Meekness, gentleness, and mildness get a bad rap in today’s society. People tend to think of them as synonyms for being weak or boring. A door mat. But those three words I opened with are all possible translations of the Greek word praotes (G4236), which is listed as part of the fruit of the spirit in Galatians 5:22-23.
The spirit of God is not weak or boring. It is full of power, and it is also “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, and self-control.” Indeed, though we may not think of these traits as “powerful,” we cannot display them all unless we’re empowered by God. It takes a great deal of inner strength, commitment, and willingness to be transformed by God to live-out the fruit of His spirit, including gentleness.
The Meekness of Christ
In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul opened one of his lines of thought with the words, “I Paul, myself, entreat you by the humility and gentleness of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:1, WEB). The traits of gentleness, humility, and meekness that the world spurns are key to understanding Jesus Christ’s character. Read more →
When Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount, He began at what we now call the Beatitudes. He says, “Blessed are” the sort of people who probably don’t feel all that blessed — those who are poor, mourning, meek, hungry and thirsty for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers, persecuted, and reviled. We don’t like being poor, or in grief, or humble enough to put others first, or attacked by the people around us. It’s hard work being a peacemaker, or showing mercy, or staying pure of heart, or constantly yearning to get closer to God’s righteousness.
It’s interesting that two of the beatitudes mention righteousness: “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness” and “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake” (Matt. 5:6, 10, KJV). This word refers to “the condition acceptable to God” and/or “the doctrine concerning the way which man may attain a state of approval by God” (Thayer’s G1343, dikaiosune). It relates to our state of being and the way we live. In fact, when you think about it, all the beatitudes relate to something we do and/or become as we follow God.
We Need A Relationship
Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matt. 5:3, KJV)
There’s more than one word that could be translated from Greek as “poor.” This one means “reduced to beggary” and “lacking anything” (Thayer’s G4434, ptochos). When we’re like that in our spirits, we’re really in a place to recognize how much we need a relationship with the Father and Jesus. We become the sort of person the Lord is talking about when He says, “to this man will I look, even to he who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at my word” (Is. 66:2, WEB).
We Have Broken Hearts
Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. (Matt. 5:4, KJV)
We all experience grief. The death of a parent, child, or dear friend. The loss of a hope held close to our hearts. The decay of a relationship. Betrayal from a friend. And even in the midst of that mourning, we’re blessed because God promises comfort (John 14:16-18; 2 Cor. 1:3-7). He can respond to our tears as powerfully as He did for David in the situation recorded in Psalm 6. Read more →
What comes to mind when you think of humility before God? Do you think about abasing yourself? thinking of yourself less? or thinking less of yourself?
The problem with these approaches to humility is that they’re still focused on the self. To truly become humble, we have to shift our focus to God. Instead of wondering, “How can I think of myself less?” we should ask, “How can I think of God more?”
During the Feast of Tabernacles this year, a message given at our Feast site contained this gem of wisdom: “Elevating God is the best way to develop a spirit of humility and meekness.” Instead of focusing on abasing self, we focus on exalting God.
Joy In Exalting Him
The Psalms are a perfect place to begin studying God’s exaltation. David — the man after God’s own heart — penned many of the psalms. In his words of praise, we see an attitude of humility inspired by an awe of the Creator.
I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul shall make its boast in the Lord; the humble shall hear of it and be glad. Oh, magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt His name together. (Ps. 34:1-3)
Gladness probably isn’t the first word we’d associate with humility, and yet that’s what David does. Exalting God fills the humble with joy, and it also increases their humility.
But I am poor and sorrowful; let Your salvation, O God, set me up on high. I will praise the name of God with a song, and will magnify Him with thanksgiving. This also shall please the Lord better than an ox or bull, which has horns and hooves. The humble shall see this and be glad; and you who seek God, your hearts shall live. For the Lord hears the poor, and does not despise His prisoners. (Ps. 69:29-33)
This carries over in the the New Testament as well, which we can see in Jesus’ first recorded sermon. He says the “poor in spirit” have “the kingdom of heaven” and that the meek “shall inherit the earth” (Matt. 5:3, 5). Then near the end of the Beatitudes, He tells people to “Rejoice and be exceedingly glad” when they are “persecuted for righteousness’ sake” (Matt. 12, 10). I suspect that’s impossible without an attitude of compete submission to God and a desire to find your joy in and glorify Him.
