How do you think of your Christian leaders? How do you think of your Christian friends? When you hear from your pastor, your teachers, or those with whom you are in fellowship, what happens to the burden on your spiritual shoulders? Is your load lightened? Or, does your burden get heavier as you listen and interact? How about when people talk with you? Do you lighten loads or load down others?
One of the criticisms that the Lord Jesus raised against the Pharisees and teachers of the law had to do with how they made life far harder, far more difficult, more heavy, for the people. The teachers of Jesus’ day had no problem loading people down with commands, rules, and expectations that were well beyond the Scriptures. And, I am sure that they also used the Scriptures as a solid weight from time-to-time.
But Jesus was not impressed with the way that the teachers squashed people in their lives. Jesus said in Matthew 23:4, “They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.” Something about the religious guys of Jesus’ day burdened people, even sometimes with the truth, but in a way that only crushed and never healed.
I wonder for myself and for others if such a thing ought to be said of us. I surely hope not. We want to be faithful to Scripture. We will be a people of truth and of Scripture in our local church. But, I wonder if there is a way that, if we are not careful, we will take even that commitment and make it more burden than blessing, more weight than wonder, more grinding than gracious. How can we be sure to be people of truth without being people of crushing regulations and expectations?
There is a difference we must grasp between ways of communicating the ways of the Lord. We call people to righteousness. We call people to sanctification. But we must be sure that our calls, that the steps we demand people follow, that the burdens we ask people to bear are biblical. And, we also must be a people who, when a hard burden is on a fellow believer’s shoulders, we are the first to get under that load with them and help them lift it.
Imagine, for example, some possible problems. A believer is wrestling with a sin they need to let go. Maybe they are treasuring a dream for their future at a level that it has become a heart idol. Of course we must help them to see that treasuring the Lord is the call and that heart idols must not be in our lives. But, is that all we do? Do we tell them how wrong they are, prove our point, say a prayer over them, and then walk away? What a burden we have placed on their shoulders without helping them move it. Could we not help more? Do we call them the next day? Do we show them love in other areas? Do we help them to know that we are their friends, whether or not they defeat their sin this instant? We can do better. Yes, the burden is one of truth in this instance, but our relationship can help lift it.
Or perhaps we have something we want a person to believe. Perhaps there is a doctrinal area in which we disagree. How do we approach them? Do we come in, guns blazing, and tear them to shreds? How burdensome this is without any attempt to help them. If your goal is winning an argument and not in healing and growing a believer, I wonder how pleased the Lord really is with your debating skill.
And, from time-to-time, the burdens we tie up on people’s shoulders are not even biblical. Sometimes we weigh people down with our preferences and expectations. Sometimes we will pour onto others, not a biblical call to discipleship, but our own personal way of growth that we demand they follow too. This is a burden that, if we are wise, we will lift off their shoulders for them by helping others to see that they must meet the Lord’s expectations, not ours.
Consider, Christians, what God says to us in Galatians 6:1, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.” How often do we feel the call to correct? How seldom do we attempt to correct in a spirit of gentleness? We must do both. We must call for changes in our fellow believers. But our calls must be biblical and gentle. Our calls must be met with our lives connecting to theirs to walk the hard road with them. We should not be known as people who pop into others’ lives, drop a bomb of truth on their heads, and walk away never to help. May we learn to love with life, to love with friendship, to love in fellowship, to love for the long haul, to love with truth, and to love with genuine, gentle grace.