Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.–Matthew 5:5
The old joke puts a different spin on this: “the meek will inherit the earth… if that’s alright with the rest of you.” It’s somewhat tense, exploring meekness in the midst of the Beattitudes from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.
Meek is weak, right? We sort of squirm uncomfortably, and the joke highlights what we think of meekness: standing around, polling the court of public opinion, making sure that what we think is “okay” with everyone else.
But what if meek isn’t week? What if there’s more to this inheriting the earth that Jesus says is the reward of the meek? Is your interest peaked?
The former coach of the Dallas Mavericks and the New Jersey Nets, Avery Johnson was the pint-sized point guard of the San Antonio Spurs when he said, “Don’t confuse being a Christian with being soft.”
Meekness, rather than weakness, is instead a sense of power under control, like the bridled war horse that was used as an ancient image for meekness: bridled, yet powerful; stationary, yet pawing the ground; tightened coil, preparing to spring into action.
What exactly is meekness, and how can being meek make us more like a disciple of Jesus?
Sir Thomas Browne said, “Meekness takes injuries like pills, not chewing, but swallowing them down.”
King David, he of the giant-killing, king of Israel fame wrote this in Psalm 37:
1 Do not fret because of those who are evil
or be envious of those who do wrong;
2 for like the grass they will soon wither,
like green plants they will soon die away.
3 Trust in the Lord and do good;
dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.
4 Take delight in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.
5 Commit your way to the Lord;
trust in him and he will do this:
6 He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn,
your vindication like the noonday sun.
7 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.
8 Refrain from anger and turn from wrath;
do not fret—it leads only to evil.
9 For those who are evil will be destroyed,
but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land.
10 A little while, and the wicked will be no more;
though you look for them, they will not be found.
11 But the meek will inherit the land
and enjoy peace and prosperity.
We can see that all of this, all of David’s writing, gets wrapped up in verse 11 with “the meek will inherit the land and enjoy peace and prosperity.” That’s pretty close to Jesus’ “the meek will inherit the earth” sentiment! But this meekness is written about by a king who was also a warrior, a ruler, a poet. He didn’t discern meek as weak, did he?
Look again at the opening sentiments:
-Don’t waste your time worrying about how the unjust or wicked win or succeed. You’re not comparing yourself to them.
-Trust, delight, and commit to the Lord. Make God your focus, not a corollary or an afterthought, or an “add-on.” [I love that: on Amazon, you can "add-on" items for free shipping, but they are not "the main thing." David knows what the main thing about his life is, and it's God.]
-Do not be angry, or filled with wrath or worry. They are not worth your time.
Do all of those things, be meek, and you will “inherit the land.”
That’s a powerful testimony to what it means to be meek, to be characterized by meekness as a disciple of God! And those are ideas that the authors of the Epistles keep coming back to.
Consider Colossians 3:12-13: “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” Compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patiences, forgiveness. All ‘brands’ or offshoots of meekness. All… Christ-like. All because we have been forgiven!
In James 1:19-20: “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.”
Okay, so slow to anger is tough enough, but am I a “quick listener? Am I slow to speak?”
[If you know me at all, you know the answer is a resounding "no."] But what would it look like if I didn’t need to “win”? What would it look like if I didn’t need the last word or to come out on top or to persuade someone else that I was right?
I would look more like Jesus. Whoa moment!
But that doesn’t sound easy. There’s no big red button to hit.
I remember often in my childhood that the reasons things were the way they were was because “that’s what’s best for you.”
Why do I have to eat more vegetables? Because that’s what’d best for you!
Why can’t I watch more TV? Because that’s what’s best for you!
Why can’t I stay up until 2 a.m.? Because that’s what’s best for you.
At my second church, I realized the lesson was actually spiritual, too. At the Confirmation class meeting every year, the senior pastor would sit the parents down, and talk with them about how important the every week attendance at Sunday School was.
The pastor asked how many of them made their kids brush their teeth, how many of them had to go to school everyday. They all raised their hands.
“It’s not optional, right? It’s what’s best for them?” And all of the parents nodded.
That’s when she dropped the hammer: “Sunday School is that important, too.”
Sure, these words from the early disciples sound like they’re tough. They sound like maybe just maybe we’re biting off more than we can chew. But then Paul throws out Galatians 5:13-26 and we see that the fruit Adam and Eve chewed in the Garden, with a desire to get smarter, is nothing compared to the fruits of the Spirit, aimed at making us more like Jesus. They’re like Fruit of the Loom only better, even if they aren’t quite as soft!
Paul reminds us that we are called to be free. We are called to use our freedom to serve one another humbly in love. Paul doesn’t say that we are supposed to “go along weakly” with something wrong, but if we have freedom in Jesus Christ, we don’t need to worry about whether or not someone thinks we are “right.” Frankly, most of the time in an argument, both people are at least a little right!
