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Quiet Courage

Growing in Grace / Doug Agnew
The Truth Network Radio
February 18, 2024 6:00 pm

Quiet Courage

Growing in Grace / Doug Agnew

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February 18, 2024 6:00 pm

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This morning, we resume our consideration of the beatitudes. Today, we'll be looking at the third beatitude, which is found in Matthew 5, verse 5.

Now, we've seen previously that these beatitudes are logically related to each other, connected to each other. So, for the sake of highlighting that sort of logical progression, let's begin by reading at the beginning of the chapter, Matthew, chapter 5, verses 1 through 5. And I ask that you stand in honor of God's Word as we read it together. Matthew, chapter 5, verses 1 through 5.

Now, when Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to Him and He began to teach them, and He said, Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Let's pray. Father, You have created us to desire happiness. You've told us in Your Word how to be happy. You tell us that one of the means of achieving lasting joy and blessedness is to be meek. Holy Spirit, help us to know what it means to be meek and enable us to joyfully and sincerely pursue this Christ-exalting virtue. We pray this in the name of Jesus Christ, who perfectly demonstrates gentleness and meekness and lowliness. Amen.

You be seated. Today we look specifically at the third beatitude, sort of in isolation from the others, but as we've already pointed out in the Christian life, the beatitudes mentioned here in Matthew 5 never appear in isolation. These eight or nine characteristics of a believer are a progression, each one flowing from, issuing from the previous one. In our previous home that we used to live in, we had this magnificent oak tree right in the center of the backyard. It must have been over 50 feet tall, and probably two or three people could not reach around the trunk at its base. It's amazing, isn't it, to think about an enormous tree like that and how it begins as just a small seed that you can hold in the palm of your hand. And when that tree reaches maturity, it will tower over generations of people for centuries. Well, the seed in Matthew 5, from which the character of a Christian springs, is that first beatitude that we considered a couple of weeks ago. Blessed are the poor in spirit. There's the seed. And just as a seed is buried in the ground and dies, that seed of spiritual poverty produces a kind of death in a Christian that produces a deep sorrow over one's condition. Blessed are they that mourn. So goes the second beatitude.

But then a shoot comes out of the ground, and we begin to get our first glimpse of what this seed will eventually become as it grows and buds and blooms. And this is the third beatitude. Blessed are the meek. Although it springs from the previous two beatitudes, this is a unique beatitude in that it describes our condition before God, our relation to God. But here, Christian character is described in terms of its relation to other people. So what has been kind of a God focus in the first two beatitudes now becomes a horizontal focus in some sense in this third beatitude and the ones that follow. And it's not just an inward attitude.

It's an inward attitude that expresses itself outwardly in how it relates to other people. What we discover as these beatitudes unfold is that not only does each one issue from the previous one, we also begin to discover that each successive beatitude becomes more and more visible. And because of that visibility, it makes us more and more vulnerable to other people. Think about it for a moment. It is one thing to stand naked and transparent before God and to acknowledge to myself my own poverty of spirit and to mourn over that poverty. But it's quite another thing, isn't it, to stand naked and transparent before other sinners and to acknowledge before them, people who are just as cruddy and poor in spirit as I am, that I am nothing. One pastor said, I am aware when I'm honest with myself of the sin and the evil that are within me and I'm ready to face both of those things, but how much more difficult is it to allow other people to say things like that about me? I instinctively resent it. We all of us prefer to condemn ourselves than to allow somebody else to condemn us. I say of myself that I'm a sinner, but instinctively I do not like anybody else to say I'm a sinner.

That is the principle that is introduced at this point in the beatitudes. Not only is this beatitude very difficult for us, it is also a characteristic, like the first two beatitudes, that stands in direct opposition to worldly values. Meekness, just like poverty of spirit and sorrow, is not in vogue by the world's standards. None of us put on our resumes assertive, well-educated, lots of experience, and meek. It doesn't sell. Meekness doesn't sell in our world's economy. Self-confidence sells.

Self-reliance sells. But meekness often solicits pity, if not disdain. So there's some irony, isn't there, when we read Jesus' words here in verse 5, blessed are the meek, for they are the ones who will inherit the earth. The ones who possess this quality that is largely mocked and ridiculed by the world are the very ones who, in the end, will possess the world.

It's counterintuitive. So what is this quality called meekness? What is this seedling of Christian character, and what does Christ mean by rewarding the meek with the earth?

