I heard about a support group for submissive people that is called DOORMATS. That stands for “Dependent Organization of Really Meek and Timid Souls—if there are no objections. Their motto was: “The meek shall inherit the earth—if that’s okay with everybody.” And their symbol was the yellow traffic light.1
Well, I don’t need to tell you that that is an unhealthy, unbiblical perversion of meekness. And yet, I think it’s one that people commonly have when we talk about meekness. They think of weakness as being timid, being spineless. They think of meekness as being equal to weakness.
Now, in the last session we talked about how to respond when people are angry toward us. We said sometimes you need to say nothing. We said when you do speak, you need to speak with a soft answer. And that’s the emphasis we’ve placed.
But I want us to realize in this session that:
- Meekness does not mean that you don’t stand up for truth.
- Meekness does not mean that you don’t speak out against or confront error.
- Meekness does not mean that you passively stand by and let evil triumph.
This is where we need the whole counsel of God.
There’s no way I can get the whole counsel of God into any twenty-five-minute program that we have. So we try to balance out this teaching from day to day. There are situations biblically—and we’re going to look at some of them today—where courage and boldness are needed, where confrontation is needed. But when we do that, we have to always do it with a spirit of meekness, a spirit of humility, a spirit of gentleness.
I want to talk about several of those situations today where boldness is needed and talk about how we do that with a spirit of meekness. The first is in the matter of admonishing a brother or sister in Christ who has sinned.
The Scripture says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend” (Pr. 27:6). You’re not a friend if you don’t speak the truth. If somebody is playing with fire, if they’re making choices in their lives that are foolish choices, that are sinful choices, you’re not being a friend. You’re not being faithful to the Lord if you don’t address that situation.
You can actually become an enabler of sin in other people’s lives. But as we admonish, rebuke, reprove those who are sinning, we need to do it in a spirit of meekness and humility.
The verse that puts all that together in one verse is, of course, Galatians chapter 6, verse 1.
If anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep a watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.
A spirit of meekness, a spirit of humility.
You are to restore him. That means you are to bring it to his attention. You need to face it. You need to help him face it. But you do it in a way that is meek and gentle. And part of the evidence of humility is that you’re watching your own life to make sure that you don’t have a log in your eye while you’re pointing out the speck in someone else’s eye.
I’ve been quoting extensively throughout this series from a book by one of the Puritans, Puritan commentator Matthew Henry, written over 300 years ago called, The Quest for Meekness and Quietness of Spirit. In this series I’m actually teaching through this book but trying to put it in a way that’s a little easier for us to understand, because some of the language is a little bit challenging. But in this book Matthew Henry says,
The three qualifications of a good surgeon are required in a reprover: [s]he should have an eagle’s eye, a lion’s heart, and a lady’s hand; in short, he should be endued with wisdom, and courage, and meekness. Though sometimes it is needful to reprove with earnestness.
Think about your children. There are times when you need to look them in the eye and earnestly reprove them.
“Yet we must never reprove with wrath, for the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.” (James 1:20)
Now, this is a razor-thin balance in life. It’s a tough balance. It’s the truth with love. Matthew Henry says,
We must treat those who are overtaken in a fault with the same tenderness and compassion that we would wish to find if it were our own case.
How do we want people confronting us? We want them doing it kindly, lovingly, gently. We don’t want them manhandling us or beating us over the head with it. We want them to be gentle and kind and patient and compassionate when they confront us.
Well, we need to reprove others with the same spirit with which we would want to be reproved. That means:
- We don’t attack.
- We assume the best.
- We come with a gentle spirit, a humble spirit.
I’ve heard it said over the years that if you ask a question, it convicts the conscience, but if you send somebody an accusation, it will harden the will. So you don’t do it with an accusatory spirit. That’s just going to stiffen them, harden their will.
