“Happy: The Meek”
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”
It’s probably no surprise to anyone here this morning that high stress situations have a tendency to bring out people’s character flaws. When we are over worked, tired, hungry, sick, anxious, afraid, or uncertain our emotions become a bit unhinged, don’t they? And if we aren’t careful, when we become stressed our biggest flaws have a tendency to put themselves on display for everyone to see. Many of us, when we are under enough pressure, will become impatient, aggressive, and inconsiderate of others.
This is one reason we are often told to be careful not to judge a book by its cover; not to evaluate a person based on a single encounter. We can never know, when we meet a person for the first time (or any time for that matter) what they might be going through at that particular moment that is affecting their emotions, their personality, and their responses to others. And at any moment, given the right circumstances, any one of us could be in a situation where we lose our cool in front of someone else.
I have to be honest and tell you that I have been guilty of this more times than I care to admit. I’ve been the one who acts out of normal character, when I have been under some sort of stress. I’ve been the one to snap at someone, when I feel like I’m being challenged. I’ve lost my mind, when I should have remained calm. And I’ve ceased to see the person in front of me, when I have allowed my emotions to get the best of me.
Let me give you a case in point. Please hear this as an example of what not to do. I’m not proud of this moment, and can only say that it was during one of the most difficult times in my life, when I wasn’t walking closely with the Lord. I was at basic training, under extreme stress, when I encountered a guy that I can only describe as a bully. And I really do despise bullies. Recruit Coleson was big. He was from a rough neighborhood. He was used to getting his own way by threat of force, and he was completely unwilling to work as a team. I was his squad leader and had to deal with his belligerent behavior on a daily basis. One particularly rough day as I was giving out cleaning assignments, Coleson mouthed off and loudly proclaimed that he wasn’t going to do what I asked. So, like any rational young man, who was under a ton of stress and standing in front of someone much bigger than himself, who was refusing to be a team player, I evaluated my situation and chose a course of action that seemed appropriate at the time, but that I later regretted. I got up in his face and told him in no uncertain terms that he would complete the assignment he had been given, or else. Let’s just say Coleson wasn’t used to having anyone step up on him like that, so he reacted physically. I can only describe what happened next as an embarrassing example of what happens when two people lose sight of the big picture and allow their character flaws to take center stage.
I remember four other recruits picking me up and dragging me off of recruit Coleson as I tried to end his belligerent behavior once and for all. I remember standing in front of a Drill Instructor, trying to explain what had just happened. And with a bit of time and perspective, I remember thinking in hindsight that the whole encounter could have gone so much better, if I had only chosen a different approach to dealing with recruit Coleson.
II. We must all choose how we will handle conflict
I would love to tell you that was the only time I’ve ever lost my cool, but I’d be lying. Though I can’t recall engaging in any physical confrontations since that event many years ago, there have been a number of times when I have responded poorly, even aggressively, in the face of conflict. And I doubt I’m alone in this. One of the biggest problems in situations like this one is that they may start off as small disputes that quickly escalate. Maybe one person starts off by saying something a little but snippy, and that cause another person to reply with sarcasm or anger. Then in the back and forth both people get more and more upset until one or both of them lose control.
Has this ever happened to you? Have you ever had one of those gut-check moments, where you realize that you completely overreacted to a person or situation, and then instantly regretted it? Have you ever been accused of acting like a bull in a china shop, running roughshod over other people or their feelings? I’m guessing most of us, at one time or another, have allowed character flaws to show when we meet with friction from other people.
The truth is that we have encouraged this sort of behavior as a culture. My guess is that all of us at one time or another have been told that the secret to success in this life begins with standing up for yourself. If we want to achieve the American Dream, we have to go out and make a name for ourselves, fight for what we want, and take no prisoners. Have any of you ever been told that? If you haven’t heard that one in particular, I’m sure you have heard one of its variations. Just stand up for yourself. Fight to make yourself heard. Take charge. Go get ‘em. Don’t take no for an answer. Git ‘er done!
But have you ever stopped to consider whether or not this is the way we are supposed to go about things as followers of Jesus? When I was a young man, I didn’t tale the time to ask myself that question very often. Even though I believed in Jesus and had asked him to become Lord of my life, I was still living as though he was a deposed King. I was the one in control of my everyday, and it showed in my interactions with other people.
But, if we are serious about our faith, then we don’t have to follow Jesus long before we realize that one of the big questions we must each answer is this: how would Jesus have us respond to other people when a situation gets tense, when our rights are trampled, when our pride is damaged, when our needs go unmet, and when we are confronted with hatred, mistrust, abuse, and contempt? Will we stand toe to toe with our enemies and fight fire with fire? Or will we choose another way?
