What Is Meekness?


When Jesus began to teach His disciples the basics of Christian character, He delivered the eight sayings known as the Beatitudes. Each is a promise that God will bless the man who fulfills a certain moral ideal. In the Third Beatitude, Jesus said,

Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.

Matthew 5:5

Since the basis of any fruitful discussion is good definitions, we will start by proposing a definition of meekness. Simply stated, meekness is the reluctance to assert oneself. It is a manifestation of the more fundamental virtue, humility.

No Bible principle is more offensive to human nature, more opposed to human ways of thinking, than the Third Beatitude. Why is it so offensive? Because the world system teaches that self-assertion is good. Modern media and modern education encourage you to be pushy and aggressive in obtaining your rights, as well as in getting as much as you can whether or not you have a right to it. They say that the purpose of life is to actualize your potential, to magnify yourself, to make yourself as big and important as possible. There is now a magazine called Self. Its premise is that by pampering and promoting self, you will find true happiness. The modern enthusiasm for self-love is evidence that we live in the Last Days.

1 This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.

2 For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy,

2 Timothy 3:2

People today no longer see meekness as a virtue, but as a vice. Meekness is weakness, so far as they are concerned. They look with contempt on many other Christian virtues as well, such as gentleness, chastity, and fidelity. They say,

We are living at a time when there is a concerted effort to turn the moral universe upside down.

But what does God say about meekness? His view is evident in the promise He gives to the meek. He says, "Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth." The full promise is stated in Psalm 37:11.

But the meek shall inherit the earth; and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace.

Psalm 37:11

One characteristic of the meek is that they desire peace. Therefore, the reward God has chosen for them is peace forever.

Some have supposed that this Beatitude is strictly a Millennial promise. They regard the meek as those survivors of the Tribulation who receive Christ's bidding to enter His Millennial kingdom. But I think the Beatitude is much broader in meaning, referring to all of God's people. The meek are all who are meek toward God, and the earth they will inherit is not the present earth, which is full of corruption, but the everlasting earth that will be created after the Millennium. The present earth is a poor shadow of the earth to come. That future earth will be perfect like the original Paradise. It will be the real earth, the earth we will inherit as our dwelling place forever.

Many years ago, when I returned to the Lord, I withdrew from several environmental organizations. In my letter of resignation from the Audubon Society (a letter which the society published in their magazine, Audubon), I said that the environmental movement is doomed to failure—that it is a lost cause, because God has declared that He will someday destroy this present world. So long as it remains, I do not like to see man wantonly eliminating unique species and ecosystems. Each is a gem of divine creation. But I do not worry about it. When God creates the new earth, He can, if He so desires, include among its creatures the dodo birds and passenger pigeons now missing from the world.

Meekness has many consequences besides inheriting the earth. Why does God emphasize this particular consequence? Because, by human ways of thinking, it is exactly what no one would expect. Men believe that to gain a greater portion of what the world offers, you must assert yourself. Some men in the past—men like Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, and Hitler—have conceived the ambition of gaining the whole world. How have they pursued this dream? By cultivating greater meekness? No, by casting aside morality and ruthlessly seizing every chance to increase their power. They have been unscrupulous and bloody men. The last one who will seek to rule the world is the Antichrist, and the Bible depicts him as a violent beast.

So, this Beatitude is one of the paradoxical sayings of Jesus; that is, one of the sayings that seems self-contradictory. Men cannot imagine that the right strategy for inheriting the earth is to be meek. But Jesus says, in rebuke of men's thoughts, that the meek will inherit the earth.

Jesus spoke a number of other paradoxical sayings as well. When teaching the secret of greatness in the Kingdom of God, He said,

And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all.

Mark 10:44

In this, as well as in such texts as Mark 9:35 and Matthew 20:16, the message is that the way up is down.

In another series of texts, Jesus teaches the nature of true success.

He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.

Matthew 10:39

In other words, the road to life is death—death to self and death to the world.


The Greatest Example of Meekness


Fundamentalists rightly emphasize the redemptive work of Christ, but they tend to neglect Him as a moral example. Since Jesus is our chief example for every virtue, our best resource for instruction in godly character is the Gospel accounts of His life. In these we find that Jesus Himself excelled in meekness.

He said in His appeal for men to come and enter His service,

I am meek and lowly in heart.

Matthew 11:29

Matthew says that when Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, He fulfilled the words of Zechariah,

Tell ye the daughter of Sion, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass.

Matthew 21:5

His willingness to ride on a poor, plodding donkey was an outward sign of His inward meekness and humility.

Let us recall four occasions when the meekness of Christ stood out with special clarity.

