to be meek

Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.

Matthew 5:5

According to Bill Mounce, the Greek word, πραΰς, translated “meek” means:

Gloss:
gentle, meek, the positive moral quality of dealing with people in a kind manner, with humility and consideration
Definition:
also spelled πρᾶος, meek, gentle, kind, forgiving, Mt. 5:5; mild, benevolent, humane, Mt. 11:29; 21:5; 1 Pet. 3:4*

Meekness may be weakness in the world’s eyes, but not in God’s eyes. It is being human in the way God intended, with love for God and for one’s neighbor. That must always have priority over everything else. Of course it’s not setting aside truth as if truth doesn’t matter. But truth will no longer be truth if it’s not marked by love. And meekness involves a gentle humility, or a humble gentleness. Something all too often lacking in present day discourse, especially national discourse here in the United States.

Those who are meek are said to be blessed because they will inherit the earth. The way of the world is that might makes right. Power of every kind, militaristic, economic, etc., are the means to world power. But the way of Jesus and God’s kingdom come in him is completely different. It is certainly the way of death and resurrection. But it’s also the way of gentle persuasion. “Love wins” has some unhelpful baggage. But there’s wisdom in it. And it is at the heartbeat of what meekness is. And ironically this kind of meekness will end up contributing to the filling of all the needed places in the end, though in a completely constructive way, always marked by love.

To be meek involves being quiet, not insisting on the last word nor in having one’s own way, or the final say, even when we think we’re right. It means to step aside and give others space they need, while certainly humbly occupying our own space and sphere of responsibility, and doing the best we can there.

Meekness is in the way of Jesus, to be like Jesus. Something we’re meant to do together, and when among people. From what we’re becoming by the Spirit. In and through Jesus.

to be poor in spirit

[Jesus] said:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:2b-3

To be poor in spirit in some respects is to be like Jesus. Jesus was poor in the world’s eyes, not a boaster, not self-willed, not posing as someone great. Utter humility in becoming one of us, but that’s who he was before. But this became evident when the Creator became a creature. And gentle and humble in heart. Not forcing his will on others, but giving space to them, even to the point of suffering at people’s hands, to the point of death.

When we look at poor in spirit, we think of the fact that we’re poor and needy sinners in need of forgiveness. Yes, that surely has application here. And it could mean something like living simply and being generous with what one has to help others in need.

At any rate, we in Jesus as his followers are among the blessed when we’re poor in spirit. In and through Jesus.

 

Jesus’s peacemakers

Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.

Matthew 5:9

I remember a church in our area which had a sign that said, “Wage Peace.” The church was of the Protestant liberal persuasion which tends to take strong public stands on what is called a progressive, liberal agenda. Then you have on the other hand churches which not only hold to just war theory, but who quite often back American efforts in war. On hindsight, I think we can clearly say that at best there are major problems in military action, and that indeed, war ought to be a last resort.

But was this what Jesus was talking about? While I don’t think Jesus would approve of much of the world’s military action, if indeed there could be any such approval at all, since all is laid bare behind the full scrutiny of the one with eyes like fire, and besides, what affiliation does the kingdom of God have with any nation state? No, Jesus was not referring to that. What he said was surely in a true sense a rebuke to much of that. Wouldn’t it be beneficial and good if the church once again required soldiers returning from war to engage in some kind of time of repentance, even penance, not to earn forgiveness, but to actually be saved from what war effort requires? I say this hesitantly and sadly, while at the same time admiring the service of those who serve honorably and self-sacrificially for their country. And I have no doubt that many do so with character, not wishing to inflict injury on others, but carrying out orders in the confidence that they are on principled grounds. And in a world where evil is often armed, isn’t there a need for police action? I say, clearly yes, as long as it’s restrained, and with the effort to minimize the loss of human life.

