Monday, June 8, 2009

What Does It Mean To Be Meek?

I was asked a good question today at church as we looked at and talked about the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount. The question had to do with the beatitude in Matthew 5:5 ~ Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.

The question came up, what it means to be meek. There was discussion of the meaning of the word and I looked in my Bible and saw that it had been translated humble. After some dicsussion I said that it is what it said in the Greek and that to argue that point would be something that would have to be taken up other places. Well my answer was a little quick, even though my bible translated the word that way, (which I think is a good and appropriate translation) and Vines also translates one of the meanings of the word as humility.

That said, I thought I would do a posting today related to this Beatitude. Let’s think about this saying by Jesus which in some ways was meant to shock the hearer, but to also challenge us, as does the rest of the Sermon on the Mount to take our faith and our walk a little more seriously.

Taking the Sermon on the Mount seriously and applying its content was as difficult for the people hearing it during Jesus time as it is now. It is intended, some would say, to challenge us in our walk with God. Part of the sermon is to challenge us to live out the concepts of the teachings and laws of the Old Testament and to be as much like Jesus as humanly possible. I don’t believe as some theologian’s do that the Sermon on the Mount is not for us, or that it isn’t intended to be taken literally. I believe God inspired both Luke and Matthew to record the sermon, it was placed in the Bible, and the concepts of it, while difficult, are possible to live by, with practice and a submissive spirit. That said, let’s look at the word meek a little more.

The following is taken from Vines Dictionary of the Bible and uses the Strong’s Concordance of the Bible in looking at the Greek definition.

Meek, Meekness: an earlier form, denotes "meekness." In its use in Scripture, in which it has a fuller, deeper significance than in nonscriptural Greek writings, it consists not in a person's "outward behavior only; nor yet in his relations to his fellow-men; as little in his mere natural disposition. Rather it is an inwrought grace of the soul; and the exercises of it are first and chiefly towards God. It is that temper of spirit in which we accept His dealings with us as good, and therefore without disputing or resisting; it is closely linked with the word tapeinophrosune [humility], and follows directly upon it, Eph 4:2; Col 3:12; cp. the adjectives in the Sept. of Zep 3:12, "meek and lowly;" . . . it is only the humble heart which is also the meek, and which, as such, does not fight against God and more or less struggle and contend with Him. This meekness, however, being first of all a meekness before God, is also such in the face of men, even of evil men, out of a sense that these, with the insults and injuries which they may inflict, are permitted and employed by Him for the chastening and purifying of His elect" (Trench, Syn. xlii). In Gal 5:23 it is associated with enkrateia, "self-control."

The meaning of prautes "is not readily expressed in English, for the terms meekness, mildness, commonly used, suggest weakness and pusillanimity to a greater or less extent, whereas prautes does nothing of the kind. Nevertheless, it is difficult to find a rendering less open to objection than 'meekness'; 'gentleness' has been suggested, but as prautes describes a condition of mind and heart, and as 'gentleness' is appropriate rather to actions, this word is no better than that used in both English Versions. It must be clearly understood, therefore, that the meekness manifested by the Lord and commended to the believer is the fruit of power. The common assumption is that when a man is meek it is because he cannot help himself; but the Lord was 'meek' because he had the infinite resources of God at His command. Described negatively, meekness is the opposite to self-assertiveness and self-interest; it is equanimity of spirit that is neither elated nor cast down, simply because it is not occupied with self at all.

"In 2Cr 10:1 the Apostle appeals to the 'meekness . . . of Christ.' Christians are charged to show 'all meekness toward all men,' Tts 3:2, for meekness becomes 'God's elect,' Col 3:12. To this virtue the 'man of God' is urged; he is to 'follow after meekness' for his own sake, 1Ti 6:11 (the best texts have No. 2 here, however), and in his service, and more especially in his dealings with the 'ignorant and erring,' he is to exhibit 'a spirit of meekness,' 1Cr 4:21; Gal 6:1; even 'they that oppose themselves' are to be corrected in meekness, 2Ti 2:25. James exhorts his 'beloved brethren' to 'receive with the meekness the implanted word,' 1:21. Peter enjoins 'meekness' in setting forth the grounds of the Christian hope, 3:15." *
[* From Notes on Galatians, by Hogg and Vine, pp. 294, 295.]

