Who are the Meek?

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Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Mt. 5:5

What is meekness?

It’s a notoriously difficult word to define. But part of the difficulty is that we often attach meanings to it that don’t belong. For example, meekness is often equated with weakness, resulting either from physical or psychological defects. But that is certainly not what our Lord himself meant by this. He is not talking about people who lack courage. In point of fact, Jesus Christ was one of the most courageous men who ever lived and yet he described himself as “meek and lowly in heart” (Mt. 11:29, KJV). We must not therefore think of a meek person as someone who shirks their responsibility or who shrinks back from some great task. That is not meekness.

Nor is meekness to be compared with spinelessness – an unwillingness to confront wrong, retreating from confrontation with evil. Jesus was meek and yet he had no problem calling a spade a spade. He had no problem pronouncing woes on the Pharisees and scribes. He had no problem overturning the money-changers’ tables in the Temple, at great risk to himself. He had no problem calling certain wicked men poisonous snakes. He didn’t avoid calling out sin. And he was meek.

Nor is it indolence, or carelessness about oneself or others. There are some people who are never confrontational at all, but it is because they just don’t care about that much. They are spiritually and intellectually lazy people. We must not think of meekness in that way.

Nor is it niceness. This perhaps is the commonest mistake. Meek people are nice people, but it does not follow that all nice people are meek. We must remember that what our Lord is doing in these Beatitudes is painting for us the picture of a person who walks before the living God, who has been touched by his grace and had his or her heart changed. This is not a description of someone who has a nice personality. This is a description of a trait that is there because of God’s work in their heart. As Lloyd-Jones put it, some dogs are nicer than other dogs; some cats are nicer than other cats. But that does not make them meek. No, these are not biological traits. They are a result of the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

So if meekness is none of these things, then what is it? I think a good place to start is to look at how the Bible uses this word. Depending on what translation you use, the word “meek” is translated in a number of different ways. But we can also see its meaning in the words it is associated with in Scripture.

Thus, in Scripture, meekness is associated with lowliness and humility. We’ve already seen it in Jesus’ self-description of himself, as meek and lowly in heart. You see it also in Paul’s words to the Ephesians, at the beginning of chapter four, where he tells them how they are to conduct themselves with respect to other believers: “with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love” (4:2, KJV).

This makes sense, because we would expect there to be some sort of progression in the Beatitudes. Our Lord begins with poverty of spirit, seeing oneself as empty before God, having nothing to offer him, and in fact needing God to replace the wickedness that is within us with his grace. And those who truly see their sinfulness in the light of God’s truth will mourn over their sins and the sins of others. This cannot but produce humility in the heart. So meekness certainly includes humility. A meek person does not have an inflated view of themselves; they seek to see themselves not as the world sees them but as God sees them. They are not “high-minded.”

But meekness is more than just humility. Also in Scripture, meekness is associated with gentleness. In fact, in many translations, that is how the word is often translated. For example, in 2 Cor. 10:1, Paul speaks of “the meekness and gentleness of Christ.” In Titus 3:2, the apostle exhorts believers “to speak evil of no man, to be no brawlers, but gentle, shewing all meekness unto all men.” (The ESV translates this last part of the verse: “and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.”) A meek person is a gentle person. They don’t run roughshod over others. They are considerate. They don’t just think of themselves and of their own needs, but of the needs and desires of others.

Further, a meek person is opposed in Scripture to those who cannot control themselves, and especially their temper. In James 1:20-21, we read that we are to be “slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.”

A meek person is therefore that person who knows what they are before God, and is therefore humble before both God and man, whose humility leads them to be gentle with respect to others, and who has mastered himself/herself for the sake of serving others. A meek person is someone whose God-centeredness leads them to deny themselves for the sake of others. They are not sensitive about themselves, always looking out for his or her own interests. They are not always on the defensive. They are not thinking about themselves; they are thinking of others. And they are willing to endure the perversity of others for the sake of serving them.

What a place the church would be if all Christians were meek! May the Lord enable us to become the Beatitudes.

By: Jeremiah Bass