rather we downplay our faith to please them. But this is not what the truly redeemed will do. For those who have been given faith, God and His Christ are the most important parts of their lives.
So this is the context of Luke 14:26. Jesus calls people to Him by faith alone and expects them to respond by putting Him first. And, it is possible to put Jesus first and put love for God first and still love others. In fact, that is exactly what a true believer is to do, to love Jesus so much that they want to love others, to help the poor, to have compassion for those who are hurting, are in need, or are poor, hungry and thirsty. A follower of Christ is to show compassion, to offer a cup of water in His name, to visit prisoners and shut in's "in His name" and by doing so, demonstrate the love that God has shown. All around us are those thirsty for truth and imprisoned in sin. If we claim to have faith in Christ, we should have compassion for them.
The question is, do we do this? In our daily lives, do we show love for our family and friends by putting Christ first and then doing what Jesus commands us to do — to love others and point them to Christ? While most of us don't know actual widows or prisoners, we do know those who are literally alone without God and imprisoned by sin and in need Christ. Plus, we can have compassion for actual widows, orphans, and prisoners by serving them through our church, through our support of local missions and by encouraging those who are ministering to people in these kinds of situations by praying for them and supporting their efforts.
God wants us to enjoy the blessings, desires, and gifts He has given us, and expects us to have healthy hobbies and entertainment. God wants us to enjoy the blessings He has given to us in our relationships and interests. So we do other things, but always with the mindset that we love Christ first and foremost. And it's important to remind ourselves that, unlike the Pharisees, our righteousness is not won by what we do, but by what we believe. It is our God-given faith that saves us and gives us the righteousness of Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9). With that faith, we then desire to do the good things that God has prepared for us to do (Ephesians 2:10). So we walk in those good works, including enjoying our family, friends, hobbies and our vocation as we glorify God by our commitment to Christ.
We all have times when we think we can't love God because we can't see Him, or we have trouble putting Christ first because He is not with us. But when we do show love to others and enjoy the healthy things God has given to us, that is loving God. By the gift of faith, we can and do love God as we go about our daily lives. The Apostle Peter says this: "Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory," (1 Peter 1:8, ESV). The rejoicing and joy we feel because of our faith spills over into loving others and enjoying our lives by pursuing what gives us pleasure. And this joy extends to helping others see the joy of Christ. Therefore, we are to "...seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you" (Matthew 6:33, ESV).
May God continue to bless, assure and comfort you as you seek to serve Him.