1) When He went to preach at Nazareth, His home town, the people there rejected Him. They were so annoyed by His refusal to entertain them with miracles that they hustled Him up a hill, intending to throw Him over a precipice. Nothing hurts more than to be hated by lifelong friends and acquaintances. And the natural impulse of a wounded spirit is to retaliate. But did Jesus seek to harm His enemies in Nazareth?

28 And all they in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath,

29 And rose up, and thrust him out of the city, and led him unto the brow of the hill whereon their city was built, that they might cast him down headlong.

30 But he passing through the midst of them went his way,

Luke 4:28-30

2) When the crowd in Jerusalem jeered at Jesus, "We be not born of fornication" (John 8:41), what did they mean? They were saying that Jesus was illegitimate, and they were accusing His mother of being an immoral woman. To refrain from defending oneself is hard, but to refrain from defending a beloved woman—a mother or a wife—is very hard indeed. Yet how did Jesus respond? He told them the harsh truth that they were offspring of their father, the devil. But He meant only to help them escape from folly. And in defense of His mother, He said nothing. Nor did He exercise His divine power to silence His enemies or strike them dead.

3) When Judas came with the Temple guard to arrest Jesus, Peter took out a sword to fight back. But how did Jesus react?

53 Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?

54 But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be?

Matthew 26:53-54

4) The evening before His arrest, Jesus met with His disciples to celebrate a Passover meal. Before sharing bread and wine with them, He took up a towel and, going around the circle, He stooped to wash each disciple's feet (John 13). He performed this humble service to teach us by example that we also should serve one another. Among those He treated with such self-effacing kindness was Judas, even though He knew that Judas would soon leave to betray Him.


The Meekness of Moses


Apart from Christ, the only man that Scripture commends for meekness is Moses. Under divine inspiration, Moses said of himself,

(Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth.)

Numbers 12:3

Think of the job that God offered Moses when He appeared to him at the burning bush. He said that He wanted Moses to go to Egypt as His personal spokesman and perform miracles, then to lead a nation of more than a million people. Most of us would have jumped at the chance. Just the opportunity to boss a whole nation would have appealed to our egos and made us willing. But what did Moses say? "Have you thought of using somebody else instead?" Moses' reluctance to assert himself in obedience to God shows that all meekness is not godly meekness. We must be bold, not meek, when God calls us to assert ourselves for His sake. Moses was exhibiting temperamental meekness. No doubt godly meekness comes easier to someone with temperamental meekness, but they are not the same.

Much later in Moses' career, his brother and sister criticized him for marrying a Cushite woman. Apparently, Moses neither said nor did anything to defend himself, for now is when Moses confesses that he was exceedingly meek (Num. 12:3). In godly meekness, he left the matter with God. So, God intervened and vindicated him by chastening his critics, especially his sister, Miriam. God struck her with leprosy. But when Moses pleaded that God remove her leprosy, she was healed.


Humility


As we said, Jesus' meekness was simply the outworking of a more fundamental attribute, His humility.

5 Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:

6 Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:

7 But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:

8 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.

Philippians 2:5-8

What is humility? Your first response might be that humility is having a low opinion of yourself. But no, that is not what it is. Despite His humility, Jesus never denied that He was Almighty God. True humility has two characteristics.

The first is a realistic view of self.

For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.

Romans 12:3

There is no merit in hiding your gifts or your calling or your faith or anything else that comes from God. To pretend that you are less than what God has made you is false humility. Yet to claim a gift or a calling or a faith that you do not have is insufferable pride.

The second characteristic of true humility is the willingness to be treated as nobody. Jesus' whole life pictures this side of humility. In heaven, as it says in Philippians 2, He stood on an equality with the Father. As the Father's Son, He too was fully divine. Yet He forsook His privileges and entered this world on the lowest plane of society. Then He lived a life that made Him a target of scorn and rejection. And finally, He suffered a shameful death on a cross. No man has ever been more deserving of honor, yet no man has ever endured such dishonor. And He went through it by His own choice, proceeding from His desire to be our Savior from sin. Do you see His humility? Do you see also that His humility was rooted in love?

His humility was on display even at His birth (Luke 2:7). His cradle was a feeding trough, His clothes were rags, and His parents were simple folk without money or rank. The theme also of His youth and young adulthood was humility. Although in later years none of His learned opponents could match wits with Him, He never received any sort of advanced education (John 7:15). His profession before He entered the ministry was carpentry (Mark 6:3). You should not imagine that He built houses. More likely, He built and repaired carts, furniture, and agricultural implements. His was a respectable trade, but not very high on the social ladder. For more than thirty years, Jesus, who was God in the flesh, lived as a common man among common people. He earned His bread by the sweat of His brow. He listened patiently each day to family, neighbors, and customers as they told Him all their troubles. He visited the marketplace, attended the synagogue, and paid His taxes like everybody else.

