1 Do not fret because of evil men 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 Delight yourself 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 righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun. 7 Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him; do not fret when men 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 evil men will be cut off, 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 great peace.
1 If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from His love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7 but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death - even death on a cross! 9 Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”
In the first beatitude (blessed are the poor in spirit), we saw that there has to be an emptying of our lives before there can be a filling. We need to become poor in spirit before we can become rich in God’s blessings, and last week as we looked at the second beatitude we learned that mourning over our sins drives us to God as it is in Him and in Him alone where we find the comfort we truly need.
Today we continue with the third beatitude, as we consider how the meek enjoy the blessings of God here and now.
Whenever we study passages of Scripture it is always important to consider the context, in other words, who these were words addressed to, and what the political, social and religious climate was like at the time. To the Jewish crowds who were waiting for a Messiah who would lead them to victory over the hated Romans, this beatitude must have sounded ridiculous.
The Jewish Zealots of the first century pursued their dreams through a military kingdom and a massive army. Even though the Roman Empire had the military might, their objective was to overthrow them by military force, so the mere thought of a meek and gentle Messiah seemed absurd to them.
To them, power was in the sword, and they did not even consider the power of meekness. Jesus’ teaching seemed new and unacceptable to most of His hearers. They did not recognise the humble and self-denying Jesus as the Messiah because they did not recognise the Old Testament prophecies of Jesus as the suffering servant.
In today’s world value and worth is found in stuff – in possessions, beautiful houses, the praise of men, and the vain things of earth.
But as Christians we need to recognise and understand that true value comes by meek and humble submission to the will of God.
So what is meekness?
It’s one of those words or terms that has lost much of its original meaning over the years. The words ‘meek’ and ‘weak’ not only sound the same, but many mistakenly believe that they mean the same.
As I wrote in the bulletin today, Jesus’ words in the KJV in Matthew 11:29 are, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.” Jesus has been accused of many things, but weakness is certainly not one of them.
Meekness does not mean or imply weakness, cowardice or a lack of backbone.
The word meek is only found 3 times in the KJV of Matthew’s gospel. The first is in the beatitude we’re looking at today in chapter 5, the second in the verse we’ve just read from chapter 11, and finally in chapter 21:5 as Jesus entered Jerusalem for the last time, where He is described as “meek, and sitting upon an ass.”
Foy Wallace was an influential figure in the American church in the early 20th century, and in his book on the Sermon on the Mount he wrote, “Meekness is often mistaken for passivity, timid reticence and a sort of an inferiority complex. But the basic element of meekness, derived from its root meaning is equilibrium - the full and complete possession of all the faculties of one’s being, an inner mastery. It has been illustrated in some lexical definitions as the captain at the helm of his ship in the midst of the storm, who, in full control of the vessel, guides the ship steadily through the storm. It is said of Moses in Numbers 12:3, ‘Now the man Moses was very meek, above all men which were upon the face of the earth,’ yet he was among all men the most courageous, and with Joshua his colleague and commander-in-chief, the greatest fighter in Israel.”
Leon Morris, another commentator, has said “Meekness is another word for self-effacement. We should not miss the point that in all three of the opening beatitudes the truth is brought out that the follower of Jesus does not aggressively insist on his own rights but displays genuine humility. Meekness is not to be confused with weakness: the meek are not simply submissive because they lack the resources to be anything else. Meekness is quite compatible with great strength and ability as humans measure strength, but whatever strength or weakness the meek person has is accompanied by humility and a genuine dependence on God. True meekness may be a quality of the strong, those who could assert themselves but choose not to do so. The strong who qualify for this blessing are the strong who decline to domineer.”
Probably the best Biblical illustration of a strong display of true meekness are Paul’s words in our reading from Philippians 2 today, where he describes the almighty, eternal God of creation setting aside His divine powers as He humbly and meekly surrendered Himself as the sacrificial lamb.
