“Come to Me, all those toiling and being burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28-29, Berean Literal).
Jesus said, “Don’t worry about tomorrow. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34). Instead, we’re meant to live in the present—the moment in which Christ promises to meet us: This day. This very second.
In that moment, His yoke is easy and His burden light—but not if we reach forward into future concerns. He’s promised to help shoulder the load and only give us, in each moment, what we can handle with the aid of His yoke.
So we live each moment in relation to Him, connected to Him by His word—and by His yoke. We can’t walk with Him unless we keep in step with His yoke, with His work in our lives. Go too slow and our head and shoulders slip free. Too fast, and the full weight of the yoke is ours to bear alone.
His burden is easy, building on the work He’s already done in our lives: If He hasn’t taught us to walk yet, He won’t ask us to run. Rather, He holds our hands as we totter along with faltering forward steps.
In this way, we also shouldn’t run ahead of the growth and work He’s ordained for each moment. To do so only leads to fleshly striving. Rather, when He speaks a rhema word, we listen—we obey. Along with that word comes the empowerment we need to stay the course; without that help, we fail.
Viewing Others in Light of Christ’s Yoke
Likewise, as we look at others—their progress or seeming lack thereof—it’s important to realize we’re all at different stages of development. In need of different lessons from the Spirit, some more basic than others. In our churches, we won’t (with our worldly eyes) see these adults as the babes and toddlers and teens they really are in spirit. So we need God’s wisdom in the kind of nourishment we provide them, whether meat or milk (1 Corinthians 3:2).
We all want to see the various members of our Christian family grow and thrive. Sometimes this leads us to load them with exhortations and expectations Christ hasn’t yet asked them to shoulder. Sometimes we ask them to run before they’ve learned to crawl. Sometimes we ask them to give Christ’s love to others before they’ve fully received it for themselves.
For the mature in Christ, we know when to take a brother’s exhortation as our own and when to lay it aside. But for the young in Christ, the immature—the broken—they might try to make themselves holy, answer every call to serve, and instead end up trusting in works—or else weighted by condemnation, crushed beneath an ever-more-impossible load.
Just as there surely is “a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens,” there is also a time to speak and a time to be silent (Ecclesiastes 3). Only the perpetually discerning in Christ—if there is such a one—will always know the difference. I’m still learning it myself.
Lessons from Writing
As a writer with a mind to encourage and edify—and at times, to correct and instruct—I need to discern when to hit “publish” and when to trash that drafted post. Usually, I can tell when I’ve run ahead of God’s will in the writing, when the yoke has slipped from Christ’s shoulders and come to rest entirely on mine.
When that happens, I hit a rut in the formulation, sense my wheels begin to spin—and my engine to grind. It’s clear to me then that God is either saying, “no” to sharing that post, or else “not yet.”
There’s one post in particular I’ve tried to write a thousand times, but always it refused to hold together. One topic would splinter into ten until I was no longer certain I understood what I’d wanted to say. What had seemed so clear and simple in my mind muddied more the longer I mired through the writing. That was a clue that my efforts were being driven by willful striving and not by Christ.
Here’s a truth we probably all can embrace (expressed in first person if you care to confess): The world doesn’t need any fraction of my opinions or feeble thoughts. It doesn’t need my theological assessment of the Word or my opinions on tradition and dogma. It doesn’t need my advice on living the Christian life. The world doesn’t need me at all—but only Christ in me.
The Key to Effective Exhortation: Humility
Acknowledging this, we may remain humble enough that Christ can use us to speak truth. We’re not the force for change; we know only He can do it. So our focus must remain on Him and not on any weaknesses or lack of change in those around us. Otherwise, it’s easy to allow judgment to take root. To start thinking, “this mess I see isn’t the way it’s supposed to be,” and to set out to help the masses (or even the one) understand whatever change we think they need.
The more certain I sound in my own mind as I imagine instructing others, the more likely I’m wrong (1 Corinthians 8:2). (Pride blinds us.)
In the same way, the more demanding I get, the more pressure I begin to apply, the less likely my urges are driven by Christ, and by His love. (2 Corinthians 4:2) Though it’s not our job to convince or to bring conviction, we sometimes feel it is.
Lessons from Parenting
I recall moments of lecturing my daughter in hopes she would understand deep truths and reform her ways. (Ha! She’s four!) Other times I’ve succumbed to my impatience—when I tell my daughter to “just do” what I’m asking. And I tell her, and tell her, and tell her again—all in a short timespan.