These are the questions I want us to try and answer this morning. They're two simple points, meekness explained and meekness rewarded. Let's consider first meekness explained. As I began to study this concept of meekness and tried to understand exactly what it is, I noticed that many of the commentators begin by explaining what meekness is not. And at first, this approach was kind of annoying me. I wanted to discover what meekness is, not what it's not.

But the more I studied, the more I began to realize that this approach is very wise and necessary. It's wise and necessary on account of the fact that as fallen human beings who have been created in the image of God and who still bear the image of God, even though that image has been marred by sin, we are extremely adept at faking virtue. It's such a natural thing for us to substitute our own ideas of morality for God's to the point, I'm afraid, that we often aren't even aware of the fact that we're distorting true godliness. So unfortunately, we have some human versions of meekness that don't even come close to resembling the real thing. And before we can lay hold of what true meekness is, we've got to get rid of those perversions, these false ideas of meekness. So let me begin by describing what meekness is not. First, meekness is not a natural quality.

It's not a natural quality. That is to say, it is in a disposition that man possesses or develops apart from the work of the Holy Spirit in him. No one is born inherently meek. Meekness is a fruit of the spirit of God that indwells believers. Galatians 5, 22 and 23 says, the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, or meekness.

It's the same root word that Jesus uses in Matthew 5. So we cannot refer to the natural disposition of a person as meekness. We all know people, I'm sure, who seem to have been born nice. We also know people who didn't get the niceness gene.

You know, that is also true in the animal kingdom. Some dogs are nicer than other dogs. Some cats have a nicer temperament than other cats. The point is that inherent amiability, that niceness that we find in certain people is not meekness if meekness is a spiritual quality that's only worked into the human heart by the Holy Spirit. If I were to ask you who the meekest person you know is, you would most likely identify someone who's easygoing or someone who maybe avoids conflict, someone who's just really good at staying in the background and never rocks the boat. That's how we tend to think of meekness. And regrettably, we often think of meekness as maybe more of a vice than a virtue. We think of the meek person as the person who has no zeal, no gumption.

Maybe they're just a bit too perfect. To refer to someone as meek is sometimes just maybe a polite way of calling them apathetic or naive. We would hardly think of people like Moses who went barging into Pharaoh's presence making demands or of Jesus who made a scene one day in the temple by running the money changers out of there. Those examples don't typically fit our template of meekness and yet they are excellent examples, perfect examples of this godly trait. So to use a cliché, meekness is not weakness. So if a person is by nature content to be weak, they're just kind of a doormat, they like to just go along to get along, that natural demeanor they have is not biblical meekness.

Why? Because biblical meekness is a spiritual quality that comes only from the Holy Spirit and has nothing to do with anyone's natural disposition or personality traits. Secondly, we need to recognize that meekness is not a merely outward quality. Certainly meekness expresses itself outwardly, but it is the expression of an inward reality, an inward attitude.

It begins in the heart of man. Let me say it again, we're very good at faking meekness. We know how to come across as meek, but if meekness doesn't originate in a heart that is bankrupt before God, poor in spirit, and in a heart that mourns over that bankruptcy, then our meekness is just an outward show and not true biblical meekness at all. Again, we've all come across folks who are really good at acting meek, but all you have to do is see them get crossed at just the right point and their meekness suddenly disappears. You see, what's happened is that their true character, what's really in their heart, has been exposed by their circumstances. Meekness is not merely an external pattern of behavior.

No, it's an inward attitude that is expressed and verified in one's outward responses to circumstance. All right, so that's what meekness is not, and hopefully maybe this has cleared our minds of some typical misunderstandings of this character quality, but let's consider now what it is. At the word level, we have some clues from a couple of sources that I think help us grasp the meaning of the word meek as Jesus would have used it. The first source is Greek culture, particularly the culture in which the ancient Greek philosophers did their philosophizing.

They had much to say about ethics and morality, and they would frequently use the word meek in their discussions. So we have some clues from the Greeks that will help us define the word, but we also have clues from the Hebrew understanding of the word. In fact, Matthew 5-5 is a direct quote of Psalm 37-11. So if Jesus is pointing us back to Psalm 37, it behooves us, doesn't it, to understand the word in light of Psalm 37. Let's first see what we can glean from the Greek understanding of meekness.

Now let me just point out that we don't need to have an undue reliance on sources outside of Scripture to get our theology. That's not my intent in considering the ethics of ancient Greek culture, but it is helpful to look at how Greek culture used and understood specific words and concepts because, to a certain degree, this would have informed Christ's use of these same words and concepts. Jesus didn't teach in a cultural vacuum, right?

