These posts are summaries of the messages on Sunday and are put here mainly for the benefit of our regulars who either missed the service, or would appreciate the chance to review the big ideas.
'Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.'
We live in a world where brute strength usually seems to win. Here’s one of Jack Handey’s deep thoughts: ‘I can picture in my mind a world without war, a world without hate. And I can picture us attacking that world because they’d never expect it.’
We can often see bad people prospering by doing bad things, and that can cause Christians to experience one of two dangerous reactions: (1) A crisis of faith, simply because it might seem as though God is paying no attention. Why does he let the bad guys win? (2) A temptation to imitate worldly methods, to abandon principles and do what others do to get ahead.
David is aware of this problem and writes Psalm 37 to address it head on. ‘Fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices!’ (v.7). Don’t get hung up about bad people doing well. Instead, be aware that ‘the meek shall inherit the land…’ (v.11).
Both Jesus and David underline this point: it’s not bullying, brashness, self-confidence, plotting, scheming, or any kind of wrong that will ultimately pay off. God wants you to be meek.
What is meekness? Maybe some negatives will help us get close to a definition.
Meekness is not a weakness thing. That’s probably the most common misconception. That was even true at the time of Jesus. DA Carson writes, ‘In general the Greeks considered meekness a vice because they failed to distinguish it from servility.’ They thought meek people were small people, not fit for leadership or greatness.
But Jesus calls himself meek. He says, ‘Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle/meek [same word] and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls’ (Matthew 11.29). Clearly the word 'meek' implies that Jesus is humble and kind and approachable, but it can’t possibly mean that he’s weak. He could hardly be saying, ‘Come to me and take my yoke upon you because I’m weak’. That’s like riding a tandem bicycle with a weak partner; hardly an inviting prospect.
Meekness is not a personality thing. God never promises to bless certain personality types, and you can see all kinds of people being used by God in the Bible. Some of them are naturally aggressive and competitive. Think about Caleb taking his mountain when he’s eighty. Think about Paul beating his body and making it his slave so as to win the prize. These are not mousy, retiring people.
Meekness is not a passive thing. In the Bible faith is always paired with action; your faith will result in a decision to act in some way. Admittedly, sometimes that action is sitting still and doing nothing but waiting for God as an expression of trust in him. But at other times it’s engaging in mighty acts. Passivity is not something God blesses. He blesses active faith.
Meekness is not a passive-aggressive thing. Some people manage to maintain a facade of meekness, avoiding conflict and quarrelling, and all-the-while plotting ways of punishing others. This is not meekness, it’s hypocrisy.
What is meekness? It’s a supernatural thing. It’s something God produces in the hearts of his people. In particular, it’s a new attitude in two directions.
First, it’s a new attitude to yourself. The meek person is the person who has become poor in spirit (Matthew 5.3) and mourned for their sin (Matthew 5.4) and so has experienced a change in the way they see themselves. Their pride has been cut down, they’re not defensive, they’re not fighting for their rights, they’re not ambitious for their own glory.
Second, it’s a new attitude towards God. The meek person has come to see God in all his might and sovereignty and justice, and realises that they can trust him to take care of things rather than taking matters into their own hands.
What does meekness look like? While the whole of Psalm 37 is a description that answers this question, here’s a nice summary:
‘Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him;
fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way,
over the man who carries out evil devices!
Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath!
Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.
For the evildoers shall be cut off,
but those who wait for the LORD shall inherit the land.’
The meek person isn’t fretful and anxious when they see bad people prospering, because they trust God. The meek person doesn’t seek revenge when wronged, because they know God is going to execute his justice in the end. The meek person doesn’t feel the need to push himself ahead because there is a reliance in God’s sovereign hand to bless in his time.
What is the promise of meekness? Jesus says that meekness makes us inheritors. These promises run all through Psalm 37 also: ‘the meek shall inherit the land’ (v.11); ‘those blessed by the Lord shall inherit the land’ (v.22), etc. What does that look like in reality?
Part of the answer is understanding that as we grow in meekness God can cause us to ‘inherit’ in ways we don’t expect. (1) God can give us new desires. ‘Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart’ (Psalm 37.4). Many have observed that as God becomes your delight, your desires cannot stay the same — you want new things. (2) God will teach you contentment. ‘Better is the little that the righteous has than the abundance of many wicked’ (Psalm 37.16). Just ask yourself who is richer: the guy with millions in his bank account, and an insatiable desire to possess more, or the guy with enough to provide for his family and a perfect satisfaction and gratitude towards God? (3) God will make you see with an eternal perspective. So, while ‘the wicked will perish… they vanish—like smoke they vanish away…’ (v.20) the promise for the righteous is that ‘The Lord knows the days of the blameless, and their heritage will remain forever’ (v.18). It is deeply short-sighted if we only look at the situation now when we have eternity awaiting us.
But despite these caveats, I believe there is more to this promise that ‘the meek shall inherit the land’. I think it is a promise that you will experience God’s supernatural blessing and favour as you meekly learn to trust in him. Think about Joseph, who experienced injustices that would cause most men to turn inwards in bitterness and plots of revenge. He was sold into slavery by his own brothers, and then falsely accused of attempting to rape his master’s wife and so put in prison. But he adopts a meek posture of trust in God and soon rises to be the second most powerful person on the planet. Think about Daniel, who was ripped away from his family, probably castrated, certainly renamed, and then forced to be indoctrinated in the ways of the Babylonians. But instead of becoming a vengeful and twisted version of himself, he too adopts a posture of meekness and soon God raises him up to be the third in the empire.
This beatitude is fulfilled most spectacularly in the life of Jesus. If I may paraphrase, this is what Paul says about him in Philippians 2.
‘Although he was equally divine along with the Father, he didn’t feel he had to grasp for position, but made himself into a nobody, and decided to be a servant, becoming a man. And then he took a step even lower, completely obeying God’s will, and willingly allowed himself to be executed on those Roman gallows.’
This is Christ’s meekness. And what became of it?
‘Because of this, God decided to give Jesus the highest place, and the highest royal title, so that whenever people hear his name they would have to bow down in reverent awe; everyone, from the angels right down to the lowliest worms in the ground. Every creature would have to acknowledge that Jesus is the Lord, and all to God the Father’s honour and praise.’
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.