But again, back to Jesus and his words here. A peacemaker is someone who makes peace between those who are not peaceful, who often are enemies. Surely peacemaking is in terms of Jesus’s mission which is fulfilled in his death and resurrection. And both before that, and afterward, we find that Christians are to live in the way of Jesus, which means the way of the cross. To understand what Jesus’s words here mean in full, we of course need to go over the gospels and the rest of the New Testament, particularly Acts and the letters. We’re going to find that this peacemaking is always in terms set by Jesus. It is never on the world’s terms, like “might makes right.” And the kind of peace that Roman force enforced. Instead it comes in terms of changed lives, changed societies, indeed, changed priorities. Those alienated from each other, perhaps through past conflict or injustice are made one in Christ. Of course this comes through conversion. Think of Paul’s conversion in which a radical enemy of the faithful, becomes a friend in God.

But let’s not bypass the reality of what often comes between. Those who do the hard work of peacemaking, must themselves, obviously, be peacemakers. You can’t raise Cain, and bring the peace that Christ brings. It must be in the meekness, gentleness, and humility of the Lamb. And it will involve self-sacrifice, even the abnegation of self altogether. But the reward that brings will be well worth the effort. In life, as well as words said, particularly the word of the gospel.

To be a peacemaker then is not to score points and win. We especially need to hear that in this day and age when winning is considered everything, nothing else mattering. No, we take the way of Jesus, and determine from the outset that one of our fundamental goals is peacemaking. A hard task for sure. But more than possible through the Prince of Peace, Jesus, and his sacrificial death for the world, as we walk on the same path, with that same good news, the gospel of peace. Peace with God and with each other. Good news meant even for our enemies. Through the Cross. This is part of what should characterize us, our lives and action. In and through Jesus.

marked with meekness

Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.

Matthew 5:5

Gloss:
gentle, meek, the positive moral quality of dealing with people in a kind manner, with humility and consideration
Definition:
…meek, gentle, kind, forgiving, Mt. 5:5; mild, benevolent, humane, Mt. 11:29; 21:5; 1 Pet. 3:4
Jesus said that meekness is a characteristic of the blessed. It should mark those of us who profess to follow Jesus. As we remain in God’s word and in Jesus’s words, the Spirit will be working this trait into our hearts to impact our lives. Our actions, our words, everything will become more and more marked with meekness. So that when we drift from that, we’ll more and more know better. And through repentance want to get back on track. In the true family likeness of God revealed in Jesus.

 

gentleness

But the fruit of the Spirit is…gentleness…

Galatians 5:22-23

What is meant by gentleness is probably obvious to most, but I’ll try to define or describe it. It’s a disposition that is soft yet firm, not weak at all, but neither is it the kind of strength commonplace in the world. It’s force is not physical, but moral and spiritual. At its core for the Christian is Christ-likeness. In love, it is persuasive at least in the sense of being admirable, and eventually emulated, at least influential to others.

I’m looking forward to reading Dallas Willard’s book on gentleness. If there’s one characteristic that should mark our professed love as Christians in this day and time, I think it’s gentleness. But such a disposition would do us a world of good as well. And I don’t mean simply the act of being gentle, which is good in itself, but gentleness in our hearts working into our bones out into our lives, so that we’re simply people who are becoming gentle.

This is called a fruit of the Holy Spirit, in other words something the Spirit produces in our lives. The book of Galatians says that we either walk, that is live according to the flesh or according to the Spirit, one of the two. There might be somehow a gray in between in our experience as we endeavor to move toward what we don’t have. I tend to think Scripture is saying it’s either/or. So we are dependent on the Spirit to be working in our hearts and lives, which means we must yield to the Spirit. Again, the book of Galatians is a great (and not long) book to prayerfully read and study with that thought in mind.

At any rate, that’s my goal. I am tempted to abandon gentleness, especially with the pressures I face at work and elsewhere. But such a place is good training ground to  discipline myself to hold on to what the Spirit would bring forward and through my life, instead of giving in and living in the flesh, as I’m all too accustomed to do at least in certain habits, like keeping my thoughts to myself, but the attitude unchanged. Though, as you might imagine, a wordy person like me can all too easily speak up. To become disposed to something else as a new habit of life is surely vitally important for those of us who wish to follow Christ.

