A hotly debated topic in Singapore recently was scholarship holders who intended to break their commitment before serving out the full term that they had agreed to in exchange for their scholarship. The young men and women argued that it was not right that they should be held back by the terms of a paper agreement, especially when they were in the prime of life. Somehow, these youths had not factored in the benefits they had received as scholarship holders; also, they could not perceive their own dishonesty in signing on the dotted line.
In a materialistic society, pragmatism means doing what is best for oneself, and what is best for oneself is measured in terms of dollars (no need for cents, thank you). To be held back by a previous agreement when a better offer is made is sacrilegious to this religion of self.
Against this view of life stands a passage from Lamentations: "It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth" (Lam 3:27). While many churches now preach that one can serve God and still have the world, true Christians must be aware that the teachings of Christ are often diametrically opposed to the concepts of the world. So even though youths in the world seek freedom and release from responsibility in their prime years, the Bible teaches young people that putting on the yoke of God is beneficial to all.
There are four main reasons why it is good for young people to bear the yoke in their youth.
1) Do Not Give God the Leftovers
When they say that they should be allowed to seize all opportunities that come their way while in their prime, the scholarship holders in Singapore imply that others, including their sponsoring organizations, are only worth their leftovers. Christian youths who do not put on the yoke of God are essentially saying the same thing to Him. Some would delude themselves into thinking that God wouldn't mind, but we should pay attention to what Malachi 1:6-14 says. I've taken the liberty of adapting this passage to today's setting:
A son honors his father
And a servant his master.
If then I am the Father,
Where is my honor?
And if I am a Master
Where is my reverence?
Says the Lord of hosts
To you priests (see 1 Pet 2:9) who despise my name.
Yet you say, "In what way have we despised Your name?"
You offer defiled money in the offering box,
But you say, "In what way have we defiled you?"
By saying, "The table of the Lord is contemptible."
And if you sleep during worship service,
Is it not evil?
And if you work for God only when you are old and feeble
Is it not evil?
Offer the same to your boss!
Would he be pleased with you?
Would he accept you favorably?"
Says the Lord of hosts...
"For from the rising of the sun, even to its going down,
My name shall be great among the Gentiles;
In every place prayer shall be offered to My name
And a pure offering;
For My name shall be great among the nations,"
Says the Lord of hosts...
"But cursed be the deceiver,
Who has some ability
And vows to use it for the Lord
But sacrifices instead the leftoversâ€”
For I am a great King,"
Says the Lord of hosts,
"And my name is to be feared among the nations."
While the Bible does not command everyone to be full-time church workers, it clearly expects every Christian to dedicate his whole life to the Lord (Rom 12:1-2). A nation does not need all of its able-bodied men as army regulars, but in some nationsâ€”such as Israel and Singapore, where national service is compulsoryâ€”all able-bodied men are required to take up arms immediately when asked to do so. Soldiers of Christ must likewise be prepared to drop everything when required to do something for the Lord. Someone who only gives God the leftovers, however, cannot make this offering, because very often he will feel that there is not enough for himself: not enough time, money, or even family harmony.
To bear the yoke in your youth is good because God deserves the best.
2) Seek First the Kingdom of God
The Sermon on the Mount set out many lofty ideals, and there were surely some listeners who doubted that these were possible in the face of material lack. Jesus addressed this doubt by encouraging His followers to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. He then reassured them by saying, "And all these things shall be added to you" (Mt 6:31-33).
Through the years, I have found myself again and again returning to this theme. Against the competing pulls of studies, career, and family (not necessarily in that order, in terms of priority or chronology), the truth of this message has often been obscured, faded, or, for some churchgoers, simply ignored. Many of these people reason, "If I don't look after myself (my career, my family), who else is going to do it? God doesn't need me (and even He can take care of His own things!), but my family surely needs me."
This argument fails, for God would ask, "Don't you trust me?" Faith without works is dead. The fact is, when we struggle for ourselves, it is often to increase an already adequate bank balance or to seek status and fulfillment in our careers. No Christian I know has starved because he worked for God. A man refuses to bear the yoke in his youth because he thinks that the field of God that he is called to work in is incompatible with the grass and the fruits of the world outside. And this is true, although apparently, in this case, not with the result that God expects, for no man can serve two masters (a phrase that Jesus used to precede His exhortation to seek first the Kingdom of God; cf. Mt 6:24).
I am not totally against insurance and investment. It is saddening, however, when a person extends himself to the maximum in order to pay monthly premiums and mortgages, and then says that he has no money or time to give to his parents or to the church, because he has to work so hard to pay for all these things. On top of that, this same overworked person will skip church services because he needs to rest, and then, once or twice a year, he disappears with his family for a week or two to take a well-deserved break and to recharge his batteries for another joust with the world.
