“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly of heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matthew 11:28–30

It is interesting to consider whether certain Christian virtues are logically dependent on other virtues being activated first. One such Christian virtue is gentleness, or, as some have translated the Greek word, sweet reasonableness—waiving one’s legal rights in order to not swerve into moral wrongs (Philippians 4:5). Might “sweet reasonableness” also be a vice if certain other Christian virtues do not first serve as an immovable foundation and as guiding boundaries allowing gentleness and sweet reasonableness to take full form and flourish in all godliness and sincerity?

In our text, our Lord combines gentle (meek) with lowly of heart. In His incarnate state He conformed to the humbling that was assigned to Him by His Father. Philippians 2 expounds for us the concept of His self-emptying of His right to volitionally exercise His divine attributes, and to submit to the humbling position of taking on the form of man, of a servant, and of the death of the cross. In His incarnation He took on the nature of man; He became creaturely. He knows the humbling of veiling off His glory and living as a man in a fallen world. He, of all mankind, truly knows the nature of humility, of meekness, and of gentleness. It is from His example we learn the necessary progression to get to the place of sharing with Him in true gentleness. Gentleness without the foundation of humility and the guardrails of meekness, can only be squishy sentiment and spiritually ineffectual.

Biblical humility seems to provide the foundation for many, if not all, of the Fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22ff). It follows that if a man simply focuses on producing the list of Spirit-engendered behaviors, then he has the cart before the horse and may be gravely mistaken when he is counting his fruit. From our passage in Matthew, it can be observed that humility is a cardinal requirement before good fruit is borne in a man’s life.

In the Greek world the term used for lowly (humble) was not a highly elevated term. Most Greeks wanted to be known for being great-souled and associated with honors that were received because of it. Humility had the overtones of groveling, low birth, servile and downcast. The concept was generally despised except in certain contexts. Where humility found elevation was when the Greeks added the idea of thinking humbly of oneself where that humble estimate corresponded with truth. It was then seen as good sense, prudent, and sensible when one’s self-estimate corresponded with reality.

It is not the behavior of some pharisaical Christians today who assume the mantle and air of humility. Biblical humility is not in making ourselves small in the sight of others, but it is recognition of our creaturely smallness in comparison to our Creator and our Savior.

Our Savior’s words were “I am gentle and lowly of heart.” The meaning quite clearly is that He took on our creaturely nature, and He was fully dependent upon the Father and the Holy Spirit in the time of His humbling. Everything He did in His earthly ministry was in full obedience to the Father and in complete dependence upon the Holy Spirit. He was in full conformity to reality. He did not have to make Himself small. He rightly reckoned His position in His humbling and therefore became the supreme example of Christian obedience and service. Though He was fully God, He did not think it a thing to be grasped after “to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:5–11). Therefore, let this mind be in you; be humbled in your creatureliness.

An added component for the church age saint is the fact that any honest estimate of ourselves does not stop at recognizing our creatureliness, but moves on to realize that we also need our Savior. Every believer is a sinner that has tasted of God’s grace in rescue, quickening, implanted faith, forgiveness, and divine love beyond measure. All this grace poured out on failing, fumbling, and fallible old me! Not only am I physically needy (creaturely), but the reality is that I am spiritually needy (compromised). Godly humility is in no way a making of myself small; it is an honest, daily reckoning that I am small compared to the perfections found in Christ, who is my example of humility, and my Savior!

Biblically speaking, real humility is truly reckoning yourself in the view of God (1 Peter 5:5). Anchored upon the foundation of authentic humility are the guardrails of meekness (strength under control) which is the general attitude of the believer as he encounters life in submission to the sovereign will of God (Ephesians 4:2), and responds to life surrounded by sinful men (Galatians 6:1). Only when a believer is steeped in godly humility and exercised in biblical meekness before God and man can he be used of the Spirit of God to produce biblical gentleness in his treatment of others (Philippians 4:5). Trust and obey.