In some additional study of the word meek I was somewhat surprised at the teachings and beliefs that I came across. For example, this passage is considered by many as the "gateway of nonviolence taught by Jesus." This is especially true when looking at translations outside of the English. The sense of humility, gentleness and more are looked at in some detail here. In Spanish translations we see the translation of “los mansos,” meaning mild, in French we see “doux,” meaning sweetness. Even in German we see various translations such as Luther’s “Sanftmutigen,” which means sweet, and the ecumenical translation of “Einheits Bibel,” which translates to those who do not act with violence and are in fact, non violent. Even the English translation of the word “praius,” which generally translates to “the gentle.”

It is easy to see why some take the position they do regarding the concept of being meek. It is also easy to understand why some struggle with the concepts presented by Jesus, both here and in other areas of The Sermon on the Mount.

As I stated in church this morning, I am not telling people how to think, or what to think, I am just challenging them to think. For those of us who call ourselves followers of Jesus, we must take seriously the teachings of Jesus. We cannot, we must not, come to the conclusion we want regarding Jesus’ teachings, in fact, we should, we must, try to understand and accept Jesus’ teachings for what they are.

Dr. Margaret Dorgan states: “’Blessed are the meek.’ In English, the word meek derives from the Anglo-Saxon and carries an aspect of timidity. Actually, the Greek word used by Matthew is meant to convey gentleness, humility, a level of courtesy and considerateness in dealing with others. It does not signify a kind of cowardly or submissive surrender.

We live in a competitive world. We are encouraged to forge ahead even at the cost of wounded relationships. Jesus has a very different message. “Learn from Me for I am meek and humble of heart.” And where will His lesson lead us? “Your souls will find rest.” (Mt 11:29). The heart of Jesus wants to help us establish our own hearts in a peace that surpasses human understanding. We don't give up responsibility to improve the circumstances in which we find ourselves. No, we forge ahead with energy. But the meekness which Christ urges would keep power under control. “Speak gently and respectfully,” the First Epistle of Peter advises us (3:16).

Anger is easily aroused when we are disappointed in the outcome of events. Sometimes we too readily find a target for our rage by blaming other people. Then we give up what Jesus has promised. We do not inherit the land of Matthew's beatitude. Instead we lose territory as anger grounds us in the boundaries of a self-centered certitude. Alas, blessedness has given way to an unhappy isolation we have brought upon ourselves.

Peter's epistle tells us to leave this imprisonment holding us captive in such a small space. “Be like-minded, sympathetic, loving toward one another, kindly disposed and humble. Do not return insult for insult. Return a blessing instead” (1Pt 3: 8,9).

The meekness Christ helps us develop, results in a calm appraisal of events. We weigh them carefully and see where a gentle spirit might bring about some degree of improvement for everyone involved. Injustice is not condoned; we struggle to help the oppressed. That is how we spread the blessedness Jesus gives us as our inheritance. “May the Lord bless you more and more. May you be blessed by the Lord Who made heaven and earth” (Ps 115:14, 15).”

As I stated earlier, I am not here to tell you what to think, just to think. I don’t have the answers, in fact, the only answer I have is Jesus. I do know this though, God, through His Holy Spirit can challenge each of us as to the truth of his word if we will but open up our hearts and minds, and admit we don’t know it all, and approach it with a spirit and attitude of openness.

When we approach what I call hard passages of the Bible, and the Sermon on the Mount certainly falls into that category, with an attitude of being open to doing what God calls us to, we can, and will receive the blessings God has for us. Those blessings are a free gift, but we have to take seriously the need to change behavior that needs to be changed, even when that behavior challenges us to live and be different than what we are used to. That said, what do you think Jesus meant when he stated, “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.”?

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