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"MEEK AND LOWLY IN HEART"


INTRODUCTION:

Introductory Verses:

Matthew 5:5 - Blessed are the meek (gentle - NKJV), for they shall inherit the earth. Jesus declares a "blessing" (happiness) on those who are meek.

Galatians 5:22,23 - Meekness is one of the fruits of the Spirit - qualities that we will possess if we are led by the Spirit.

Proverbs 16:18,19 - Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall. It is better to be of a humble spirit with the lowly.

The Bible tells us of great men of God who possessed these qualities:

Numbers 12:3 - Moses was very meek, above all men on face of the earth.

Matthew 11:29,30 - Jesus said, "I am meek and lowly in heart."

These men were two of the greatest characters who ever lived. Both were chosen by God to be givers of His law. Jesus was the Divine Son of God. Surely we should seek to be like these men.

Purpose of this study:

If we seek to be happy, to be led by the Spirit, to avoid destruction, to be like great people such as Moses and Jesus, we should want to know what meekness and humility are and how we can have them in our lives. It is the purpose of this lesson to study these qualities, what they are, and how they will affect our lives. Specifically, we will frequently note the examples and teaching of Moses and of Jesus regarding meekness and humility.

Definitions:

Meekness - Extremely difficult word to translate into English, because we think "meek" implies weakness. Sometimes translated (NKJV) "gentleness," but that also implies weakness.

The best way to know the meaning of a word is to study passages where it is used. As we do, we will see meekness is an attitude or quality of heart [1 Peter 3:4] whereby a person willingly accepts and submits without resistance to the will and desires of someone else. The meek person is not self-willed - not continually concerned with self, his own ways, ideas, and wishes. He is willing to put himself in second place and submit himself to achieve what is good for others. Meekness is the opposite of self-will, self-interest, self-assertiveness.

This not a sign of weakness of character (as some think), but of strength. It requires great self-control to submit to others.

Humility - An attitude or quality of mind [Acts 20:19] whereby a person holds low esteem or opinion of his own goodness and importance. Spiritually, one abases himself because he realizes his sinfulness and therefore he is willing to depend on God to meet His needs. It is the opposite of pride, haughtiness, and self-exaltation.


PART I: MEEKNESS AND HUMILITY TOWARD GOD


In the Bible, meekness is primarily emphasized as submissiveness toward God (rather than toward men). As directed toward God, meekness and humility require the following:


I. WE MUST RECOGNIZE OUR SINFULNESS AND OUR DEPENDENCE ON GOD


A. We Must Recognize Our Sinfulness.

Luke 18:9-14 - A Pharisee trusted in himSELF that he was righteous, prayed with himSELF, thanking God he was better than other people. Note the emphasis on self, exaltation of self, and the failure to see his sins.

The Publican pleaded for mercy admitting he was a sinner. Note the conclusion in V14 - One who exalts self will be abased, one who humbles self will be exalted! Humility is the opposite to self-exaltation and self-righteousness.

A Preacher once preached a sermon on this story and afterward a man prayed, "Lord, we thank thee that we are not proud like that Pharisee"! He was DOING the very thing he was saying he was not doing! We are all sinners. We have no right to look down on anyone as if we deserve salvation because we are so good, and they don't deserve it. We can be more righteous than the Pharisee, but only by humbling ourselves like the publican and calling on God to forgive us.

1 John 1:8,10 - If we say we have not sinned, we are liars. We are all sinners, and often need forgiveness. We all deserve death. The only way we have hope of salvation is by God's gracious willingness to forgive. We are no better than the Pharisee or publican, in the sense we are all sinners.

B. We Must Depend on God

Deuteronomy 8:3,11-14,16-18 - Note the example of Moses. Moses knew man lives, not by bread alone, but by the word of God. Our physical blessings come, not by our own power and might, but from God. All good things come from God. We must see how weak we would be without Him. This leads us to depend on God to meet our needs. In turn, we then appreciate and exalt Him.

Matthew 18:1-4 - Note the teaching of Jesus. The greatest in the kingdom is one who is humble like a little child. A child is not just forgiving; he is totally dependent on his parents. Where does a child receive his needs? Who provides his food, changes his diaper, dresses him? When the child has pain, who does he call for? A child is weak, but he knows Momma and Daddy can meet his needs. So humility leads us to humbly admit our need for God.

