by Spiros Zodhiates
Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth." The meek are not the weak, but the strong. Their strength has been given to them by the One who has made them blessed, the Lord Jesus Christ. In His strength they resist evil, they become angry at it. Their hearts and minds are so attuned to the mind of Christ that evil will not go unchecked in their presence.
But meekness is a quality that we acquire as a gift of the Spirit of God and refers primarily to our attitude toward God. "It is the temper of spirit in which we accept His dealings with us as good, and therefore without disputing or resisting" (R. C. Trench, Synonyms of the New Testament, p. 152). The meek life, then is the God-controlled life. It is impossible to live it outside the family of God. Before God can control us, He must take up His reign within us as Savior and Lord in the person of His Son. In a sense, then, we could very well equate this quality of meekness with our faith in God. Meekness toward God is faith toward God.
Our acceptance of Him must also mean our acceptance of all that He directs and permits to come our way, as the product of His omnipotence, omniscience, and absolute love for us. Meekness does not mean mere acquiescence in the sorrow and loss that come our way. Nor is it accepting the inevitable in a sullen and despairing mood. We are not meek when we say, "Well, what can't be cured must be endured." Such an attitude will bring no blessing to our hearts, for our trials will teach us nothing. Nor is meekness merely recognizing the unpleasant experiences of life as part of God's over-all plan for life's highest development. Meekness is a step further. It is what the Apostle Paul meant when he said, "We glory in tribulations also; knowing that tribulation worketh patience" (Rom. 5:3). Discipline does not necessarily bring man's character into correspondence with the divine. The same furnace that turns the precious metal into a molten mirror that reflects the refiner's face only hardens into more solid stubbornness the worthless clay. We have seen the same dark bereavement or financial loss, under which one marriage partner grew more spiritual and withdrawn from earth, stiffen the other into an unbending obstinacy and more obdurate resistance to all that was meek and lowly in heart.
The attitude we take in trouble will determine the moral result that will accrue. The great end that God is aiming at is perfection of character. But no character ever yet came to perfection in the fields of prosperity. Perpetual sunshine would inevitably shrivel its beauty and arrest its growth. Cloud and darkness are not more necessary to the golden plenty of the harvest than are discipline and distress to the perfecting of the soul. Only in the forges of trial and bereavement can the iron of our nature be wrought by God into steel for the service of Him who made us blessed and who wants to make others blessed, too.
Life is not as idle ore
But iron dug from central gloom,
And heated hot with burning fears,
And dipt in baths of hissing tears,
And battered with the shocks of doom
To shape and use.
Meekness, then, is not only to tolerate God within you—for there is no alternative for the blessed life—but to glory in His presence and providences, no matter what happens.
We have seen that meekness involves our willing and joyful submission to the will of God for our lives. Meekness toward God is faith in God. But the blessed person who has been born into the family of God has to contend with himself in relation to his meekness. What is the attitude of a meek person toward himself? Being meek is seeing ourselves as God and others see us. If we who are blessed in the exercise of our meekness could see ourselves as others see us and as God sees us, we would be restrained from flaring up into excesses of anger and passion. We cannot be proud when we see ourselves as God sees us. We cannot but be meek and humble when we realize what we are in the sight of God, no matter how far along in the Christian life we may be.
At the time Phillips Brooks was made a bishop, a friend was staying at the house. They were chatting together when Phillips Brooks said, "R__, if you see any difference in me, you'll tell me, won't you?" It was the vigilance of a great soul who knew the peril of success and prosperity. We must recognize that there is a real peril in becoming blessed. First we humble ourselves and then we become exalted; but we ought not to be aware of our exaltation and become proud of it. Imagine becoming proud of the very humility that caused God to elevate us! Blessedness is not a state of having once received the grace of God and needing it no more. We need constant elevation, and in order to have that we must have constant humbling. This is what meekness means.
Did you know that only the smaller birds sing? You will never hear a musical note from the eagle in all your life, or from the turkey, or from the ostrich. But you will hear music from the canary, the wren, and the lark. "Big birds" in the family of the blessed cannot sing. No matter how big God makes us, we must always think of ourselves as small, for that is how we look in the presence of His majesty.
Being important in our own eyes will create in us an attitude of demanding our "rights" before God. In connection, it is interesting to note the distinction between the word praóte\s, or praüte\s, "meekness," and another Greek word, epieíkeia, translated "gentleness." The two words occur together in 2 Corinthians 10:1: "Now I Paul myself beseech you by the meekness [praüte\s] and gentleness [epieíkeia] of Christ, who in presence am base among you, but being absent am bold toward you." The word for "base" here in the Greek is tapeinós, "humble."
The word epieíkeia, translated "gentleness," has no exact English equivalent. It always contains the implication of a superior condescending to an inferior, while praüte\s, "meekness," implies nothing of the sort. Some people who think of themselves as meek seem to have a high idea of themselves, as though in their self-conscious humility they are superior to those with whom they condescend to co-exist. Do we give men the idea that we are honoring them with our presence among them? This is not meekness at all; it is gentleness in the sense of the Greek word epieíkeia, implying the condescension of a superior to an inferior. If we have such a spirit of superiority, we evidence it even when we come to God. We claim His special attention, feeling that we have more rights than others. It is a sad day in the life of a Christian when he regards a gift of God as an exalted and demanded right. Surely, we have legal rights when we become children of God, but how much better God and others will think of us, and how much more blessed we shall be, if we consider them at all times as gifts of His grace. Meekness, then, is not an attitude of condescension toward those to whom we think ourselves superior.
One more great difference between praótees, "meekness," and epieíkeia, "gentleness," is that meekness has its inner spirit, while gentleness must needs embody itself in outer acts. A gentle person acts humble while he may think himself superior, but a meek person thinks of himself as nothing apart from God, and acts accordingly. A gentle person may be a hypocrite, but a meek person acts what he is. It is in this state of realization of our smallness that our blessedness is realized in greater measure. Thinking yourself big and acting small is not being meek. Meekness consists in thinking yourself small and acting in that spirit.
When Sammy Morris, a Kru boy from Africa, came to America to be trained for Christian service, he presented himself for matriculation at Taylor University. He revealed a spirit all too rare among Christians. When the president of the university asked him what room he wanted, Sammy replied, "If there is a room nobody wants, give that to me." Of this incident the president later wrote: "I turned away, for my eyes were full of tears. I was asking myself whether I was willing to take what nobody else wanted. In my experience as a teacher, I have had occasion to assign rooms to more than a thousand students. Most of them were noble Christian young ladies and gentlemen; but Sammy Morris was the only one of them who ever said, If there is a room that nobody wants, give that to me.'" This is what being meek is, to consider yourself before God and others as worthy of nothing but their mercy. And though others may not always understand your motives, God at least will appreciate this and will make your life that much more blessed. Our legal rights never cause our hearts to overflow, but the mercy of God always does.
It is good to remember this: "When God intends to enrich a soul, He first makes it poor; when He intends to exalt a soul, He first makes it sensible of its own miseries, wants, and nothingness" (Flavel). God, in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ, asks us to be meek because of His desire to be our superior, instead of permitting us to feel superior and demanding. A superior person must reach up to God, yet he will find Him unattainable; but a meek person will be reached down to by God. A superior does not attract his inferiors by condescending to reach down to them; and those whom he considers his inferiors will never want to reach up to him. Meekness, then, is an inner state; it is what we think of ourselves before God and in our innermost being.