Numbers 12:3 - Moses was very meek, above all men on face of the earth.
Matthew 11:29,30 - Jesus said, "I am meek and lowly in heart."
These men were two of the greatest characters who ever lived. Both were chosen by God to be givers of His law. Jesus was the Divine Son of God. Surely we should seek to be like these men.
Matthew 5:5 - Blessed are the meek (gentle - NKJV), for they shall inherit the earth. Jesus declares a "blessing" (happiness) on those who are meek.
Galatians 5:22,23 - Meekness is one of the fruits of the Spirit - qualities that we must possess if we are led by the Spirit.
Proverbs 16:18,19 - Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall. It is better to be of a humble spirit with the lowly.
If we seek to be happy, to be led by the Spirit, to avoid destruction, and to be like great people such as Moses and Jesus, we need to possess meekness and humility.
It is the purpose of this lesson to study these qualities, what they are, and how they will affect our lives. As we study, we will frequently note Moses and Jesus as examples who teach us about meekness and humility.
This is an extremely difficult word to translate into English, because we think "meek" implies weakness. Sometimes it is translated (NKJV) "gentleness," but that also implies weakness.
The best way to know the meaning of a word is to study passages where it is used. As we do, we will see meekness is an attitude or quality of heart [1 Peter 3:4] whereby a person willingly accepts and submits without resistance to the will and desires of someone else. The meek person is not self-willed - not continually concerned with self, his own ways, ideas, and wishes. He is willing to put himself in second place and submit himself to achieve what is good for others. Meekness is the opposite of self-will, self-interest, and self-assertiveness.
This is a sign, not of weakness of character (as some think), but of strength. It requires great self-control to submit to others.
This is an attitude or quality of mind [Acts 20:19] whereby a person holds low esteem or opinion of his own goodness and importance. Spiritually, one abases himself because he realizes his sinfulness and therefore he is willing to depend on God to meet His needs. It is the opposite of pride, haughtiness, and self-exaltation.
In the Bible, meekness is primarily emphasized as submissiveness toward God (rather than toward men). As directed toward God, meekness and humility require the following:
A Pharisee trusted in himself that he was righteous, prayed with himself, thanking God he was better than other people. Note the Pharisee's emphasis on self, exaltation of self, and his failure to see his sins.
The Publican pleaded for mercy admitting he was a sinner. Note the conclusion in v14 - One who exalts self will be abased, one who humbles self will be exalted! Humility is the opposite of self-exaltation and self-righteousness.
A preacher once preached a sermon on this story and afterward a man prayed, "Lord, we thank thee that we are not proud like that Pharisee"! He was doing the very thing he was saying he was not doing! We are all sinners. We have no right to look down on anyone as if we deserve salvation because we are so good, and they don't deserve it. We can be more righteous than the Pharisee, but only by humbling ourselves like the publican and calling on God to forgive us.
If we say we have not sinned, we are liars. We are all sinners, and often need forgiveness. We all deserve to be punished for our sins. We have hope of salvation only by God's gracious willingness to forgive. We are no better than the Pharisee or publican, in the sense we are all sinners.
Moses knew that man lives, not by bread alone, but by the word of God. Our physical blessings come, not by our own power and might, but from God. All good things come from God.
We must appreciate how weak we would be without Him. This leads us to depend on God to meet our needs. In turn, we then appreciate and exalt Him.
The greatest in the kingdom is one who is humble like a little child. I have heard people say a child is humble because it is forgiving. Perhaps, but a child is not just forgiving; he is totally dependent on his parents.
Where does a child receive what he needs? Who provides his food, changes his diaper, and dresses him? When he has pain, for whom does he call? A child is weak, but he knows Momma and Daddy can meet his needs. So humility leads us to humbly admit our need for God.
Proper humility toward God is an admission of our own weakness, sinfulness, unprofitableness, and inability to obtain or accomplish by ourselves the things we need. We need help from someone far greater than we are. God knows what we need and what is good better than we know, and He has power to do what needs done. Humility will lead us to appreciate Him, trust His will, and give Him the glory, rather than exalting self.