His words meant something specific at the time He spoke them, and it will help us to have a more accurate understanding of His meaning if we take a look at the cultural influences on His language. We're simply trying to discover how Jesus' disciples, who were Jews living in a Greek culture, would have understood this concept of meekness when Christ brought it up in His sermon. The Greek philosopher Aristotle would often define virtue as a balance between two extremes. So courage, for example, is, according to Aristotle, the balance between cowardice and foolhardiness.

That's courage. Generosity is the balance between stinginess and excessive waste. Meekness, then, was understood as the balance between excessive anger, on the one hand, and the inability to show anger on the other. Right in the middle is meekness. According to Aristotle, meekness is knowing when to get angry and when not to get angry.

Now this gives us a whole new perspective on the word, doesn't it? James Boyce paraphrased us Matthew 5-5, in light of this Greek understanding of the word, he says, blessed is the man who is always angry at the right time and never angry at the wrong time. So far from being some sort of a spineless, apathetic attitude, the meek person is a person who, we could say, is appropriately angry. The question that follows is, then, how do we know when it's appropriate to be angry? Well, in light of the context of this verse, a context that is describing the bankrupt state of self apart from God, I think we can assume that it's never appropriate to get angry when self is the victim or the insult of injury.

Selfish anger is always a sin. A meek person is not easily provoked with respect to his own rights or his own interests. He's not always on the defensive.

Quite the opposite is true. The meek person has come to realize that he's spiritually poor and has mourned over that bankrupt condition. Therefore, he has no need to protect himself because there's nothing really worth protecting in himself or defending. John Bunyan, the writer of Pilgrim's Progress, said, he that is down need fear no fall.

He that is down need fear no fall. So appropriate anger is never exercised in the defense of self, but rather in the defense of God and his righteousness. That's what the meek person has come to see as supremely valuable, not his bankrupt self, but a God whose glory is always worth defending. And when that glory is attacked or disregarded or esteemed too little, the meek person is provoked to anger. It's appropriate anger. Meekness, then, is knowing when to get angry.

But the word meekness had another connotation in Greek culture. It was used to describe wild animals that had been tamed or domesticated. I have a vivid memory of when I was a boy of going to the mall one day, and they had set up a wrestling ring in the middle of the mall, and this fellow had brought a big old bear to wrestle whoever wanted to get in the ring with him. Now, the bear was declawed and trained to not kill anyone, but these big burly men were getting in the ring with the bear, and one after another, and with great ease, this bear wrestled them to the mat.

The bear won every match. You see, the bear was strong, but controlled. It was strength under control.

It was a meek bear. I think this sense of strength under control is illustrated beautifully in the life of Christ when he ran the money changers out of the temple. As we read this account, I think we're struck, aren't we, by the fierceness of Christ, but also by his deliberation as he calmly makes a whip intentionally before charging into the temple.

This isn't just unbridled passion. This is controlled strength. That demonstrates that he was demonstrating strength under control, meekness. He thought about what he was doing before he did it.

Notice it was not himself that he was defending in that action. No, he was infuriated by the fact that his father's will was being violated. When he rebukes the money changers, he says, my father's house is to be a house of prayer. So we see in Christ this unequaled strength being harnessed and tempered by the will of the father and for the glory of the father. Meekness in us should look no different. It's strength and moral resolve and spiritual passion all being tempered, controlled by the will of our heavenly father like a lion being tamed. It loses none of its strength.

It simply learns to yield that strength to something greater than itself. Well, this is how Greek culture would have informed the disciples' understanding of Christ's use of the word meek. And I think these ideas are all part of what Jesus is intending to convey. But we can take it a bit further by considering next the Hebrew understanding of the concept of meekness, the Hebrew understanding of meekness.

First of all, the Hebrews would have recognized that Christ was quoting from the Old Testament, specifically Psalm 37 and 11. In fact, let's turn to Psalm 37 for a moment. If we allow this Psalm to inform our understanding of meekness, we see that meekness is grounded in a complete trusting of and resting in the Lord. That's where meekness comes from. Verse 11 of Psalm 37, which says the meek shall inherit the land. There's the direct quote. This verse comes at the end of a long list of exhortations that describe what meekness looks like.