Proper humility toward God is an admission of our own weakness, sinfulness, unprofitableness, inability to really know what to do or to accomplish it by ourselves. We need help from someone far greater than we are. God knows better than we do, He has power we must obtain to do what needs done. This humility will lead us to appreciate Him, trust His will, and give Him the glory, rather than exalting self.


II. WE MUST SUBMIT TO GOD'S COMMANDS.


If we know our weaknesses and our tendency to err, in contrast to God's wisdom and power, we will be willing to do what He says because we know that His will is best, and we can only receive His aid if we obey.

A. Note the Examples of Moses and of Jesus

Example of Moses:

Numbers 12:3,6,7 - He was very meek. He was faithful in all God's house.

Exodus 40:16 - He did according to all that Jehovah commanded him, so did he.

Hebrews 8:5 - He built all things according to the pattern shown him.

Example of Jesus:

Philippians 2:8 - Having come to earth as a man, Jesus humbled Himself and became obedient, even to the point of dying on the cross.

Hebrews 4:15 - He was tempted in all points like we are yet without sin.

1 Peter 2:21,22 - He left us an example that we should follow His steps. He did no sin nor was guilt found in His mouth.

Both Moses and Jesus are expressly noted for their meekness and humility, and both were thoroughly obedient to God.

B. Applications to Us

James 1:21-25 - Meekness toward God's word requires putting away filth and wickedness. Be doers of the word, not just hearers.

James 4:6-10 - God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Humble selves in the sight of God and He will exalt you. Therefore be subject to God, draw nigh to Him, cleanse your hands, purify your hearts, be afflicted, mourn, and weep. This is the true effect of humility in our lives, just as in Jesus' life (cf. 1 Peter 1:22).

When we are truly humble, and hold ourselves in low esteem compared to God's exalted greatness, we will submit to His will. This is why Scripture so often associates repentance with humbling oneself. [1 Kings 21:27ff; 2 Chronicles 7:13f; Isaiah 57:15; 1 Peter 5:5-9; Proverbs 15:31-33]

Matthew 16:24 - An excellent definition of "meekness," without using the word. To be meek is to deny self.

The selfish person says "I want this, I want that...." True meekness says, "So what! So what! What does God want?" Is this really best according to God's way? God's ways are so much better than ours that we will submit.

Someone says, "Well, don't we ever get to consider what we want?" Yes, but be careful. When it doesn't matter according to God's will, then our will comes into play. But the meek person carefully considers God's will first, then our own will last. It is very easy to sub-consciously desire to please ourselves, so we conclude an act doesn't matter to God, when really it does matter to Him. We must question every act, word, thought as to what effect it will have on our service to God. Then we do only what we are sure will please God.


III. WE MUST ACCEPT CIRCUMSTANCES OF LIFE ACCORDING TO GOD'S WILL.


A meek and humble person will accept persecution, mistreatment, or hardship without rebelling against God, and without doubting His wisdom. We will accept the fact that He has chosen to allow this to happen for His good purposes.

A. Note the Examples of Moses and Jesus

Example of Moses:

Numbers 11:10-15 - Moses had problems most of us would never submit to. People constantly complained about his leadership when he was just doing what God said. How many of us would have stood for it? No wonder he was called the meekest man on earth! In fact, it was a complaint against him that occasioned the statement that he was so meek (Numbers 12:1-3).

Example of Jesus:

Acts 8:32,33 - He was led as a sheep to the slaughter [Isaiah 53:7f].

Matthew 26:39 - Was it hard for Jesus to go the the "slaughter"? Did this take meekness? "Not my will but thine be done."

Philippians 2:8 - Jesus left the glory of heaven, humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of the death on the cross. Consider how much humility and meekness would be required for one to willingly leave the glory of heaven to come to earth to live as a man and die as a criminal to save others.

Hebrews 12:2-6 - Jesus was our example. We should be willing to submit to suffering just as He did. We have suffered nothing like He did, yet we often tend to rebel against our problems.

B. Application to Us

Deuteronomy 8:1-5,15,16 - God allows circumstances that chasten us in order to keep us humble, submissive to His will, dependent on Him. This will do us good in the end.

