Blessed are the Meek

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.

Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit

Like a child with shoulders slumped low from a long day of school, poverty drags a backpack of negative connotations wherever it goes. Even those who dedicate their lives to caring for the poor do so understanding poverty to be the outworking of sorrow, corruption, and suffering. It is something to be avoided, changed, or fixed.

Despite this reality, Jesus embraces poverty as the foundation of his kingdom ethic. He begins his famed Sermon on the Mount with these words, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.” To be a follower of Jesus, one must embrace the poverty of the spirit.

The Beatitudes

To grasp the importance of these words, the reader must understand the flow of Jesus’s Sermon. The Beatitudes found in verses 3-10 describe the essence of Christian character. To quote the famous British Pastor John Stott,

The group exhibiting these marks is not an elite, a small spiritual aristocracy remote from ordinary Christians. On the contrary, the Beatitudes are Christ’s own specification of what every Christian ought to be.

All Christians are to be poor in spirit, sorrowful, meek, hungry, pure in heart, peacemakers, and persecuted.

But to arrive at the later virtues, Christians must know the poverty of Jesus. Without it, no one can reach the kingdom of God. So what is it? What does Jesus call us to when he pronounces blessing upon the poor in spirit?

Poor or Poor in Spirit?

Theologians have hotly debated the meaning of Matthew 5:3. Some like St. Francis of Assisi and John Calvin have claimed that Jesus is addressing earthly poverty. While the “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests…the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head (Lk 9:58).” Those who beg for a living seem to have more in common with Christ than those who live in palaces. Moreover, in Luke 6:20, the parallel or sister passage to Matthew 5, Luke omits the phrase “in spirit” giving us the following rendering: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” This quotation seems to support the notion that the kingdom of God is made up of the physical poor. The question then becomes which passage should interpret which?

Which Passage?

I believe as did Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones and Stott that we should follow the Reformation maxim and allow the clearer text to interpret the vaguer phrase as all Scripture is inspired by God. The prepositional phrase “in spirit” should be viewed as a divine interpretive insight into our savior’s meaning. We should always reason from the more clear to the less clear. When we apply this principle to the “poor in spirit” debate, we cannot help but conclude that Jesus was speaking of spiritual matters and not of economics. A quick survey of Scripture confirms this interpretation. Though Jesus saves one thief on the cross, the other enters hell (Lk 23:43). Jesus heals 10 lepers and yet only one returns to worship the Son of God (Lk 17:11-19). Moreover, Jesus redeems men such as Matthew, Nicodemus, and Zacchaeus, who oppressed the poor prior to their conversions.

God cares for the poor. Those who walk the path of affliction with the well torn shoes of difficulty are often more disposed to the concept spiritual poverty than those managing hedge funds. But one’s lack of wealth does not turn the key to heaven. As the church father Chromatius noted,

The necessity of poverty does not produce blessedness in each of us, but a devout trust sustained through poverty does.

In other words, poverty of spirit can be found both in government housing and in fenced off communities. Earthly poverty does not always equal heavenly glory.

What is Poor In Spirit?

To be poor in spirit, one must recognize his or her ultimate worthlessness in comparison to the majesty of God. Lloyd-Jones helpfully defined poor in spirit as, “a complete absence of pride, a complete absence of self-assurance and of self-reliance.” In other words, The poor in spirit realize that they have nothing within themselves by which to commend themselves to God outside of the wages of sin and death. Instead of boasting in their church attendance, in the successes of their children, in their common sense, in their giving, in their service hours, or in their ability to be better than their neighbors, those who are poor in spirit have one prayer: “God, be merciful to me a sinner (Lk 16:13).” They understand that they come to God much like the mail-order bride with billions of dollars in credit-card debt comes to the Crown Prince of England. They have no hope outside of a ridiculous their appeal for mercy.

The great news of the gospel is that Jesus responds to this cry for help. Jesus dies and burst out of the tomb on Easter morning so that he might redeem sinners such as us. Second Corinthians 15:19-20 declares, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.”

To obtain the riches of the kingdom, we must first understand our poverty. As one early church sermon on Matthew noted, “The root of all evil is pride, and the root of all good is humility.” Once we understand we are nothing and give up all hope of saving ourselves, then and only then, do we begin to inherit everything. Only those who are poor in spirit can enter the kingdom of heaven.

To quote Jesus again, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of God.”