May 17, 2017:  What about the Meek?

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In his newspaper column, Bill Farmer (the voice of Disney’s Goofy) reported that a certain J. Upton Dickson was writing a book entitled Cower Power. Mr. Dickson had also founded a group for submissive people called DOORMATS – the mnemonic for "Dependent Organization of Really Meek And Timid Souls — if there are no objections." Their motto was "The meek shall inherit the earth — if that's okay with everybody" and they selected the yellow traffic light as the group’s symbol. This might be funny except the word meek is open to exactly this sort of misunderstanding. Because the words rhyme, “meekness” gets unfairly linked to “weakness.” Supporting that premise, the Merriam Webster definition of meek includes “deficient in spirit and courage: submissive.” Synonyms include “submissive, yielding, compliant, tame, biddable, tractable, acquiescent, deferential, timid, un-protesting, unresisting… like a lamb to the slaughter.”

And yet Jesus tells us, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:5). What does meekness have to do with God? I want to offer three Biblical portraits of this word in action that I hope will bring us closer to a Godly understanding of this quality.

We can be reasonably certain that the beatitude described at Matthew 5:5 (“Blessed are the meek”) is an allusion to this verse in Psalm 37: “But the meek shall inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant peace.” (Psalm 37:11). Psalm 37 describes what God requires of us in terms of meekness. Meekness begins with trusting God (verse 5b). Biblical meekness is securely rooted in a deep confidence that God is for us and not against us. Second, we are to commit our way to God (verse 5a). The Hebrew word for “commit” literally means “to roll.” To exercise meekness is therefore to decide that God is trustworthy and to roll all our affairs to Him — all our problems, relationships, health, fears and frustrations. Psalm 37 then adds to the definition of meekness the quality of stillness before the Lord, the capacity to wait patiently for Him, to be free of frenzy. John Piper (whose thoughts I have found helpful in my research) wrote this of such a stillness: “a kind of steady calm that comes from knowing that God is omnipotent, that He has [our] affairs under His control. He is gracious and will work things out for the best.” And, finally, meekness does not give way to anger and fretfulness when faced with opposition and setback (verse 8).

These qualities that come to define meekness can be seen in evidence in the life of Moses. Numbers 12:1-4 records Miriam and Aaron’s harsh and outspoken criticism of Moses on an issue. What is noteworthy here is that sandwiched between their accusations and the Lord’s vindication of Moses is this line: “Now the man Moses was very meek, more than all people who were on the face of the earth.” (Numbers 12:3). Why this insertion? Why bring up Moses’ meekness at the precise moment before the Lord intervenes and defends him? We are being shown (as we learned in Psalm 37) that meekness is committing your cause to God and trusting in God’s vindication. Moses doesn’t say a word. Instead, he waits for the Lord. And the Lord does not disappoint him. J.I. Packer made an interesting observation regarding the strength of Moses’ meekness: “Moses was a man with a fierce temper — it was this which had betrayed him during the time in the wilderness — but when God said, in effect, ‘Now look, Moses, in order to teach the whole world how much loss sin can bring, I'm not going to let you enter the land; the people will go in, but you won’t,’ he did not curse God in furious protest; quietly, if sadly, he accepted God's decision. That's meekness. Meekness, for a child of God, means accepting uncomplainingly what comes, knowing that it comes from the hand of God who orders all things. What He sends, we accept in faith even if it hurts, knowing that it's for our and others good.”

Finally, I want to turn to the book of James. We read, “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger… receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.” (James 1:19, 21b). The quality of meekness that is being referenced here is teachability. John Piper adds, “To receive the Word with meekness means that we don’t have a resistant, hostile spirit when we are being taught.”

Meekness does not mean that we will never get angry. James 1:19 encourages us to be “slow to anger,” not that we should never experience anger. Jesus said of himself, “I am meek and lowly in heart” (Matthew 11:29) yet the New Testament includes references to His righteous anger (Mark 3:5). And, of course, Jesus famously drove the merchants out of the temple and turned over their tables (Matthew 21:12-13). Meekness is not the absence of righteous passion and a desire for justice. Biblical meekness would guard against our developing hair-triggers!

Fortunately, meekness is not a quality that we are supposed to conjure up ourselves or pull up from within us. It is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. In writing to the churches of Galatia, Paul knew that the community was in deep personal conflict. Indeed, he referred to their behavior as “biting and devouring each other” (Galatians 5:15). He did not urge them to simply pull themselves together. His exhortation was that they “walk by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16). Paul went on to describe how the Holy Spirit would transform their hearts and lives. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23 King James Version)

This blog causes me to ask myself how I respond to difficult truth, challenge or opposition. How teachable am I? Where am I placing my trust? The answer to these questions (when I see my shortfall) should not prompt me to simply try harder. My response is to accept Jesus’ invitation to acknowledge my fault, receive His mercy, and in stillness and quiet, trust Him to fill me with His Spirit. That would be a response directed by Spirit-led meekness.

Let me give the final word to A.W. Tozer: “The meek man is not a human mouse afflicted with a sense of his own inferiority. Rather he may be in his moral life as bold as a lion and as strong as Samson; but he has stopped being fooled about himself. He has accepted God's estimate of his own life. He knows he is as weak and helpless as God declared him to be, but paradoxically, he knows at the same time that he is in the sight of God of more importance than angels. In himself, nothing; in God, everything. That is his motto." 

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