III. Jesus offers a different way
As Jesus continued to teach the masses who had come to receive his healing touch and hear his message of hope about the coming Kingdom, the question of how to handle conflict must have been bubbling under the surface of people’s thoughts. You see, there can be no true happiness and peace as long as people are in conflict with one another. And people have been carrying out all sorts of evil against each other, since Cain killed his brother Abel out of jealousy. The conventional wisdom for how to handle a quarrel was to say “an eye for an eye”. If someone says or does something nasty to you, be sure to return the favor. In other words, seek retribution. Go on the attack. Don’t be the victim. Jesus knew that the people were seeking the secret to happiness in this life, and he knew that true happiness couldn’t coexist with conflict, so he cut to the heart of the matter by identifying the heart-attitude that leads out of conflict and into blessing. He said, “Happy are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”
Happy are the meek. I’m sure by this point the crowd was already starting to get used to Jesus’ strange promises about happiness. I mean, he had already told them that happiness comes from poverty of spirit, which is a lack of pride and complete dependence upon God. And he had told them that happiness comes to the brokenhearted, because they receive God’s comfort, so that they can be a comfort to others. But now he was saying that happiness comes to those who are meek, for they will inherit the earth. How can this be? Surely history has proven that the meek get trampled and abused, while the strong and powerful rule the earth. How can Jesus make such an unfounded claim?
I believe Jesus’ answer makes more sense, when we define what meekness means. By its simplest definition, meekness means gentleness. The same root word is rendered both ways in the New Testament and conveys the same meaning wherever it is used. But it is much deeper than that word implies on its own. So let’s take a moment to reflect on what meekness is, and what it is not. First, let’s define what it isn’t.
- Meekness is not weakness. When you hear someone described as meek, what comes to your mind? Do you picture a quiet, timid, maybe physically small or insignificant person? This is what popped into my mind at first. But the Biblical example doesn’t follow this notion. Instead, the Bible describes meekness as an inner strength, by which people are able to withhold anger and wrath (Psalm 37:8). It is seen as the strength to control our emotions and the actions that flow out of them.
- Meekness is not apathy. Apathy is a complete lack of interest in something, and it often manifests as an unwillingness to get involved. Meekness is sometimes mistaken as apathy, because a meek person doesn’t often immediately respond in the face of conflict. But true meekness means caring enough to respond carefully and thoughtfully, even in the face of hostility, and even if it creates an appearance of indecisiveness.
- Meekness is not fear. Fear stems from uncertainty about the future and our place within it. Fear leads us to respond harshly to conflict, as we seek to protect ourselves. Fear turns our hearts inward, as we seek to save ourselves at all costs. Meekness, on the other hand, is the absence of fear. It is a quiet confidence that doesn’t seek self-preservation, because it trusts that God is in control and that he is near, as Paul said in Philippians 4:5.
So, what is meekness, if it isn’t weakness, apathy, or fear?
- First and foremost, meekness is self-control. Ephesians 4:2-3 says, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” Christians are called to become meek or gentle in their dealings with others in order to build and preserve unity with others. This means exercising self-control, and even “making allowance for each other’s faults because of our love. (NLT)”
- Meekness shows a deep concern for the other, to the point of sacrificing one’s own desires and rights for the other’s sake. When we allow the fruit of gentleness to take root in our hearts, we give up the right to lay down judgment or punish another person for wronging us. The meek offer forgiveness instead of condemnation and patience instead of retribution. In Psalm 37 David puts it like this: “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when people succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes. Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret—it leads only to evil.” And Paul says it this way in Colossians 3:13: “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”
- Meekness or gentleness is also sign of God’s peace in your life. In Philippians 4:5 Paul tells the church that their gentleness should be evident to all and they shouldn’t be anxious, because the Lord is near. And in Colossians 3:15, he says again, following a call to meekness, that the peace of Christ should rule our hearts. As I said earlier, it is impossible to be truly happy when we have conflict in our lives. Meekness is a sign that we are at peace with God and other people.
So, where he world often views meekness as weakness, apathy, and fear, God has defined it as the opposite – self-control, a deep concern for others, and a sign of God’s peace. I’m beginning to see why Jesus might think that meekness can bestow happiness. But he goes further to define why this is true in Matthew 5:5 when he says the meek will inherit the earth. Have you ever wondered what he meant by that?
It all ties back to what we learned the first week of this series. Remember when I said that all the other Beatitudes only make sense in the light of the first one? Only when we are completely dependent upon God and empty of pride, can we become truly meek. Gentleness and arrogance are mutually exclusive. So only when we have poverty of spirit, can we ever hope to develop a meek character, exhibiting the spiritual fruit of gentleness in our lives. A person might occasionally show gentleness apart from God, but it will not be their true disposition. Only those who live in the power of the Holy Spirit can grow the fruits of the Spirit in their lives.
