* This article is the text of the commencement address delivered by Prof. Dykstra at the graduation of Seminarian Nathan Langerak on June 14, 2007 in Trinity PRC.
Tonight a milestone is reached.
A man who becomes convicted that God calls him to be a minister of the Word and sacraments sets off on a rather long and difficult path. It includes college, four years of seminary, an internship, and the thorough, grueling examination at synod. Graduation from seminary marks a rather important landmark on the journey. Although it is not nearly as significant as the external call from a congregation and subsequent ordination, graduation is nonetheless a necessary and significant point on the path to the ministry. We rejoice tonight with the graduate and his wife, and all his extended family.
We know that Jesus Christ, the King of the church, calls men to the gospel ministry. Scripture also reveals that whom the Lord calls, He also qualifies by His Spirit. Qualification is necessary because the office of the minister is a vital office in the church. The minister represents Christ Himself, as prophet and king. The minister is the mouthpiece of Christ in the congregation.
Christ sees to it that His ministers are qualified to perform the duties of the office. He forms them with certain natural gifts and abilities. The King of the church also equips ministers with certain requisite spiritual gifts.
One of the outstanding spiritual qualities that Christ works and that Christ demands in His servants is the quality of meekness. It is especially upon that characteristic that we will focus attention tonight, so that we can know what is meekness and why it is so important for a minister of the gospel.
Quite properly we take for our model, Moses. He is described in Numbers 12:3 as “very meek, above all the men which were on the face of the earth.” That fact is evident in the incident recorded in Numbers 12. It is an event that could be titled: A prophet has no honor in his own country, especially among his own family. A subtitle could be: How a servant of God ought to respond to personal attacks.
We intend to set up Moses as the outstanding model for the graduate, and for every God-fearing minister of the Word. What is meekness? Meekness is the spiritual virtue that enables a Christian to be humble, to be lowly. In Scripture it is often a description of those who are poor or those who are afflicted. Meekness is a matter of the heart—a spiritual quality. That meekness is a spiritualvirtue is evident from the fact that Scripture contrasts the meek with the wicked. In addition, meekness is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:25).
Meekness particularly manifests itself when one is attacked, or when one is reproached or beaten down. The response of a meek person is that he is able to put himself down in such circumstances.
In order better to understand what meekness is, consider what it is not. First, meekness is not the same as weakness. One can be very strong, and still be meek. In fact, one must be very strong to pull himself back in the face of personal attack and not retaliate. Meekness is such a spiritual power.
Second, meekness is not a lack of courage. To be assured of that, one need only consider Moses standing before mighty Pharaoh, the absolute monarch of the most powerful nation in that day, demanding, “Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, Let my people go!” The meekest man on the face of the earth was no coward.
To understand meekness, it is also helpful to see what is the opposite of meekness. The opposite of meekness is not boldness. One can be very bold, and yet be meek. Once again consider Moses. He displayed much boldness for the cause of God before Pharaoh and before rebels in Israel.
Rather, the opposite of meekness is pride. Pride that lifts up self. Pride that rises up in a rage at personal affront. Pride that attacks a critic with biting sarcasm, a towering rage, or even acts of vengeance.
This mighty power of meekness is demonstrated in Moses inNumbers 12. There Scripture records the incident of Aaron and Miriam, Moses’ own brother and sister, attacking Moses. The attack is personal. It is vicious. It is one of the most difficult for any servant of God to endure—an attack on his wife.
Moses’ response manifests his meekness. He did not assail them. He did not even defend himself. He set the matter before the Lord God Himself, and he let God be the judge.
Many other incidents in Moses’ life as leader in Israel brought out Moses’ meekness. The people of Israel—God’s people—frequently reproached him unjustly. Already in Egypt they rejected Moses as their leader after he had visited Pharaoh, and Pharaoh responded by increasing the burden of the Israelites.
At the Red Sea, when they saw Pharaoh coming with his armies, they reproached Moses with these hard words: “Because there were no graves in Egypt, hast thou taken us away to die in the wilderness? wherefore hast thou dealt thus with us, to carry us forth out of Egypt? Is not this the word that we did tell thee in Egypt, saying, Let us alone, that we may serve the Egyptians? For it had been better for us to serve the Egyptians, than that we should die in the wilderness” (Ex. 14:11-12).
Again, at Rephidim, when there was no water, we read in Exodus 17:3-4: “And the people thirsted there for water; and the people murmured against Moses, and said, Wherefore is this that thou hast brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst? And Moses cried unto the LORD, saying, What shall I do unto this people? they be almost ready to stone me.”
Even when the attack of the people on Moses was really an attack on God, Moses’ response, personally, was meekness.
So also a minister of the Word and Sacraments must be meek. It is noteworthy that the Bible contains three epistles addressed specifically to pastors—I & II Timothy and Titus. In all three epistles, the inspired apostle enjoins upon pastors Titus and Timothy the virtue of meekness.
It is required of preachers that they be of a lowly mind. It is demanded of them that they be of the attitude that is willing to bear personal reproach and not retaliate. Preachers must bear suffering quietly and in humility.
