We who have faith in Christ have a burden in this world; Christ does not discount the trials that we face for the sake of the truth, the difficulties we endure because we choose God’s ways alone for our lives. We have a burden, let there be no doubt, with details distinct to our individual life circumstances. And yet, when we regard the Christian burden, we are to exclusively deem it “light”:
Here, I give three ways to consider the Christian burden “light” based upon early church father John Chrysostom’s exposition of Matthew 11:28-30.
Christ is leading us to humility such that we receive what Christ gives and glean from His example. We are to learn of Christ, who is meek in suffering. He is the one who did not demand His due honor. He is the one who set aside glory so that He could give salvation to us. A cross was His crown! It was through the pathway of lowliness and sacrifice that Christ received exaltation and the prize of His blood-bought people. So, we are called to follow His pattern, however He assigns for our individual lives.
Chrysostom says: “For, ‘Of what art thou afraid?’ … ‘lest thou shouldest be a loser by thy low estate? Look to me, and to all that is mine; learn of me, and then shalt thou know distinctly how great thy blessing.’” We are to be assured that low estate for the sake of the truth and for a life according to His ways is a privilege, as those persecuted in New Testament times likewise knew. They were “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name” (Acts 5:41).
We may be regarded as those to be scorned by some — but not by anyone whose opinion ought to matter to us. If we learn from Christ’s meekness, we know that through sacrifice comes the worthiest and more admirable living and then, the exaltation of glory.
Those who follow a path devoid of God’s Spirit find sin the burden with no appeasement. Sin’s pressure on the soul causes decisions to be released that are characterized ultimately by compromise and downward spiral. Yet, righteousness lifts.
Do we long for the righteousness of Christ? Hear Chrysostom’s understanding: “For nothing so weighs upon the soul, and presses it down, as consciousness of sin; nothing so much gives it wings, and raises it on high, as the attainment of righteousness and virtue.”
When we think of being given wing and being raised on high, perhaps we first think of Christ’s work on our behalf to rescue and save — to die for our sins on the cross and come alive again. Good. Now, do we go further to reflect upon how we are lifted through the personal righteousness that the gospel enables? The power the gospel gives us to live with greater righteousness in concrete and apparent ways also gives us wing and raises us on high.
We rejoice that our God is in us — we stop to see the sweet evidence of our forgiveness and reset lives. We rejoice that He is using us now — in our present places and times, and in our present unfinished states.
Our “attainment of righteousness” — as Chrysostom puts it — is a power and joy, a blessing and point for marveling — a lightness — that the dying world knows nothing of.
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We can examine the burden of sin to see Christian lightness by way of comparison. Considering one example of a covetous soul, Chrysostom writes: “For as one can never see the sea without waves, so neither such a soul without anxiety, and despondency, and fear, and disturbance; yea, the second overtakes the first, and again others come up, and when these are not yet ceased, others come to a head.”
Similarly, he writes about those with scorn toward others: “Why, what is worse than this torture? what, than the wounds they have within? What, than the furnace that is continually burning, and the flame that is never quenched?”
Yet, the Christian’s self-command breeds contentment. Our calling in Christ is to make it our unshifting aim to please Him (2 Corinthians 5:9). The believer is given everything sufficient for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3), and the corresponding determination we seek to make of fitting behavior for our life situations means we are without inner anxiety, despondency, or fear in them.
We can take command of ourselves and evaluate the responses that Christ would give us for meeting our life assignments. According to Chrysostom, we ought to take joy in this process of obedience: “if we practise self-command, all these things [sufferings] are light and easy, and pleasurable.” This outlook rejects false burdens of the world and takes hold of the lightness, pleasure, and contentment of sincerely standing as God’s works in progress on the path of Jesus Christ and His ways. We seek His ways while resting in His acceptance of us — acceptance that comes to us both ultimately and along the way by His grace.
Christ gives us rest. When trials come and we meet them with meekness, we rest in being worthy of following the holy pattern of the risen Lord. When we attain righteousness, we rest in the reality of Christ within us, willing to lead us and use us. And when we practice self-command — in contradistinction to the convulsing character of all on the path of sin and death—we rest in knowing we have chosen our way based upon our unchanging aim to please Him while confident in His acceptance of us through Christ’s righteousness.
Chrysostom writes: “He [Christ] said not, ‘I will save you,’ only; but what was much more, ‘I will place you in all security.’” And so, we are secure — always — because His burden, the only burden that corresponds to the Christian, is our protective rest.
This life invariably has trials, but the Christian climbs within the burden of Christ to learn of Him through them. We start to see our trials through the way Christ has set for us to live. There, we see the God who came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10) and did not come to judge but to save (John 12:47). We see the one who welcomes us with freedom and for freedom such that our burden is one that leads to rejoicing, being raised on high, and a way of spiritual life regulated according to Christ’s gentle leading in the truth.
So come, all who labor and are heavy laden — come to Christ in this present age before the coming judgment. Trade your burden for His, and you will find rest for your soul.
Schaff, Philip, ed. Saint Chrysostom: Homilies on the Gospel of Saint Matthew. Vol. 10. A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series. New York: Christian Literature Company, 1888.
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Lianna Davis is author of Keeping the Faith: A Study in Jude and Made for a Different Land: Eternal Hope for Baby Loss. She and her husband, Tyler, live outside of Dallas, Texas and have two dear daughters.