Meek Does Not Mean Weak

Matthew 5:5

January 25, 2004 | Brian Bill

Matthew 26:53 tells us what Jesus said: “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?”  A legion was 6,000 angels, so Jesus was talking about 72,000 angelic warriors!  All He had to do was say the word and the soldiers would be incinerated, but He held back.  Later, when He’s face-to-face with Pilate, Jesus continues to show that He’s in control by remaining quiet.  

In John 19:9-10, Pilate is disarmed by His demeanor: “Where do you come from?’ he asked Jesus, but Jesus gave him no answer.  ‘Do you refuse to speak to me?  Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?’”  Jesus answers in verse 11: “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above.”  Then, for much of the rest of the time, as Jesus is bounced between Herod and Pilate, Jesus chooses to be silent in the face of accusations.  This is a clear fulfillment of Isaiah 53:7: “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.” 

As I watched the action on the screen, and was reminded of how Jesus was quiet when He could have rightfully complained, or even extinguished the evildoers, I immediately thought of the third Beatitude: “Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth.”  Jesus modeled meekness and now establishes this trait as a defining characteristic for the Christian.

A Christian is someone who is poor in spirit by recognizing their own spiritual bankruptcy; who laments the losses of life, sorrows over sin, cries over the condition of others, and weeps for the world

As we’ve been learning in this series, these eight statements spoken by the Savior describe what it means to be a Christian.  Jesus does not focus on outward performance like going to church, or giving, or even serving.  His concern is much deeper as He delineates how a disciple should be on the inside.  A Christian is someone who is poor in spirit by recognizing their own spiritual bankruptcy; who laments the losses of life, sorrows over sin, cries over the condition of others, and weeps for the world.  A Christ-follower is one who is meek; is hungry for the right things; is merciful to others; pursues purity; works to make peace in the midst of conflict; and is persecuted for trying to do what is right.

Defining Meekness

This Beatitude is difficult for us to grasp because some of us equate meekness with weakness.  In fact, if you were to go up and tell someone that they were meek, I’m not sure it would be received as a compliment.  The thesaurus lists some synonyms that aren’t very flattering: docile, mild, tame, soft, passive and spineless.  It’s no wonder we don’t want to be called meek, if that’s what the word means.  But since this characteristic is part of the definition of a disciple, we need to understand what Jesus meant when He said it.

The word “meek” was used in at least four different contexts that taken together will help us understand how we can demonstrate meekness in our lives.

  • In the Greek culture, meekness was considered a virtue that was balanced between too much and too little anger.  The meek man was neither timid nor given to fits of rage.  
  • Greek physicians used the word “meek” to describe a soothing medicine.  If too little medicine is given, it won’t work; if too much is prescribed, it can hurt instead of heal.  The proper amount can work wonders.  
  • “Meek” was also used to describe a gentle breeze that blew in from the ocean.  Wind can rage and do great damage but when it blows gently, it brings soothing comfort.
  • This word was commonly used to describe a wild stallion that had been tamed.  A broken horse is still very powerful, but his power is now under the control of the bridle.

The common thread in these descriptions is that meekness represents different forms of power that can be used for positive purposes or for evil intentions.  The commentator Barclay refers to the meek man as one “who has every instinct under control.  Every impulse, every passion, every ounce of strength has been harnessed.”  Even with this helpful background information, those who heard these words must have scratched their heads.  Didn’t Jesus just mention that the “kingdom of heaven is near” in Matthew 4:17?  If the kingdom were coming, wouldn’t they have to get ready to rumble with the Romans?  

John Piper believes the most significant question we can ask of each beatitude is: What does this have to do with God?  This is important because we’re called to display the goodness and glory of God to a watching world.  When we live out the beatitudes, people can’t help but see that God is at work in our lives because these character qualities are not natural, but supernatural.  Piper writes: “Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount so that his Father would get the glory for the way the disciples lived.”  We see the heart of Jesus in Matthew 5:16: “In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”  These character qualities are not strictly for our benefit or even for our blessing, but so that others may be attracted to the Almighty and begin to praise Him for who He is.

