True freedom has as much to do with dependence as it does independence. Whether or not we realize it, we will always be dependent upon and subject to something. Whether or not we realize it, we have the power and authority to choose our master.
Last July 4th's celebration of American "Independence Day" led to me consider that nature of freedom more deeply. On this day we celebrate the Continental Congress' ratification of the Declaration of Independence, a document which asserted each person's natural endowment with certain "inalienable Rights," among which are "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness."
Though the text stays the same, the words' meaning seems to have drastically changed over the past two and half centuries. At the founding of our nation people fought for the right and freedom to live according to their convictions, to work hard towards and earn their way based on what we each person believed to be right and good.
Somewhere along the way we as a nation have lost that conviction. We traded it for a freedom to live by convenience. Objective, enduring truth has somehow been replaced by two simple, yet potent thoughts that first say "If I desire it, then it must be God's will for me," and then follow with "If you do not agree, then you are hateful and should be shunned or punished." These lies from Hell drive us to live by what we think feels right at the moment, whether than what is right.
Herein lies the irony or free choice, even free will. We actually have the ability to make bad decisions, to abuse ourselves and others, to sin. In a very real sense a perpetual lifestyle of rebellion means declaring our independence from God, essentially rejecting his guidance, protection and provision. In doing so we willingly enslave ourselves to something far more dangerous and eternal reaching than any human power.
In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus offers a better way:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
In the culture of the day, a yoke would represent slavery, servitude and weakness, or rather meekness. The comparison might at first seem confusing at best, absurd at worst. When he first spoke these words, Christ directed them to citizens of the Galilean towns or Choraizin and Bethsaida. They were Israelites, a nation whose heritage celebrated liberation from hundreds of years in forced labor in Egypt. Moreover, they were upper class citizens, merchants and leaders who held the resources and power in that area. And even if they would have bowed to another leader, they were certainly not likely to surrender a single thought, action or resource to this vagabond, traveling carpenter who had openly rebuked them for not paying enough attention to him (see verses 20-27).
Jesus' words may even seem to contradict the exhortation that the Apostle Paul later makes to the churches of Galatia in Galatians 5:1:
"It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery."
A yoke is what connects oxen to the plow, and sometimes to other oxen. Whether that is a good thing or a bad thing depends upon the master, and sometimes the other oxen. An unskilled or abusive master could use the yoke to bind the oxen, overload them with an unmanageable load and force them to walk in the wrong directions. A good master will often place a more seasoned, stronger ox within the same double yoke as one who is learning. The strong ox bears the brunt of the work and helps guide the younger one. The yoke's design can also make the oxen's work easier, enabling them to plow a straighter line with much less effort. In the case of the Galatians, Paul warns them against bowing to the whims of either legalism or self-indulgence, both of which will jerk and prod the believers into unhealthy thoughts and habits that lie outside of God's grace. In Christ's case, he is offering to be that second ox within the yoke, the stronger one who walks alongside the weaker, more inexperienced one and models the right path to walk.
We all have both the ability and the responsibility to choose who will master us, and to whom we will be yoked. As for me and my house, we choose the freedom that comes from full surrender in Christ. May God give us the wisdom and grace to walk this out daily.