Matthew 23:4 “For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.”
The burden of living under someone’s ruling presence does not usually get as much attention as it deserves.
As Christians, we are to be constantly under the wonderful ruling presence of Jesus Christ, who is worthy of our devotion, obedience, love, and respect.
Under this leadership of love from the Good Shepherd, we have no reason to complain because “his commandments are not grievous”; yet when faced with the burden of living under some human’s expectation of you, it can be daunting indeed.
This verse shows just how the Pharisees of Jesus’ day made this a reality in the everyday life of the Jewish community.
Have you ever been to the place of feeling as if you are underneath a heavy weight? I am not speaking of simply the stress of some physical labor, but more specifically a complete lifestyle of fearing what others will say about your every decision?
Here are a few thoughts on the passage:
- People (yourself included) can burden others without their consent.
While we go through this life, it is a nice thought (albeit false) to believe that our actions do not affect others and that we are free from burdening other people.
Others impact us within the context of our everyday existence. Whatever the relationships may be in our lives, those relations with others impact our decisions in either a positive or negative way.
No matter the circumstance, we are personally responsible for our actions and reactions, and while this may be true, this does not mean that we can always stop the influence of others on our lives.
Some people in our lives have a positive effect. They strengthen us – sometimes through encouragement or sometimes rebuke – but always in love. Others not so much.
What are the people in your life like – positive or negative? What kind of person are you? There are two people in this passage – one who burdens others and one who becomes burdened by others.
- Those who lay burdens on others are characterized by the following traits: extreme, intentional, hypocritical.
They are extreme in the fact that they are not content with smaller burdens and petty weights, but heap upon their victims the full force of their restrictive power.
They do not simply remind people of their existing burdens, but according to the verse, they are the ones who bind or create the burdens themselves – ones that are “grievous and heavy”. They look for burdening opportunities.
They are intentional by having to perpetuate the act of burdening someone. It is not some accidental happenstance that occurs.
We all hurt those that are close to us and many daily simply because of our sin nature, but this kind of harm is different. It is a willful power over another person for the sole purpose of self-gratification. These weights are born out of thinking too highly of oneself and thinking too lowly of those nearby.
They are hypocritical for they would not dare consider even lifting a finger to do the same thing that they require from the other individual. They are not willing to experience the pain of the burden they place on others.
We might feel free to acquit someone that has burdened us if he has first burdened himself. For example, if Christ were to tell us to go out to love the world through sacrifice and humility without being willing to first show us an example then we would be less likely to follow his path. It is in the direct opposite for the hypocrite. He expects complete conformity to his list of duties but will not show an ounce of effort in living up to the same standard.
- All burdens are not bad.
In the context of this passage, we find that Jesus tells his followers and those listening that they were to listen to what the Pharisees and scribes were teaching and observe and do the things that they were putting forth.
But he told them to not do those works like the Pharisees did them – to be seen of men. The problem was not with the list of things that were being taught but with the unmerciful enforcement of them and the hypocrisy of those teaching.
Many will take a passage like this and begin to decry all ideas of right and wrong and use these wrong examples as excuses to get rid of all burdens in life. Jesus offered a burden. He offered a cross of self-denial to all who would accept it, but he also gave his burden with a few promises as well.
He promised that he would be with us in the burden – that by His side it would be light. He promised never to leave us or forsake us. He promised us true and eternal life.
“That the righteousness of the law should be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Romans 8:4)
He gave us the power to live according to the law without being under the weight of it. He took the weightiness and grievousness out of fulfilling the law. He took the burden upon himself, and that is why he continues to call upon you to cast your burden upon Him [God}, for He cares for you. (1 Peter 5:7)
Do not burden others, and cast your own burdens on Christ.