The Christian attitude toward self and life is optimistic! Meekness enables us to bear patiently those insults and injuries we receive at the hand of others. It makes us ready to accept instruction from the least of the saints. It allows us to endure provocation without being inflamed by it. It suggests that we can maintain our cool when others become heated. Why, because meek people seek no private revenge; they leave that to God’s sense of justice while they seek to remain true in their calling and seek to meet God’s standards.
James 3:13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. 14But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. 15Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. 16For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. 17But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. 18And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for* those who make peace.
A few Sundays ago I briefly addressed the passage from James that just preceded these verses. In it we were told how difficult it is to control one of the smallest parts of our anatomy – our tongue. Of course that is in fact blaming the messenger because the tongue is a slave to what is stirring in our hearts and minds. You can’t blame the projector for the content of the film. That is what Keith Humphrey and Sally Satel inferred in an article in the National Review about whether what we say, or specifically what Mel Gibson said, when intoxicated, revealed his true feelings. They wrote that every drinker needed to remember “that the “inauthentic self” of the boozy moment is the stepchild of the “authentic self” who pleads forgiveness the next morning.” The writer of James went on from his discourse on the unbridled tongue that could be a vehicle for both blessing and destruction to discuss wisdom which also has two quite pronounced aspects.
It is James position that there are actually two kinds of wisdom. And to show what he means asks: “Who is wise and understanding among you? And then he answers his own question. You know the wise and understanding person among you by looking at their works – or if this is a self evaluation – by looking at your own works. Are they the results of gentleness? It occurs to me that we can get pretty firm about seeking something we think is quite important – some really good thing – but then do it in the wrong way. To continue the self evaluation – it is about how we live, not by what we know; it is about how we live not about our acquired level of sophistication or academic pedigree which reveals our wisdom.
In Matthew 5:16 Jesus says: “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” Good works accomplished in ways other than those marked by a gentleness born of wisdom may be good works but the question becomes do they “glorify your Father who is in heaven”?
This gentleness thing can be a problem for us. We confuse gentleness or meekness with weakness. As a fruit of the spirit, meekness seems very much lost in our aggressive, self-centered culture. Because people associate it with weakness, most today do not admire others for being “meek,”. Any dictionary or thesaurus makes it clear why meekness is associated with weakness. Notice its synonyms: tame, timid, mild, bland, unambitious, retiring, weak, docile, acquiescent, repressed, suppressed, spiritless, broken, and wimpish.
Meekness, is a fruit of the Spirit, it is an attribute of God and essential to our being in God’s image and a true witness. Indeed, this characteristic will largely determine the extent to which peace and contentment are in our lives and how well we do during trials. Meekness is so important that it is the third characteristic Jesus mentions in the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth”.
Obviously, the world’s ideal of the perfect person is very different from that of Jesus. Given how modern culture considers those who are meek, Jesus’ statement about meekness is almost incomprehensible. It is more likely that the world would say: “Blessed are the strong, who can hold their own.” The world favors more conspicuous and so-called heroic virtues. Those who are strongly—almost fiercely—competitive, aggressive and assertive are the ones who receive recognition, admiration and reward. Do they not seem to end up on top of the pile, possessing the most and best despite other obvious and perhaps even offensive flaws in their character?
On the surface, this beatitude seems to have little meaning, and what there is seems to contradict the plain facts of everyday life. No sensible person, looking about the world or studying history, could sincerely accept it at face value. Unfortunately, many Christians as well have ignored it in practice, perhaps regretting that no doubt it should be true, but that it certainly is not so in the real world. We’ve too easily conformed to the world’s standard of practice, and in so doing missed the benefits meekness will produce in our lives. Remember, Jesus says: Blessed—happy, favored—are the meek. William Barclay wrote that meekness is “the most untranslatable of words in the New Testament”. Why? Because Jesus elevated the word’s common usage far beyond its normal application.
Perhaps the best way to understand meekness is in the contexts in which the Bible uses it, and perhaps most importantly, how those who have it act in relation to God and men.
When Jesus presents meekness in Matthew 5 as a highly desirable quality, he prefaces it with “Blessed are the poor is spirit” and “Blessed are those who mourn”. He places it within a context that contains qualities that are similar to meekness. Alexander MacLaren writes that meekness is the conduct and disposition towards God and man which follows from the inward experience described in the two former Beatitudes. In other words, meekness is the active fruit of the other two, but whereas being poor in spirit and mourning are both internal in operation, meekness has both an internal and external expression. Though this is not a complete description, it lays a good foundation.
So the argument goes that meekness is impossible unless we first learn a just and lowly estimate of ourselves. We must become poor in spirit. We do this by coming before God in deep penitence and with a clear knowledge of the vast difference between ourselves and what God means us to be. Pride destroys self and others. Humility serves and builds.
Mourning springs from a sense of our brokenness, from a tendered conscience, from a broken heart. It is a godly sorrow over our rebellion against God and our hostility to God’s will for our lives. That doesn’t mean a Christian lives his life with a hang-dog expression and attitude, or that he lives his life feeling that he’s a dirt-bag or sleaze-ball who is still mucking around in a moral septic tank. The Christian attitude toward self and life is optimistic! Meekness enables us to bear patiently those insults and injuries we receive at the hand of others. It makes us ready to accept instruction from the least of the saints. It allows us to endure provocation without being inflamed by it. It suggests that we can maintain our cool when others become heated. Why, because meek people seek no private revenge; they leave that to God’s sense of justice while they seek to remain true in their calling and seek to meet God’s standards.
The spirit of meekness enables those who possess it to squeeze great enjoyment from what ever God grants in the way of one’s earthly portion, be it small or great. Contentment of mind is one of the fruits of meekness. It is not the haughty and covetous who inherit the earth.
So one way to understand what James is suggesting is to understand that his call to gentleness is that of power under control rather than the destructiveness of out of control behavior.
James shows us the other side if we go back to the text: 14But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. 15Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. 16For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. Jealousy, strife, contention, and then lying and boasting in these traits James says is demonstrably not wisdom from above. And even if encountered in the attempt to do good work it will result in disorder and wickedness. Could this account for our great plans to do something great for the kingdom falling apart and getting people hurt?
So what does this James say divine wisdom look like? He writes that: “the wisdom from above is first pure” well that’s seems reasonable since its source is pure. It doesn’t come from seeking wisdom – it comes from seeking God. And then he writes that it is “peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.”
The concluding sentence of his discussion on wisdom is all about the reward to those who follow our leader in this regard. He writes: 18And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace”.
The rest of the passage needs no clarification from me. Listen as James continues:
4:1 Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? 2You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures. 4Adulterers! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. 5Or do you suppose that it is for nothing that the scripture says, ‘God yearns jealously for the spirit that he has made to dwell in us’? 6But he gives all the more grace; therefore it says, ‘God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’ 7Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.”