But she’s just not “there” yet. Not ready.
And what she needs—instead of my lecturing and nagging—is an experience with unconditional love.
I always repent for these bouts of selfish parenting, asking my daughter’s forgiveness—and God’s as well—for my unloving impatience. And with His help, I set forth to do better.
Frustrated. Impatient. Driven to produce change…
We can get that way, too, in the body of Christ. So eager for people to attain to full maturity—to move on to the greater works that we apply inadvertent pressure in place of love. Exhortation in place of true discipleship. If we hammer the same admonitions over and again, they quickly grow tired from overuse. But what is it that really inspires change in the hearts of men? Not a knowledge of their many shortcomings, but a life-changing knowledge of Him.
Matthew 28:18 (“…Therefore go and make disciples…”) is a popular verse I’ve heard used many times to hammer the need for more evangelism and personal witnessing. However, “witnessing” and “making disciples” are not synonymous. One amounts to speaking or proclaiming, while the other involves a coming alongside—as in two yoked.
Our personal witness is surely a part of what it means to be disciples of Christ, yet Jesus’s model for discipling others was never solely about simply telling them what to do. There was also a critical demonstrative component—of taking under the wing. Jesus walked alongside His chosen disciples, modeled the Christian life, and empowered them to walk it out.
This is my aspiration for relating to my daughter. To speak truth without pressure when the time seems right. To demonstrate that same truth in the way we do life: together. To embody Christ’s unconditional love, forgiveness, and acceptance—without which no man or woman that ever lived could find the hope for walking in true righteousness.
I would suggest, if we find ourselves repeating the same truths to the same crowd without any fruit besides our own worsened mood, we may be pushing, not God’s will, but our own agendas. Or else we’re taking the wrong approach.
Just as I’ve done, from time to time, with my precious daughter.
The good news is, my daughter knows we’re both a work in progress. From my failures confessed, she knows I need Jesus just as much as any girl her age—we’re in this together!
That, too, is a lesson for how to speak the truth in love (from one sinner to another). If we presume to teach, we must remain humble. The child in Christ who’s being taught wants to know their earthly teachers have shared in the same struggles they now face. That they understand—and remember—what it’s like to wrestle with truth. Not only that, but everyone wants to be known as a unique individual—not just a roll of dough for an identical cookie-cutter fit or another pair of hands for the Christian work the church-at-large needs fulfilled.
We each are unique individuals. Consequently, there’s no one size fits all, whether in the path we each take, our best fit for effective discipleship, or the particular ways in which we serve.
Our words should be tailored to the uniqueness of each individual.
Corrective Measures: Final Thoughts
Correction is a natural inclination for many. I’ve come to think, however, that if we’ve never struggled with a certain sin, we might not be the ones called to spotlight someone else’s personal failings. Reason being, if we’ve never struggled in that way, we might not be capable of speaking in love rather than judgment. However subtle and deeply buried any sense of superiority may be, it still filters through to those we think we’re helping. (Lord, have mercy!)
Instead, I believe it’s more typical that those whom God has delivered from specific sins, He sends to those still enslaved by them. And those whom God has brought through certain trials, He sends to comfort and encourage those still oppressed by similar trials. Those who have lived an experience know the struggles inherent in walking that path, which makes them more likely to speak in love and less likely to judge any lack of progress.
Job’s friends, for example, having never experienced the devastation and loss he’d just suffered, were ill equipped to aid their oppressed friend.
Instead of helping him, they judged him.
Likewise, I’ve heard some say the people of God should never be depressed—that this emotion has no place in God’s family. I wonder, though, how Jesus felt in that garden as He sweated drops of blood. How He felt on the cross as He cried out, “My God”—and not My Father—in that moment of experiencing His utter abandonment.
Jesus experienced all this so He could understand the full spectrum of humanity’s plight and emotions. These challenging events expanded His ability to empathize and understand. This, then, is the way God equips us to help others. Not in our own strength, but in the strength He provides as we overcome life’s troubling curveballs. Strengthened in our trials in order to strengthen others in theirs.
And that brings us full circle.
Jesus is the only one equipped to determine the exact specifications of our particular yoke. The only one who sees our heart, understands where we’ve been, and where we’re going. He’s the only one who knows the right words for each moment—the only one whose words are always accompanied, not by condemnation, but by Holy Spirit conviction and the power to change.
