Harold Hoehner: Co-Yoked with Christ
Jesus told His disciples, “Come to Me, all 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” (Matt. 11:29-30).
Notice that Jesus offers His disciples an “easy yoke.” His metaphor literally pictures two animals that are working together for a common goal. Jesus is offering His followers nothing less than connectedness – not to an organization or an institution or a methodology or a program, but to Himself. In that relationship they find not only connectedness, however.
Jesus’ yoke metaphor also has a secondary meaning. It implies balance, even equality. We enter into a relational harmony with the Lord Jesus. We work side-by-side and shoulder-to-shoulder. We are partners together in the work of ministry.
Our problem – let me make it more direct: my problem – lies in the confusion about what it means to “rest” in Jesus. I used to think of it as ceasing from all activity. But the word Jesus uses here (anapausis) never has that meaning in the New Testament. When Greeks wanted to refer to the cessation of activity they used a different though similar word – katapausis. The author of Hebrews uses this latter word to describe the promised “rest” of the people of God when they have ceased from their earthly labors (Heb. 3-4). That rest is not a present reality for those of us who are still living in this world. It is offered only to those who labor diligently in the here and now to enter that rest (Heb. 4:11).
In the meantime, Jesus tells us to “work hard for the night is coming” and to “keep busy until I come.” We come to Jesus, then, not to rest from our work but to rest in it. This is only possible when we yoke ourselves to Him. In a sense, our work is not our own. It is work performed and accomplished together with Christ. Coming to Him does not mean that I rest in the sense of stopping my labors. It means walking next to Him in harmonious balance as together we plow the fields. Jesus “rests” us, not by taking away our heavy burdens, but by allowing us to join our harness to His. Paul puts it this way: “Do not be sluggish in zeal ... as you serve the Lord” (Rom 12:11). Being co-yoked to Christ means there is never room for lethargy or sloth. God intends for us neither to burn out nor to rust out.
If there is one thing I remember about Harold Hoehner, it is that he was a man co-yoked with Christ. In his long and illustrious teaching and writing career, he neither burned out nor rusted out. We might say that he lived the “co-yoked” life, the life that makes one’s burdens not only bearable but enjoyable, the life that enables one to keep on serving, ungrudgingly and uncomplainingly. The service Harold rendered was service in the strength that God had supplied. Such an attitude preserved him from both pride and sloth.
In addition to his many duties at Dallas Seminary, Harold taught my father-in-law’s Sunday School class at Grace Bible Church. Whenever Becky and I visited the Big D we would attend Harold’s class and listen to him exegete some passage of Scripture. Here was a man, I thought to myself, who taught not from the canteen of Saturday night but from a reservoir of Bible knowledge.
But Harold was every bit as gracious as he was scholarly. And he was always fun to be around. Since he knew Swiss German, and since I had once lived in Switzerland, we would banter back and forth in that dialect as others looked on in open-mouthed astonishment. I always asked him what his latest writing project was. I ribbed him that it took him so long to finish his magnum opus on Ephesians. But it was all in jest. I knew that Harold would only write about what he himself had lived. James, Jesus’ half-brother, put it this way: “Who among you is a man of wisdom and understanding? Let him show by the loveliness of his behavior that all he does is done with gentleness” (James 3:13). I wonder, was James thinking of Harold when he penned those words?
Although he was only 18 years my senior, Harold taught me many lessons. Perhaps the greatest one is this: Rest is serious business. In our hurry-up generation, where everything has to be done yesterday, Harold showed me how to pace myself and to go no faster (or slower) than the One to whom I am co-yoked is traveling. There is a great truth here that is both relevant and practical. I believe that a new grace and glory would enter the church if all Christians ceased doing things by themselves and did them for and with God.
Harold willingly and eagerly placed all his gifts (and these were considerable) at the service of the church. And the church, in turn, needed every gift that he had. In everything he did he was faithful to his Master whose interests he always served. And it is because Harold trusted the Savior alone for eternal salvation that he is now enjoying an inheritance that is imperishable, undefilable, and that can never fade away.
Harold enjoyed the respect of the entire academic community, and to him the community looked for guidance and inspiration. I have little doubt, however, that he would be content to be remembered, not as a great New Testament scholar, which he was most certainly was, but as a humble servant doing the bidding of his Lord, to whom he had so joyfully and willingly yoked himself.
Rest in peace, my friend.
February 12, 2009
David Alan Black is the editor of www.daveblackonline.com.