Heart stripped bare, imperfections revealed, shown up for who I am: incomplete, lacking essential knowledge of certain skills — this is who I am. Once again the flares of burns still hurting, of my yielding to the scam the Enemy wields, hacking the dream footage of doing your will— they shake up who I am. But I know you care! My onion skin that’s peeled me wide open to the slam-bam- dunk of one more sacking only tells me to take courage because you, Lord, love me still. And you know who I am.
For me, the third beatitude is the hardest one to swallow. It also seems to be the one least preached on, the character quality the least desired in our times. Who wants to work at being “meek”?
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. (Mat. 5:5 ESV)
For one thing, “meek” usually has a negative meaning these days. Here are some dictionary definitions:
Cambridge English Dictionary: “quiet and unwilling to disagree or fight or to strongly support personal ideas and opinions: He’s slight, meek, and balding, and hardly heroic.”
Vocabulary.com: “humble in spirit or manner; suggesting retiring mildness or even cowed submissiveness; evidencing little spirit or courage; overly submissive or compliant”
Merriam-Webster: “1 · enduring injury with patience and without resentment : mild ; 2 · deficient in spirit and courage : submissive ; 3 · not violent or strong . . .”
You can see that the word can be used positively, but there are negative characteristics associated with it these days. When I asked my husband Glenn what comes to mind when someone is called “meek,” his response was “milquetoast.” And the definition for that word that came up first on Google is this:
noun: milquetoast; plural noun: milquetoasts 1– a timid or feeble person. “Jennings plays him as something of a milquetoast”
adjective: milquetoast 1– feeble, insipid, or bland. “a soppy, milquetoast composer”
These meanings do not come close to what Jesus intended when he said that the “meek” would receive God”s gracious favor and inherit the whole earth! I think that English Bible translators need to rethink their use of this word. For example, the NIV, ESV and NET Bibles all use “meek” in this beatitude, where the word refers to Jesus’ disciples. But when the very same Greek word is the one Jesus used to describe himself (Mat. 11:29) they use the word “gentle.” Aren’t disciples supposed to be like their Teacher, Jesus?
So, considering what it would mean to be blessed because one is “gentle,” we would hope it could evoke positive meanings: humility, not responding to injury with resentment, being kind rather than harsh. It is better, but it seems we might need two words put together to adequately express the desired meaning. This character trait is not about having a gentle touch. In the Greek, it also carries the meaning of being strong but self-controlled.
As A. T. Robertson explains: “The English word “meek” has largely lost the fine blend of spiritual poise and strength meant by the Master. He calls himself ‘meek and lowly in heart’ (Matt. 11:29) and Moses is also called meek. It is the gentleness of strength, not mere effeminacy.”
Maybe we can better understand Mat. 5:5 if we were to say: Blessed are those who demonstrate humble self-control, for they will inherit the earth. Maybe you have another good suggestion – please let me know!
“Spiritual poise and strength” come from having matured spiritually to become more like Jesus! It does not include hypersensitivity, or self-defensiveness. This has been a lifelong struggle for me, because I am one of those who normally takes a correction or criticism to heart, feeling bruised. I see myself as a failure; my fragile self-confidence is easily shattered. Humility puts me in a learner stance, and as I grow spiritually, an appropriate response to an issue should come automatically, my wise and gentle answer coming from my strong relationship with my Master.
As Martin Lloyd Jones says, meekness “is not a matter of natural disposition; it is something that is produced by the Spirit of God.” He explains at great length that it is not indolence, or flabbiness, or mere niceness. It is not weakness in character, or a need to just smooth things over and not address issues. It takes great strength to respond to hurts with “controlled strength” that does not retaliate with unkind words or just constant retreat. “Meekness is essentially a true view of oneself, expressing itself in attitude and conduct with respect to others.”
Ah – “a true view of oneself”! That requires listening to the Spirit as he convicts us of sin, points out our missteps as well as our strengths, and empowers us to accept these truths about ourselves with humility. It means seeing ourselves the way that he does, with his heart of love and forgiveness. Secure in him, we no longer have to worry so much about what other people think or say, or be anxious about getting all that we feel is due us as “rights” in this world. I can tell myself: “Yes, I am imperfect. But you, Lord, love me, accept me, and will keep on transforming me.” In fact, the last two qualities listed in the “fruit of the Spirit” are extremely noteworthy in this context: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Gal. 5:22 NIV)
Often an injury is truly due to injustice. The word “meek” in the Greek also refers those who are oppressed, “bent over by the injustice of the ungodly, but are soon to realize their reward.”
When unjustly judged, we can graciously respond to injury with truth. One way Jesus did that was by using word pictures, explaining without harsh words what needed to be made clear, such as when he was accused of driving out demons by the chief of demons. “Now when Jesus realized what they were thinking, he said to them,“Every kingdom divided against itself is destroyed, and no town or house divided against itself will stand.” (Matt. 12:25 NET)
I witnessed an Ivoirien friend responding to unjust criticism with this kind of self-control when his supervisor began to criticize him with harsh words in public, not just once, but repeatedly over a space of time. This man did what was considered correct in the culture, often not even saying anything in return. But when it came down to a situation where it was important to express what was actually the truth in the situation targeted, he would quietly respond by explaining his understanding of the issue. Sometimes his supervisor just withdrew. Eventually the supervisor came to understand the damage he was doing, and began to change his approach. The gentle response brought about recognition of his own harshness.
The blessing in this beatitude is that this disciple will “inherit the earth”! It is a reference to the regenerated earth, the world that our Lord will make new in his timing. What? Those who are humble and not proudly or arrogantly self-assertive will be the ones who are the heirs entrusted with this fantastic inheritance? This goes against what most of the world expects. It goes against what is often honored as strong leadership.
This blessing is one more aspect of our confident hope, and should motivate us to pursue becoming gently strong like Jesus. There is an amazing prize at the finish line!
 Martin Lloyd Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1976), 56-57.