If we know our weaknesses and our tendency to err, in contrast to God's wisdom and power, we should be willing to do what He says. We should believe that His will is best and that we will receive His aid only if we obey Him.
Numbers 12:3,6,7 - He was very meek. He was faithful in all God's house.
Exodus 40:16 - He did according to all that Jehovah commanded him, so did he.
Hebrews 8:5 - He built all things according to the pattern shown him.
Philippians 2:8 - Having come to earth as a man, Jesus humbled Himself and became obedient, even to the point of dying on the cross.
Hebrews 4:15 - He was tempted in all points like we are yet without sin.
1 Peter 2:21,22 - He left us an example that we should follow His steps. He did no sin nor was guilt found in His mouth.
Both Moses and Jesus are expressly noted for their meekness and humility, and both were thoroughly obedient to God.
James 1:21-25 - Meekness toward God's word requires putting away filth and wickedness. Be doers of the word, not just hearers.
James 4:6-10 - God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves in the sight of God and He will exalt you. Therefore be subject to God, draw nigh to Him, cleanse your hands, purify your hearts, be afflicted, mourn, and weep. This is the true effect of humility in our lives, just as in Jesus' life (cf. 1 Peter 1:22).
When we are truly humble, and hold ourselves in low esteem compared to God's exalted greatness, we will submit to His will. This is why Scripture so often associates repentance with humbling oneself. [1 Kings 21:27ff; 2 Chronicles 7:13f; Isaiah 57:15; 1 Peter 5:5-9; Proverbs 15:31-33]
Matthew 16:24 - Here is an excellent definition of "meekness," without using the word. To be meek is to deny self.
The selfish person says "I want this, I want that...." True meekness says, "So what! What does God want?" Is this really best according to God's way? God's ways are so much better than ours that we will submit.
Someone says, "Well, don't we ever get to consider what we want?" Yes, but be careful. When it doesn't matter according to God's will, then we may consider our own will. But the meek person carefully considers God's will first, then his own will last. It is very easy to sub-consciously desire to please ourselves, so we conclude an act doesn't matter to God, when really it does matter to Him. We must question every act, word, thought as to what effect it will have on our service to God. Then we do only what we are sure will please God.
A meek and humble person will accept persecution, mistreatment, suffering, or hardship without rebelling against God and without doubting His wisdom. We will accept the fact that He has chosen to allow this to happen for His good purposes.
Numbers 11:10-15 - Moses had problems most of us would never submit to. People constantly complained about his leadership, even though he was just doing what God said. How many of us would have stood for it? No wonder he was called the meekest man on earth! In fact, it was a complaint against him that occasioned the statement that he was so meek (12:1-3).
Acts 8:32,33 - He was led as a sheep to the slaughter [Isaiah 53:7f].
Matthew 26:39 - Was it hard for Jesus to go to the "slaughter"? Did this take meekness? He said, "Not my will but thine be done."
Philippians 2:8 - Jesus left the glory of heaven, humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of the death on the cross. Consider how much humility and meekness would be required for one to willingly leave the glory of heaven to come to earth to live as a man and die as a criminal to save others.
Hebrews 12:2-6 - Jesus was our example. We should be willing to submit to suffering just as He did. We have suffered nothing like He did, yet we often tend to rebel against our problems.
Deuteronomy 8:1-5,15,16 - God allows circumstances that chasten us in order to keep us humble, submissive to His will, and dependent on Him. This will do us good in the end.
We want to control our own lives. I get panicky when I feel unable to do anything about problems I don't want to face. But facing hardships, that we cannot solve alone, helps make us humble. We see our weakness and we turn to God for help. Then we appreciate Him and see our need for Him.
This does not mean we should blame God for causing all problems that come, nor does it mean we only have problems when we sin. Sometimes our problems are caused by our own sins. But sometimes, like Job, we have not sinned, but God allows Satan to cause hardships. Satan is ultimately responsible for the existence of troubles, but God uses them to make us humble.
