There are several words the Bible uses to describe Godly character that have a bad reputation in today’s society. Take “meekness” for example. If you ask Google for a definition, the first result says “quiet, gentle, and easily imposed on; submissive.” An even shorter way to put this would be “doormat.” If asked, the typical person today would probably agree with Mordred (from the musical Camelot) that “it’s not the earth the meek inherit, it’s the dirt.”
When Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth,” was He really talking about the same trait we just defined? Though we do see from scripture that gentleness and submission are admirable qualities, what we do not see is the “easily imposed upon” weakness that our modern definitions for meekness carry.
Greek for Meek
The Greek word translated “meek” in the Beatitudes is from a word family that includes praos (G4235), praotes (G4236), praus (G4239), prautes (G4240). In the discussion of G4240, Zodhiates says the words refer to “an inwrought grace of the soul, and the expressions of it are primarily toward God.” Furthermore, he writes,
Prautes, according to Aristotle, is the middle standing between two extremes, getting angry without reason (orgilotes), and not getting angry at all (aorgesia). Therefore, prautes is getting angry at the right time, in the right measure, and for the right reasons. Prautes is not readily expressed in Eng. (since the term “meekness” suggests weakness), but it is a condition of the mind and heart which demonstrates gentleness, not in weakness, but in power.
Wow. That’s not at all like the English-language idea of meekness. This is strength of character that balances our emotions and helps establish our relationship with God. In the discussion of number 4236, Zodhiates adds,
It is the acceptance of God’s dealings with us considering them as good in that they enhance the closeness of our relationship to Him. … It is not the result of weakness, and in the third Beatitude it expresses not the passivity of the second Beatitude, but the activity of the blessedness that exists in one’s heart from being actively angry at evil.
Prior to reading these definitions, my idea of meekness did not include gentleness demonstrated in power or activity against evil. No wonder these words are used to describe Jesus Christ (Matt. 11:29; Matt. 21:5; 2 Cor. 10:1). With such an example to follow, Paul instructs Timothy to pursue meekness (1 Tim. 6:11), women are told a “meek and quiet spirit” is valued in the eyes of God (1 Pet. 3:4), and the church is expected to relate to other people with a spirit of meekness (Gal. 6:1; 2 Tim. 2:25; Tit. 3:2; 1 Pet. 3:15).
I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Eph. 4:1-3, KJV)
Meekness is a necessary attribute for God’s people, but not quite in the way the world views it. Godly meekness is a strong character attribute that we must cultivate if we are going to become like Jesus Christ (Col. 3:12). It is anger at the right time for the right reason, but expressed in a gentle way that helps others instead of tearing them down. It is aceptence of God’s work in our lives that humbly says, “Not my will, but your’s be done.”
Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom. (James 3:13)