Love is Humble, Part 3: Meekness

We’re continuing to look at Paul’s teaching to the struggling church in the ancient Greek city of Corinth. Specifically, his teaching about the nature and fruit of Love.

Some portions of scripture can tend to be more abstract, or harder to immediately apply to ourselves. But I hope that you’re finding this is certainly not that kind of passage. I’ve intentionally slowed down in this chapter because it contains some of the most immediately practical verses in all of scripture.

This passage on love is not mere sentimentality, as if love is simply some sort of angelic or ethereal platitudes divorced from real life. Rather, I hope you’re all able to see within yourselves the presence or absence of these aspects of love, but even more importantly, I hope you’re able to see all of these fruit within Christ himself.

And as we see more of the love of Christ, we’ll be drawn more to him, find him beautiful and endearing, and we’ll want to be more like him, and we’ll want to see others be more like him. That’s my hope.

But let’s begin by reading chapter 13 again:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned,[a] but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;[b] it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

Last time we examined just the first words of verse 5: love is not rude. A proud man or woman will not be lovingly considerate, but will instead be rude. But Christ, the perfectly considerate and loving savior, was in his humanity completely humble, and his humility drove him to consider the interests of other people ahead of his own.

Tonight, we will move on to see three more fruit of pride, three more fruit that will be produced by a soul lacking in love. When I began studying these three, I didn’t immediately see a connection between them all. However, as I hope will become clear throughout the sermon, I believe they very much are connected.

The remainder of verse 5 teaches us that love, “does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful.” We’ll take them in turn.

First, love does not insist on its own way, as the ESV translates it. Literally it is love “does not seek its own,” and we have to supply the object. We have to use context to supply the “its own interests, or its own things, or its own way.” But the meaning is clear enough. Love is interested in self.

And the point for us is that Pride is selfish. Egocentric, self-absorbed. Augustine’s language is that man is curved in on himself. Mankind is like Narcissus in Greek mythology. We’re in love with ourselves. And that self-love, self-idolatry, is destructive, at every level of society.

Richard Lenski wrote this about the impact of selfishness: he says, “selfishness lies at the root of a thousand evils and sins in the world and in the church: between rich and poor, capital and labor, nation and nation, man and man, church member and church member. [If you could] cure selfishness, [you would replant] a Garden of Eden.”[1]

Selfishness is destructive at every level of society and within every relationship.

We know this from our own lives. Marriages get icy cold when both partners are concerned only with their own wants. Children bicker and fight when they are only concerned with their desires.

Churches grow fragile and fracture when members are only concerned with their rights and their preferences.

We also see this within our own hearts, don’t we? Pride leads us to believe that our plan is the best plan. We have the solution, and it is so clear to us, that we don’t even have time to listen to other proposals, because we’ve already solved the problem.

Why would we even need to listen to anybody else’s opinion? We insist on our own way. We know how the money ought to be spent, how the leadership should be leading, how the parents ought to be parenting, we know how everybody else should operate.

And because our knowledge is so complete and our reasoning is unassailable, we can grow increasingly insistent, even if the exact fruit might not look the same. Sometimes we might raise our voice, sometimes not. Some people like to use passive aggressive comments, others are more direct. Some like to use sarcasm, others like to use a more blatantly hostile tact.

Some might withdraw in order to manipulate to get their way. Sometimes we can even domineer over others, because our position is so right, and they are so wrong.

Be sure, I’m not talking about faithfully and boldly defending divine truth. Of course, that must be done. I’m talking about prideful self-seeking, insisting on your way.

I’m talking about bullying others, or shaming others, or demanding others bend to your will. My way or the highway. That’s what pride does.

And what happens when that prideful person doesn’t get his way? What happens when a self-seeking person is not indulged? That’s the next fruit.

Paul says love is not irritable. We might translate it, love “is not easily provoked.” Pride makes a man thin-skinned and easily agitated. He’s like a cup of water that is filled to the brim; one little bump and something comes spilling out.