2 Corinthians 12:7-10 - Paul's thorn in the flesh kept him from being overly exalted. Satan, not God, brought the problem. But God allowed it to remain, because it produced good for Paul. So our problems may be allowed because they keep us from becoming proud and self-reliant.
This does not mean we should put ourselves in hard circumstances, nor that we avoid improving our circumstances. If we can escape our problems, we should do so and give thanks to God. But if He chooses to allow the problem to continue, we should not blame Him but appreciate the lessons such problems can teach us.
Hardships work for our good if we endure faithfully. The meek and humble person realizes this and submits without rebelling or being bitter against God.
Some people believe that a meek person should not speak out against error. Anytime anybody rebukes other people for sin, some people think he is self-willed, stubborn, pushy, wants to exalt himself, get his own way, etc. Some people today want to "change the image of the church," because they oppose a militant stand against error. "We shouldn't be so forceful in telling people they are wrong. We need to be more meek and loving."
Remember, the Bible expressly honors these men as examples of meekness and humility. Did they resist the errors of others?
Exodus 32:19,20 - Moses became angry at the sin of God's people. Vv 26-28,30 - He told them they sinned, and he called for disciplinary action. Yet he was the meekest man on earth! This is the act of a meek man!
I have known people who say a preacher should never become angry in preaching. But Moses did in this case and other cases. And so did Jesus.
"That doesn't seem meek to me." Such views show that people don't understand meekness. Moses is an example of ultimate meekness.
There is no conflict between Biblical meekness and firm opposition to error. The conflict exists only because people misunderstand meekness.
Matthew 15:3-9,12-14 - Jesus plainly described the sin of the Pharisees. The Pharisees were offended and Jesus' disciples told Him so. Did He apologize? No, he proceeded to call them blind guides and told the disciples not to follow them. Should He have apologized for not being meek enough?
Matthew 23:15-17,27,28,33 - Jesus called the Pharisees hypocrites, sons of hell, blind guides, fools and blind, whited sepulchers, full of hypocrisy and iniquity, generation of vipers. "How shall you escape the damnation of hell?"
These are the statements of a meek man! "I am meek and lowly in heart."
Jesus was without sin. There is no conflict between meekness and powerful rebuke of sin, even to the point of naming specific groups or individuals who are guilty.
Galatians 6:1 - If a man is overtaken in a fault, those who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of meekness. Meekness does not mean we do not show others they are wrong. We are commanded to show them their error in meekness.
2 Timothy 2:24-26 - In meekness correct those who oppose themselves so they can recover themselves from the snare of the Devil. People are simply mistaken if they think a meek person will never tell others they are wrong. Meekness leads us to tell others they are wrong - the same verses that say to be meek, also command us to correct others!
Meekness is a willingness to submit, but our primary submission must be to the will of God. One must not force for his own personal will to the hindrance of the cause of Christ, but he must stand firmly for God's way even to the point of resisting all that differs from God's way. Why? Because God tells us to do this, so we must do it or we are not meekly submitting to God!
Meekness is the quality of character that demands that we must speak out against error. Like Moses and Jesus, a meek person above all else wants to see God's will respected and obeyed. When a meek person sees people disregarding the will of God, he will be moved to indignation because people are not respectful of God's will. A meek person cares about God's will being done!
Elders, preachers, and Christians who speak out against sin are the only kind who are really meek. Those who don't speak out against error are the ones that are not meek - they don't have enough concern for God's will!
Later we will see that meekness affects how we speak out. We should not start by calling people "generation of vipers", etc., the first time we try to teach them. And we won't use such forceful language with people who are humbly trying to do right but just have a misunderstanding. But when people have had many opportunities to know the truth and they still disregard it, then strong language is needed. But in all cases of sin, we must help people turn away from sin, and to do so is meek.
Meekness expresses itself first and foremost in an attitude of willingness to submit to God's will. Are you meek? Are you submitting to His will?