So you ask a question. “I may be a million miles off,” a friend used to say. He’s now with the Lord. But he used to say, “I may be a million miles off, but is it possible that . . .?” And then he would ask a question about something he’d observed in my life.
And you know, he was almost always right. But if he would say it, as he said it with the spirit of meekness and humility, that made it easier to receive.
Now, that’s particularly important when we’re called upon to speak the truth about an issue or a sin in the life of an authority, a husband, a parent, a boss, maybe a pastor or an elder, an older person. We’re told to speak to them with respect and meekness.
I think of 1 Timothy chapter 5, verse 1: “Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father.” That doesn’t say you never point out a sin. It just talks about the manner and the spirit in which you do it.
I found myself in the last week or so feeling impressed of the Lord to write a letter to someone that I greatly respect, an older person, a man, an elder, who I had in my heart a question about a course of action that had been taken. I prayed about it. I waited.
I didn’t just come and blurt this out quickly because a lot of times we think we know exactly what’s right and we don’t stop and think, Is this really something God wants me to say in this situation? But the Lord wouldn’t let me go about it.
I spent a long time constructing a letter, editing, re-editing, re-re-editing, wanting to make sure that the tone, the spirit was humble, that it was gentle, that it was gracious, that I was not tackling or attacking this person. And I just went through and looked at each word carefully. Could this come across as an attack? Could this put this person on the defensive?
Now, I wasn’t scared of the person. It wasn’t being cowardly. It was just trying to be compassionate and tender and gentle and humble and meek in my approach. It was neat to see that person come back and say, “Thank you for sharing this, but thank you for the spirit in which you shared it.”
And that person said, “I’m going to take this to the Lord and ask Him if there’s something here that I need to confess, that I need to deal with.”
So the response was a humble response. A lot of times we don’t get a humble response because we do things in an attack mode rather than in a spirit of gentleness and meekness. So when we’re admonishing a brother or sister in Christ we have to do it but in a spirit of meekness.
Now let me just give you a little rabbit trail here, a parenthesis, a side note not about giving reproof to others, but about receiving reproof and correction from others. It’s also very important that we do that in a spirit of meekness.
If we are meek, we will receive correction, criticism, reproof, and admonition. We will receive it quietly as my friend did in response to that letter. We will receive it humbly and gratefully.
I tell our staff when we receive critical letters in the mail, which we do from time to time. Some of them are in a sweet spirit and some of them are not in a sweet spirit. But I say, “Always, always, always thank them for writing us.”
The rebuke, the confrontation, the correction may not be given in the wisest way. It may be exaggerated. We may be even totally innocent of the thing for which we’re being criticized or reproved.
I’m thinking of an incident that took place many years ago where a person who was a leader in my life came to me and said some very strong things, pointed out some issues in my life, and had a whole list. I mean it was a litany. This was a person that I respected, I looked up to; it was an authority in our ministry. But this person said some very strong things and with a harsh spirit.
And I did not react with a spirit of meekness. I was hurt. I was devastated. I just played this in my mind over and over and over again.
My inner reaction—I don’t know that this ever came out toward that person—but my heart reaction was anger. It was defensiveness. It was pride. I felt rejected. I resented the person for a long, long time. Many, many months, a year and a half to one extent or another, I mulled this over in my mind and held this against this person.
As God began to work in my heart in that area, I came to see that there was some more than a kernel of truth in what had been said. Now, there were circumstances that looking back I can see why this person in that situation came across more harshly. I’ve long since forgiven this situation and the person.
But I had just said, “None of it’s true.” I had maintained that position for months. But once my heart was humble, I could see that there was some truth in this.
What had happened? I had reacted to the overstatement and to the exaggeration, and I had missed the truth in it that God wanted me to see, that I needed to see, just because of reacting to the manner in which it was given.
So respond in humility. It may be overstated. It may be exaggerated. It may not even be true. But God may use something that’s said that’s critical and ugly and untrue to help you see something in your heart that is true, to help you develop a spirit of meekness. You can never go wrong on the pathway of humility.