When we have hardships that we cannot solve alone, we are humbled. We see our weakness and we turn to God for help. Then we appreciate Him and see our need for Him.

This does not mean we should put ourselves in hard circumstances, nor that we should blame God for causing all problems that come. Nor does it mean we only have problems when we sin. Sometimes we sin and problems do come to chasten us. Sometimes, like Job, we have done no sin, but God allows Satan to put trials in our lives. Satan causes the problem but God allows it to make us humble.

2 Corinthians 12:7-10 - Paul's thorn in the flesh kept him from being overly exalted. Satan brought it, not God. But God would not remove it because it worked good for Paul. So our problems may be allowed because they keep us from becoming overly exalted and self-reliant.

Hardships work out for our good if we endure faithfully. The meek and humble person will realize this and submit without rebelling or being bitter against God.


IV. WE MUST RESIST ERROR AND FALSE TEACHING IN THE LIVES OF OTHERS.


Some people believe that a meek person won't speak out against error. Anytime anybody speaks against what someone else has done, some people think he is self-willed, stubborn, pushy, wants to exalt himself, get his own way, etc. Some people today are trying to "change the image of the church" because they don't like its militant stand against error. "We shouldn't be so forceful in telling people they are wrong. We need to be more meek and loving."

A. Note the Example of Moses and Jesus

Remember, these men are noted in the Bible expressly because they were such meek and humble men. Did they resist the errors of others?

Example of Moses:

Exodus 32:19,20 - Moses became angry at the sin of God's people. V26-28,30 - He told them they sinned, and he called for disciplinary action. Yet he was the meekest man on earth!! This is the act of a meek man!

"That doesn't seem meek to me." If so, we don't understand meekness. There is no conflict between Biblical meekness and firm opposition to error. The conflict exists only when we misunderstand meekness.

Example of Jesus:

Matthew 15:3-9, 12-14 - Jesus plainly stated the sin of the Pharisees. The Pharisees were offended and Jesus' disciples told Him so. Did He apologize? No, he proceeded to call them blind guides and told the disciples not to follow them. Should He have apologized for not being meek enough?

John 8:41-47,54,55 - Jesus called the Jews children of the Devil, liars, not from God. Did Jesus lack meekness?

Matthew 23:15-17,27,28,33 - Jesus called the Pharisees hypocrites, sons of hell, blind guides, fools and blind, whited sepulchres, full of hypocrisy and iniquity, generation of vipers. "How shall you escape the damnation of hell?"

These are the statements of a meek man! "I am meek and lowly in heart."

Jesus was without sin. There is no conflict between meekness and powerful rebuke of sin, even to the point of naming specific groups or individuals who are guilty.

B. Applications to Us

Meekness requires that we too oppose sin and false doctrine in the lives of others.

Galatians 6:1 - If a man is overtaken in a fault, those who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of meekness. Meekness does not mean we do not show others they are wrong. We are commanded to show them their error in meekness.

2 Timothy 2:24-26 - In meekness correct those who oppose themselves so they can recover themselves from the snare of the Devil. People are simply mistaken if they think a meek person will never tell others they are wrong. Meekness leads us to tell others they are wrong - the same verses that say to be meek, also tell us to correct others!

Meekness, like love, is exercised first toward God.

Meekness is a willingness to submit, but our primary submission must be to the will of God. One must not stand up for his own personal way to the hindrance of the cause of Christ, but he must stand up for God's way even to the point of resisting all that differs from God's way. Why? Because God tells us to do this, so we must do it or we are not meekly submitting to God as we ought!

Meekness is the quality of character that demands that we must speak out against error. Like Moses and Jesus, a meek person above all else wants to see God's will respected and obeyed. When a meek person sees people disregarding the will of God, he will be moved to indignation because people are not respectful of God's will. A meek person cares about God's will being done!

Elders, preachers, and Christians who speak out against sin are the only kind that are really meek, and those that don't speak out against error are the ones that are not meek - they don't have enough concern for God's will!

Later we will see that meekness affects how we speak out. We don't start by calling people "generation of vipers", etc., the first time you try to teach them. And we won't use such forceful language with people who are humbly trying to do right but just have a misunderstanding. But when people have had many opportunities to know the truth and they still disregard it, then strong language is needed. But in all cases of sin, we must help people turn away from sin, and to do so is meek.


