Our look at the Beatitudes has shown that mourning is a natural response to an awareness of our spiritual poverty and the darkness of our hearts. Once we grieve over our sins, the next step in the progression is spelled out in Matthew 5:5, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”
This verse may seem out of place or even contradictory to modern readers. Why would heartache elicit meekness, and how can the meek hope to gain such dominion and authority? Let’s start by exploring the meaning of meek. It’s not a word we use much anymore, and even dictionary definitions aren’t terribly helpful as they range from gentle/modest/unpretentious, to submissive/compliant/unwilling to express opinions, all the way to spineless/weak/or cowardly.
One reason for the disparity is that the meanings of words change over time due to cultural shifts and trends. In today’s world—saturated with mantras of “we’re number one,” “don’t get mad, get even,” and “personal empowerment”—meekness and submission have not only fallen from favor, they’re often considered dirty words. And yet, Scripture clearly teaches these traits are highly valued by God. Jesus promises an amazing blessing to the meek and, once again, if we put credence in the “these and these only” interpretation of the Beatitudes, He may also be warning that the inheritance is only for those who are meek. Either way, let’s take time to wrestle with the Scriptural meaning of “meek.”
Numbers 12:3 says that “… Moses was very meek, more than all people who were on the face of the earth.” If we consider that Moses killed an Egyptian who was beating a Hebrew slave, confronted a powerful Pharoah, and led a stiff-necked and stubborn people through the desert for forty years, then Biblical meekness clearly can’t be equated with cowardice, weakness, nor an inability to stand up for one’s beliefs. So, how does Moses typify meekness?
When the Israelites rebelled against Moses, despite his clear calling from God, and Aaron and Miriam (his own siblings) tried to remove him from leadership, he didn’t allow wounded pride to dictate his response. Rather than seek revenge, retaliate with anger, or sing his own virtues, Moses prayed for his enemies.
We see then that Biblical meekness requires humility, self-control, and the ability to respond with gentle patience when unfairly attacked. Noted theologian A.W. Tozer wrote, “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.”
Like most things that God expects, meekness does not come naturally to us, and without the conviction and help of the Holy Spirit, it’s probably impossible. Perhaps these Biblical instructions given to believers will help:
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness (meekness) and patience” (Col 3:12). “Be completely humble and gentle (meek); be patient, bearing with one another in love” (Eph 4:2). “Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle (meek) and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight” (1 Pet 3:4). And finally, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness (meekness) and self-control” (Gal 5:23). Notice that the fruit is … not the fruits are. We don’t get one or two when we’re saved. Born-again believers are blessed with each of these traits.
At this point, we might agree that God considers humility better than pride, gentleness better than harshness, and restraint better than self-indulgence, but how do any of those qualities follow from mourning over our sins? It might help to consider how we usually react when we realize that we’ve fallen short of God’s holy standards.
Typically, we feel guilty. We might tell ourselves we need to do better—to give up a bad habit or to cultivate a good one, but most of us realize it can’t stop there. It’s not productive to beat ourselves up or to simply regret our failures. I don’t think it’s even enough to ask for forgiveness since, as believers, forgiveness is already ours. When Jesus died for our sins—past, present, and future—our debt was paid in full. What we need to do is to agree with God about the wrongness of sin, admitting with King David that against God, God only, have we sinned and done what is evil in His sight (Psalm 51:4). That requires a contrite heart, a humility foreign to us, and a willingness to surrender our desires and will to His. In other words—meekness.
And then we need to repent. In the Bible, the word translated repent in the OT literally means to turn around. The NT Greek word includes an added dimension of an altered mindset after a life-changing event. Once we encounter Jesus in a personal way, we have no choice but to get serious about repentance. We need to stop in our tracks, admit that sin is moving us away from God, and do an about face, back toward the Source of all true comfort, peace, and life. Only in complete submission to God do we experience the full extent of His mercy and grace.
Something in our “never say die” independent, American upbringing resists that kind of meekness—its requisite dependency and vulnerability—but what better reason to wrestle with the concept than the very words of Jesus Himself who says, “… learn from Me, for I am meek and lowly in spirit …” (KJV, Matthew 11:29).
Today is the beginning of a bright, new year. If we can admit our neediness, weep over evil, and humbly ask God to change our hearts to be more like Jesus, we have already inherited the Kingdom. May His blessings follow you throughout 2024.