So back to situations where we do need to confront, we need to have courage and boldness, but we do it in a spirit of meekness. First is admonishing a brother or sister who is sinning.
A second area is correcting those who oppose the truth. There is a time to rebuke, to expose, to oppose sin and false doctrine. We know that Jesus was meek and humble, but He confronted the Pharisees. He did it in a very straight forward, direct way.
But He didn’t do it out of self-defense or self-promotion. He didn’t do it out of sinful anger. It was the righteousness of God in Him that was wanting to defend the glory and the truth of God.
We’ve talked about how the Scripture says Moses was the most meek or humble man on the face of the earth. And yet you see him standing up to Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, and saying, “You have got to get out of God’s way. You’re wrong.”
We see Moses becoming angry at the sin of God’s people at the incident of the golden calf and rebuking them for their idolatry. He calls for disciplinary action. And yet, this is the action of a meek man.
Now there was another situation in Moses’ life, you remember, where he allowed righteous anger to burn into ungodly anger. Those who oppose the truth, often we do that with unrighteous anger.
Remember how Moses late in his life just before the Children of Israel came to the Promised Land, Numbers chapter 20, there was no water. The people murmured as they had many times before. And God said to Moses, “Speak to the rock and it will bring out water” (see v. 8).
And in a fit of anger and impatience, Moses struck the rock twice rather than speaking to it. This was not meekness. Moses was not humble at that point. The wrath of man does not work the righteousness of God.
Second Timothy 2 talks to those who need to confront, those who oppose the truth. It tells us the spirit in which we should do it. It says,
Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach . . . (vv. 23–25).
By the way, the greatest weapon against doctrinal error is to teach the truth. The light is what exposes and dispels the darkness.
So “the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with [meekness, with] gentleness.”
And what’s the goal? God may perhaps grant them repentance, leading to a knowledge of the truth. The point isn’t to just attack them. The point is to see them come to repentance.
We’re not only to confront those who are the opponents of the truth. We are to warn believers about false teachers, about false doctrine.
If you read the book of 2 Peter, if you read the book of Jude, it’s clear that these false teachers in their teaching, that Christians need to be warned against them. And Peter and Jude used some very strong language in describing these false teachers, but they’re doing it in a spirit of humility and meekness. They’re saying, nonetheless, this cannot be tolerated in the church.
In Revelation chapter 2 Jesus Himself says to the church,
I have this against you that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols (vv. 20–21).
Jesus said, “The fact that you tolerate her in the church, this woman who is bringing false teaching, is wrong. You can’t tolerate it. You must be meek, but you cannot tolerate false doctrine.”
And then Jesus says—and here’s where you see His spirit of meekness—“I gave her time to repent.” I gave her time to repent.
Now He goes on to say, “She refuses to repent of her sexual immorality.” Therefore I will judge her. In the end God will judge those who refuse to repent. But the heart of Christ is you expose it, you deal with it, you confront it, and yet you give time for repentance.
That’s always the heart desire when we’re confronting error, when we’re confronting those who oppose the truth. We want for them to repent, and we care about the glory of God and the church, and we care about believers being complete and protected in Christ. That’s the heart motive of humility.
Now here’s another situation where we need to have a spirit of meekness and that’s when we are defending our faith with those who are unbelievers, defending our faith with unbelievers.
First Peter chapter 3 beginning in verse 15:
In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect (vv. 15–16).
- Make the defense, defend your faith.
- Explain why God’s Word is truth and error is error.
- Give a reason. Give an explanation.
- Give an apologetic; that’s the defending of the faith. But do it with gentleness and respect.
If you go out and ask people on the street what they think about Christians today, you’ll hear a lot of people say that Christians are argumentative; that they’re contentious; that they have an unkind or a harsh spirit. And if you go on the Internet and you look up some of the different debates that are going on about theology and doctrinal issues and spiritual matters, you will see a lot of people, a lot of so-called Christians doing this with a spirit that is not meek and gentle.
