What’s all this talk about meekness?
By Pastor Don Strand
The early church theologian, John Chrysostom, was once asked, what are the three most important Christian virtues. His answer, “first, humility, second, humility and third, humility.” With these first three beatitudes; how those who are poor in spirit, who mourn over personal sin and the sin in the world, and now, those who are meek are blessed by God, a picture of a follower of Christ is beginning to take shape. In a way, the first three beatitudes are all variations on the same theme, that of humility. The Greek word translated as “meek” is a hard one for which to find a English equivalent. Some New Testament verses, where the same Greek word, “praeis” is used, are translated as “gentle and quiet spirit” (1 Pt 3.4), “humility” (Ep 4.2) and “forbearance” in 2 Co 10.1. So the biblical idea of someone who is meek is that of a person who is patient and content in their spirit, and is not known for throwing their weight around by insisting on their rights even when they are violated or even denied. Does this sound like most people in the world today? Not at all. Today there are various movements that either insist on or stand for people who are oppressed and denied justice in some way. And while this is important, after all, James says; “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction…” (James 1:27a), this third beatitude tells us the Christian is neither surprised when he or she is denied worldly rights because of faith, nor demands the world’s justice for personal affronts. When Jesus speaks of meekness, He is describing a person who chooses to forego asserting himself to advance personal goals and be content with whatever the service or situation in which God has place him. It’s important to view the beatitudes as progressive. Why are the people of God meek? Because they poor in spirit and mourn their spiritual condition and continual sin.
This is a picture of a disciple of Christ. Jesus goes on to say that the meek will inherit the earth. But knowing the world in which we live, that those who follow Christ will be persecuted and suffer for their faith, why then would a Christian want to inherit this broken and dysfunctional earth?
The answer is clear when we understand that the promise of inheritance is not for this current earth. Instead, it is for the renewed heaven and earth. The inheritance we look forward to is the inheritance granted to all who are children of God. And that is the renewed, unmarred by sin, Sabbath rest eternal Kingdom of God. Because of this promise, the Christian can face anything that comes from this fallen world. But there is another reason that those who are meek are blessed.
Spiritual poverty, humility over a correct self-assessment of our true condition with the resulting meekness not only effect our relationship with God, it has direct bearing on our relations with others. Most commentators agree that an attitude of meekness is best understood as an attitude that effects our relationships with people. Meekness represents a step forward in spiritual maturity, one that is difficult to make. D.A. Carson says this: “We may acknowledge our own bankruptcy and mourn (over our sin), but to respond with meekness when other tell us of our bankruptcy is far harder.”
With this understanding of meekness the question then becomes how can one develop the spiritual maturity that meekness portrays. First, the meek are teachable. The Bible stands opposite from the conventional wisdom of men, and it requires meekness, as displayed by a teachable spirit, to submit to the Word of God. Meekness is required if you are to reorder your thinking and values and since our sense of who we are is often wrapped in our views and values this is a difficult task. But for those who do, they will be blessed.
Second, the meek receive correction graciously because they are teachable in their spirit. So often, people who are offered correction can’t hear it because they are on the defensive. Not so the meek. When correction is offered, the meek don’t become angry, don’t offer excuses, don’t blame others; and they never attach the messenger. Lloyd-Jones says; “the one who is truly meek is the one who is amazed that God and others can think of him as well as they do.” That is the attitude that allows correction to be received with thankfulness.
Third, the meek are gentle and kind to others. When we recognize our own shortcomings, we tend to deal more gently with the shortcomings of others. On the other hand, those who are proud are often unable to look with understanding at the failures of others. The greatest example of this attitude is seen in Jesus. Quoting Isaiah on the Messiah, Matthew writes; “a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench,” (Matthew 12:20a, ESV). Those who are meek are patient and gentle with others, even as they fall short of expectations or promises.
Finally, the meek are modest. When we recognize that all we have is from God, including all our skills, talents and gifts, then we come to view our creatureliness in an appropriate way. How can we boast about our performance in any endeavor when we recognize that it’s all from God. Paul writes; “What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” (1 Corinthians 4:7b, ESV).
Poverty of spirit, mourning over the condition of ourselves and the world, and displaying a meekness that is not weakness, but a recognition of our condition apart from God is what sets Christians apart from the rest of humanity. So if you are not a ‘strange’ individual to others because you act in accordance with these three beatitudes, then maybe you need to look again at your profession of faith. None will have these attributes fully complete, but they are what each follower of Christ should be working toward each and every day.