The Ministry of Meekness
Worldly wisdom says “kill or be killed”, “get your own”, “treat yourself”, “protect yourself”, “fulfill your desires”, “I decide”. The fruit of this worldly wisdom was the first murder, Cain killing Abel. This worldly wisdom results in competition, resentment, anger, judgment, rigidness, irritation, always complaining of being wronged, fretfulness, always in trouble with others…I could go on. In short, worldly wisdom results in a disposition that is easily stirred up and thrown about by others. The opposite of this wisdom is the wisdom of God: meekness.
What is meekness? Wilhelmus À Brakel offers an excellent definition: “Meekness is the believers’s even-tempered disposition of heart which issues forth from union with God in Christ, consisting in self-denial and love for his neighbor. This results in having fellowship with his neighbor in an agreeable, congenial, and loving manner; in relinquishing his rights; in enduring the violation of his rights without becoming angry, being forgiving, and in rewarding it with good.”1 There is much in that definition worthy of reflection, but our focus is only on the first part: meekness is an even-tempered disposition; a humble, lowly attitude that remains self-controlled no matter what.
Meekness is the believers’s even-tempered disposition of heart which issues forth from union with God in Christ, consisting in self-denial and love for his neighbor.
This meekness comes from two important and related things. First, from a proper understanding of our position before God. Wisdom understands that God is on the throne, that we are creatures, and therefore in need of his help and must respond in humility. Second, from a proper understanding of forgiveness. Understanding that we are sinners, and living with that understanding actively shaping our lives, helps us not to think more highly of ourselves than we ought, and puts an end to our own wisdom (Rom 12.3,16). As Bonhoeffer says, “Only he who lives by the forgiveness of his sin in Jesus Christ will rightly think little of himself.” We must always consider ourselves the greatest of sinners. Indeed, “If my sinfulness appears to me to be in any way smaller or less detestable in comparison with the sins of others, I am still not recognizing my sinfulness at all. My sin is of necessity the worst, the most grievous, the most reprehensible.”2
Unmoved in Meekness
We are well acquainted with our quick tempers, our readiness to injure another either in words or deeds, our (sinful) natural reflex to anger. We are like waves being thrown around by everything and everyone (James 1:19), and like a porcupine or thorn bush, “so that one cannot be in your presence without being pricked.”3 The world sees this as wisdom. In reality, it is the fools way: unstable and touchy.
On the other hand, one who is meek “has chosen God to be his portion…and perceives all that is in the world to be vanity, and knows that no one will either speak or do anything except God wills it.” The meek person trusts God, and is humble before him and others, and so is not in constant turmoil but rather even-tempered, so that “If someone assaults him in either word or deed, he will be as an even shore upon which the tempestuous waves crash and then trickle away playfully.”4 The meek person is unmoved, even when harmed, like a lighthouse battered by waves, built on the foundation of God’s Word through trust. The meek, the tender in heart, are the most solid people, even-tempered in the face of the things that throw the world into chaotic and irritated madness against fellow humans. Wisdom.
The meek, the tender in heart, are the most solid people, even-tempered in the face of the things that throw the world into chaotic and irritated madness against fellow humans
Moved by Meekness
Meekness is essential to Christian service, because it moves us away from self-worship and toward our neighbor in love and humility. How am I to serve if I think I am wise in my own sight? My plans and ideas will dominate, and my will will be placed above others’. How am I to serve if I am only focused on my honor? Injustice will not be tolerated, and my honor will matter more than God’s and yours. If I think that I am better than another, and am only seeking my desires, any and every person becomes a barrier to my self-fulfillment. “Since people have desires toward the same thing, and thus are a hindrance to each other, the heart of those who are hindered in achieving their objective will be stirred up and tossed to and fro by an inner turmoil– as if they were at sea during a storm.”5 As it turns out, meekness might have much to say to us while we shop and get in line at the register, let alone when we (think) we are wronged.
Meekness moves us to consider others before ourselves, to deny our own desires for honor, false love, and possessions. And meekness moves us to love our neighbor; to seek our neighbors good for the sake of the neighbor. When we love another for his own sake and God’s glory, we can endure much. Even wrongs done against us are understood as sins, and so grieve us greatly that the other is sinning, and thus we have compassion and pity on him.6
The Better Way
Prov 14.29-30 Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly. A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh, but envy makes the bones rot.
Prov 25.28 A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls. Derek Kidner says, “Impatience views restraint only as restriction; so the enemy arrives to find the walls down. Soft victim.”7
Prov 19.11 Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense. Kidner again, “the glowing colors of a virtue which in practice may look drably unassertive. God himself declares his ‘almighty power most chiefly in showing mercy and pity’.”8
James 3.13 Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom.
Matt 5.5 Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
- Wilhelmus À Brakel, The Christian’s Reasonable Service (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 1995), IV, 79.
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together (NY: Harper & Row Publishers, 1954), 96.
- Brakel, 85.
- Ibid, 81-2.
- Ibid, 83.
- Derek Kidner, Proverbs (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2008), 154.
- Ibid, 125.