This is going to be a different sort of Helping Churches Thrive blogpost.
It’s about a character trait, a fruit of the Spirit, or call it a “grace,” if you prefer.
It’s about meekness and meekness is actually a vital quality for thriving, Godly churches.
It’s a big subject that I’m diving into today and one which is worthy of a book, not just a blog post. All I hope to do here is to get you thinking about this important quality which has been all-but-forgotten by the Church.
From what I can gather, here’s what happened: The culture around us, which, not surprisingly, hates the Biblical concept of meekness, began almost universally equating meekness with weakness, pusillanimousness, wimpiness, spinelessness. Pushovers and doormats were said to be meek people.
The meaning of what had been a wonderful Biblical word morphed into something altogether different. In response, Christians almost completely stopped using the term, leaving the third Beatitude, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5) as sort of an “orphan” verse. In the Bible I use every day, two forms of the word meek are used only four times.
In most cases in the New Testament where the Greek word prautes in its various forms is used, “meek” has been replaced with the English word “gentle.”
Gentle is a great word because gentleness is a great concept. I’m not against gentleness, the best and simplest definition of which is simply “handling without hurting.” “Be gentle with the kitten, Johnny!” “Please be gentle with the nick-nacks Susie; I don’t want to have to pay for them.”
But meekness isn’t gentleness.
I’m not trying to scold anyone with this post and I’m very concerned that I don’t come across like one of those grumpy old men I just wrote about over the past four weeks, but I’m writing because meekness matters. I mean, it really matters. It really matters in the churches which I hope to help every day, churches which God wants to see thriving, not just surviving or worse yet, dying.
Meekness is borne of humility, its Spirit-given “parental” grace. In humility we understand how small we are, how weak we are, how foolish we are and how sinful we are.
Knowing that we are all of this (and less, not more) we know that our opinions might be wrong, our ideas might be foolish, our motives might be tainted, our ambitions might be skewed.
Then, in the beauty of a meekness borne of humility, we submit to those God has placed in authority over us, or the majority of the board members, or the spouse who really wants to go to the bistro when you would have preferred the buffet.
And now I’ve mentioned another oft-avoided concept haven’t I? Submission is a Bible theme which is repeated from Genesis to Revelation. Submission is for everyone. Even the Son of God submits to the Father (I Corinthians 15:20-28).
Meekness is the character quality which makes submission possible. As meekness is borne of humility, submission is borne of meekness, meaning that a legitimate one-word synonym for meekness would be “submissiveness;” but nobody likes this word either – imagine the applicant boasting of his “submissiveness” in a job interview.
Here’s how this matters:
- It matters in our exegesis and interpretation of Scripture.
Just try doing Matthew 5:5 with some other word than “meek.”
Galatians 5:23 on the fruit of the Spirit using “gentleness” instead of “meek” is missing something profoundly important. Again, gentleness – which we could say is “borne of compassion” – is great. If you’re going to work on my teeth I want you to have an abundance of gentleness, but meekness is something altogether different.
Worst of all, Matthew 11:28-30 without the word meek is, in my opinion, a tragic error of translation:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (NIV)
Gentleness is great (as above) but handling without hurting doesn’t bring me the soul rest of Jesus Christ. In his wonderful little book, The Pursuit of God, AW Tozer wrote eloquently about the connection between meekness and the rest promised by Jesus in these beautiful words. Pride and willfulness wear us out; humility and meekness bring us rest. I’ve been working on these verses and these graces for fifty years now, and I can testify that rest of soul is immeasurably more satisfying than pride and willfulness. I want and need humility and meekness today and tomorrow and forever.
- We need to be able to speak boldly and unashamedly, in our churches, about the need for meekness.
We will not always get our way. Proud people assume that their way is the best way and the right way. Others will disagree. Meekness will give you that “rest of soul” – described above – at the end of the long, hard, board meeting. When the issue is not a clear-cut matter of obedience to Scripture, we must practice mutual submission to brothers and sisters, even if we’ve lost by one vote.
None of this is to suggest that we shouldn’t contend for God’s truth and God’s ways. In fact, God’s way is the whole issue here. Meekness and submission begin in the privacy of our own homes, in front of our own Bibles as we commit ourselves to God’s ways. It is getting under authority, not over it, which brings us authority. Returning to the matter of the “lost vote,” meekness demands that we respond in a manner which God’s authoritative Word deems to be appropriate.
And none of this is to suggest that meekness is weakness. “Strength under control” or “Power under control” aren’t actually definitions of meekness, but they are descriptions of meekness in action. In the infinite might of the Holy Spirit we submit to God (James 4:1-10), conquer our sinful pride and willfulness and practice meekness. The great leader Moses exemplified meekness (Numbers 12:3) and the great liberator and all-powerful Sovereign Jesus Christ rescued His people in the strength of his beautiful meekness (Isaiah 42:1-4, Zechariah 9:9, Matthew 21:4-5).
There is no church unity without this Spirit-given meekness – witness Philippians 2:1-4 – so yes, it matters profoundly, in your congregation, every week.
I want this forgotten fruit. Will you join me in seeking it?
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION:
(1) How is meekness understood by most of the attendees of our church?
(2) Why does meekness actually require great strength?
(3) How would/could all four of these wonderful fruits look, played out in the everyday life of our church?
- Humility –
- Meekness –
- Gentleness –
- Submission –
(4) How would/could humility and meekness bring the “soul rest” that Jesus talked about?
(5) Philippians 2:1-4 doesn’t use the words “meek” or “meekness,” but how is this quality described in this passage?