To bear the yoke of God in your youth is good because then you avoid bearing the yoke of the world. Although the rewards of the world seem more glamorous, many who have chosen this path have tasted its bitter fruit:
For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. (1 Tim 6:10)
But those who have trusted God and sought first His kingdom have found His promise to be true. Although very few who make this choice are considered to be "doing very well" in the world, the peace and joy they find in health, family harmony, and saving souls certainly has captured the true meaning of life.
3) Discipline the Body
Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight; not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified. (1 Cor 9:24-27)
This passage reminds us that not everyone who participates in a race gets the prize (see Mt 22:14). Many modern athletes who become champions began their training very early in life. Similarly, we tell our children to excel in their studies at an early age, and we help them by disciplining them and providing financial and tutorial support. Young people at the beginning of their careers are told to put in maximum effort and to learn as much as they can. Why then do these same people think that attaining heaven is a cinch and does not require effort?
To bear the yoke in your youth is good because by doing so, you discipline and train yourself in the word and the work of God, so as to save both yourself and those whom you love. It is never too early to start. If we enter the race too late, we may not even be able to complete it, much less win a prize. If we abstain from participating till later, we may find ourselves disqualified for not meeting the entry requirements.
We are very joyful when a lost brother returns to God and serves him faithfully. However, we should not romanticize the parable of the prodigal son and imagine that this scenario is actually better because the returned brother is able to serve the Lord with more conviction after having been lost in the world. Such a witness is indeed powerful, but the returned brother himself would tell us how he wishes that he had been wiser and had avoided all the suffering, and how wonderful it would be if he could recoup all those wasted years.
How much effort do we need to put in? Swimmers train about two hours each day, seven days a week. If he started at five and made the major leagues at twenty, a professional baseball pitcher will have pitched about one million balls. Therefore, attending four services a week to prepare oneself for heaven doesn't look very fanatical, does it?
4) Keep the Pattern of Sound Words
The true faith is passed down the generations through the process of apprenticeship. Jesus trained His disciples, and the apostles took apprentices along in their work. For example, Barnabas took John Mark, and Paul trained Silas and Timothy (Acts 15:37-16:3).
Apprentices such as Mark and Timothy were young men. In fact, Paul himself was young (Acts 7:58) when he was chosen by Jesus. And when they were with Jesus, the twelve apostles also were relatively young. Learning the word of God while still young is optimal in absorbing the full goodness of the gospel. Age brings experience, but it also very often brings prejudices and self-interests, which may hinder the complete growth of the word of God in us (see Mt 13:22). Besides, we all know that age slows us down, both physically and mentally (Ecc 12:1-5), and age means less time (Ecc 12:6-7).
Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus ... And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. (2 Tim 1:13; 2:2)
Youths must bear the yoke with regard to knowing the word of God and contending for the truth (Jude 3). The church is in danger when we abdicate the defense of the truth to a few good men, and older men at that. When these good men pass away (as they must), or if a few of them go astray (as they may), the truth will be compromised and perverted by wolves all too eager to destroy the church (Acts 20:28-30). However, if we nurture a large cohort of believers who can discern the word of God rightly (2 Tim 2:15; Acts 17:11), and who do not leave decisions on doctrines solely in the hands of a few, then it will not be easy for the devil to corrupt the church.
For a number of years, we detected a downward trend in enthusiasm for Bible study among the youths, at least in some locations. Increasingly, young people seemed to prefer other options such as choir singing, technical and maintenance duties, and organizational work. Many shunned work that involved reading, writing, and expounding the teachings of God found in the Bible. Recently, however, we have seen a number of youths showing genuine interest in the word of God. We pray that this revival will be sustained and will grow stronger.
It is good for us to bear the yoke in our youth because "what goes around comes around." The suffering that comes with bearing the yoke brings benefit to the next generation. For in preserving the truth by absorbing it, the youths of today secure a good future for their descendants. Only by continuing this apprenticeship, can we break the following cycle of decline:
A generation suffers for the Lord.
They are blessed by Him.
The next generation enjoys the physical blessings due to their parents.
They neglect the yoke of the Lord.
Their next generation suffers because the truth is compromised.
Perhaps, they search for the truth and find it again.
Perhaps, they are destroyed.
If the former, will the cycle be repeated?
If the latter, we will be defeated.
Life has meaning and is full of hope for those who would live life the way God intended it to be lived. This means a life lived in the will of God revealed in the Bible. Many have tried it and found it to be true. Let us encourage one another, and especially our young people, in His way.
This I recall to my mind,
Therefore I have hope.
Through the Lord's mercies we are not consumed,
Because His compassions fail not.
They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.
"The Lord is my portion," says my soul,
"Therefore I hope in Him!"
The Lord is good to those who wait for Him,
To the soul who seeks Him.
It is good that one should hope and wait quietly
For the salvation of the Lord.
It is good for a man to bear
The yoke in his youth. (Lam 3:21-27)