When Jesus spoke of the “meek” in the Beatitudes, He was not referring to those who are of mild temperament, who are naturally easy-going or gentle and courteous in manner. Nor was He referring to those who have a timid personality or who take a resigned attitude to life.
“Meekness” in the original Greek (praos) means gentle and peaceable. The word is used to describe wild animals that have been tamed. Only after their naturally wild spirits have been tamed, and they have become docile, can their strength be employed for useful work. For instance, a wild horse has to be tamed before humans can ride on it. Therefore, meekness does not mean that one is weak and without strength. Rather, meekness is strength that has been mastered and put under control. Prov 16:32 describes a meek person as one who possesses great power, “Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.” Conversely, one who has great strength, but is not meek, is like an untamed horse that is of no use to anyone. It is also akin to potent medicine that is harmful to the sick, or even like strong winds that wreak havoc everywhere.
In the Beatitudes, the meek are third in the sequence, coming after the “poor in spirit” and “those who mourn”. This order reflects the relationship of the meek to the foregoing two characteristics of God’s people. When one sees that he is spiritually destitute, has no merit before God, and is utterly sinful, he will mourn greatly before God. Meekness is the attitude that comes only after experiencing deep spiritual poverty and mourning. Meekness does not come naturally, or from much effort, but is the fruit borne of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:22-23). Therefore, the meek are those who walk in step with the Spirit, and who willingly submit to the sacrificial love of Christ in their hearts.
Bearing a Meek Spirit before God
In the Bible, all who please God and belong to Him possess meek hearts before Him. In contrast, the Israelites who loved the world were rejected by God because their hard-hearted and stiff-necked attitudes incited God’s wrath. Heb 3:15 says, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” James writes, “Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls” (Jas 1:21). James urged the Jewish believers in the early church to come to God with their meek hearts so that they could receive and understand the Word of God. Peter also taught the women that when they came before God, to “not let (their) adorning be external – the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewellery, or the clothing (they) wear – but let (their) adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious” (1 Pet 3:3-4). Likewise, Paul also urged God’s chosen people to have meek hearts before God, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness and patience” (Col 3:12). From these verses, we can see how much God values those with meek hearts who obey God’s Word and the Holy Spirit’s prompting, and who live according to His will.
Having the Meekness of Christ before Man
One who displays meek obedience to God will also demonstrate Christ’s humility before men. When dealing with people of various temperaments and dispositions, a meek person will consistently show understanding, patience and love in bearing with them, and will forgive others for their unreasonable behaviour, just as Christ forgave our weaknesses, enmity and rebelliousness.
When Paul was encouraging Timothy to do the work of an evangelist, he told Timothy to be strong and courageous, and to hold fast to the truth without being shaken, “for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. Therefore, do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God” (2 Tim 1:7-8). At the same time, Paul also taught Timothy to have a meek attitude when admonishing others, “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim 2:24-25). Peter similarly encouraged the believers that “even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honour Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defence to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Pet 3:14-15). Thus we see that a meek person can face hostile crowds with strength and courage. When faced with trials while sharing the Gospel, they are able to be faithful witnesses of God!
Biblical Role Models of Meekness
In the Bible, there are many saints who have set good examples of what true meekness means. Abraham is one such example. When he and Lot had so much wealth that they could not dwell together in the same land and had to go separate ways, Abraham granted Lot to have the first pick of the choicest land even though he was Lot’s elder. He was content with the lesser choice of land. God was pleased with Abraham’s meekness and humility, and once again confirmed the promise He had given to Abraham (Gen 13:14-17).
Another example is Joseph, who was sold into slavery in Egypt by his brothers because they were jealous of their father’s love for him. When the land of Canaan experienced a great famine many years later, Joseph had already become the governor of Egypt. Yet when his brothers came to Egypt to buy grain, not only did Joseph take no revenge on them, he even brought them and their families to live in Egypt and provided for them. When their father Jacob died, Joseph comforted and spoke kindly to his brothers when they feared he would now punish them (Gen 50:19-21).
Yet another example was Moses; the Bible said this of him, “Now the man Moses was very meek, more than all people who were on the face of the earth” (Num 12:3). When he led the Israelites out of Egypt and through the wilderness for forty years, Moses demonstrated extraordinary meekness, patience and humility. Even when he was slandered by his own sister Miriam and brother Aaron, he did not defend himself. Neither was he angry and indignant; he simply waited patiently for God to vindicate him.
The Perfect Meekness of Christ
Amongst the many examples of meekness, Jesus Christ surpassed all others in its perfection. His meekness and humility were clearly seen when He lived on earth and proclaimed the Gospel. Jesus taught His disciples to learn from His meekness, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matt 11:29). The most exalted display of His meekness was seen when He was suffering greatly and dying on the cross. Yet “when he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Pet 2:23). Although He experienced great agony on the cross, He still pleaded for those who had nailed Him there, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
May we imitate the examples of meekness of the saints and learn from Christ’s meekness and humility so that we may be doers of God’s will.
They Shall Inherit the Earth
Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Mt 5:5). To inherit the earth means that they will receive an inheritance in the Kingdom of God. This is God’s promise for every child of His. This promise should spur us to overcome our hard hearts and quick tempers, and obey the Spirit’s leading to become people who are meek. This promise also tells us that the meek in Christ are children of God, and consequently, all who are children of God should demonstrate true meekness, like Christ.
Chia Ngang Kung
- Chia Ngang Kung is an elder of The 'Fisherman of Christ' Fellowship. This article was translated from the original written in Chinese.