Pride makes a man touchy. If the idol is self, then anyone or anything that threatens the sovereignty of that idol is perceived as a threat. “I am God,” our prideful heart says, and when something is seen as a threat to my God, I get angry or scared.

I have to defend the reign of my false idol, so I erupt in anger toward someone who doesn’t give me what my heart wants. Or I get cynical. Or sarcastic and snarky. Any of this sound familiar? Have you seen that in your own hearts? I see it in mine, more often than I care to admit.

I am wrapped up in my own comfort and peace, that anything that threatens my peace becomes a threat to my idol, so I lash out in anger.

Maybe your spouse isn’t doing what you want them to, serving you in the way you think they should, and so you get irritable. It provokes you to some sinful response. Maybe you get snappy at them, or maybe you give them the silent treatment. Either way, you get cold toward them, and want to pull away. You can feel distance growing in your heart.

That’s where the third fruit of pride comes in. Paul says at the end of verse 5 that love is not resentful. We might translate it love “doesn’t keep a record of wrongs.”

Pride is resentful. It knows exactly how many times someone has wronged me. The terminology Paul uses is actually from accounting. It’s like a resentful person can pull out the accounting ledger, and can give you a list of exactly when and where they were wronged. He has an entry ready for each offense.

Pride likes to hold a grudge, to let unresolved hostility grow and grow. And if we’re not careful, we can all fall into this. Resentment will fester in the darkness of our hearts, and will assuredly bear fruit.

Often it grows the fruit of bitterness, which is deadly to our souls. We hate someone else and want them to die, but we’re the ones fostering the bitterness, which we fail to see is poisoning our own soul.

Maybe your resentment leads you to be cynical. You grow to despise someone, and it so warps your perception of them so much that you can’t even come to recognize the good things they do, or the evidences of God’s grace in their lives. You can only fixate on their imperfections and their weaknesses. That’s a sad fruit of resentment.

You see, pride leads a person on this downward slide, which I believe connects all three of these fruits. We get puffed up, and so seek ourselves and our preferences, we seek our own way.

When we don’t get our way, or when other people don’t bow down to the idol of me, then we get irritable. We’re easily provoked to attack others who would dare to threaten my sovereignty, threaten the reign of my little idol of self.

And when we haven’t gotten what we’ve wanted, we grow resentful and bitter after the fact. We keep an iron-clad record of who has wronged us. We nuture that grudge, letting it bud into the flower of full blow hatred in our hearts.

What Paul is calling us to instead if the opposite of this. Pride bears nasty fruit. But humility also bears fruit. And the opposite fruit we need is meekness. Meekness.

Meekness is not a word often used today, and it is totally misunderstood as a virtue. People often hear meekness, and think of some spineless pushover. Somebody that is unable to get anything done. But that’s totally wrong.

Humility, as we studied a few weeks ago, begins with a right understanding of who we are in relation to God. And once we rightly perceive who we are in relation to our creator, then we bear some loving fruit, one of which is meekness

Meekness I’ll define this way, an even-tempered disposition of heart, flowing from union with Christ, consisting in self-denial and love for neighbor.[2] Let me read that again. Meekness is an even-tempered disposition of heart, flowing from union with Christ, consisting in self-denial and love for neighbor. This definition I modified from an old book by a Dutch theologian called, “The Christian’s Reasonable Service,” which is wonderful, so I commend that to you.

Let’s walk through that definition. Meekness is an even-tempered disposition of heart. Unlike the man or woman who is easily provoked, a meek person is even-tempered. That doesn’t mean lifeless or stoic or non-emotional. Rather, a meek person is not easily provoked by those around him.

He only gets angry at the right times, and never for selfish reasons.

A proud person is easily agitated, and therefore is a slave to whoever or whatever is happening around them. But a meek person is actually free from such slavery. His temper is not dictated by people around him. He’s in control of himself, rather than being controlled from outside of himself.

