Blessed are the Meek
It is clear that the Bible commends the quality of meekness, but what is our understanding of this virtue? Why is it commended to us, and what are its qualities?
Most people clearly apprehend that humility is characterized by lowliness. We understand this because it is often contrasted with pride whereby a person boasts and puffs himself up in the sight of others. But why is pride considered a vice? Part of the answer is that no person can truly and rightly exalt himself because we are all sinners, and sinners, however capable and successful in worldly things they may become, remain essentially guilty in God’s sight and corrupt in themselves. For sinners, any claim to exalted status is but posturing pretense with no reality. That is why pride is deemed in Scripture a puffing up. In contrast, humility involves our honest recognition and acceptance of the truth that we have debased ourselves by our sinfulness.
Yet this is only part of humility and the least significant part. In fact, if we limit the concept of meekness entirely to our recognition of our degraded sinfulness, we will not be considering true humility at all. There are features to genuine meekness that set it radically apart from our merely being attuned to our essential weakness and brokenness in sin. In fact, one of those features is actually strength. Only those who are truly powerful and exalted can be humble, because only they can voluntarily lower themselves to serve others. Our accepting and acting with appropriate self-defacing lowliness is simply a matter of our honest confession of our essential worthlessness. We do not by such a confession lower ourselves but rather open our eyes to see and our mouths to tell of our prostration.
There is a voluntary feature that is essential to humility. Our recognizing our sinful debasement is not voluntary but a compulsory reaction to the reality of who we are. It is a right and appropriate thing when a worm grovels in the dust. It is an act of true humility when a king stoops to wash the feet of his subjects. For the king has no law or indebtedness to his subjects that compels him to serve them. But when he voluntarily condescends to be their servant, he is manifesting humility.
This is why Moses was designated as the meekest man on earth in his day (Num. 12:3). He could have retained his high position in Pharaoh’s household, but, instead, he chose ill treatment in his identification with the sons of Israel (Heb. 11:24-27). When those sons of Israel grumbled against the Lord and the Lord expressed a determination to destroy them and exalt Moses, the humble servant of God interposed himself as a willing substitute to bear Israel’s sin and punishment (Exod. 32:10-32). Moses was under no obligation to perform such sacrificial service but rather chose freely to perform it from a holy love for God and his glory and a gracious regard for the Lord’s people.
While Moses served the Lord and his people by delivering to Israel and to the church in all ages the holy Law of God, our Lord Jesus Christ was by countless magnitudes even more meek and humble in heart than was Moses (Matt. 11:28-30). Jesus did not only offer his life as a redeeming ransom for his people, but he actually did serve as the perfect sacrifice who bore in himself the full guilt and punishment for our sin. Accordingly, through Jesus Christ grace and truth were realized for us (John 1:17). By God’s sovereign, saving grace, the truth about us now is that we are justified in Christ; we are in process of being sanctified; we are being healed by the love of God; we are empowered by God’s indwelling Holy Spirit and by our developing new natures that are growing into true Christ-likeness. We are even told in Scripture to regard ourselves as being in a sense even now exalted to heaven in Christ (Col. 3:1-4).
It is not from our essential weakness and degradation that humility flows. It is rather our abundant spiritual strength and exaltation in Christ that form the soil from which humility grows. We who are in Christ have been enriched, empowered, and exalted. Because of this new reality, we are enabled freely and lovingly to serve others in that meek majesty that is the hallmark of true humility.
That is why there is a voluntary modifier attached to Scripture’s references to our service in Christ. We are to be givers of loving service that is rendered cheerfully (2 Cor. 9:7). We are to humble ourselves under God’s hand and not wait for him to press us down into serving others (James 4:10; 1 Pet. 5:5, 6). We are to stoop willingly to serve others, seeking to build them up and honour them even above ourselves (Phil. 2:1-8). The greater the servant in Christ, the least and lowest place he will seek if it will serve for God’s glory and for the good of his brethren. And the exalted dignity of such humble servants does not diminish, but rather greatly increases by their meek dispositions and lowly service rendered gladly in love for others. May our God open our eyes to see how we have been enriched in our Saviour so that we can know that we are able to afford sacrificial cost for others.
William Harrell is the minister at the Immanuel Presbyterian Church, Norfolk, Virginia
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