Look at it with me. Verse 3, trust in the Lord. Verse 4, delight yourself in the Lord. Verse 5, commit your way to the Lord.

Verse 7, be still before the Lord. Jesus quotes Psalm 37 to highlight the fact that meekness at its very root is a mindset of trust in an all-powerful God, particularly when a person is undergoing some kind of injustice or persecution. We could conclude in light of Psalm 37 that the meek person is the one who can say, I leave everything, myself, my rights, my cause, my whole future in the hands of God.

You know, I can't really think of anything that will make you bolder before other people than an unqualified absolute trust in God. Nor can I think of anything that will make you more humble before other people than an absolute unqualified trust in God. You see, meekness is not indiscriminate submission to other people. It's indiscriminate submission to God, which may result in submission to other people or at times in a bold defiance of other people, but it always finds its rest and confidence and therefore its frame of reference for all of life in God.

That's its root. Numbers 12 tells us of an incident in the life of Moses that illustrates this Hebrew understanding of meekness. It's a story of Miriam and Aaron growing jealous of Moses' position of influence and authority, and so they begin to murmur against him and malign his reputation, even though Moses had done nothing wrong. And right in the middle of the story, Scripture inserts this most amazing statement, this assessment of Moses. It says in Numbers 12, 3, Now the man Moses was very meek, more than all people who were on the face of the earth. And then it goes on to describe how Moses exhibited that meekness, and what we find is that Moses did not retaliate. Here he was being wronged by Miriam and Aaron. He did not retaliate. He didn't condemn Miriam and Aaron as insurrectionists, although he could have justly done so.

They were in the wrong, not him. Instead, he simply entrusted himself and his accusers into God's hands. This is what meekness looks like in action. It's not distracted by the need to defend itself, but looks to God to be the judge.

It is a wholesale submission to God. James Boyce again, he says this, Meekness of this sort will take off its shoes before the burning bush, yet will walk up to the mightiest ruler of the day and demand, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Let my people go. So we see that meekness is appropriate anger, perfectly balanced between the extremes. Meekness is strength under control, strength that's tempered by the will of God. And all of this is true of meekness because ultimately, meekness is rooted in a spirit of complete trust in a sovereign God, a trust that doesn't feel the need to personally retaliate because it knows that God is a just judge who sees all. Well, that's meekness explained. Let's consider just for a few moments meekness rewarded. The reward that is promised to the meek by Jesus himself is that they will inherit the earth. Now, I don't know that I understand all that this is meant by this reward, but I do believe it includes a present and a future aspect.

The future aspect of this reward should be obvious to us, I think. If you're meek, it's an indication that the Holy Spirit indwells you. And if the Holy Spirit indwells you, it means that you are in Christ, you're saved. And all who are saved are destined for a glorious future. Scripture calls it a new heaven and a new earth. Revelation 21, one says, Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. A future reward of a new earth that we will inherit if we're in Christ. And meekness is a demonstration of being in Christ.

2 Timothy 2.12 speaks of believers reigning with Christ in this new heaven and new earth. So this reward of inheriting the earth has a definite reference to the future. The meek will inherit the new heaven, the new earth, in glory, in the future.

But there's also a present aspect of this reward that we need to not miss. There's a sense in which the meek inherit the earth even now. It has to do with their ability to be satisfied with what they have in this life in ways that those who are not meek cannot experience.

Jesus is going to allude to this later on in the Sermon on the Mount. He says in Matthew 6.33, But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things, the physical necessities of life, like food and clothing, will be added to you. The meek are not focused on amassing great material wealth.

They're focused on living and being spent for God, seeking His kingdom and His righteousness above all else. The side benefit of making God's kingdom the priority of life is that the needs you have in this earthly kingdom are met. Now, Jesus is not promising excessive wealth. He's not promising extravagant means, but He is promising to give the basic necessities of life to all who seek God ahead of everything else. He promises physical provision, the earth, to those who are meek. I think another sense in which the meek presently inherit the earth is seen in the fact that it's only the meek who can truly enjoy and be satisfied with their material possessions.

And this is a paradox, I think, but it's true. You really can't enjoy a possession until you let go of it, until you turn the ownership of it over to God. Again, Christ says in Matthew 6, Don't lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in and steal. Those who aren't resting holy in God are too busy worrying about moths and robbers to enjoy what they have. But the meek, those who have learned to trust God with all of their stuff, will inherit the earth because they've learned the secret of being satisfied with whatever the Lord gives. So even though the ultimate reward for the meek will come in the future, there is a very real sense in which they inherit the earth in the now, in the present, because their physical temporal needs will be adequately met and they will be in a position to rightly enjoy those provisions in the way that God intends them to be enjoyed. Blessed are the meek, they shall inherit the earth. As we've looked at this high and holy virtue of meekness this morning, and as we've entertained thoughts about the rich rewards that accompany it, I think we should all be left longing for this characteristic to be a normal part of our lives.

