“My Yoke Is Kindly and My Load Is Light”
“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me.”—MATTHEW 11:29.
1, 2. (a) What have you experienced in life that brings you refreshment? (b) What must one do to receive the refreshment that Jesus promised?
A COOL shower at the end of a hot and humid day, or a good night’s sleep after a long and tiring journey—oh, how refreshing! So it is when a heavy burden is lifted or when sins and transgressions are forgiven. (Proverbs 25:25; Acts 3:19) The refreshment brought about by such exhilarating experiences rejuvenates us, and we are energized to move ahead.
2 All who feel loaded down and tired can come to Jesus, for he promised them just that—refreshment. However, to find the refreshment that is so desirable, there is something that one must be willing to do. “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,” said Jesus, “and you will find refreshment for your souls.” (Matthew 11:29) What is this yoke? How does it bring refreshment?
A Kindly Yoke
3. (a) What kind of yokes were used in Bible times? (b) What figurative meaning is associated with a yoke?
3 Living in an agricultural society, Jesus and his hearers were well acquainted with the yoke. Basically, a yoke is a long wooden beam with two recessed areas on the underside to fit over the necks of a pair of draft animals, usually oxen, to harness them together to pull a plow, a cart, or some other load. (1 Samuel 6:7) Yokes for humans were also used. These were simple beams or poles carried across the shoulders with a load attached to each end. With them, laborers were able to carry heavy loads. (Jeremiah 27:2; 28:10, 13) From its association with burdens and labor, the yoke is often used figuratively in the Bible to symbolize domination and control.—Deuteronomy 28:48; 1 Kings 12:4; Acts 15:10.
4. What is symbolized by the yoke that Jesus offers those who come to him?
4 What, then, is the yoke that Jesus invited those who come to him for refreshment to take upon themselves? Recall that he said: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me.” (Matthew 11:29) A learner is a disciple. Hence, to take up Jesus’ yoke simply means to become his disciple. (Philippians 4:3) This, however, requires more than just giving mental recognition to his teachings. It requires actions in harmony with them—doing the work he did and living the way he lived. (1 Corinthians 11:1; 1 Peter 2:21) It requires willing submission to his authority and to those to whom he delegates authority. (Ephesians 5:21; Hebrews 13:17) It means becoming a dedicated, baptized Christian, accepting all the privileges and responsibilities that come with such a dedication. That is the yoke that Jesus offers all who come to him for comfort and refreshment. Are you willing to accept it?—John 8:31, 32.
5. Why would it not be a harsh experience to take up Jesus’ yoke?
5 To find refreshment by taking up a yoke—is that not a contradiction in terms? Actually it is not, since Jesus said that his yoke is “kindly.” This word has the meaning of mild, pleasant, agreeable. (Matthew 11:30; Luke 5:39; Romans 2:4; 1 Peter 2:3) As a professional carpenter, Jesus most likely had made plows and yokes, and he would know how to shape a yoke to fit so that maximum work could be performed as comfortably as possible. He might line the yokes with cloth or leather. Many are done that way so that they would not chafe, or rub, against the neck excessively. In the same way, the figurative yoke that Jesus offers us is “kindly.” Even though being a disciple of his involves certain obligations and responsibilities, it is not a harsh or oppressive experience but a refreshing one. The commandments of his Heavenly Father, Jehovah, are not burdensome either.—Deuteronomy 30:11; 1 John 5:3.
6. What might Jesus have meant when he said: “Take my yoke upon you”?
6 There is something else that makes Jesus’ yoke “kindly,” or easy to bear. When he said: “Take my yoke upon you,” he could have meant one of two things. If he had in mind the double yoke, that is, the kind that links two draft animals together to pull the load, then he was inviting us to come under the same yoke with him. What a blessing that would be—to have Jesus by our side pulling our load with us! On the other hand, if Jesus had in mind the yoke bar used by the common laborer, then he was offering us the means by which we can make whatever load we must carry easier or more manageable. Either way, his yoke is a source of real refreshment because he assures us: “For I am mild-tempered and lowly in heart.”
7, 8. What mistake do some make when they feel stressed?