And I think it’s good to take the quote in its entire context, considering other traits that the Spirit would be working into our lives, the fount of it arguably being love, in and through Jesus.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Galatians 5:22-23

the danger and folly of human anger

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. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.

James 1:19-21

Moses’s story in Scripture is fascinating. He did seem to have an anger issue. Though at a certain point it seems to have abated, or wasn’t a factor. He had killed an Egyptian for beating a Hebrew slave, and had to escape from Egypt. Then he was forty years in the wilderness before God appeared to him in the burning bush, and called him to go back to Egypt because God was about to rescue his people. In Numbers 12, Moses is called the most humble man on earth, not the meekest, though being humble is not far removed from meekness. Moses displays some anger; he broke the stone tablets when seeing the Israelites worshiping the golden calf. But by and large it seems like anger is not something which characterizes him. Until near the end, when in anger he strikes the rock, after God had told him to speak to that rock, the water coming for the Israelite community, but Moses himself barred from entering the Promised Land because of his disobedience of God’s command.

I think I’m much more helpful to myself and others when I largely avoid anger altogether. In this life there’s plenty of things to get angry about. We probably get angry about this and that throughout the day, small burst of anger, like when people sit at green lights probably glued to their phones. Or when machines are not running well at work. We might dismiss such anger as not only insignificant, but all well and good, or at least okay, no problem. But we might be missing the opportunity to discipline ourselves to avoid the more serious and consequential outbursts, which could bring harm to others, damage relationships, or just put us on a trek where we really aren’t seeing straight.

Nowadays in the United States it’s easy for people to get upset and uptight about this or that, usually this and that, with all that is happening in the political realm along with the deep division. As servants of Christ and the gospel, we as God’s people need to be different. We need to be meek as in gently depending on God, not self-assertive (see NET Bible footnote on Numbers 12:3). Anger means we’re taking the bull by the horns either in action or attitude. We think we have it. Refusing such because we’re trusting in God, not in ourselves, and realizing that we are limited is the route of wisdom.

Human anger does more harm than whatever good might be accomplished. When we are angry, we’re not to let the sun go down on it, in other words we’re never to harbor anger (Ephesians). In James’s words, we’re to be slow to anger. So it’s not like we’re to avoid it altogether. But it seems to me that it ought to be rare, so that we do well to sidestep it as much as possible. Vengeance is God’s, not our own. We’re to continue to love, even our enemies.

I find that when I speak out of the deepest convictions on matter with great urgency, too much anger is too often mixed into that. And it’s neither helpful for myself, nor the one I’m talking to. Rather, I could say much the same thing, but in a quiet, humble tone, which is nevertheless firm in seeking to stand for truth. But is dependent on God, and humble toward others in a kind of interdependent give and take.

Interestingly, though Jesus did get angry in driving out the merchants out of the temple, by and large I see the trait of restraint marked in his life. Being God as well as human, whatever anger he did have was purely righteous. Yet in exchanges with the religious leaders in John’s gospel account, I find time and again that he is most restrained, and probably so because he was so dependent on the Father. I do hesitate to point to Jesus, because even though he is the one we’re to follow, and we’re being changed into his likeness, Jesus as God has complete self-control in perfect wisdom. I doubt that we can ever say that about ourselves in this life, except when the Spirit markedly is taking over in a given situation, so as to practically carry us through.

At any rate, this is a lesson I am trying to learn and cement into my life. Beginning how I react to this and that, the small and larger things. In and through Jesus.

the problem with politics: the tongue

All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by humankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

James 3

There is good reason why at many dinnertables of the past, the discussion of politics (and religion, I might add) was forbidden. The heat in such discourses most often blocks whatever light might be present. It becomes a personal struggle, but it seems even more than that.