When the time came for Him to present Himself as the Messiah, He started by submitting to baptism (Matt. 3:13-15). Baptism was meant for sinners—to signify their cleansing from sin. Yet to identify with vile humanity, the sinless One insisted on being baptized.

Throughout His ministry, He shunned the privileges that ordinarily come with being a crowd pleaser. He lived on the road, without a settled home (Luke 9:58). Rarely did money pass through His hands. All collection and disbursement of funds was done by the treasurer of the Twelve, Judas. Jesus never married, never had any children. All the resources of His being were focused on helping people, and He persevered diligently in this unselfish work until the time came for His last act of ministry, which was to endure the cross.

For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.

Mark 10:45

He was willing to live for others even at the price of being unrecognized, misunderstood, and hated. To accomplish the mission that God's love conceived for our benefit, Jesus counted His own importance as unimportant. He cast it aside as meaningless compared with the need of our souls. Therein lay His humility.

Humility is not a virtue reserved for Christ. We should seek it diligently, understanding that the alternative is pride, perhaps the worst sin of all because it begets all other sin. God singles out pride for special anathema.

And I will punish the world for their evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; and I will cause the arrogancy of the proud to cease, and will lay low the haughtiness of the terrible.

Isaiah 13:11

Listen to some characteristics of the humble.


Ten Questions to Evaluate Your Humility


1) Do I like to be the center of attention? But Jesus scolded the Pharisees for their love of applause.

5 But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments,

6 And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues,

7 And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi.

8 But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren.

9 And call no [man] your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven.

10 Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ.

11 But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant.

12 And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.

Matthew 23:5-12

2) Do I boast about my accomplishments? The humble boast in the Lord.

My soul shall make her boast in the LORD: the humble shall hear thereof, and be glad.

Psalm 34:2

3) Am I quick to express my opinions?

A fool uttereth all his mind: but a wise man keepeth it in till afterwards.

Proverbs 29:11

The humble are open to teaching from the Lord. They are good listeners.

4) Do I seek revenge on my enemies?

Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.

Romans 12:19

5) If any conflict arises, do I stubbornly carry on the fight to the bitter end? The humble are willing to yield. They put a high premium on peace and reconciliation. The proud are unwilling to bend or submit.

Only by pride cometh contention: but with the well advised is wisdom.

Proverbs 13:10

6) Do I expect others to serve me?

For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.

Galatians 5:13

A man may be treating his wife as a servant if he expects her to pick up his dirty clothes, or carry in groceries from the car, or remove the trash. Instead, he should be helping her.

Male egotism has been responsible for much ill treatment of women. In one tribe of American Indians, the women had to do all the work while the men loafed. Occasionally the braves might go hunting or fishing, but if they shot a deer, they went straight home and told the squaw where to find it (1).

7) Do I seek preeminence?

9 I wrote unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not.

10 Wherefore, if I come, I will remember his deeds which he doeth, prating against us with malicious words: and not content therewith, neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and forbiddeth them that would, and casteth them out of the church.

11 Beloved, follow not that which is evil, but that which is good. He that doeth good is of God: but he that doeth evil hath not seen God.

3 John 9-11

Of prime importance is John's observation that Diotrephes' behavior marks him as a man who has not truly been regenerated by the Spirit of Christ.

8) When I dearly want something, do I use the arm of flesh to obtain it, trusting in my own strength and cleverness? The humble wait on the Lord.

4 Delight thyself also in the LORD; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.

5 Commit thy way unto the LORD; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass.

6 And he shall bring forth thy righteousness as the light, and thy judgment as the noonday.

7 Rest in the LORD, and wait patiently for him: fret not thyself because of him who prospereth in his way, because of the man who bringeth wicked devices to pass.

Psalm 37:4-7

9) Instead of accepting the Lord's guidance, do I insist on my own way?

For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the LORD, he hath also rejected thee from being king.

1 Samuel 15:23

10) Is there missing from my heart a real fear of God?

24 Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded;

25 But ye have set at nought all my counsel, and would none of my reproof:

26 I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh;

27 When your fear cometh as desolation, and your destruction cometh as a whirlwind; when distress and anguish cometh upon you.

28 Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer; they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me:

29 For that they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the LORD.

Proverbs 1:24-29

If you must answer "yes" to any of these questions, you should repent of your pride and seek to learn the humility of Christ.

Footnote

  1. Egerton R. Young, The Apostle of the North: Rev. James Evans (Toronto: William Briggs, 1900), 95.