In fact, this is where the Beatitudes are going to head next. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. We should be yearning for the virtues of righteousness to be growing and developing in us. Now we know that meekness is a fruit of the Holy Spirit at work in our lives. We know that meekness grows in the soil of poverty of spirit, of mourning over that poverty of spirit. Does this mean that we just wait passively for the Holy Spirit to turn our poverty of spirit into meekness?

Is there nothing we ought to be actively doing to pursue this virtue? Well, I believe there is much we can do by way of pursuing this blessed virtue of meekness, because God is a God of means. God is a God of means, and Jesus, in his teaching on meekness, directs us to God's means by pointing us to Psalm 37. Psalm 37 contains some 17 imperatives, 17 commands, things we're to be doing in our pursuit of the spiritual fruit of meekness. God's means of developing meekness include things like trusting in the Lord, committing our way to the Lord, not fretting over evildoers, delighting in the Lord, being still before the Lord, waiting patiently for the Lord. Brothers and sisters, we develop meekness by learning to keep our hearts and minds fixed on God, trusting in God, delighting in God. The meek person is the person who has learned to view all of life through the lens of this truth, God is trustworthy.

God is trustworthy. A man spends eight hours at work, futilely trying to accomplish his to-do list, but nothing is going his way. He's forced into the realization that he isn't in control of his circumstances, and it's infuriating to him. So he goes home, and he takes his frustration out on his wife, who herself has been coming to grips with the reality that she is not sovereign. Her husband won't listen to her sage advice. Her kids won't obey her commands.

Her projects never go according to plan. So she takes her frustration out on her children, children who, like their parents, want to be in control of life but aren't. So they scorn their parents and bicker with their siblings.

And this is life in a home that lacks meekness and has come to be accepted as the norm in countless Christian homes. It reminds me of something a friend shared with me this past week from Elizabeth Elliott. She said, the world is full of emotional babies crawling over each other screaming, mine. This I want, and this I shall have, and never mind what it does to anybody else. Then Elliott says, what a relief when one who has reached spiritual adulthood comes along. He freely gives up his own aims and ambitions, his safety and his cherished plans, his possessions, his feelings, anything at all that will help, and says, my life for yours. It sounds a lot like Christ, doesn't it?

Elliott says, such a one comes as a rescuer. To give myself up is the last thing I think of doing. It looks like weakness, but in God's eyes, it is power. So let's reimagine that not-so-hypothetical family in a different scenario, the scenario in which Psalm 37 is believed and obeyed. Plans are still foiled by unforeseen circumstances and even by the occasional evildoer, but dad has learned not to fret because of evildoers or envy those who do wrong. He's able to let it go because his delight is not in vocational success but in God.

He goes home to a wife who is still very imperfectly fulfilling her role as help meet mother, but a wife who has learned to commit her way to the Lord and trust that he will act and is acting. And this, of course, infuses her domestic duties with grace and beauty, a grace and beauty that elicits far more respect and honor from her children than her angry attempts to control them ever could. The children are seeing the virtue of meekness modeled for them by their parents and it's training them to be still before the Lord rather than provoking them to anger. It's training them to learn to wait patiently for a God who is just and aware and kind. This is a family that is learning the beautiful virtue of meekness. This is a family that is blessed with real happiness.

This is a family that will inherit the earth. Church meekness grows in a quiet heart. That is a heart that has learned both the humility and the confidence which comes from trusting a trustworthy God. Do we hunger for meekness? Then let's go to him who is meekness incarnate.

Let's go to the one whose yoke is easy and whose burden is light. Learn to trust him and you will find both rest for your own souls and meekness in your dealings with others. Let's pray. Lord, would you teach us the virtue of meekness? May we adorn ourselves with it every day in every circumstance and when we fail may we quickly run to Jesus the one who is meek and lowly and in him may we find forgiveness and restoration and rest. We pray in Jesus' name. Amen.
Whisper: medium.en / 2024-02-18 12:11:29 / 2024-02-18 12:23:21 / 12

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