PART II: MEEKNESS AND HUMILITY TOWARD OTHER PEOPLE


While meekness toward God is the most fundamental and basic sense in which we must be meek and humble, yet as it is with love, so it is with meekness: if we are truly meek toward God, this will lead us to be meek and humble toward other people. In our relations with other people, meekness and humility requires us to do the following:


I. WE MUST SUBMIT TO HUMAN AUTHORITY ORDAINED BY GOD.


We are not here saying men have the right to make laws in religion. But God, who has made the laws that regulate our relationship to Him, says that we must also be subject to various forms of human authority. Note some instances where meekness and humility are expressly mentioned regarding our submission to these authorities:

A. Citizens' Submission to Civil Rulers

Titus 3:1,2 - In the same context where we are told to be meek and humble toward all men (v2), we are also told to be subject and obedient toward rulers and authorities.

1 Peter 2:13-15 - Be submissive to ordinances of man, whether king or governors, or to proper representatives of these rulers. Why should we submit? Because it is God's will. It is a matter of meekly submitting to God that leads us to meekly submit to rulers.

Why is it that people refuse to submit to laws? Why cheat on taxes? Why disobey speed laws, etc.? Because we don't want to do what the law says, we want to do what we want. We are self-willed, unwilling to deny self. What qualities does we need to possess to solve this? We need meekness and humility - willingness to set aside our will and submit to the will of the rulers.

B. Wives' Submission to Husbands

1 Peter 3:1-6 - Repeatedly God says wives are to be submissive to their husbands. In the midst of this teaching, he requires women to be adorned with a "meek and quiet" spirit. Note this instruction is in the middle of the discussion of obedience to husbands. Why?

Why is it that modern women deny the concept that man is head of the family? Why are so many women struggling and unhappy following the will of their husbands? There are several reasons, including the fact many husbands misuse their authority for selfish purposes and fail to treat their wives with honor and respect (v7). But some wives have trouble obeying even when husbands are respectful, but just don't agree with the wife's view. And Peter said wives should obey husbands even when husbands are not obeying God's word (v1).

Why do women struggle with this? Because it is so "humiliating" to have to do what he says. Woman has her own ideas about what she wants to do. "My ideas are just as good as his." "I've got my pride, you know." Many women are encouraged by modern humanistic psychologists to take classes on "self-assertiveness" and "stand up for themselves." What is needed, God says is a "meek and quiet spirit."

There are other forms of ordained authority we must submit to: children to parents, employees to employers, etc. In all these, meekness and humility are needed to submit. Note we are to submit first to God, hence, we do not obey man when he says to do what would be disobedient to God (Acts 5:29). But in no case do we do what we want. We do what God demands first, then what those in authority demand. We do what we want only when allowed to by God and by proper human authorities.

Meekness will correct our stubborn, rebellious attitude toward authority.


II. WE MUST HONOR OTHERS RATHER THAN EXALTING OURSELVES.


One who is truly meek and humble does not seek to belittle or neglect the good qualities of others so that he himself can receive glory and honor and recognition above others.

Romans 12:3 - Don't think more highly of self than you ought to think, but think soberly.

Other translations: "think so as to have sound judgment" (NASB); "he must take a sane view of himself" (Moffatt). Be honest and realistic in your evaluation of yourself in relation to others. It is easy to think we more capable than others, have better ideas than others, deserve greater honor than others, when this may not be the case. Consider:

Admit your weaknesses and especially your sins.

Most people tend to overlook their own sins or downplay the seriousness of them. If I do a thing, it's a weakness or personality deficiency; if you do the same thing, it's a sin. We already showed we are all sinners. None of us deserve the honor of eternal life any more than anyone else.

Appreciate the good qualities of others.

Other people do have good points, and often they are better than we are in some areas. We tend to exaggerate our own good points, and exaggerate other people's bad points. The fact someone has different abilities that we do does not mean we are more important than they or more worthy of honor than they (note v4,5).

Give God credit for what good points you do have.

"...think soberly as God has dealt to each one..." If a sober evaluation shows you do have abilities and righteousness, remember you could as easily have been born in far more deprived circumstances, and you are only righteous because God has forgiven the sins you committed. Give glory to God.

