“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30, N.K.J.V.)
To the present hour we both hunger and thirst, and we are poorly clothed, and beaten, and homeless. And we labor, working with our own hands. Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we endure; being defamed, we entreat. We have been made as the filth of the world, the offscouring of all things until now. (1 Corinthians 4:11-13, N.K.J.V.)
These two passages seem to be contradictory, don’t they? Jesus is promising rest, but Paul is living hunger, thirst, and poor clothing. Jesus is promising an easy yoke, but Paul is living revilement, persecution, and defamation. Jesus is promising a light burden, but Paul is living the burden of being the filth of the world and the offscouring of all things. What gives?
The key to understanding Christ’s promise is to realize that it deals with a specific kind of rest. It’s not rest for the body. It’s rest for the soul. The point is that no matter what the body is experiencing, the Christian can have a deep-settled inner rest in his or her soul. The body may be ravaged by sickness or disease, but the rest for the soul is present. The body may be treated roughly by enemies, but the rest for the soul is present. The body may be tired, run down, and worn out, but the rest for the soul is present.
Paul himself explains this is another passage, 2 Corinthians 1:3-5, where he writes:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ. (N.K.J.V.)
A similar passage is 2 Corinthians 4:7-9, where he says:
We are hard pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed… (N.K.J.V.)
Make no mistake, Paul did not live an easy life. Troubles hounded him. Read the following passages (all from the N.K.J.V.) and pay close attention to what they are saying. I assure you that this stuff doesn’t get preached much:
- Acts 14:19: Then Jews from Antioch and Iconium came there (to Lystra); and having persecuted the multitudes, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead.
- 2 Corinthians 1:8: For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of our trouble which came to us in Asia; that we were burdened beyond measure above strength, so that we despaired even of life.
- 2 Corinthians 7:5: For indeed, when we came to Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were troubled on every side. Outside were conflicts, inside were fears.
- 2 Corinthians 11:24-27: From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness…
- 2 Corinthians 12: And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure.
- 1 Thessalonians 2:18: Therefore we wanted to come to you — even I, Paul, time and time again — but Satan hindered us.
Reading about all of Paul’s troubles reminds us again of what Christ’s promise about rest is not. It is not a guarantee of a life of ease. It is not a “get out of jail free” card regarding persecution. It is not a force field that prevents Satan and his army of fallen angels from coming after you. It is not a shelter to keep you from the storm. Instead, it is a promise that you can experience the peace of Christ even in the midst of the storm.
It is good for us to read about Paul’s description of his own life if for no other reason than it helps us keep our own problems in proper perspective. When you read about Paul being stoned, you not getting a big enough tax refund this year kind of losses its awfulness. When you read about him receiving 39 lashes on five separate occasions, you having to deal with a difficult boss at work doesn’t seem like the end of the world. When you read about him being hungry, thirsty, cold, and naked, your kid not getting enough playing time or having a bad game pales by comparison.
Today, right now, Jesus offers to you His light burden and His rest for your soul. To accept the offer you must simply accept Him as your personal Savior because to accept Him is to automatically accept His offer. But don’t try to define the offer through your own lens. That will really mess you up when the hard times come. You’ll start questioning Christ. You’ll start thinking that He has shafted you. You’ll start accusing Him of promising you one thing but delivering another. Disappointment will be followed by disillusionment, and a disillusioned Christian is a sad person indeed.
How much better it is to understand Christ’s promise correctly and then put it into practice like Paul did. No matter what problems come your way, find your inner rest — a rest for your soul — in Jesus. Don’t let what’s going on with you on the outside adversely affect what’s going on with you on the inside. If you truly are a born-again Christian, you have Jesus living inside you by way of the indwelling Holy Spirit. That means that He is deep inside your body, way down there where your soul resides. That’s why He can always provide you with rest for your soul no matter what the world and the devil throw at you. This is what Biblical Christianity looks like, and it will still work today for anyone who will try it. I encourage you to do so.