One Sunday an elderly man, an Apostle named John, was carried away in a vision given to him by the Holy Spirit. After being instructed to write down what he had seen, he turned and saw a figure walking among seven golden lampstands. He was dressed regally in a long robe and a golden sash, white hair and piercing eyes that looked like flames of fire. His voice boomed like the sound of mighty rushing waters. Demonstrating his authority, he held seven stars in his right hand; demonstrating his power, a sharp, two-edged sword proceeded out of his mouth, and demonstrating his divinity, the glory of God shown from his face like the noonday sun, too bright to look at.
He said these words about himself. “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.” (Rev 1:17-18) The truth of these words was demonstrated later when wept because no one was worthy to open the seals of the book of God’s judgment on the world. But then, this same person stepped forward, looking like a lamb who had been slain, and he was found worthy to open the scroll. All of heaven worships him with these words, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (Rev 5:12).
Later, after the seals have been opened and the judgments poured out, this man mounts a white horse and rides out of heaven to consummate the world in glory and establish his earthly Kingdom.
“Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.” (Rev 19:11-16)
He’s pretty amazing, isn’t he? Glorious, powerful, sovereign – the King of kings and Lord of lords. He participated in Creation and he is the fulfillment of all that he made. Brilliant in glory, intimidating to his foes, he treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God, a man of might and power.
How, then, could this man say about himself in Matthew 11:29,
“Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart.”
How can this glorious, awesome, earth-shattering being of Revelation also be described as gentle Jesus, meek and mild? Can an man of such glory also be meek? He can if we understand how the Bible defines meekness and leave behind the false conceptions we so often have. It is important because of what Jesus said in the third beatitude (Matthew 5:5).
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”
I will devote little time here in discussing the meaning of the phrase “inherit the earth.” It referred to the earth, the land, the Promised Land that God had given to Israel. When we read what God promised to Israel in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28 if they would obey God, it is both impressive and tragic. God promised them a life of great blessing, magnifying the tragedy of their disobedience. They never experienced the life of blessing that God intended for them, the life he had provided for them, purchased for them, planned for them.
For us today, the promise has little to do with a piece of ground – here or in the Middle East. But I believe that it does point to the life that God intended for us and provided for us in Christ. He sent his Son to the Cross to give us an eternal life in glory with him. But he also intends for us to live a life of glory here; a life that shows God’s power, that demonstrates God’s goodness, that shares God’s love and that advances God’s kingdom. The redeemed have great spiritual potential.
But Israel would only dwell in the land and experience its blessings if they were meek. The meek were the ones who would inherit the earth. The same is true for us today. If we would experience the life God has intended for we, if we would walk in his blessings and experience his presence and power daily, we must be meek. Salvation is a gift of God’s grace, but the experience of the fullness of God’s blessings comes with our obedience; especially with inculcating true, biblical meekness into our lives.
Only the meek experience all the blessings of God’s promises! So, what is meekness? It might be helpful first to confront some of the false ideas we have developed that twist meekness into something that it is not.
What Meekness Is NOT!
1) Meekness is not natural.
There are people who are more aggressive and less aggressive. There are people who tend to be more laid back, tolerant, disinterested, placid, indolent and imperturbable. But that does not make someone meek. Those are personality traits. Meekness is a work of God. No sinful human being is meek by the biblical definition without the work of the Spirit within. Galatians 5:23 tells us that meekness is a work of God, a fruit of the Spirit. Only by God’s power will anyone ever be meek.
2) Meekness is not weakness.
That little cliché appears in many commentaries, but it is true. A meek person is not a wimp who others walk on because he lacks the spine to stand up for what is right. That person is weak and helpless, but not meek.
3) Meekness is not a lack of conviction or courage.
Meekness is not a lack of conviction, or a willingness to compromise. Those who are meek in the biblical sense have courage and conviction – they are not weak-kneed, spineless people who appease others to avoid confrontation. Some define meekness and humility as if it requires that we never tell another that their views are wrong. A meek person is tolerant of everything – sinful attitudes and actions, false doctrines, even heterodox gospels. His “humility” shows in never saying that he is right and that something or someone else is wrong.
That is not meekness. None of these are fair definitions of meekness.
The Bible designates two prominent men as examples of meekness. Jesus is the first. He was hardly weak, nor did he avoid confrontation or compromise with evil. He confronted the Pharisees and called them poisonous snakes, whitewashed tombs and hypocrites. Hardly the new age idea of the tolerant Jesus!
The other man who is described as meek was the deliverer of the Hebrews, Moses himself. Think of the life of Moses from the day he saw the burning bush in the desert. He marched into Egypt to demand that the most powerful man in the world give in to the commands of God. When things got tough, he kept on going. He faced down Pharaoh, endured false accusations and rebellious Israelites and led the people to the Promised Land.
Neither of these men was wimpy or weak. But they were meek. Now, we must ask a simple question.