But in 5:15, Paul takes the image of battling, of grinding at life, of wrestling with another human being this way: “If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.” When we are not meek, it’s not just that we knock down, beat up, or win over another person; when we are not meek, we actually turn those arrows of attack back in on ourselves. We lose who we are and we hurt ourselves more than we help.
Consider Paul’s list of negative, non-meek behavior: “The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies,…” We might not have been guilty of witchcraft lately, but how many of us are guilty in the last week of:
-sowing the seeds of gossip about someone we don’t like?
-losing our temper at a family member or coworker when we’re tired?
-making decisions about work that revolve around money more than they consider relationships?
-eating or drinking more than we need while someone else struggles to make ends meet?
This is tough stuff because it goes against our inclinations most of the time. But it’s not like the recognition is ours alone.
There’s an old Native American tale about two wolves. It goes like this:
“An old Cherokee once told his grandson about a fight that was going on inside of him. He said it was between two wolves. One was evil: Anger, envy, greed, arrogance, self-pity, gossip, resentment, and false pride. The other was good: Joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, generosity, truth, compassion and faith. The grandson thought about it for a moment and then asked his grandfather, ‘Which wolf do you think will win?’ The old Cherokee replied, ‘The one I feed.”
Paul knows that if we would recognize the power we have been given through the love and grace of Jesus Christ, that we would steer clear of those non-meek behaviors. Paul knows that we would cling to the kinds of behaviors that lift other people up, that make the world a better place.
Paul knows we need to be reminded what they look like, and he lists them here, not as an optional fifth food group but as a necessary way that we should evaluate how we are living our lives. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”
Take a look at that list. Having just completed our study of the Ten Words or Commandments, it seems that there are some echoes here in the writings of Paul.
You’ll know love and joy when you recognize that the I AM is Lord of all.
You’ll enjoy peace, goodness, and self-control when you don’t take what isn’t yours or want what you don’t need.
You’ll represent faithfulness and gentleness when you honor other people, and don’t act out in violence.
These are not new ways of behaving but ways we too often dismiss because it’s just too difficult. We don’t want to think that the discipleship of following Jesus would require us to, gasp, change our attitudes.
I heard a story about a mother trying to wake up her son one Sunday morning. She went in and found him sound asleep, with the sheet pulled over his head. She told him that it was time to get ready for church, to which he replied, “I’m not going.”
“Why not?” she asked.
I’ll give you two good reasons,” he said. “One, they don’t like me, and two, I don’t like them.”
His mother replied, “I’ll give you two good reasons why you should go to church. One, you’re 59 years old, and two, you’re the pastor!”
Let me tell you this: being a Christian isn’t about being weak or soft, but it’s about recognizing that no one said this way of life would be easy and it’s still the best way.
We need to recognize that if we’re going to say we’re Christians, that they will “know us by our love,” then we need to act like it. Even the hard parts. Even the people who can hurt us the most!
Casting Crowns’ latest album, Thrive, has a song called “Broken Together” on it that speaks to the ways that marriage isn’t the fairytale we see on TV or in a movie, but it speaks to the way that we lose sight of who we are and who we’re meant to be. It also provides us hope in each circumstance, not just a romantic relationship, that we might actually thrive if we learned to love others as they are and admit that we need love that way, too.
What do you think about when you look at me
I know were not the fairytale you dreamed wed be
You wore the veil, you walked the aisle, you took my hand
And we dove into a mystery
How I wish we could go back to simpler times
Before all our scars and all our secrets were in the light
Now on this hallowed ground, weve drawn the battle lines
Will we make it through the night
Its going to take much more than promises this time
Only God can change our minds
Maybe you and I were never meant to be complete
Could we just be broken together
If you can bring your shattered dreams and I’ll bring mine
Could healing still be spoken and save us
The only way we’ll last forever is broken together
Can we admit that we’re broken, that some of our fruits of the Spirit have attracted some fruit flies from disuse? Can we admit that it’s a battle only won by recognizing that God is God and we are not? Can we see that recognizing that Jesus came to save, to forgive, to heal, to redeem is the only way we can really be disciples, by giving up on trying it on our own?
I believe the only way we can succeed is by admitting that more often than not, we can’t be as fruity as we want to be. That we are broken and we need more than bandaids to make us right. That instead of “fronting” and blowing smoke and acting with bravado, we need the quiet strength of knowing we’re loved by God… anyway.
What will you do this week to show that you are “meek”? Who will you not argue with? Who will you not seek to have the last word with? Who will you show a gentle spirit to because you recognize you are loved and forgiven by the great God of the universe and you don’t have any reason by comparison to be upset with anyone else?
Meekness isn’t weakness; it’s just what’s best for you.