Let’s say a discussion, either a dialog, or more likely a lot of monolog goes on in regard to politics among adults who think they’re mature enough to handle it. Before long, at least in my experience, something quite disparaging, and actually judgmental of people’s characters is usually sooner than later said. And most of the time the others not only passively take this in, but noddingly agree.

Would that there could be some genuine political discussion. The world needs it both in terms of style and substance. Instead it normally becomes a diatribe against a party or politician. What is most awful is how others who might deviate from such talk are frowned or scoffed at, and if persisting looked down upon. I wonder why that’s so.

I think in a fundamental sense scripturally, that world government and the politics that is a part of it is a domain of what scripture calls the world, the flesh and the devil. Yes, God is sovereign in control, in that sovereignty allowing nations and leaders a certain kind of free will, but ruling and overruling, raising up one government official and putting down another one. Even raising up governments and putting other governments down. In ways we actually can’t trace or understand well, if at all.

It takes special character, indeed special anointing of grace from God to traverse such circles and do well in them. I can’t help but think of Daniel. But when we see his interaction in the kingdoms he served as a servant of God, we see plenty of trouble coming his way, and the way of others who so served with him.

And so we shouldn’t be surprised at the heat which comes out of our own hearts and onto our lips out of our mouth, in words which too often have more heat than light, straight from the pit of hell. We are playing with fire. We do better to step back, take note of this, speak less, listen more, pray, and consider this an opportunity to grow in the grace of humility and meekness, knowing that our total devotion and unconditional allegiance is to the King of kings, and Lord of lords, Jesus. Even as we pray for those in governmental positions, and seek to be a witness to the nation in which we live of the good news of the kingdom which is outside of Satan’s domain, and destined to crush his rule once for all and forever.

meekness, not a valued virtue in America or the world

Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.

Matthew 5:5

Meekness is not easy to define, but it is essentially the commitment stamped in one’s character to trust in God so that under pressure, one refuses to take matters into one’s own hands. Instead one presses on to do the will of God in Jesus, which means taking the way of the cross.

A strength of meekness is both gentleness and humility. One is willing to give deference to others and is reluctant to act when it may contradict what another wants. And when one does act, they seek to do so with the utmost wisdom out of love.

Meekness is not a virtue that is admired by the world, including America. It has been denigrated and even villified, partly due to misunderstanding it, and also due to a value system that is not only different than that of God’s kingdom come in Jesus, but is in actual opposition to it. Power is strength in the world’s eyes, while weakness is strength in God’s eyes. Why? Because one is dependent on God in the way of the cross.

Meekness is misunderstood in that it is thought that one does not resist evil unless they use force against those who may be victimizing them. Instead the way of Jesus is the way of resisting evil with love, and the faith which trusts God for the outcome even in the face of evil. Wisdom may be to flee. For example no woman should put up with a physically abusive husband (or vice versa), and should not have to live or even remain married to such, if there is no change. And with that abandonment I think there are grounds for divorce and remarriage.

Meekness is not considered practical in the world, but actually may prove effective up to a point. But it can be completely practiced only in the context and reality of God’s grace and kingdom come in Jesus. It is in Christ and in his body the church that the gospel is known and lived in and lived out in the world, a fruit of which is meekness.

And so we follow on in the way of the Crucified Resurrected Lord in the way of meekness with each other and in the world. Confident of the full victory of God in Jesus to come, a victory which will be marked by love in overcoming evil in terms of judgment and salvation.

Jesus, the friend of the ordinary

C. S. Lewis is right that strictly speaking there is no one who is ordinary. People are made in God’s image, and everyone regardless is extraordinary. And yet in the course of human life all relative as we see it, there are ordinary people, looked at as run of the mill, nothing much. Another way of looking at it, no matter how gifted one might be, in a sense they are ordinary. As the saying goes, everyone has to put on one leg of their trousers at a time.