So Jesus is our ultimate example of Biblical meekness, but in the beatitude He is clearly calling others meek too – those who will inherit the earth. So who was He talking about? Who are the meek?
Part of the answer is found in Psalm 37. The meek are those who trust in the Lord, who delight themselves in Him and commit their way to His will.
The commentary footnotes in the Life Application Bible say of Psalm 37, “David calls us to take delight in the Lord and to commit everything we have and do to Him. But how do we do this? To delight in someone means to experience great pleasure and joy in his or her presence. This happens only when we know that person well. Thus, to delight in the Lord, we must know Him better. Knowledge of God’s great love for us will indeed give us delight. To commit ourselves to the Lord means entrusting everything - our lives, families, jobs, possessions - to His control and guidance. To commit ourselves to the Lord means to trust in Him, believing that He can care for us better than we can ourselves. We should be willing to wait patiently for Him to work out what is best for us.”
Job 5:11 says, “The lowly He sets on high, and those who mourn are lifted to safety.”
The New Testament speaks often of the importance of meekness. James 1:21 (NKJV) says we are to “lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.”
I often quote the words of 1 Peter 3:15: “In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” That’s from the NIV translation. The NKJV translates that same verse like this: “Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.”
In Galatians 5 gentleness or meekness is a part of the fruit of the Spirit, and Colossians 3:12 commands us as Christians, “as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering, bearing with one another, and forgiving one another.”
I don’t know about you, but I don’t think choosing to forgive each other and bearing with one another are characteristics of a weak person. I think it requires tremendous strength of character. I should know because I have tried these things often and have failed often because far too often I am too weak to be meek.
One of the meekest yet strongest people of the Old Testament was Moses. His meekness and humility before God caused him to take off his shoes at the burning bush, yet he humbly obeyed God by approaching the most powerful man in the world and demanding freedom for his people.
And then, of course, the example of Jesus again.
1 Peter 2:21–24 says, “Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in His steps. He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in His mouth. When they hurled their insults at Him, He did not retaliate; when He suffered, He made no threats. Instead, He entrusted himself to Him who judges justly. He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by His wounds you have been healed.” The actions of Jesus on the cross were not the actions of a weak man. In fact, the exact opposite is true. No human being has ever displayed more strength and fortitude of character than Jesus did. Yet He was meek and lowly, making Himself nothing, as Paul wrote in Philippians 2.
The New Testament consistently teaches that we are to imitate Jesus Christ in our thoughts, words and deeds. He was meek, and He said so Himself, so it stands to reason that Christians are called to display humility and meekness. And if Jesus told us to do so, it must be important.
One of the reasons is that true meekness and humility are not natural human characteristics. The world tells us to be strong. If anything, the weak and the meek (there’s the confusion in mixing up those words again) should be destroyed. In worldly terms significance, recognition, admiration and all of those other things are given to the strong, not the meek, yet Jesus in His inimitable way takes this age-old principle and turns it completely upside down when He says, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”
So if Biblical meekness won’t bring us fame and fortune, what will it bring us? Just what did Jesus mean in Matthew 5:5?
He does not promise that we will own oil wells, luxury yachts and private jets.
The phrases “inherit the earth” and “inherit the land” are found in many Old Testament passages. Just one of them is in Psalm 37:9. “Evil men will be cut off, but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land.”
The principle of the meek inheriting the earth has its roots in the Old Testament understanding of the land of Canaan as the earthly object of Divine blessings.
The Biblical commentator Albert Barnes wrote, “In the time of our Saviour they were in the constant habit of using the Old Testament, where this promise perpetually occurs, and they used it as a proverbial expression to denote any great blessing, perhaps as the sum of blessings. Our Saviour used it in this sense, and meant to say, not that the meek would own great property or have many lands, but that they would possess peculiar blessings. The Jews also considered the land of Canaan as a type of heaven, and of the blessings under the Messiah. To inherit the land became, therefore, an expression denoting those blessings. When our Saviour uses this language here, He means that the meek shall be received into His kingdom, and partake of its blessings here, and of the glories of the heavenly Canaan hereafter.”