Meekness Illustrated Toward God

In order to fully understand and embrace this Beatitude, let’s look at Psalm 37, because this beatitude is either a direct quotation from this psalm, or at least an illusion to it.  Notice verse 11: “But the meek will inherit the land and enjoy great peace.”  In the Greek Old Testament, these words are almost identical with Matthew 5:5.  Let’s see if we can create a composite picture of meekness.

1. Meek people don’t worry about what people may do to them. 

Instead of being afraid of others, or envying what others may have, verses 1-2 challenge us to “not fret because of evil men…like the grass they will soon wither…” 

2. Meek people trust God. 

Verse 3 summarizes the meek person’s focus.  First, in his vertical relationship, he or she “trusts in the Lord” and then in relationships with others, he or she strives to “do good.”  Verse 5b describes those who believe that God will work for them: “trust in him and he will do this.”

3. Meek people delight in God. 

According to verse 4, those who “delight in the Lord” are those who find their ultimate pleasure in pleasing God.  Brennan Manning tells the story of a man named Ed Farrell, who traveled to Ireland to celebrate his uncle’s eightieth birthday.  Early one morning as they were walking along the shores of a beautiful lake, they watched the sun come up, and were silent for about 20 minutes.  Then his uncle did a very unusual thing.  He began to skip along the shore of the lake, smiling like a schoolboy in love.  As Ed struggled to catch up, he asked his uncle why he was so happy.  The old man responded, with tears running down his face, “You see, the Father is very fond of me.  Ah, me Father is so very fond of me” (John Ortberg, “Everybody’s Normal Till You Get to Know Them,” page 41).  We can dance with delight because the Father is fond of us!  

4. Meek people commit their way to the Lord. 

The Hebrew word for “commit” means, “to roll” in verse 5: “Commit your way to the LORD.”  It has the idea of something so heavy that one cannot lift it to God but it can be rolled to Him.  The other day I watched Pastor Jeff move the basketball hoop.  As he struggled to position it just right, I noticed that when he tipped it down, he was able to roll it where he wanted it because the base is on wheels.  He couldn’t pick it up but he could roll it.  I guess I should have helped him but it looked like he was doing fine!  We’re the same way.  We can’t lift the load off of us, but we can roll it to God.  When we commit our ways to the Lord we give Him what we’re concerned about – our relationships, our jobs, our health, our problems, our fears, and our frustrations. 

5. Meek people are quiet before God. 

Verse 7: “Be still before the Lord…” When we’re still, we cease striving as we let go and let God.

6. Meek people are able to wait patiently for God to work. 

We see this in the last half of verse 7: “Wait patiently for him; do not fret when men…carry out their wicked schemes.” The student ministry team is challenging students to wait on the Lord in the area of relationships.

7. Meek people avoid anger. 

Verse 8 is very poignant: “Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret—it leads only to evil.”  Since they have rolled everything to the Lord, instead of lashing out, a meek man or woman can trust that God will work everything out.

8. Meek people hope in the Lord. 

We see this in verse 9: “Those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land.”

In our preliminary sketch, meekness must of necessity come from our relationship with God.

Meekness Illustrated Toward Others

But meekness must also be exhibited in our relationships with others.  Did you know that only two people in the Bible were ever called meek?  First, Jesus describes Himself that way in Matthew 11:29.  Second, Numbers 12:3 identifies Moses as being “more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.”  This word means “meek.”   I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t automatically put Moses in the “meek man” category.  Several years earlier, he became incensed with rage and murdered an Egyptian.  He stood up to Pharaoh, led the Israelites across the Red Sea, and climbed Mount Sinai where he met with a holy God.  