Romans 12:16 - Do not set your mind on high things ... Do not be wise in your own opinion.

A humble person does not think in terms of the glory and honor people might give him, or how to make a big impression on people. Some people won't accept any situations or companions unless it leads to their being exalted by people. "What will people think?" Give them a job that lifts them up before people, and they'll do it. Give them a job nobody knows about and it never gets done (or is done only begrudgingly).

The humble person will accept any tasks whereby he can help people, no matter how humble that task is in the eyes of men. He will associate with any people whom he can help and who will help him serve God, even if the world does not highly exalt those people.

V15 - Rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. Some people are too proud to be glad when other people receive honor and respect. They think that honor should have come to themselves. Some are too proud to be really sorry when other people have problems. They think those people had it coming to them.

A humble person is sincerely glad when people receive what is really good for them (by God's standard), and he sincerely weeps with people who are troubled.

[Luke 18:9-14; 14:7-11; 16:15; Titus 3:2,3]


III. WE MUST SERVE THE NEEDS AND INTERESTS OF OTHERS


A humble person is willing to inconvenience himself to do good to others. He is willing to forego his own desires in order to help others receive what they need.

Matthew 23:11,12 - Greatness is measured in terms of service rendered to others.

People then, like now, thought greatness was measured by how much honor you receive from people or how much authority you possess (v5-10). If you dominate and control others, you are important.

But we are really great (worthy of being exalted by God) if we humble ourselves to do what is good for others, regardless of what men think. This does not mean authority is evil. We have already seen that God ordained it. Jesus possessed it, yet he was meek. The point is just having authority does not make you great. Service makes you great, and you can do that with or without authority. But service requires humility.

[Matthew 20:25-28; 1 Peter 5:5]

Philippians 2:2-8 - Each should count others better than himself (v3).

This does not say we should have a false humility wherein we think everybody has more ability than we do. Should my wife think I am a better cook than she is? Should a professional carpenter or musician think I am better than he is? NASB: "Let each one of you regard one another as more important than himself." I must be willing to let your needs and problems take priority over mine.

V4 - Let each of you look out, not just for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. I should be concerned enough about your well-being that I am willing to set aside my own desires in order to serve your needs.

Abraham illustrates this with Lot (Genesis 13). He let Lot have first choice. He could have insisted, as the older man, that he have first choice. But he humbled himself and let Lot choose. Some people think, "You're first, after me."

"As I consider you above, you likewise consider me above, and so [on] all around. [The result is] a marvelous community in which no one is looked down upon, but everyone is looked up to" (Lenski). I should deny self and be self-sacrificing to the point of eliminating self-concern so I can allow your needs to be met.

V5-8 - Jesus is the example. He was meek and lowly. Though He was in heaven with God, in the form of God, He humbled Himself and came to earth as a man, and obeyed to the point of death. Why? To meet our needs. To be of service to us. We should have that mind in us (v5).


IV. WE MUST HELP OTHERS OVERCOME SIN.


We have seen that, contrary to some people's view, meekness does not mean we keep quiet when others sin but rather that we show them their error. However, meekness toward others will affect the manner in which we do this.

A. Teach with Compassion and Self-control for the Proper Purpose.

Galatians 6:1 - One overtaken in trespass should be restored in a spirit of meekness.

This shows the proper purpose of teaching: to restore the person. You seek to help bear his burden (v2). You are trying to be helpful. You're not there to gloat because he fell, nor to remind him you were right (for the sake of exalting self over him). You're not there to hurt his feelings (though he probably will feel bad, that is not the end result you're after). You are not there to add to his problems, but to help solve them.

Every act should be done with this end in view. Act only in ways that, in harmony with Scripture and in accord with wisdom, will help contribute to his return to God.

Specifically, strive to let the person know that this is your purpose. Be compassionate and sympathetic. Let him know the reason you are talking to him is that you care about him.

A man evaluating two preachers once said: They both made it clear I was lost. But the first man made me feel like he was glad for it, and the second made me feel like he was really sorry and wanted me to be saved.

Our manner will never satisfy all the sinners. Some people will become angry no matter how you approach them. They killed Jesus! But examine yourself to be sure your teaching is not egotistic self-righteousness nor an intellectual exercise by which you seek to win an argument and prove your opponent wrong.