That’s because he’s not controlled by the idol of himself and his own sovereignty. He’s not worried about building his own little kingdom. Rather, he’s confident in who he is and who Christ is, and that confidence leads to a stability of temperament, a steadiness of soul, which is not easily provoked by others.

And his resistance to provocation is always grounded in his relationship to Christ. I said meekness is an even-tempered disposition of heart, flowing from union with Christ. A Christian is aware that he is reconciled to God through Christ, and that reconciliation is all of grace. He’s done nothing to earn it. And therefore, he can remain humble.

Further, because he’s been reconciled to God, adopted into his household, and promised everything he needs for life and godliness, there’s no reason to demand his way. He’s not concerned with getting what he wants, because he’s already been given everything his soul needs in Christ.

One theologian described it this way: “A meek person has chosen God as his portion…and perceives all that is in the world to be vanity, and he knows that no one will either speak or do anything except God wills it. Thus, as he trusts in God, his heart will remain even-tempered and fixed. His heart is neither in turmoil or restless, but is of a…steadfast and peaceful disposition.”[3]

He doesn’t have to build his own kingdom, because Christ has already given us a kingdom. Jesus said in Luke 22: “I assign to you a kingdom, as my Father assigned to me a kingdom, 30 that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom.”

We’ve been given the highest privilege of all, communion with Christ in the place of His eternal rule. If that’s certainly the case, then what do we gain by demanding our own way here and now? Nothing.

Moving on, meekness is “an even-tempered disposition of heart, flowing from union with Christ, consisting in self-denial and love for neighbor.” Self-denial is not something that comes naturally to us. None of us likes to give up anything. As children, we don’t like to share our toys.

As adults, we don’t like to share our money, or our time, or our energy. And that’s true when we have a surplus. But we certainly don’t like to give things that cost us, and make us go without. I don’t like to get up early to go help somebody else. I like my sleep.

My sinful flesh doesn’t like to spend long times in prayer, laboring for the good of others. I don’t want to give money back to the lord, because that means I can’t spend it on things I want. I don’t like to deny myself.

And I certainly don’t want to deny myself for someone I don’t love. I might deny myself for a spouse, or a child, or a friend. But I’m certainly not going to do it for someone who I don’t like, or who has wronged me, or who dares to deny my sovereignty, who doesn’t listen to me and bow down to me.

In short, we’re not prone to be meek, are we? Pride is comfortable to us, as sinners. It is easy for us, natural even.

But praise be to God that is wasn’t the disposition of Christ. Christ wasn’t concerned with getting his own way and pleasing himself.

Flip back one book to Romans chapter 15. Romans 15. Paul has just finished talking about the weak and the strong brother, and here is commending self-sacrifice, self-denial, for the sake of the weaker brother. But take note of the motivation he gives for such self-denial:

“We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.””

Why should I give up my rights for the good of another? Because that’s what Christ did. Why should I suffer for the betterment of my brother? Because that’s what Christ did for me.

Rather than being proud, Christ was self-less. Rather than seeking his own interests, Christ considered the interests of others ahead of himself. He was willing to give up so much, in order that we might be forgiven.

2 Corinthians 8:9 says that, “though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.”

Further, unlike me and you who tend to be easily provoked, easily irritated by others, Christ was instead longsuffering and patient. He never flew off the handle. Never got snippy. Never let the sins of those around him dictate his behavior.

Christ wasn’t provoked when he was put through a sham of a trial. He didn’t get angry with the Jews or with Pilate, even though the situation was clearly unjust. He was meek, willing to embrace the lot that God had for him. Father, not my will but your will be done. That was his prayer, a prayer that can only be prayed by a meek soul.

Further, rather than being like Moses, who was provoked by the Hebrews to strike the rock twice in sin, Christ never was provoked to sinful anger. And Moses was the meekest man on earth (Numbers 12:3). If the meekest man on earth isn’t meek enough to avoid irritability, what chance do you and I have of being enough? None.

