Previous article in this series: September 15, 2007, p. 484.
The first part of this graduation speech for the Protestant Reformed Seminary defined meekness as a spiritual virtue (a power) that enables a Christian to be humble, especially in the face of reproach. It pointed out what it is about the office of the minister of the Word that demands meekness. It remains yet to examine how this humility is obtained, and what blessings result from this faithful ministry.
How is humility obtained?
Since meekness is a spiritual gift, its source is the cross of Jesus Christ. Jesus Himself is the meek and lowly one. He demonstrated that quality in His public ministry in Nazareth when the people rejected Him as the Messiah (Is not this Joseph’s son?). He demonstrated His meekness before the Pharisees when they tempted Him.
But particularly in His crucifixion Jesus manifested His astounding meekness. Peter described the meekness of Christ as He endured the assaults of the ungodly. Peter wrote, “Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously” (I Pet. 2:23). This meekness was one of the aspects of Christ’s perfect obedience to His Father’s will.
Thus meekness is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, who is the Spirit of Christ. The Spirit gives the powerful grace needed by a believer to be meek. Meekness is not a purely natural characteristic that some have at birth. Nor is the meekness of a preacher something developed out of his own efforts.
The Spirit works meekness by making us to see what we are before God. This explains something of the remarkable meekness of Moses. God spoke to Moses face to face. Moses was with God in the mountain for forty days and nights. He beheld God’s glory. Surely no one could have been more conscious of his own insignificance than Moses. And to that spiritual understanding God added to Moses the grace to be—not puffed up at his significance—but very meek.
All God’s people see God’s glory revealed in Jesus Christ. The more of God’s glory they behold, the lower will be their opinion of themselves.
For this reason, preachers ought to be the most humble men in all the earth. A faithful preacher beholds God’s glory every week as he studies the Word. He writes of God’s infinite power, wisdom, love, and grace in his sermons. Then, as he preaches, he shows the people of God the glory he saw for himself in his studies. By God’s grace, the preacher is humbled weekly as he stands before God’s matchless greatness.
Yet God also, and especially, teaches meekness through troubles and adversity. Scripture demonstrates that in Moses. Recall how Israel rejected Moses at his first attempt to deliver them, by killing the Egyptian, and he had to flee to Midian for forty years. Very humbling. When Moses returned and commanded Pharaoh to let Israel go, Pharaoh responded by making the life of the Israelites harder. Then the Israelites repudiated Moses and Aaron with the chilling threat, “The LORD look upon you, and judge; because ye have made our savor to be abhorred in the eyes of Pharaoh, and in the eyes of his servants, to put a sword in their hand to slay us” (Ex. 5:21). Moses was humbled again. Even after the deliverance, time after time in the wilderness, the people reproached Moses—”Why did you not leave us to die in Egypt. Why did you take us out here to die?” Moses learned meekness.
The Spirit likewise taught Paul meekness. Paul wrote to the Corinthians about the thorn in his flesh—some grievous affliction that made it hard to perform the work of an apostle. Paul understood the reason why God had given him this affliction. It was because he had received wonderful visions and revelations from Christ. These were revelations so wonderful that he did not even know whether he had been caught up to heaven or had seen them on the earth. No other man had seen such things. The possibility of pride corrupting Paul was large. In that connection Paul wrote, “And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure” (II Cor. 12:7). The Protestant Reformed minister faces a reality in some ways similar to the situation of the apostle Paul. God has given to the Protestant Reformed Churches such a glorious heritage in the truth. And so few in all the earth have this blessing or even care about it. But God gives us the privilege of preaching this beautiful, this glorious truth of sovereign grace and the unconditional covenant to a people who love to hear that truth preached. Pride is an ever-present danger.
After years of studying that truth, a man gets out of seminary thinking, “Finally! I can go out and preach.” He has high expectations that his labors will go well. And if at first things do go well, the deep pit of pride opens wide before him.
However, not far down the road, the feeling is quite different. He realizes that the task is too great for him. Two new sermons every week. Sermons that are fresh and interesting. Sermons that are faithful to Scripture, antithetical, and complete expositions of the text. Besides that, catechism classes demand extensive preparation, and Bible study is required for the various societies, and family visitation season looms. A man can almost despair because it is so overwhelming.
Then, perhaps, the troubles begin to mount up. He encounters criticism of his preaching. Or perhaps the problem is in some pastoral work—he may have made a bad mistake in his attempts to help. And if the preacher reacts in pride, the difficulties suddenly become much, much worse. Or it may happen that troubles arise in the congregation, and they seem insoluble.
So God teaches the preacher humility. God teaches him meekness.