Jesus is the friend of the ordinary. Of those who really are nothing special at all in the eyes of the world. Perhaps considered dull and dim. Of little or no consequence. Perhaps they work on an assembly line or clean toilets or do this or that which may require a little skill along with mostly practice. Not that what we do along with how we do it isn’t important, but it’s sad how the world measures people: It’s about what you do, where you work. One’s true worth is measured in large part by that. Maybe they’ve failed morally or have been incarcerated so that they’re completely written off by others.

Along comes Jesus who is the friend of the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, the merciful (Matthew 5)—and people are unimpressed. It is the ones who have achieved and who know how to sell themselves or sell what they’re doing who are the people of note. But not to Jesus. To him it is the down and outs, the people of no account, of no reputation. That is where Jesus lived all his life, as one accused of being born illegitimately–apart from wedlock, just a plain carpenter (or builder), who was evidently extraordinary to the rabbis in the temple when he was twelve, but settled down and never made a name for himself. Just plain Jesus, son of the carpenter Joseph, who himself became the carpenter. A good trade, surely good in it. But when Jesus embarked on the calling his Father gave him, the folks who knew him took great offense. No, this wasn’t the Jesus they knew. They could only shake their heads, not believing that what was happening was really the case or legitimate. In fact because of what Jesus seemed to be claiming, some pretense toward Messiahship?, they were offended and tried to do away with him. Even his own brothers who he grew up with didn’t believe in him. Those closest to us often don’t see anything beyond the ordinary. Although extraordinary in his person and calling, Jesus was as ordinary in his humanity as the rest of us, at the same time without sin.

This is where God dwells, with the humble and broken, those who are contrite in heart, the lowly, those who know that all is a gift from God and of their own great need. That is where Jesus makes himself at home, not with the great ones, but with the humble poor, those who can hardly look up, whose only joy will have to come from God, since they often know plenty of suffering in a mundane day in and day out existence, who know they are sinners in daily need of mercy.

I’m encouraged that the Lord dwells with the likes of me, with the likes of us. That is where I want to remain.

humility is a gift

Christian humility is unique, and is nothing less than a gift through Jesus. Always and forever in our lives it is pure gift.

Sometimes through circumstances people humble themselves and change in ways that on a human plane are for the better. Or someone will be overcome with guilt, even as Judas Iscariot was, and will do something rash, not good. In both of these cases we don’t see the humility to which God calls his people in Jesus.

Jesus is the only one who could say, “I am humble in heart.” At least with the kind of humility which is to characterize the new humanity in Jesus. Therefore this humility is sheer gift always from God through Jesus.

Sometimes pride will rear up its ugly head in our lives, and we become aware of it. And we want to fight it off. This is where we need to humble ourselves, but the difference being that we humble ourselves before God. With the promise that when we do, he will lift us up. But it must be his lifting, and that lifting will be accompanied with this gift of humility in and through Jesus.

Something I have found helpful when struggling to really humble myself before God is praying over and over again what is called the “Jesus Prayer“:

Lord Jesus, Son of God. Have mercy on me a sinner.

One can breathe in and out as they say this prayer, and I say it to the point where it brutalizes me, so to speak. Because it takes that practice and length of it, to finally get through my hard, stubborn heart. And help me see the real me through God’s grace. And through God’s grace have a truly meek and repentant heart.

Something that I think sets us up to be aware of our sin is the reciting over and over again, like the Israelites do with the Shema, what has aptly been called “the Jesus Creed”:

‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

Mark 12

We are weak in this life, and we need practices like this to help get us “centered” again and again. We can almost mark it down that we will tend always to be going off center. As the hymn goes: “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love.” And again and again during the course of a day, or at least during part of it, I like to recite “the Lord’s prayer.”

Let us not imagine at any time that we are humble. Again that humility resides only in Jesus, and is always a gift from God through him.  By the Spirit may we learn to live and walk in this humility in Jesus more and more. Together in love and service in Jesus for the world.