But Christ was. He asked sinners to come to him, knowing that their coming to him would bring him to death. And yet he beckoned them to come. He didn’t grow irritable at not getting his way, but instead gave up his own way, that other irritable ones like me and you might be forgiven.

His meekness and lowliness of heart are specifically cited in Matthew 11 as a reason for you to come to him. Unlike us, who by our irritability repel people, Christ’s genuine meekness draws people.

But that’s not all the good news. Pride makes a man keep a record of wrongs, to be resentful and bitter, but Christ is not so. He’s the perfectly loving soul who, instead of making a list, forgave those who sought evil against him.

He didn’t grow bitter when the disciples continued to fail him. He didn’t reject Peter as a useless failed leader, even though Peter denied him three times. Rather, Christ forgave him, and restored him, not only to a position of ministry, but to a position of ministry prominence. Christ didn’t remain bitter.

In fact, when Christ was on the cross, held in place by nails driven by his enemies, bleeding from the crown that was pressed upon his scalp and from the wounds on his back, being mocked by the onlookers and having his last remaining possessions gambled for in front of him, what did Christ do? He prayed for them. He prayed, “Father forgive them. They know not what they do.”

Such meekness really is unbelievable. No man is like this. At least, no mere man. Christ’s beauty is seen in many ways, but perhaps no perfection is as stunning as his meekness.

He forgives those who deserve to die, and dies for those whom he forgives. The author of life, giving up life, for those who despised his. The self-less one, in the place of the selfish. Love itself, in the place of the unloving.

Do you see the loveliness of the savior? Listen, see his work, his love. Read of him in scripture and come to him. He compels all to come to him. Come and believe, and you can be forgiven of your pride. Don’t let your vanity keep you from the fountain of salvation.

Don’t let your arrogance blind you to the true loveliness of Christ’s meekness. For he will return one day, and he will judge the proud. He will punish the arrogant. They won’t have a kingdom waiting for them, but will instead be sent to eternal darkness. Don’t let that be your fate.

Instead let your heart linger on the passages that describe the meekness of Christ, the love of Christ for sinners. Doesn’t such meekness make you love him even more? I hope it does. And his love for you is the key to you ever becoming meek yourself.

That’s where we will end tonight, by spending time thinking about how we can grow in love, grow in meekness toward our fellow man.

Let me give us some concluding points of observation and application, which I hope will be very practical for you. 8 Quick points on growing in meekness:[4]