Moses had married a Cushite woman and was openly criticized by Aaron and Miriam in verse 1 for doing so.  In verse 2, they challenge Moses’ leadership qualifications by saying, “Has the Lord spoken only through Moses?  Hasn’t He also spoken through us?”  I want you to notice the phrase at the end of verse 2: “And the Lord heard this.”  Now drop down to verse 4: “At once the Lord said to Moses, Aaron and Miriam, ‘Come out to the Tent of Meeting, all three of you.’”  God then vindicated Moses and turned Miriam white with leprosy.

Now, with all that is going on, what is Moses doing?  Nothing.  Verse 3 says he is humble and meek.  His first recorded words are in verse 13 when he cries out for God to heal Miriam.  This is amazing to me.  He didn’t fight back.  He didn’t seek revenge.  He didn’t argue.  Instead, he kept quiet and let the Lord take up his cause.  When he opened his mouth it was to intercede for the one who had challenged and chastised him.  We can add to our montage of meekness by saying that a meek man or woman refrains from revenge and leaves vindication with God.  Piper states: “Meekness is the power to absorb adversity and criticism without lashing back.”  

Abraham exhibited meekness when he gave his nephew Lot the option to choose the best.  He had received the promise of a blessing from God, he was older, and the leader of the expedition but he didn’t want the quills to fly.  Genesis 13:8: “So Abram said to Lot, ‘Let’s not have any quarreling between you and me, or between your herdsmen and mine, for we are brothers.”  Abraham trusted God instead of laying into Lot.  We can see then that meekness is a controlled desire to put the interests of another ahead of our own.

David exhibited meekness when he could have slaughtered King Saul and claimed the kingdom for himself.  He was powerful but kept his ambitions bridled when he said in 1 Samuel 24:6 “The LORD forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, the LORD’s anointed, or lift my hand against him; for he is the anointed of the LORD.” Because he delighted in the Lord, and trusted His timing, he could wait patiently for God to work everything out.  By the way, I find it very interesting that David never bragged in the Psalms about killing Goliath.  He was meek and humble because He trusted God.   I like how the Nelson’s Bible Dictionary defines meekness: “An attitude of humility toward God and gentleness toward men, springing from a recognition that God is in control.”  David certainly modeled meekness.

A Meekness Makeover

I’ve never watched one of those “extreme makeover” shows but it strikes me that God wants to give each of us a meekness makeover.  Let’s take a peek at how we can become more meek.

1. Study under the Son of God.

Though Jesus gave Himself a number of figurative titles such as the Good Shepherd, and the Light of the World, when it comes to actually describing His character with specific virtues, there are very few self-portraits.  Listen to how Jesus describes Himself in Matthew 11:28-30: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  In the King James Version, we read, “For I am meek and lowly in heart…”  

We must first come to Christ and roll our burdens on Him.  Then we yield to Him by taking His yoke upon ourselves.  When an ox accepted the yoke, it modeled meekness.  It was still very powerful, but its power was under the control of another.  Jesus is saying, “I want you to hook up with me so that we can walk side-by-side.  We will work together and walk through the trials of life as though one.  As you yield to my yoke, you will learn from me and discover that I am meek, and you will gradually become more gentle yourself.  You’ll also discover that what I offer you is a perfect fit for who you are.  My teachings are not heavy but easy, and my burden is light.  Give me your burdens and I will give you rest.”

Jesus invites us to study under Him.  A.W. Tozer once said, “Jesus calls us to His rest, and meekness is his method.  The meek man cares not at all who is greater than he, for he has long ago decided that the esteem of the world is not worth the effort.  The rest Christ offers is the rest of meekness, the blessed relief that comes when we accept ourselves for what we are and cease to pretend” (“The Pursuit of God”).

2. Welcome the Word of God. 

If you want to be meek, then it’s essential that you cultivate a submission to God’s Word.  In fact, the Bible is the bit and bridle that controls our wild spirits.  James 1:21 in the New King James Version challenges us to receive God’s revelation with an openness to let it change us: “Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.”  