Remember you have been in the sinner's shoes. You too have been in sin and will be again sometime. Approach the person with the same sense of consideration that you should be approached, consistent with God's word. This will not eliminate forceful rebukes - sometimes they are needed. But it is much easier to be compassionate to people when you remember you have been in their shoes.

2 Timothy 2:24-26 - Teach in meekness those who have been taken captive by the Devil.

Again the purpose of the teaching is clear: to help people repent and recover themselves from Satan's grasp. Be helpful (as already discussed).

Avoid strivings (quarrels). This does not mean never pointedly telling people they are wrong. Jesus and Moses, two very meek men, both did this. Sometimes the discussion degenerates till nothing useful or helpful in leading people to repent is being accomplished. If so, discontinue it.

Some people argue just to keep from admitting they are wrong. They aren't honestly considering the evidence but just looking for any silly answer to avoid conceding. Other people get so angry they lose control and say things they don't really mean (this could be you or them). "Cool it" and wait till people can be calmer.

B. Teach with Longsuffering and Forbearance

Colossians 3:12,13 - Lowliness and meekness leads to longsuffering and forbearance. [Ephesians 4:2]

Longsuffering is patience. We must be willing to continue in our efforts. Don't get angry and you're your temper. Don't give up just because the person once disobeyed what we taught from God's word. What would have happened to us if God gave up on us the first time we failed to do as He taught?

Forbearing is putting up with things we don't like. Sometimes we suffer personal slights from people we are teaching. Do not give up and do not retaliate. Keep teaching the truth. A sinner, when rebuked, will often turn on you and find fault. We are tempted to quit teaching. If this is a consistent reaction, maybe we should teach someone else, but don't quit teaching. Don't give up just because we were criticized.

It takes a meek and humble person to keep on doing good despite hardship.


V. WE MUST WORK FOR UNITY, PEACE, AND HARMONY.


Ephesians 4:2,3 - With lowliness and meekness, endeavor to keep unity and peace. Lowliness contributes to peace and unity in at least the following ways.

A. A Humble Person Is Willing to Submit for the Good of the Group

Philippians 2:2,3 - With lowliness of mind, do nothing through faction or vainglory.

The proud, vainglorious man is too concerned for his own ideas and ways. This leads to strife and maybe division. He may insist on following his own way rather than God's way, so causing doctrinal strife. He will often insist that other people accept his ideas and let him run the show, while he is unwilling to give in to the ideas of others. This leads to conflict.

James 3:13-18 - The meek person avoids envy and is willing to yield.

Peace is often ruined by envy. This is worldly and devilish. The wisdom from above is first pure then peaceable, gentle, easy to be entreated. The proud person is envious when other people get their way or receive honor. The meek person will give in for the good of the group. He doesn't care who gets the glory as long as good is done.

Note that meekness still demands doctrinal purity. It is not meek to allow error to go uncorrected - first pure, then peaceable. Peace at any price leads to unity in sin. The meek person wants to please God first. Then he reasons with people for what is best. But he will not press his own desires to the harm of the church.

B. A Humble Person Is Willing to Forgive, not to Retaliate.

Colossians 3:12,13 - Again meekness is associated with willingness to forgive when others repent. It helps to remember we were sinners. As we seek God to forgive us, so we should be willing to forgive others. If we don't forgive, God will not forgive us (Matthew 6:12ff).

What is it that keeps people from being willing to forgive? Why do we hold grudges even when others have repented? Pride. The solution is meekness and humility.

Romans 12:14,16-21 - Lowliness (v16) is discussed in context of not taking vengeance, but blessing our persecutors. A meek person will do this for two reasons. First, God says to let Him take care of it and a meek person is willing to submit to God's vengeance. Second, a meek person is not motivated by the egotistical satisfaction of "getting even," but simply by a desire to see things made right.

Conclusion

Some people want to please self first and everybody else comes somewhere down the line. Other people will do first what other people want of them. The rule followed by the truly meek and humble person is: God first, others second, self last.

Does your life live up to God's standard of meekness and humility?

(C) Copyright 1999, David E. Pratte (Click for our copyright guidelines).

 

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