  1. Meekness takes effort. We must be aware that meekness is not innate. We’re not born with it. Nor do we get it simply by desiring to be meek. We must work for it. Effort is required to achieve humility and love. Intentionality. You will not grow in humility simply by listening to sermons. You must work.
  1. Follow the leader. Part of being a Christian ought to be resembling Christ. And Christ says in Matthew 11: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am meek and lowly in heart.” Christ is your example. We have an illustration to follow, a road map in humility. Consider his meekness as you read through the gospels. You have in Christ the perfect example. Imitate him and obey, and he promises you this: you will find rest for your souls.
  1. Take good notes. That is, in your fight for meekness, take notes of the occasions that you lose your meek disposition: when you get impatient, angry, irritable. When you’re tempted to be bitter and not forgive. Each of those moments provides a window into what’s going on in your heart. Each one provides you with a hint as to what remaining idols are bubbling up, and need to be toppled.
  1. Avoid proud fools. Scripture compels us to flee the company of impatient and angry people, for these are infectious, like a plague. “Make no friendship with an angry man…lest you learn his ways and get your soul ensnared” (Proverbs 22:24-25). Young ones especially need to often hear that bad company corrupts good morals. We need to not even be around those whom the bible declares to be fools.
    1. Indeed, when you observe the foolishness of proud, take note, that you may develop an aversion for it, and hopefully by their negative example learn to avoid such behavior.
  1. Seek out the meek. If you want to be meek, surround yourself with meek people. If good company can be corrupted by bad morals, then the converse can also be true: that our flaws can be greatly aided by the presence of Godly saints around us. Look at the humble around you, give thought to what it is that makes their presence desirable. “Better to be of a humble spirit with the meek, than to divide the spoil with the proud” (Proverbs 16:19).
  1. Dress for war. Paul describes the Christian life in terms of a spiritual battle, and don’t be deceived to think that your efforts to grow in meekness won’t be assaulted by Satan and his demons. Your flesh alone is not your only enemy, so when you leave your bed in the morning, when you go to work or school, get in your mind that you are going to war.
    1. Resolve to be meek, to not respond with irritability, to not demand your way or the highway, but instead to seek the good of others.
    2. If things go well in your efforts for meekness, don’t let your armor down. Thank God for the success.
    3. If things don’t go well, and you blow it again, remember the shield of faith, which trusts that Christ was meek in your place, and the breastplate that he gives you is the breastplate of his own righteousness. Don’t become discouraged because meekness doesn’t come overnight. It will be a lifelong battle, and the best of saints still battle pride from their deathbed.
  1. Pray yourself stable. Let me ask you a question: Do people pray because they are meek, or are they meek because they pray? I think the answer is yes.
    1. One of God’s primary ways for us to grow in meekness is to be prayerful. A prayerful person knows they are not enough, and so need God’s help. And prayer reinforces that in our souls.
    2. Further, if you want to be a person who is stable in soul, rather than irritable and unstable, then you need to be much in prayer. I find that in life, my emotional stability and resiliency is often directly tied to my prayer life. If I want to be stable and secure, having my faith firmly fixed on God, then I need prayer.
    3. When I am prayer-less, I am easily provoked. People say things and it instantly gets under my skin or occupies space in my head. My heart is easily put into turmoil, and my mind is consumed with things that are often trivial, at best.
    4. But when I am prayerful, I am more able to overlook offenses, and keep my head focused on what Jesus says of me, rather than what other people think of me. My heart is fixed on Christ and therefore at peace, rather than in restless turmoil within me.
  1. Always remember Jesus. Read the gospels frequently, and keep in your minds the meekness of our savior, especially when you mess up.
    1. When you find yourself failing to be meek again and again, beset by the same unwillingness to forgive, remember Christ who forgave you when you were still an enemy. Christ commands us to forgive seventy-seven times, which is to say, as many times as it takes. Would he ask us to do more than he would do himself?[5]Of course not. He will forgive and restore his bride as many times as it takes.
    2. Your failure is another opportunity to experience Christ’s love.

Always remember Jesus. He died for the ungodly, the perfect for the proud, the beautiful for the boastful, in order that by his being brought low to the grave, you might be spared from it. He was lifted up on the cross, that you might be lifted up to heaven.

That’s the meekness of our king.

[1] R.C.H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Paul’s First and Second Epistles to the Corinthians (Minneapolis, MN: Ausburg Publishing House, 1963), 557.

[2] Modified from Wilhelmus à Brakel, The Christian’s Reasonable Service: In Which Divine Truths Concerning the Covenant of Grace Are Expounded, Defended against Opposing Parties, and Their Practice Advocated, as Well as the Administration of This Covenant in the Old and New Testaments (Ligonier, PA: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1992), 4.79; see also Jonathan Edwards, Charity and Its Fruits: Living in the Light of God’s Love (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 139–91.

[3] Brakel, The Christian’s Reasonable Service, 4.81.

[4] Adapted from Brakel, 4.89.

[5] Richard SIBBES and Alexander Balloch GROSSART, Works of Richard Sibbes. Edited with Memoir by Alexander B. Grossart. (Reprint of Volume 1 [of] The Complete Works of Richard Sibbes First Published in 7 Volumes, 1862-64.). (Edinburgh, etc.: Banner of Truth Trust, 1973), 1.231.


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