What Is Meekness?
Like so many of the important New Testament Greek words, there is no single English equivalent for this word. It can be translated as meek, gentle, humble, considerate, and mild. None of those words are completely accurate, but they give a picture of the word’s meaning.
In this context, the meaning of the word can perhaps be best discerned by looking at the progression of truth in the Beatitudes. This is the third Beatitude and its meaning can best be defined by seeing it in the context of the first two.
First, Jesus told us that the Kingdom of heaven belongs to those who are poor in spirit – those who realize that they do not have the spiritual resources to do what is necessary to earn the favor of God.
When someone comes face to face with their sin and spiritual poverty, there is only one appropriate response – to mourn. We grieve over our sin and repent of it. What comes next? When I realize that I have absolutely no spiritual abilities on my own, that I can never please God, and I mourn over my spiritual condition, what do I do?
I declare my complete dependence on God in everything and my determination to glorify him with my life. My soul is in poverty and I grieve over my sin and so I realize my absolute need for God. That is meekness.
Strength under Control
I depend on God. I come to God and say, “Father, I cannot save myself, save me. I cannot live the life that pleases you, empower me by your Spirit to live the life I can’t. I can’t handle it on my own, so I will give my life completely to you and depend on you. Meekness is a life of submission to God’s will and God’s ways in everything. It is the absence of self-will and selfish ambition.
Jesus is the greatest example of this. He was actually the sinless Son who had all power and all wisdom and all strength. But he said, in John 5:30, “I can do nothing on my own…I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me.” When confronted with the horror of the plan of salvation that required him to bear the sins of the world, he called out to the father for another plan. But then, he said those fateful words. “Nevertheless, not my will, but your will be done.”
Meekness is strength under control – God’s control. The meek are men of spiritual power, of conviction, of an unshakeable and unyielding commitment to the cause of Christ and his kingdom. But they do not live by self-will or for their own glory. They do not seek their own advancement or ambitions. Instead, they walk under the power of God. Like a powerful horse that has been broken to saddle, they are under the control of Jesus Christ. His will is their command. That is the essence of meekness.
Serving Others, not Self
One of the key concepts in the word meekness is humility, lowliness. In this world that prizes aggressiveness and ambition, people believe that the world revolves around ol’ number 1. I’ve got to seek my own good, take care of myself. But meekness is the opposite of that. The meek do not put themselves forward as royalty among paupers, but see themselves a paupers among royalty.
Jesus took a word, a concept that was despised in the Roman world and he made it the central tenet of Christian living. Servant. The Romans despised servitude – no one wants to be bossed around or to live under another’s authority. We hate the idea of servitude today as much as the Romans did. “Don’t judge me.” “I live to make myself happy.” “ Who are you to tell me what to do?”
But Jesus called us to be servants. Consider this. Jesus was a failure by every human measure that we use. He never attained great riches. He gathered large crowds to follow him, but instead of making the most of that opportunity. He squandered his popularity and most of the people who followed him turned away. He did not achieve office (at least, not here and not yet). By the measures that we use to gauge success, Jesus was an utter failure.
There is one exception to that. Jesus died on the Cross for the sins of the world. He did not come to be serve, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many. He laid down his life for you. In fact, the thing that separated Jesus from anyone else who ever lived is that Jesus never did a single selfish thing in his life. He obeyed the father and he served humanity. And, because of his life as a servant, he has become the most important man in history, the Savior of the World, the Lord of all, the Head of the Body – the King of kings and Lord of lords. He was a success because he was a servant.
The meek do not live for what they can get, but what they can give. They do not seek to accumulate, but to edify. The meek realize this – success and failure in life is not measured within yourself, but by the spiritual impact and effect you have on others. The meek seek themselves as servants, not as lords.
Gentle and Kind
There is one more concept tied up in this word. The meek, having cast themselves onto the mercy of Jesus and living in dependence on him, they devote their lives to serving others in Jesus’ name. Because they are devoted to Jesus, they are careful to be gentle, mild and kind.
The meek would rather be injured and insulted than inflict that injury on another. The meek do not return evil for evil, or fight fire with fire. They live for God, so they remember that vengeance belongs to God. They do not seek revenge on those who have wronged them. When they are wrong, they love their enemies and do good to them. They do not give people a piece of their minds, but they hold their tongues. Most of the damage we do to one another is verbal – our tongues are too often the servants of Satan. But the tongues of the meek are under control, and do not lash out, pop off, slander, backbite, share gossip or in any other way let their tongues be used for evil.
The meek take great care to treat others kindly, with compassion, grace, honor, respect and gentleness.
Meekness is contrary to everything that comes naturally to us. It is a work of God’s Spirit within the redeemed. But it is not optional equipment in the Christian life. If we wish to experience all that God has provided, we must let the Spirit’s work proceed in us, producing meekness by his mighty power.