When the faithful pastor is criticized, he listens very carefully. Not to prepare a defense against and attack on his critic. Rather, he seeks to know what of the criticism is true. (Not whether it is true, but what part of it is true. His thinking is: What can I learn from this, in order better to serve my God.)
He emphatically does not respond in anger, which is very easy to do. A preacher is tempted to respond: “But now let’s look to your failures.” Or, “You will criticize me for this when you do…???” Or, “After all the work I put into my sermons…?” Or, “I am the one trained for the ministry. I studied four long years in seminary.” And then smother the objections with logical arguments.
None of that is fitting for God’s servant. Rather, he bears criticism quietly. Let God be judge.
That is not to say that the pastor is forever apologizing for things that he did not do, in order to make peace. When he has done wrong, or spoken wrongly, he must be quick to apologize. However, he ought not apologize for things that are not wrong. Yet his spirit must be meek.
Why is meekness required in a minister?
The short answer is, Because God requires it. Christ, the King of the church demands it.
However, what I mean by that question is this: What is it about the work of a minister that demands meekness in him?
And the answer is, first and foremost, that the minister stands as a representative of God. Merely a representative of God. A minister is not laboring for himself or for his interests. His efforts are not directed toward his financial or educational enhancement. His labors are not for personal aggrandizement.
Rather, a faithful minister of the Word labors for God. His goal is that God be magnified. His zeal is that God’s Word go forth. His earnest desire is that God’s work and purposes be accomplished.
Thus, with respect to himself, the minister recognizes that he is simply not important. What happens to him is not significant. What people think about him is not his concern. If he is despised, yea even the offscouring of the world, so be it! So long as God’s Word and work go forward.
A faithful minister does not want to stand out, to draw attention to himself. He deliberately stands off to the side as much as he can. He is ready, eager, toserve! How can I best feed the sheep and care for the lambs—those are his deep concerns. On the contrary, he wants Jesus Christ, his Lord, to receive all the attention.
Second, meekness is required in the faithful study of Scripture. This is true for all believers, for the Word itself is a constant offense to our proud hearts. The Word assaults us! It exposes our ugliness. It condemns our particular sins. The Word of God humbles us—setting up a mirror to show us how weak and sinful and depraved we really are so that shame fills our souls.
Pride rejects the Word. It refuses to see our sins; it denies that we are that bad, that ugly, that helpless.
Consequently, a servant of God who is proud will not produce faithful exegesis of the Scriptures. He will not faithfully bring out the meaning of Scripture. Certain doctrines will go undeveloped. The preaching will not carefully and consistently apply the truth to the lives of sinners.
The reason for those inevitable weaknesses in the preaching is that the Word must first be understood and applied in the study before it can be faithfully and powerfully preached. The sinner in the study must receive the Word and submit to it before he can bring it to the sinners in the pew.
The explicit testimony of the Bible is that it takes meekness to receive the engrafted word (James 1:21). That message is for all believers. It starts with the preacher. He must both receive and submit to the Word by the power of meekness.
Third, meekness is required in all the pastor’s dealings with the people of God. All God’s people are different and their needs are different. A good preacher soon learns that dealing with each one will require a somewhat different approach. With one member, firmness is the key. With another, quietness. With another, the minister must be stern. With still another, gentleness is necessary.
But no matter which of these approaches is used, one characteristic that must not be lacking is meekness—self-effacing humility. This meekness must, so to speak, come out of a man’s pores. The attitude that must be most apparent is this: I am not better than you.
This is a sincere, not a feigned, humility. For although all the saints are different, yet two things they all share. First, they are all sinners. All are guilty of breaking God’s law, and they do so continually. Second, they are all saved by the blood of Christ Jesus.
So also is the preacher a sinner saved by grace alone. Constant awareness and conviction of his own sins, coupled with continual thanksgiving to God for salvation, makes a minister meek in dealing with the sheep. Whether it be the proud, rebellious sheep or the repentant, weeping sheep; whether the pastor is working with gentle lambs, or hardened rams; whether he is dealing with exuberant and strong youth, or a widow crushed by grief—meekness is required. A meekness that exudes the message: I am not better than you. I am your servant, indebted to God for my salvation, and for His grace and Holy Spirit.
It is much easier for the minister to deal with the people of God when he is meek.
And God requires this. A meek pastor points to Christ, His Lord, whom he serves. A meek pastor tells the proud sinner, “Bow in submission before King Jesus…with me.” Those overwhelmed with troubles, a meek pastor takes to Christ the Shepherd who leads him. He points the young, who rise up in all the vigor of youth, to the Christ, the unfailing source of allhis strength.
On the other hand, if a minister is proud, he will not deal properly with God’s sheep. He will confront the rebellious in a test of wills, and the attitude, “Do thus because I (we) say so.” A proud minister will want the people to think that he is strong in himself. He will leave the impression that he, with his wisdom and strength, can deliver them from troubles. This is in every way wrong, and detrimental to the sheep, even if the man is preaching the truth formally.
This meekness is required in God’s servants not merely in the first few years of the ministry. It is required not merely for abetter ministry. Rather, this meekness is obligatory for allGod’s servants, for the whole of their ministry, and at all times in their ministry. (It remains yet to examine how this humility is obtained, and what blessings result from this faithful ministry.)
. . . to be continued.