Meekness doesn’t resonate with a world stitched together with slogans such as Nike’s “Just Do it” or Microsoft’s “Your potential. Our passion.” The West equates self-effacement, a lack of bravado, and an unwillingness to play the system with a specific kind of weakness that always leads to failure. In other words, we are completely unfamiliar with the term “meekness.”
Yet, Jesus prizes the word in his famed Sermon on the Mount, declaring, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth (Mt 5:5).” Those who hope to follow Jesus into the new heavens and the new earth, most both understand and embrace meekness. So what is it and why does it matter? Let’s take a look.
What is Meekness?
To begin with, we must state what meekness is not. It is not a general disposition towards an unhealthy propensity towards submission and niceness that causes some souls to play dead every time a controversy or decision arises. Biblical meekness should not be equated with the guy who never speaks up in his group project, who never voices his opinion when picking a restaurant, or who simply shrugs his shoulders when his wife asks if they should send the kids to public or private school.
Rather, meekness relates to brokenness. The Greek word for meekness, praus, means the breaking of a wild horse. We could say it is an abandonment of self for the sake of others. Instead of standing upon its or her rights or privilege, the meek soul seeks the good of others irrespective of the personal cost. As the martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer noted, the meek “renounce every right of their own and live for Christ.” The meek have had their impulses towards selfishness, pride, and self-aggrandizement broken by the love of Christ.
We see this concept exemplified in the lives of both Moses and Jesus. In Numbers 12:3, the Scriptures report, “Now the man Moses was very meek, more than all people who were on the face of the earth.” The comment comes in the context of a power grab. Moses’s sister and brother, Miriam who was a prophetess and Aaron who was the chief priest, had just attacked Moses saying, “Has the Lord indeed spoken only through Moses? Has he not spoken through us also (Nu. 12:2)?” God takes note of this family squabble and quickly settles it, declaring Moses to be his man and afflicting Miriam with leprosy. In this moment, Moses does the unthinkable. The text says, “And Moses cried to the Lord, “O God, please heal her – please. (Nu. 12:13).” Instead of condemning his sister, rejoicing in his own vindication, or standing upon his rights as the prophet of God, Moses asks God to forgive his sister. He exemplifies the counsel of King David who encouraged the God’s people to and “refrain from anger,” and are “generous and give (Ps 37:8,21).”
As noted earlier, the concept of meekness does not come to an end in with the close of the Old Testament. Jesus described himself as meek or gentle in Matthew 11:29. The verse says, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle (or meek) and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Jesus never stood upon principle, welcoming gentiles, children, prostitutes, taxes collectors, and lepers to his table. No man, woman, or child should stand aloof from Jesus because of their sin. If they will but come to the Messiah, the grand physician will make them well. He freely bestows rest on all who ask.
When the mob of temple guards came to arrest Jesus in Matthew 26 and the apostle Peter began to swinging his sword in Jesus’s defense, our savior said “Stop.” The Scriptures record:
Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. 53 Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? 54 But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so (Mt 26:52-54)?
Jesus resisted those who attacked truth, readily calling a spade a spade. But he never claimed his rights or privileges as the Son of God. As the apostle Paul noted in Philippians 2:8, “And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Jesus died so that we might live. Those who know that Jesus’s humiliation led to their exaltation cannot help but be meek for they are nothing apart from Christ. We are saved because Jesus was meek.
Why Does Meekness Matter Part 1?
As noted in previous blogs, the beatitudes are sequential and connected. They exist as a whole with each beatitude resting upon those that proceeded it.
Consequently to achieve meekness, the soul must first be poor in spirit and mourn. Those who know Christ know that they possess nothing good in and of themselves. No one is righteous, no, not one (Rm 3:10). They grasp that negotiating with God amounts to a child negotiating with his Dad for a trip to Disney World with a twenty-dollar bill stolen from his Dad’s wallet. Those who are poor in spirit realize the insanity of their attempt to reach heaven apart from God mercy.
The soul’s realization of its spiritual poverty will inevitably lead the soul to sorrow. Psalm 119:136 states, “My eyes shed streams of tears, because people do not keep your law.” Though tears can lack genuineness, the soul cannot reach heaven apart from the tears of repentance. To experience the comfort of Jesus, the soul must first mourn its spiritual poverty.
Those who understand their brokenness and God’s love will not stand upon rights tied to citizenship, one’s station in life, or church membership. They freely, willingly, and generously put the needs of others before their own. The meek know all they have comes from God’s merciful hand. Since God freely preferred them above himself, they cannot help but prefer others needs and wants before their own. The famous pastor, Martyn Lloyd-Jones summed up the sentiment of this beatitude well when he wrote:
Meekness is essentially a true view of oneself, expressing itself in an attitude and conduct with respect to others.
Why Does Meekness Matter Part 2?
Meekness is the natural outgrowth of faith. And it is also an expression of hope. Jesus said the meek will inherit the earth. Some theologians have believed that Jesus is talking about the physical earth. Yet a quick scan of history has proved this not to be true. The meek have often been persecuted and murdered for their faith. Moreover, Jesus’s use of the future tense verb implies that the concept in Matthew 5 has yet to arrive. He is talking about the kingdom to come. In other words, Christians can prefer the interests of their neighbors to their own because this world is not their final hope. In Psalm 37:27-29, David defined it this way,
Turn away from evil and do good; so shall you dwell forever. For the Lord loves justice; he will not forsake his saints. They are preserved forever, but the children of the wicked shall be cut off. The righteous shall inherit the land and dwell upon it forever.
The inheritance of the meek is not tied to maturing stocks, real estate investments, or family heirlooms. Christians can happily give all those things away and more, knowing that no one can take their heavenly inheritance.
For example, the famed politician William Wilberforce grew up a child of means and died poor He devoted his money to the building up of the church, to the abolishment of slavery, and to the wellbeing of his family. He gave away his earthly wealth because he had attained something far greater.
Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.