If we want to grow in meekness we must yield to Scripture

There are two Greek words translated “receive.”  One has the idea of grasping and reaching out.  It’s what some of us do with the Bible as we study the facts and put them in our heads.  The other word means to “welcome with humility” and has the idea not of taking, but welcoming.  Have you ever welcomed the Word, regardless of what it says?   If we want to grow in meekness we must yield to Scripture. 

3. Submit to the Spirit of God. 

If we want to be meek, we must first learn from the Master who is meek, we must welcome the Word, and we must submit to the Spirit of God.  Galatians 5:21-22 mentions meekness, or gentleness, as a fruit of the Spirit, which can only come from the Holy Spirit.  Fruit is not something we do; it’s what we display.  Our responsibility is clear from Galatians 5:25: “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.”  The key is not to work harder, but to worship more fully; not to try more, but to trust more.

When’s the last time you prayed to be filled with the Spirit?  Have you ever asked Him to make you more meek?  Meekness comes about when we surrender to the Spirit and manifests itself in a gentle spirit based on an unshakeable confidence in God.  Someone has said, “Meekness is not merely the absence of pride and arrogance, so much as it is the fullness of the presence of God, where pride and arrogance cannot abide.”

4. Put up with the people of God.

While it’s certainly true that it’s easier to get close to someone when they have no quills, the truth of the matter is that we all have the capacity to attack others.  In Scripture, meekness is frequently contrasted with words like harsh, violent, unrelenting, strict, and severe.  A meek person seeks to give grace to others, and puts up with imperfect people.  Ephesians 4:2 says, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.”

I went back this week and reread a sermon I preached two-and-a-half years ago.  What I said then bears repeating now: “We need to be reminded that no one is perfect, except God alone.  Your spouse will disappoint you.  Your kids will fail you.  Your friends will let you down.  Your church will drop the ball at times.  Your pastor won’t meet all your expectations.  The time will come when you will have a legitimate gripe.  You will be right and they will be wrong.  This is the crossroads of meekness.  Which path will you take?  Will you launch some quills of condemnation or give the cold shoulder?   Or will you grant grace and gentleness?  Before you make that decision, remind yourself how gentle Jesus is toward imperfect people just like you.  We can choose to live our lives disappointed and angry with everyone around us, or we can be armed with the virtue of meekness and enter into the blessing of authentic community” 

Ephesians 4:2-3: “Be completely humble and gentle [this is the word “meek”]; be patient, bearing with one another in love.   Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”

5. Mobilize for the mission of God. 

When people today see believers living lives of meekness, they will wonder what’s going on.  Some of us are pretty harsh with those who don’t know Jesus and so 1 Peter 3:15 challenges us to be ready to let people know why we have so much hope, but we’re to do so with “meekness and fear.”  A non-Christian once wrote:

Do you know, do you understand,
That you represent Jesus to me?
Do you know, do you understand? 

That when you treat me with gentleness
It raises the question in my mind
That maybe He is gentle too?

Inheriting the Earth

It’s no accident that meekness follows being poor in spirit and being blessed when we mourn.  It’s at this point that we realize that we have nothing with which to fight, and that the power that God does give us, must be harnessed for His holy purposes.  Meekness is not a sign of weakness, but of great strength. 

This Beatitude contains a surprising promise.  The meek shall “inherit the earth.”  It’s those that have their spirits bridled by Christ who will land the land.  I heard of a man who was sitting on a curb crying.  When he was asked what was wrong, he said, “I just found out that Rockefeller, the richest man in the world has died.”  The person then asked, “Why are you crying?  You’re not a relative of his, are you?”  To which the man replied, “No!  That’s why I’m crying!” 

Friend, if you know Christ, you are an heir of everything that He has.  You’ll get some of it now and more of it later.  There will be an inheritance for the meek in the sweet by and by and in the nasty now and now.  The word, “inherit” means to “possess.”  Right now it seems like the sinners reign and the meek take a back seat.  But Jesus said that one day the meek will come marching in.  Believers who live out this beatitude have nothing, yet possess everything.  It’s only the meek that will seek the Savior.  Are you ready to do that right now?  

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?