7 What, then, should we do if we feel that the load of life’s problems that we are carrying is becoming intolerable and that we are being stressed to the breaking point? Some may incorrectly feel that the yoke of being a disciple of Jesus Christ is too hard or too demanding, even though the cares of daily life are what are weighing on them. Some individuals in that situation stop attending Christian meetings, or they refrain from participating in the ministry, feeling perhaps that they would gain some relief. That, however, is a serious mistake.
8 We appreciate that the yoke that Jesus offers is “kindly.” If we did not put it on properly, it could be chafing. In that case we should take a closer look at the yoke upon our shoulders. If, for some reason, the yoke is in disrepair or is not fitted correctly, using it not only will require more effort on our part but will cause some pain as a result. In other words, if theocratic activities begin to seem like a burden to us, we must check to see if we are handling them in the right way. What is our motive for doing what we do? Are we adequately prepared when we go to the meetings? Are we physically and mentally primed when we engage in the field ministry? Do we enjoy a close and healthy relationship with others in the congregation? And, above all, how is our personal relationship with Jehovah God and his Son, Jesus Christ?
9. Why should the Christian yoke never be an unbearable burden?
9 When we wholeheartedly accept the yoke Jesus offers and learn to carry it properly, there is no reason for it ever to seem an unbearable burden. In fact, if we can visualize the situation—Jesus under the same yoke with us—it is not hard for us to see who really is carrying the bulk of the burden. It is not unlike a toddler leaning on the handlebar of his stroller, thinking that he is pushing it forward, but in reality, of course, it is the parent who is doing it. As a loving Father, Jehovah God is well aware of our limitations and frailties, and he responds to our needs through Jesus Christ. “God will fully supply all your need to the extent of his riches in glory by means of Christ Jesus,” said Paul.—Philippians 4:19; compare Isaiah 65:24.
10. What has been the experience of one who takes discipleship seriously?
10 Many dedicated Christians have come to appreciate this through personal experience. There is, for example, Jenny, who finds that serving as an auxiliary pioneer every month and working full-time at a high-pressure secular job puts her under a great deal of stress. She feels, though, that the pioneer work actually helps her to keep her balance. Aiding people to learn Bible truth and seeing them change their lives to gain God’s approval—this is what brings her the greatest joy in her busy life. She wholeheartedly agrees with the words of the Proverb that says: “The blessing of Jehovah—that is what makes rich, and he adds no pain with it.”—Proverbs 10:22.
A Light Load
11, 12. What did Jesus mean when he said: “My load is light”?
11 In addition to promising us a “kindly” yoke, Jesus assures us: “My load is light.” A “kindly” yoke already makes the work easier; if the load is also lightened, the work is truly a pleasure. What, though, did Jesus have in mind by that statement?
12 Consider what a farmer would do when he wanted to change jobs for his animals, say from plowing a field to drawing a cart. He would first remove the plow and then attach the cart. It would be absurd for him to hitch both the plow and the cart to the animals. Likewise, Jesus was not telling the people to put his load on top of the one they were already carrying. He said to his disciples: “No house servant can be a slave to two masters.” (Luke 16:13) Thus, Jesus was offering the people a choice. Would they rather go on carrying the heavy load they had, or would they put that down and accept what he was offering? Jesus gave them the loving incentive: “My load is light.”
13. What load were the people in Jesus’ day carrying, and with what result?
13 In Jesus’ day, the people were struggling under a heavy load imposed upon them by the oppressive Roman rulers and the formalistic, hypocritical religious leaders. (Matthew 23:23) In an attempt to cast off the Roman load, some people tried to take matters into their own hands. They became involved in political struggles, only to come to a disastrous end. (Acts 5:36, 37) Others were bent on improving their lot by becoming deeply involved in materialistic endeavors. (Matthew 19:21, 22; Luke 14:18-20) When Jesus offered them the way to relief by inviting them to become his disciples, not all were ready to accept. They were hesitant about putting down the load they were carrying, heavy as it was, and taking up his. (Luke 9:59-62) What a tragic mistake!
14. How can anxieties of life and material desires load us down?
14 If we are not careful, we can make the same mistake today. Becoming Jesus’ disciples frees us from striving after the same goals and values as the people of the world do. Though we still have to work hard to obtain the daily necessities, we do not make these things the center of our life. Yet, the anxieties of life and the lure of material comforts can have a powerful grip on us. If we allow it, such desires can even choke out the truth that we have eagerly accepted. (Matthew 13:22) We can become so preoccupied with fulfilling such desires that our Christian responsibilities become tiresome obligations that we just want to get done and get out of the way quickly. We certainly could not expect any refreshment to come from our service to God if it is done in that spirit.