A seminary graduate needs to seek meekness right from the outset, for so much in the life of the young pastor engenders pride. You receive a call to your first church, are ordained, and people are grateful for the pastor God has given them. The fact is that in the Protestant Reformed Churches the people honor the preachers for their work’s sake.
Then the people of God begin to come to a young minister with their troubles and their cares. “Reverend,” one couple pleads, “our teenage son is giving us so much trouble. We cannot do anything with him. Can you help us?”
You get a phone call late at night. “Reverend, I am at the hospital. My husband had a heart attack, can you come?”
Or a couple members of the congregation, a husband and a wife, appear at his study door. “Reverend, our marriage is in shambles. Will you help us?”
And at the consistory meeting, where the elders are struggling with a knotty problem, one of the elders turns to you with the question, “What do you think about this, Reverend?”
It is so easy to respond with swelling pride. They are all looking to me for help!
So easily we ministers forget that the members look to the preacher as he represents Christ. The people need instruction from the One who commanded, “Take my yoke upon you and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart.” They need rest for their souls from the One who promised, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
We ministers easily forget that we are a poor substitute for the Savior, and the best we can do is to bring them the Word of the good Shepherd.
A meek preacher will do that, for he does not think too highly of himself. He does not imagine that he has the answers to the problems of the people of God. But he knows that the Bible does. What a good work of God, teaching preachers meekness.
The blessing of humility
Understand that God’s blessing does rest on the servant who is meek, and the blessing is first of all for him.
However, we need to be clear also that a lack of humility will result in the destruction of the man and his work. The proud preacher will strike out at God’s people when they criticize, and perhaps even attack him, his work, and his family.
Moses did this when he was so tired of the abusive language and the murmuring against him and his God. Recall that he struck the rock in anger and called God’s people rebels.
This is a temptation for the preacher. Succumbing to such temptation will make him unfaithful. As a result he will strive with God’s people. He will develop an adversarial relationship with them, rather than the loving relationship of a pastor for his sheep. Then he will seek to beat them down, and to drive them where he would have them go.
A minister who lacks humility will become unfaithful as a messenger of God. He once vowed to speak only God’s Word to His people. But a preacher who lacks meekness will strike out. He might bring his reply to his critics into his congregational prayers. Or, in the study, he suddenly “finds” in the text the perfect answer to his critics, and he rushes to the pulpit to defend self and accuse his critics in preaching! And then adds, “Thus saith the Lord.”
This is most dreadful sin. Then the preaching is no longer God’s Word to His people, but Reverend So and So’s opinions and applications.
God will not tolerate that indefinitely. The one thing that must be true of a herald above all else is that he bring God’sWord, not his own. That demands meekness, the spiritual ability to humble oneself, to listen to criticism, not to strike out, and never, ever, to use the pulpit as a whipping post.
On the other hand, there is a blessing given to the meek minister. God will speak to such a man. The Word will speak to him. Think of the glorious revelations Moses was privileged to receive from God. This would not have continued if Moses lifted himself up in pride before God and before the people. In fact, Moses’ sin of not following God’s specific instructions, and of calling the people rebels, resulted in Moses not entering the earthly Canaan—so important is meekness and faithfulness as God’s servant.
God’s blessing on a meek minister is that his study of God’s Word will mold the man. A sermon on fathers instructing their children will first teach him the proper way of rearing his own children. A sermon on election will first lead him to rejoice in God’s sovereignty and to bow in utter humility and thankfulness that God has chosen him, unworthy sinner that he is. A sermon on stewardship will first teach him to be a careful steward of the money and possessions that God has given the minister. God will use such a man to speak to His people, as He used Moses. God will give to such a servant strength, courage, and boldness to speak God’s Word. And he will be approved of by God, as Moses was. Nothing is more important to a pastor than God’s approval.
Such labors will bring blessings for the people. What a blessing to have a pastor who is self effacing, a minister of the gospel who models his life after the meekest one who ever lived, namely, Jesus Christ. Moses is but a type of Christ, and as type, Moses failed. Ultimately, ministers must follow the example of the Chief Prophet, Jesus Christ, who never failed to show meekness.
God will speak clearly through such a man. The people will therefore know God. Led by a preacher who personally received the word meekly, they themselves will hear the word with meekness. What a blessing is a meek minister of the Word!
This is our word to the graduate. It is our prayer as a faculty, synod, Theological School Committee, and as Churches, that you, the graduate, will be blessed by God. That you will grow in the truth and boldly and courageously stand for the truth. It is our fervent desire that God will give you the courage, wisdom, and strength to be a faithful minister of the Word and pastor of the sheep.
And for that reason, our earnest prayer is that God will give you in all your ministry the meekness of Moses, the servant of God, and thus, the meekness of Christ.