So, let us follow His lead in helping others just as we follow His lead when He helps us. Let us be discerning in our correction of others, so we really are speaking truth in love. Sometimes encouragement is more appropriate than correction or exhortation. Sometimes silent empathy and listening ears—especially listening to understand, perhaps even to change our own perceptions—greater than speech. Let us be wise in our correction of others to ensure we aren’t requiring them to give more in any moment than what Jesus has seen fit. Let us keep in step with our humble Lord, shouldering whatever yoke He gives for Today and not tomorrow—and quickly heed whatever rhema words He’s provided as our daily bread.
I certainly don’t have all the answers—not everything in my thoughts here may stand the test of time. But I hope this post will serve as food for thought both for those struggling in the Christian life and those inclined to instruct others.
Exhortations can be problematic, but they aren’t always contraindicated. Indeed, they permeate the Bible—and we dare not ignore the Word of God! But Jesus never meant for us to overcome every obstacle all at once. Otherwise, He wouldn’t have told His disciples—and I believe us—“I have much more to tell you, but now it would be too much for you to bear” (John 16:12). That’s why He gave us His Spirit, ready and wiling to guide us, step by step. Not on our timescale—or our brothers’ or sisters’, or our pastor’s or parents’—but on His.
I know from experience—it’s easy to read all those exhortations and either judge others or ourselves. As a former self-condemnation addict, I’ve been encouraged, however, to learn a little more about Hebrew thought and the clues it provides about how we might view these imperatives in light of our ongoing struggles.
According to Torah Life Ministry, “Hebrew [thinking] sees a thing not just as it appears in the moment…, but from its tiniest seed form all the way through to when it reaches full maturity. This is a critical distinction… seeing things from God’s eternal… vs. man’s temporal perspective.”
Imagine that. God looks at us and sees His finished work. Before the seed in our hearts has even split, He sees the bloom, the fruit. But it’s more than that.
All those exhortations that seem to demand instant change—they’re all a part of our lifelong process of sanctification, maturing in Christ.
And that passage that sums them up? What does it mean to be perfect anyway?
The word translated as “perfect” in Matthew 5:48 is teleios, defined in Strong’s Concordance as “having reached its end, i.e. complete, by extension perfect.” HELPS Word Studies explains it as “mature…from going through the necessary stages to reach the end-goal, [that is] by fulfilling the necessary process (spiritual journey).”
It goes on to say, “This root (tel-) means “reaching the end (aim).” It is well-illustrated with the old pirate’s telescope, unfolding (extending out) one stage at a time to function at full-strength (capacity effectiveness).”
So, teleios, like a telescopic view into the future, highlights the ultimate goal we’re moving toward—not our current reality. It emphasizes, not in-the-moment perfection, but the need for steady growth under the guidance of His yoke.
Not the growth we or others decide—not with blooms in the winter, but in the perfect timing of a God-ordained spring.
So you see, “Be perfect” really means He’s going to make us perfect. It doesn’t mean we listen to the Word and do nothing. But we also know we can’t do everything. Rather, we keep our eyes open for the seeds He’s planting in our hearts, and we do our part, accepting those truths, lessons, or trials by faith (James 1:21). Then little by little—sometimes so imperceptibly that our natural minds can’t measure any progress—new seeds are planted and others grow.
In the body of Christ, by words spoken with discerning love, one person plants and another waters. But we know God alone can bring the growth. So let us commit ourselves to remain connected to Him, submitting to His yoke—His rhema commands—rather than attempting to achieve all teleios-perfection all at once. If we do this, continually asking for his help, we’ll find Him faithful to finish the good work He’s begun (Philippians 1:6).
Lord Jesus, help each one of us to keep in step with You, neither falling behind—when You give us a “now” word to obey—nor straining ahead to achieve on our own what only You can work in and through us. Help us to abide, to remain connected to the Vine. To receive the daily bread—that is, Your rhema words for each one of us as unique individuals—to give us strength and wisdom for each day. Continue to guide and grow us by Your good Spirit until we all attain to maturity in You. And show us how we might edify others in Your wisdom and strength and not our own. In Your name we pray. Amen.
>>> More about yokes
>>> More about rhema
On what it means to really listen:
- Leadership University (subscription required for full content)
- Same content as above (video interviews) on RightNowMedia.com (if you already have, or wish to obtain, a subscription)
Articles I hope to read & contemplate in more depth:
- A series on witnessing and evangelism
- Thoughts on discipleship from Discipling Men, Inc.
- What appears to be an honest look at the “Disciple” vs “Evangelize” camps in the church: Evangelism vs Discipleship: Which Is More Important?