Meekness: A Correction on Strength
In my last article, I discussed the idea that a weak man cannot be virtuous. After reflecting on the article, a concern arose in me about how easily our culture or context can shift our understanding of what weak or strong means.
Jesus says, as recorded in Matthew 5:5,
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (ESV).
Jesus says it is not those who extol a worldly understanding of strength that will inherit the earth, but rather the meek. In fact, this is a pressure point within the western conception of masculine strength. We will discuss what Matthew 5:5 means.
Rugged Individualism vs. Meekness
If one has been going to church for some time, one might notice a pattern in evangelical churches: there are fewer men attending than women. The American sense of “rugged individualism” often pushes directly against concepts like the Christian saying before God that we are essentially nothing in comparison and in complete reliance on Him and that we are weak and needy.
And as a side note, we don’t really help these “rugged men” in our evangelism either. Our churches are covered in music that is often effeminate, with a constant obsession with the softer elements of God’s love. In many ways, these emotional aspects of our relationship with our creator are worthy of being given a spotlight, but we far too often neglect ideas like God’s loving justice, loving anger, loving protectiveness, loving fatherliness, loving assuredness, loving perseverance, etc.
Yet, through God’s love has a vicious side, Jesus opens up his first sermon by stating that it is the “meek” who will inherit the earth and emphatically not the symbolic “Alexander the Great’s” of the world. This would have been a rude awakening and unexpected news to those awaiting a Messiah who would take over Rome with the arm of his flesh.
Imagine, great oppressions are all about your people, and the one who we’ve been waiting for all of human history finally arrives and he starts off by saying in essence, the weak among you – are the ones who will have the earth in their possession! What a mind flip. There is a major clarification hidden in this text. It is the idea of what it means to be strong.
What is meekness?
Meekness is a more western definition tends to be rendered to mean “timid” and “breakable”. But meekness, biblically understood, is not timidity. Or else, how could the Apostle Paul state that we were not given a Spirit of timidity when the Lord Jesus says declaratively that those who are of his own will be those who are meek?
What is meekness then? And what does this have to do with strength? Grammatically speaking, one thing we know from the get-go is that the blessed who are ‘meek’ are not being commanded to be ‘meek,’ but are being described as such. It is in the indicative form, not imperative (also known as the ‘command’ form). If you know Christ, this is you, indicative of you, and if not, the question is: have you truly gotten to know this Jesus yet?
We know that meekness has to do with being humble. However, meekness is an acknowledgment of one’s inability. If all among us are ultimately weak in comparison to God; if we are but dust and easily able to die without the help of another, or an outside object (i.e. a hospital, a tool or weapon, etc.), then how weak is the one who cannot recognize this? Are you familiar with your own weaknesses? If all bear weaknesses, then are it not the strongest among us who are aware of this and unafraid to recognize these traits? And is it not the weakest who hide, cower, and put up a fake face for others?
Meekness is more soft-spoken than it is demanding and more willing to listen than to interrupt. Don’t confuse the sometimes outward appearance of timidity with inward weakness. Alexander the Great had conquered the world around him, and yet, was in the end a slave to his own habits and insecurities.
Scripture tells us what a true warrior looks like:
“He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, And he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city” (Proverbs 16:32, NASB).
And yet again,
“A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense” (Proverbs 19:11, NIV).
The one who cannot control himself has compared yet again not with a warrior strength, but with inept failure as a warrior,
“A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls” (Proverbs 25:28, ESV).
Who is the true warrior among us? Listen again to scripture, James says,
“For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body” (James 3:2, ESV).
To bridle, or control one’s own body, this is to control the mouth, to not just allow anything out of it. To delay gratification, this is the true war. The one who stops himself, not others, but himself, the word says they are wise, and the true conqueror.
“In the multitude of words sin is not lacking, But he who restrains his lips is wise” (Proverbs 10:19 , NKJV).
Who is Alexander the Great among us? It very well may be the quiet one, the one who you are always saying to yourself, “when they speak, boy does it mean something”. They’re the one who speaks what is needed. They are not afraid of playfulness and fun, but they’re not eager to say whatever the world wishes to be liked.
This is the person who is profoundly correctable. Moses was considered a crowning example of this,
“Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth.” (Numbers 12:3, KJV).
The meekest in all of the world? Was Moses weak? Rushed from all sides by an army, and he was able to slow down, trust God, and allow for the Red Sea to be parted before him – knees still upright!
Here was Moses, a man who went into hiding due to having killed an Egyptian Slaver out of jealous care for his fellow man. Yet, God, over and over, corrected and led this man. His biggest plight was for a stiffnecked and stubborn generation. Moses time and time again, went back to God, listened, changed, and cried out for his people.
When we compare ourselves with his bravery or weaknesses, it’s easy for us to think we too would do certain acts. But, it’s important to remember that Moses didn’t have a Moses story to compare with, no one prior had parted the Red Sea, he didn’t have the luxury of Jesus’ example of patience to compare with – perhaps with Abraham or Job, but not with Jesus. He was in uncharted territory. And he was meek.
If you see a strong, biblically hearted, and wise man – like that of a Moses – mark it down, they’ve suffered. Suffering sometimes teaches us to slow down, to listen (mainly to God, and also to our fellow man). God didn’t call Moses the meekest in all the land without him first losing everything. He lost his livelihood, his family, friends, acquaintances, reputation, he had to start over.
Meekness a servant’s heart?
It is a wonderful type or caricature of what was going to come in Christ. Only Christ gave up his riches by choice, not due to sin, and when he picked up the snake that became a staff – it was himself from death. No one was meeker than Christ; and no one since or before has ever been stronger. The strongest man and the meekest man were the same men.
What better example of ‘correctability,’ or ‘teachability,’ or slowness to act was there than when Jesus uttered those infamous words, “not my will, but yours.” He denied his flesh, and conquered his man nature, and gave himself as a lamb to the Father’s purposes. Oh, and who can plumb the depths of that phrase, “not my will, but yours”?
Easier to be dissolved into dust or crushed by mountains than to live up to a fraction of those words at that moment. A weight greater than the cosmos, God’s wrath, was to be laid on Jesus’ back – the punishment that was deserved for the multitudes’ sin – and he said in essence: “not what I want, but if you want me to take that punishment if it is good and right and loving, then I will.” The question is not, is it necessary; but is it God’s greater purpose?
There was no tougher man, no more of a broad-shouldered moment in all of history nor will there ever be, and no more meekness than was shown in Jesus at that moment, and later that day. He said, no, not what my body chooses, I’m surrendered to a greater purpose than its instincts.
Are you strong enough to say out loud, “I don’t know, God please help me, tell me what is wise and I will follow.” Are you strong enough to stop your wild self and say, I’ll go where you tell me? Meek is the servant’s heart. It doesn’t quickly talk back, it puts its head down and says, ‘not my will.’ There it is my friend! There it is! The world may call it weak, but nothing in the universe is more difficult, and suffering more often than not is its catalyst. The quiet lover of souls, God empowers, and that reliance above is the cowboy’s smoking gun.