Meekness toward God is the most fundamental and basic sense in which we must be meek and humble. Yet as it is with love, so it is with meekness: if we are truly meek toward God, this will lead us to be meek and humble toward other people. In our relations with other people, meekness and humility requires us to do the following:
We do not say that men have the right to make laws in religion that fall outside the realm of what God's word authorizes. But God's word says that we must also be subject to various forms of human authority. Note some instances where meekness and humility are expressly mentioned regarding our submission to these authorities:
Titus 3:1,2 - In the same context where we are told to be meek (gentle - NKJV) and humble toward all men (v2), we are also told to be subject and obedient toward rulers and authorities.
1 Peter 2:13-15 - Be submissive to ordinances of man, whether king or governors, or to proper representatives of these rulers. Why should we submit? Because it is God's will. Meek submission to God's law will lead us to meekly submit to rulers.
Why is it that people refuse to submit to laws? Why cheat on taxes? Why disobey speed laws, etc.? Because we don't want to do what the law says, we want to do what we want. We are self-willed, unwilling to deny self. What qualities do we need so we can avoid these attitudes? We need meekness and humility - willingness to set aside our will and submit to the will of the rulers.
1 Peter 3:1-6 - Repeatedly God says wives are to be submissive to their husbands. In the midst of this teaching, he requires women to be adorned with a "meek (gentle - NKJV) and quiet" spirit. Note this instruction is in the middle of the discussion of obedience to husbands. Why?
Why do many modern women deny the concept that man is head of the family? Why are so many women unhappy and rebellious toward the idea of following the will of their husbands?
There are several reasons, including the fact many husbands selfishly misuse their authority and fail to treat their wives with honor and respect (v7). But some wives have trouble obeying when their husbands do not accept their wives' view, even when husbands are respectful. And Peter said wives should obey husbands even when husbands are not obeying God's word (v1).
Why do women struggle with this? Because it is so "humiliating" to have to do what a man says. Woman has her own ideas about what she wants to do. "My ideas are just as good as his." "I've got my pride, you know." Many women are encouraged by modern humanistic psychologists to be "self-assertive" and "stand up for themselves." God says what is needed is a "meek and quiet spirit."
There are other forms of ordained authority we must submit to: children to parents, employees to employers, etc. None of us is free to do just whatever we want. All of us need to learn meekness and humility.
Note we are to submit first to God; we do not obey man when he tells us to disobey God (Acts 5:29). But we still are not doing what we want. We do what God demands first, then what those in authority demand. We do what we want only when allowed to by God and by proper human authorities.
The solution to our stubborn, rebellious attitude toward authority is meekness and humility.
One who is truly meek and humble does not belittle or neglect the good qualities of others in order to obtain glory and honor and recognition for himself.
"Think so as to have sound judgment" (NASB). Be honest and realistic in evaluating yourself compared to others. It is easy to think we more capable than others, have better ideas than others, deserve greater honor than others, when this may not be the case. Specifically:
Admit your weaknesses and especially your sins.
Most people tend to overlook their own sins or downplay the seriousness of them. When I do something, it's a weakness or personality deficiency; when you do the same thing, it's a sin. We already showed we are all sinners. None of us deserve the honor of eternal life any more than anyone else.
Appreciate the good qualities of others.
Other people do have good points, and often they are better than we are in some areas. We tend to exaggerate our own good points, and exaggerate other people's bad points. The fact we have different abilities from someone else does not mean we are more important than they or more worthy of honor than they (note vv 4,5).
Give God credit for what good points you do have.
"...think soberly as God has dealt to each one..." If a sober evaluation shows you do have abilities and righteousness, remember you could as easily have been born in far more deprived circumstances. And you are righteous only because God has forgiven the sins you committed. Give glory to God.
A humble person does not focus on how to make a big impression on people or how to receive glory and honor. Some people won't accept any job, situation, or relationship unless they think it will exalt them in the eyes of others. "What will people think?" Give them a job that lifts them up before people, and they'll do it. Give them a job nobody knows about and it never gets done (or is done only begrudgingly).