When Jesus said that the meek will inherit the earth, he was commenting on the future that God has promised to his adopted daughters and sons. The meek, who can only become so through the Holy Spirit, will inherit the Kingdom of God and the New Creation as heirs of God and coheirs with Christ. How do we know this? Because meekness is a sign of adoption. When we receive Christ as our Lord and Savior and invite the Holy Spirit to take residence in our souls, the Bible promises us that God will make us new creatures. He takes our weakness and apathy and fear and gives us hearts filled with self-control, love for others, and a deep and abiding peace.
At its very core, meekness is self-denial. It is a total surrender of self to Jesus, for the sake of others, trusting that he will preserve us, even in the face of conflict, and help us to love others as he loves them. Do these words of Jesus ring a bell?
“Whoever would save his life, must lose it.” (Mark 8:35)
“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Matt. 16:24)
Or, as the Christian martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said it, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”
These are powerful words. Dangerous words! And they are at the heart of what it means to become meek. But, if this is so, then the question we must each ask ourselves this morning is this: do I exhibit meekness in my life? Do I have the spiritual fruit of gentleness? Am I willing to deny myself out of love for others?
Here are a few quick tests that we can use this morning to determine whether or not we have allowed God to produce meekness in our lives.
- Do you respond with gentleness in the face of conflict?
- Do you lovingly encourage your spouse, children, or significant other?
- Do you favor gentle correction over harsh discipline?
- Do you choose to remain silent, when your instinct is to defend your position?
- Do you ever let someone else have their way, even when you disagree with them?
If the answer to any of these questions is no, then maybe it’s time to have a heart-to-heart with Jesus. Maybe this is a sign that you haven’t fully surrendered your life to him. Maybe you’ve been holding onto something of your old life that Jesus wants to make new. Or maybe the problem is that you know about Jesus, but don’t really know him. We should never expect to grow the fruits of the Spirit until we receive the Spirit. And we will never receive the Spirit until we confess Jesus as Lord and trust in him alone for our salvation.
If you struggle as I do with what Jesus has said about the meek being the ones who inherit the kingdom, here are some simple steps we can all take this morning, to begin inviting God to help us in this area. And here’s the thing; they all begin with prayer.
- We can ask God to transform both our actions and reactions.
- We can submit our self-will and pride to Jesus.
- We can ask God to give us his eyes, so that we might see people the way he sees them.
- We can ask God to increase our faith, so that we remain steadfast and unshaken, even when we experience the stresses of life.
We all know that today is Mother’s Day. It is a wonderful time to honor all those who have been mothers to us. And it is also a time for reflection about what makes our mothers so great. One of the greatest characteristics I have seen in many mothers is their gentleness with children. Now this certainly isn’t limited to mothers or even women. But as I reflect on the incredible mother Sarah has been, and as I think about my own mom and grandma, I realize that one of the things that has made them such good moms is their meekness, their self-control, their concern for others, and the peacefulness they exhibit, even in stressful situations, though I’m sure every mom has had those moments where they don’t feel like they have it all together.
Meekness can be particularly difficult for men to embrace, because it is so often identified as weakness by the world. So, many of us have to look to the examples of our mothers and grandmothers in order to see what meekness looks like. But all of the greatest Christian men and women I have known have exhibited the patient gentleness that we are talking about today. They have been slow to anger and abounding in love, just like our Heavenly Father. They have been sensitive to the particular needs of children, and have often welcomed the opportunity to mentor those younger in the faith. They have been quick to forgive. They have been peacemakers. They have been honorable and virtuous, and have honored others and prayed for their virtue. They have been the solid rock upon which strong families are built, and they have been the very best witnesses to the good news of Jesus, because they so easily point past themselves to Him.
What do you suppose our families, our church, and our community would look like if we were each to embrace meekness, instead of overbearing, as our default mode? How would our lives change if we were to stop insisting on our own wants and needs, and began gently caring for the wants and needs of others?
I don’t believe that God has called Christians to become doormats, who invite the world to walk all over us. But I do believe he has called us to become disciples, who seek to walk in the way that leads to life and peace and prosperity, and we can’t ever fully embrace those promises, until we first embrace the gentleness of spirit that stems from complete dependence upon Jesus. Will you seek that freedom today?
V. Closing Prayer
Let us pray! Heavenly Father, when the world tells us we must be strong, you tell us that our strength lies in you. When the world tells us that we must be conquerors, you tell us that we are more than conquerors; we are your daughters and sons. When the world tells us that we must stand up for ourselves, you tell us that we must become meek for the sake of others. Lord Jesus, would you help us to become the humble people that you seek, who are so filled to overflowing with your love that we no longer seek to preserve our own lives, but instead offer them up to you as a living sacrifice? Would you teach us to become gentle and meek in our relationships, so that we become witnesses to the freedom and unity you offer us through faith? We ask all these things in Jesus name. Amen.