And that does not accomplish the righteousness of God. Christians should not be known as being argumentative and contentious in their spirit.
Now that doesn’t mean we don’t speak up. It doesn’t mean we just let people who are promoting false religions do their thing and say their thing. That’s cowardly. We need to be bold and confident in defending our faith but always doing it with gentleness and respect.
The same thing holds true for dealing with cultural or social justice issues that need to be addressed in our society. There are those who say we should not get engaged in those things; we’re supposed to stay in our “holy fortresses” and be good, holy Christians. We are supposed to be salt and light. Light should expose the darkness. There are things in our culture and our society that anger God. There are things going on that attack God’s name and His glory and His ways, and that should bother us. We need to be willing to address those things.
I think about the abortion issue. In Proverbs 24 it says, “Rescue those who are being taken away to death. Hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter” (v. 11). We need to roll up our sleeves and get engaged in these issues as God directs us, but we need to do it with grace, with grace.
I’ll be the first to say it’s often hard to know where that line is. But that needs to be the goal: without attacking, without venting, without coming across as arrogant or proud or a know-it-all.
The call here is for balance—a balance of grace and truth. Now some of us tend more toward heavy on the truth, so we need God to balance us with grace. Some tend to be more heavy on the grace, and you may need God to balance you with truth.
Of course, that’s only perfectly fulfilled in Christ. Psalm 85 says that in Christ mercy and truth are met together. Righteousness and peace have kissed each other. Christ is the one who perfectly embodies both grace and truth (see v. 10).
I love that passage in Psalm 45. You see this balance in this Old Testament picture of Christ. It says,
You are fairer than the sons of men. [This is a Messianic psalm speaking of Christ.] Grace is poured upon Your lips; therefore God has blessed You forever.
Gird Your sword on Your thigh, O Mighty One, in Your splendor and Your majesty! [Grace is on Your lips. Gird Your sword on Your thigh.] And in Your majesty ride on victoriously, for the cause of truth and meekness and righteousness” (vv. 2–4 NASB).
It reminds me of that picture in Revelation 19 of the man coming on the white horse. His name is “Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war” (v. 11). He is full of grace and He is full of truth. He is full of mercy, and yet He righteously wages war against sin.
In Christ we see better than anywhere else in the Scripture the power of meekness. Meekness is not weakness. Meekness is the power of God under control being released in and through our lives. You see that in the book of Revelation chapter 5 where you see this two-fold picture of Christ.
You remember how there was this book with seven seals and no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the seals? And John says, “I wept loudly because no one was worthy to do this. No one had the power to open these seals” (see v. 4). And then one of the elders said to him,
Weep no more; behold the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals (v. 5).
So you see Aslan, the picture of Christ, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, the conquering King.
And then John looks, next verse,
Between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw [what did he see?] a Lamb standing as though it had been slain (v. 6).
Who is the Lamb? The Lamb is the Lion. Who is the Lion? The Lion is the Lamb. Who is the Lion and the Lamb? It’s Christ full of grace and truth.
And He went [the Lamb] and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. And when He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb . . . and they sang a new song saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals.” (vv. 7–9)
No one else could do it. You wouldn’t expect a lamb to be able to conquer. But it’s the Lamb who does conquer. How does He do it? “For you were slain.”
The meek, humble, sinless Son of God goes to the cross and takes on Himself all the wrath of a holy God against all the sin of all people who’ve ever lived.
You were slain, and by your blood [by your meekness, by your humility, by the sacrifice of your life, by your blood] you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priest to our God, and they shall reign on the earth. (vv. 9–10)
The cross—it’s the supreme act of meekness. And yet it’s the most powerful act in the history of the universe. It’s through the cross that captives have been set free, that sinners have been ransomed. The Lamb was slain and He will reign forever and ever.
Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.
All Scripture is taken from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.