Most Christians do a reasonably good job rejecting and refraining from what we consider the major relationship-killing sins, like pornography or adultery, but we’re often much more lenient on ourselves in the area of the tongue. In the privacy of our homes, it’s easy to insult, criticize, use sarcasm, nag, complain, speak in anger, and demean, all without believing that we have major sin problems.
Yet our tongues can destroy intimacy and cause lasting scars just as much as our actions can.
In fact, words are the building blocks of relationships. The words we speak to each other define the nature and character of our marriages.
Christians hear a lot about the virtues of love and respect and submission in discussions of marriage, but an equally powerful virtue to apply is meekness. Nowadays, meekness is viewed as equivalent with weakness, but in actuality, meekness requires great strength. Meekness is the restraining and harnessing of our power for the sake of others. It is intentional gentleness and humility in spite of having great ability.
Meekness is a characteristic of the soul, but it expresses itself in how we use our words. In fact, meekness ought to be the filter on all Christian language.
Here are just a few ways that this powerful virtue changes our marital discourse:
+ Meekness expresses its strengths humbly +
During a particularly difficult season of my marriage, I once unloaded on my pastor about all the frustrations of living with my husband – all his quirks and weaknesses as I saw them. I explained how much better I was in these areas and how I couldn’t understand why my husband wouldn’t take my advice when I offered it.
The pastor paused a moment and then said, “Jacky, I know you are a very capable person with lots of strengths, but I think you need to learn to communicate your strengths in ways your husband can hear.”
He was right. I have found that every time I approach my husband with a “Step aside, buddy, I can do this better” attitude, he feels dishonored and often shuts down. It doesn’t matter whether I am right or wrong. Because of my pride and my tone, my husband has a hard time receiving my advice. Similarly, if my husband’s posture toward me indicates that he feels superior, I feel demeaned and humiliated and often respond defensively.
Meekness honors our spouse as a fellow human being, a creature loved despite imperfections.
So when meekness sees areas that someone can improve, it refuses to demean. Instead, it recognizes that if we are better than our spouse at something it is because the Lord has given us a strength to steward for their good, not so that we can beat them over the head with it.
I love how James writes about this. “Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct, let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom” (James 3:13).
So, according to James, if you think you’ve got wisdom to share with your spouse, it isn’t real wisdom unless it is expressed in meekness. Being right is not the same thing as being wise. Speaking truth requires speaking in love.
+ Meekness restrains and harnesses our tongue +
Meekness curbs the tendency of the tongue to wound, especially during conflict, and instead enables it to offer grace. I have had my fair share of verbal sparring matches with my husband over the years. I can usually tell when I’m switching into a fleshly mode because I stop spending my mental energy crafting responses that will be encouraging. Instead, I indulge my fleshly desire to say exactly what I really think.
And, of course, this feels good – for a moment. It feels confident, smug, victorious. But with time, these emotions ebb, leaving behind the words themselves – ugly, careless, hurtful words.
In contrast, meekness refrains from speaking to hurt, even when hurt, and it uses conflict as opportunities to dispense grace.
When your spouse lashes out at you in a moment of aggression, remember the lashes of Jesus. He didn’t let his tongue lash back, though of his words would have had far more power than ours to punish and destroy. Instead, he used even the cross to offer words of grace and forgiveness. “Father forgive them,” he said, “for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
+ Sometimes meekness is silent; it refuses to respond in defensive aggression. +
When you can’t speak grace, try not speaking at all.
Jesus spoke many words of truth during his ministry, sometimes quite critically. But he chose not to speak when he was on trial. This is because the goal of Jesus’ words was always to give life, never to defend himself.
Peter writes about this that “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Pet. 2:23).
In the midst of conflict, we often say things that aren’t true. We accuse, label, and slander. In these moments, pride prioritizes itself and rises up to correct, often harshly. But meekness understands that relationship is more important than reputation and that God is the judge and already knows the truth.
If you’re at all like me, reading points like these might leave you feeling burdened by your failures. “Blessed are the meek,” Jesus says, to which our hearts reply, “But I’m not meek. Not even close.”
But like any Spirit-born virtue, acquiring meekness is a process. It begins with recognizing our lack of it. Then we must pray for it, knowing that God hears our requests “without reproach” (James 1:5). Then we sincerely grieve and repent when we fail to apply it (James 4:9). And then we patiently keep seeking it over the years that this process takes to sanctify us.
Don’t be discouraged, brothers and sisters. Real progress is possible because we serve a real God who really will change us as we seek to grow in Him. He is able to do “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Eph. 3:20).
So let us learn to speak meekly and let us praise our God, who promises to teach us how and then to bless us when we do.