The humble person will accept any task whereby he can help people, no matter how humble that task is in the eyes of men. He will associate with any people whom he can help and who will help him serve God, even if the world does not highly exalt those people.
Some people are too proud to be glad when other people receive honor and respect. They think that honor should have come to themselves. Some are too proud to be really sorry when other people have problems. They think those people had it coming to them.
A humble person is sincerely glad when people receive what is really good for them (by God's standard), and he sincerely weeps with people who are troubled.
[Luke 18:9-14; 14:7-11; 16:15; Titus 3:2,3]
A humble person is willing to inconvenience himself in order to help others. He is willing to forego his own desires so other people can receive what they need.
People then, like now, thought greatness was measured by how much honor you receive from people or how much authority you possess (vv 5-10). If you dominate and control others, you are important.
But we are really great (worthy of being exalted by God) if we humble ourselves to do what is good for others, regardless of what men think. This does not mean authority is evil. We have already seen that God ordained it. Jesus possessed it, yet he was meek. The point is just having authority does not make you great. Service makes you great, and you can do that with or without authority. But service requires humility.
[Matthew 20:25-28; 1 Peter 5:5]
This does not advocate false humility wherein we think everybody has more ability than we do. Should my wife think I am a better cook than she is? Should a professional carpenter or musician think I am better than he is? NASB: "Let each one of you regard one another as more important than himself." I must be willing to let your needs and problems take priority over mine.
V4 - Let each of you look out, not just for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.
I should have enough concern for your wellbeing that I am willing to set aside my own desires in order to serve your needs.
Genesis 13 - Abraham illustrates this with Lot. He let Lot have first choice. He could have insisted, as the older man, that he have first choice. But he humbled himself and let Lot choose. Some people think, "You're first, after me."
"As I consider you above, you likewise consider me above, and so [on] all around. [The result is] a marvelous community in which no one is looked down upon, but everyone is looked up to" (Lenski). I should deny and sacrifice myself to the point of eliminating self-concern so I can allow your needs to be met.
Vv 5-8 - Jesus is the example. He was meek and lowly.
Though He was in heaven with God, in the form of God, He humbled Himself and came to earth as a man, and obeyed to the point of death. Why? To meet our needs. To be of service to us. We should have that mind in us (v5).
We have learned that, contrary to some people's view, meekness does not require us to keep quiet when others sin; rather, we should show them their error. However, meekness toward others will affect the manner in which we do this.
This shows the proper purpose of teaching: to restore the person.
You seek to help bear his burden (v2). You are trying to be helpful. You're not there to gloat because he fell, nor to remind him you were right (for the sake of exalting self over him). You're not there to hurt his feelings (though he probably will feel bad, that is not the end result you seek). You are not there to add to his problems, but to help solve them.
Every act should be done with this end in view. In harmony with Scripture and in accord with wisdom, act only in ways that will help contribute to his return to God.
Specifically, strive to let the person know that this is your purpose.
Be compassionate and sympathetic. Let him know the reason you are talking to him is that you care about him.
A man evaluating two preachers once said: The first man told me I was lost and made me feel like he was glad for it. The second man told me I was lost, but made me feel like he was really sorry and wanted me to be saved.
Our manner will never satisfy all the sinners. Some people will become angry no matter how you approach them. Moses and Jesus were examples of meekness, but people complained regularly about Moses and killed Jesus! Whether or not people are pleased, examine yourself to be sure your teaching is not egotistic self-righteousness nor an intellectual exercise by which you seek to win an argument just to prove your opponent wrong.
Remember you have been in the sinner's shoes. You too have been in sin and will be again sometime. Approach the person with the same sense of consideration that you should be approached, consistent with God's word. This will not eliminate forceful rebukes or even anger - sometimes they are needed. But it is much easier to be compassionate to people when you remember you have been in their shoes.
2 Timothy 2:24-26 - Teach in meekness those who have been taken captive by the Devil. Again the purpose of the teaching is clear: to help people repent and recover themselves from Satan's grasp. Be helpful (as already discussed).