Actually, if you think about it, there is a sense in which we own the land right now, because we belong to Christ and all things belong to Him. Of course, our constant struggle with materialism warps our understanding of that truth, but it is true nonetheless.
When we begin to realise what Biblical meekness is and we actually start practicing and living it here and now, we learn that it is possible to be satisfied and content with what we have. We know Jesus’ words in John 10:10 so well. “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” As Christians we know that the benefits and the joy of eternal life do not begin only when we take our last breath here and our first in eternity, but that life to the full begins in this life when Jesus is at the centre of our lives. And that principle transcends worldly comforts and pleasures. True joy and meekness is found in Jesus not because of our circumstances and possessions, but very often in spite of them.
The meek are satisfied now, because Jesus not only promises us everlasting life, but the best life possible here on earth.
I quoted from Robert Jamieson last week, and in his comments on Psalm 37 he says, “The promise to the meek is not held forth as an arbitrary reward, but as having a kind of natural fulfillment. When they delight themselves in the Lord, He gives them the desires of their heart. When they commit their way to Him, He brings it to pass, bringing forth their righteousness as the light, and their judgment as the noonday. The little that they have, even when despoiled of their rights, is better than the riches of many wicked. All things, in short, are theirs - in the possession of that favour which is life, and of those rights which belong to them as the children of God - whether the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come, all are theirs and at length, overcoming, they inherit all things. Thus are the meek the only rightful occupants of a foot of ground or a crust of bread here, and heirs of all coming things.”
Someone once said that the only way to effectively measure our meekness is to measure the extent that we have surrendered our will to the will of God. I like that idea, because it makes Biblical meekness not only attainable, but also something that we can actually know and experience for ourselves.
Matthew Henry died 202 years ago, yet his complete commentary of the Bible remains a classic, partly because the words he wrote are still relevant to Christians today. His comments on the third beatitude bring comfort to us, but are also a serious challenge to us too.
“The meek are those who quietly submit themselves to God, to His word and to His rod, who follow His directions, and comply with His designs, and are gentle towards men who can bear provocation without being inflamed by it; are either silent, or return a soft answer; and who can show their displeasure when there is occasion for it, without being transported into any indecencies; who can be cool when others are hot; and in their patience keep possession of their own souls, when they can scarcely keep possession of anything else. They are the meek, who are rarely and hardly provoked, but quickly and easily pacified; and who would rather forgive twenty injuries than avenge one, having the rule of their own spirits.” I squirmed in my seat the first time I read that, because I know how far short of God’s glory I fall at times.
But as we saw in Romans 7:24-25 last week, God’s grace remains for those who desperately seek Him. “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
We’re only a third of the way through the beatitudes that Jesus taught during His most famous sermon, but as we’ve discovered, the more we analyse the teachings of Jesus, the more we realise just how radical they were. It’s no wonder that He offended so many, and that aggressive, hateful offence continues to this day. It’s no wonder that He was despised and rejected by men, because He still is.
What we need to understand is that this world offers us nothing but empty promises and lies. It is only in Christ that we will inherit anything. But He goes beyond that by promising us all of the riches of heaven. All that is His is yours, but in order to receive Him, you need to recognise your poverty in spirit, mourn over your sin, and in humility and in meekness surrender to Him. “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-29 KJV)
“The godless may boast and throw their weight about, yet real possession eludes their grasp. The meek, on the other hand, although they may be deprived and disenfranchised by men, yet because they know what it is to live and reign with Christ, can enjoy and even possess the earth, which belongs to Christ. Then on the day of the regeneration there will be new heavens and a new earth for them to inherit. Thus the way of Christ is different from the way of the world, and every Christian even if he is like Paul in having nothing can yet describe himself as possessing everything.” (John Stott)