15. What warning did Jesus give regarding material desires?
15 Jesus pointed out that a life of contentment comes, not by striving to fulfill all our wants, but by making sure of the more important things in life. “Stop being anxious about your souls as to what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your bodies as to what you will wear,” he admonished. “Does not the soul mean more than food and the body than clothing?” Then he called attention to the birds of heaven and said: “They do not sow seed or reap or gather into storehouses; still your heavenly Father feeds them.” Referring to the lilies of the field, he said: “They do not toil, nor do they spin; but I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory was arrayed as one of these.”—Matthew 6:25-29.
16. What has experience shown as to the effects of material pursuits?
16 Can we learn something from these simple object lessons? It is a common experience that the harder a person strives to improve his lot in life materially, the more entangled he becomes in worldly pursuits and the heavier the burden on his shoulders becomes. The world is full of entrepreneurs who have paid for their material successes with broken families, wrecked marriages, ruined health, and more. (Luke 9:25; 1 Timothy 6:9, 10) Nobel laureate Albert Einstein once said: “Possessions, outward success, publicity, luxury—to me these have always been contemptible. I believe that a simple and unassuming manner of life is best for everyone.” This merely echoes the apostle Paul’s simple advice: “It is a means of great gain, this godly devotion along with self-sufficiency.”—1 Timothy 6:6.
17. What manner of life does the Bible recommend?
17 There is an important element that we should not overlook. Though “a simple and unassuming manner of life” has numerous advantages, it is not in itself what brings contentment. There are many whose manner of life is simple by force of circumstances, yet they are by no means content or happy. The Bible is not urging us to renounce material enjoyment and to live the life of a hermit. The emphasis is on godly devotion, not self-sufficiency. It is only when we couple the two that we have the “means of great gain.” What gain? Further along in that same letter, Paul points out that those who “rest their hope, not on uncertain riches, but on God” will be “safely treasuring up for themselves a fine foundation for the future, in order that they may get a firm hold on the real life.”—1 Timothy 6:17-19.
18. (a) How may one find true refreshment? (b) How should we view the changes that we may have to make?
18 Refreshment will come to us if we learn to put down our personal heavy load that we may be carrying and to take up the light load that Jesus offers. Many who have reorganized their lives so that they can share more fully in the Kingdom service have found the way to a life of happiness and contentment. Of course, it takes faith and courage for one to make such a move, and there may be obstacles in the way. But the Bible reminds us: “He that is watching the wind will not sow seed; and he that is looking at the clouds will not reap.” (Ecclesiastes 11:4) Many things are really not that difficult once we have made up our minds to do them. The hardest part, it seems, is making up our minds. We may wear ourselves out by struggling with or resisting the idea. If we brace up our minds and accept the challenge, we might be surprised to find what a blessing it turns out to be. The psalmist urged: “Taste and see that Jehovah is good, O you people.”—Psalm 34:8; 1 Peter 1:13.
“Refreshment for Your Souls”
19. (a) What can we expect as world conditions continue to deteriorate? (b) While under Jesus’ yoke, of what are we assured?
19 The apostle Paul reminded the first-century disciples: “We must enter into the kingdom of God through many tribulations.” (Acts 14:22) That still holds true today. As world conditions continue to deteriorate, the pressures coming upon all who are determined to live a life of righteousness and godly devotion will become even greater. (2 Timothy 3:12; Revelation 13:16, 17) Yet, we feel the way Paul did when he said: “We are pressed in every way, but not cramped beyond movement; we are perplexed, but not absolutely with no way out; we are persecuted, but not left in the lurch; we are thrown down, but not destroyed.” The reason is that we can count on Jesus Christ to give us the strength beyond what is normal. (2 Corinthians 4:7-9) By accepting the yoke of discipleship wholeheartedly, we will enjoy the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise: “You will find refreshment for your souls.”—Matthew 11:29.
Can You Explain?
□ What is the kindly yoke that Jesus offered?
□ What should we do if we feel that our yoke is becoming a burden?
□ What did Jesus mean when he said: “My load is light”?
□ How can we make sure that our load remains light?