But note that we should avoid strivings (quarrels). This does not mean never pointedly telling people they are wrong. Jesus and Moses, two very meek men, both did this.
But sometimes the discussion degenerates till nothing useful or helpful in leading people to repent is being accomplished. Some people argue just to keep from admitting they are wrong. They aren't honestly considering the evidence but just looking for any silly answer to avoid conceding.
Sometimes people get so angry they lose control and say things they don't really mean (this could be you or them).
Sometimes people are just repeating the same things over and over. Some try to win the argument by talking longer or louder than others.
Whenever it is clear that people are not really listening and honestly considering the evidence (this involves some judgment), discontinue the discussion. "Cool it" and wait till people can be calmer.
Colossians 3:12,13 - Lowliness and meekness lead to longsuffering and forbearance. [Ephesians 4:2]
Longsuffering is patience. We must be willing to continue in our efforts. Don't get angry and lose your temper. Don't give up just because the person has disobeyed God's word. What would have happened to us if God gave up on us every time we failed to do as He taught?
Forbearing is putting up with things we don't like. Sometimes we suffer personal slights from people we are teaching. Do not give up and do not retaliate. Keep teaching the truth. A sinner, when rebuked, will often turn on you and find fault. We are tempted to quit teaching. If this is a consistent reaction, maybe we should teach someone else, but don't quit teaching. Don't give up just because we were criticized.
It takes a meek and humble person to keep on doing good despite hardship.
Ephesians 4:2,3 - With lowliness and meekness, endeavor to keep unity and peace. Lowliness contributes to peace and unity in at least the following ways:
The proud, vainglorious man is too concerned for his own ideas and ways. This leads to strife and maybe division. He may cause doctrinal strife by insisting on following his own way rather than God's way. He will often insist that other people accept his ideas, while he is unwilling to give in to the ideas of others. This leads to conflict.
Peace is often ruined by envy. This is worldly and devilish. The wisdom from above is first pure then peaceable, gentle, easy to be entreated. The proud person is envious when other people get their way or receive honor. The meek person will give in for the good of the group. He doesn't care who gets the glory as long as good is done.
Note that meekness still demands doctrinal purity. It is not meek to allow error to go uncorrected - first pure, then peaceable. Peace at any price leads to unity in sin. The meek person wants to please God first. Then he reasons with people for what is best. But he will not press his own desires to the harm of the church.
Colossians 3:12,13 - Again meekness is associated with willingness to forgive when others repent. It helps to remember we were sinners. As we seek God to forgive us, so we should be willing to forgive others. If we don't forgive, God will not forgive us (Matthew 6:12ff).
What keeps people from being willing to forgive? Why do we hold grudges even when others have repented? Pride. The solution is meekness and humility.
Romans 12:14,16-21 - Lowliness (v16) is discussed in context of not taking vengeance, but blessing our persecutors. A meek person will do this for two reasons. First, God says to let Him take care of the problem, and a meek person is willing to submit to God's vengeance. Second, a meek person is not motivated by the egotistical satisfaction of "getting even," but simply by a desire to see things made right. If others make right the wrongs they did, the humble person has no desire for vengeance.
Some people want to please self first and everybody else comes somewhere down the line. Other people will do first what other people want of them. The rule followed by the truly meek and humble person is: God first, others second, self last.
Does your life live up to God's standard of meekness and humility? Do you put the needs of others before yourself? Are you submitting to God and correcting the sins in your life?
Copyright 1999, 2005, David E. Pratte
Local churches and individuals may, within limits, distribute this Bible study guide for free, but not for sale. Web sites may link to this page but not reproduce it. For details click here for our copyright guidelines.
The Importance of Bible Knowledge
How to Study the Bible
Why We Need Salvation from sin
How Can You Be Sure of Forgiveness?
Is Jesus Really Your Lord?
To enroll in a free online Bible course or to receive free Bible study materials by e-mail or to read other online Bible studies, click on the links below.
Use your "back" button to return to the previous page.
Go to the Bible Study Online Library (the Gospel Way)
Free audio Bible