Pointing To God
John the Baptist is an excellent example of humility that exalts God. He consistently identified himself simply as a tool, a messenger whose sole purpose was to point others to Messiah. Every time someone asked about John, he pointed them to Jesus instead.
John answered them, saying, “I baptize with water, but there stands One among you whom you do not know. It is He who, coming after me, is preferred before me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose.” (John 1:26-27)
Later, after Jesus’ ministry began, John had to deal with people who seemed worried that Jesus was undercutting John’s fame (John. 3:22-26). Once again, John handled this by stepping out of the way and finding joy in his Lord’s exaltation.
You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but, ‘I have been sent before Him.’ He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease. (Jn. 3:28-30)
Jesus Himself did much the same thing while here on the earth. He “humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death” as an example to us (Phil 2:8). He consistently honored his Father, and did not glorfy Himself.
I can of Myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me. (John 5:30)
Jesus answered, “If I honor Myself, My honor is nothing. It is My Father who honors Me, of whom you say that He is your God. (John 8:54)
Jesus Christ — God in the flesh — was humble and meek (Matt. 11:29; 2 Cor. 10:1). We who are flawed, imperfect sinners have far more reason for humility. As those rescued from sin and brought from death into life, we have even more cause to exalt our Savior and God.
A Share In Glory
Humility is an essential quality in the family of God. Our Messiah modeled it, the people of faith all had it, and we must develop it to receive a reward.
Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you. (1 Pet. 5:5-7)
Our humility and meekness will be rewarded. There’s an element of ironic humor in the fact that the people who refuse to humble themselves will lose the glory they seek in this life, while those who submit to God and don’t care about themselves will be exalted.
But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. (Matt. 23:11-12)
This is the pattern Christ modeled for us — submit to God’s will, be humble, and He will exalt you (Phil 2:8-9). One of the most incredible things about Christ’s exaltation is His desire to share His glory with us. In His John 17 prayer, He talks about giving His disciples “the glory which You [Father] gave Me,” and prays that in the future His followers “may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory” (John 17:22, 24).
Glorifying Jesus and exalting our Father can only lead to our good. It’s the best path to humility, it gives a proper view of God, and it multiplies our joy.
The subject of Godly femininity has fascinated me for a number of years. It’s well nigh impossible to be a woman in the church without reaching the point where you’re comparing yourself to Proverbs 31, and if we’re honest we rarely (if ever) feel we measure up to that standard. The picture of a virtuous woman is not meant to discourage us, but that can still be how we feel.
Similarly, reading New Testament verses addressed to women can make us feel like it’s impossible to be a godly woman, or even make us angry that God’s idea of femininity has so few elements of feminism. It is not always easy to hear, much less heed, admonitions for women to have “a meek and quiet spirit” (1Pet. 3:4, KJV), submit to their husbands (Eph. 5:22), and wear “modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety” (2 Tim 2:9).
Many of the words used to define Godly femininity in the Bible have come under attack in modern times. When we hear “submission,” we think doormat. When we hear “modest,” we think frumpy. When we hear “gentle and quiet,” we think shy. Often, this type of reaction shows a misunderstanding of God’s intention for feminine conduct. As discussed in “Redefining Meekness,” our current definitions fall considerably short of the Biblical standard. The Greek words translated meekness carry the idea of strength of character that balances our emotions, expresses anger properly, behaves with gentleness, and helps establish our relationship with God.
The subject of modesty has been thoroughly covered (perhaps “done to death” would be a better phrase) by many other writers. So all I’m going to say about it is, check out Olivia Howard’s Fresh Modesty blog for proof that you can dress modestly and attractively. And honestly, even if modest does sometimes look “frumpy,” would we rather be looked down on for being too covered than for dressing slutty?
Content With Quiet
In Western culture, gentle meekness and silence are seen as negative qualities. They may be okay in principle, but in practice it holds you back from reaching your full potential (whatever that means). It is generally the loudest person in the room who gets the most attention, and we often assume that is an ideal we should strive for.
I’ve touched on this subject before, when writing about introversion. Both shyness and introversion are generally considered “bad” traits (though that is starting to change in regards to introverts). In Susan Caine’s words, “Shyness is the fear of negative judgment, and introversion is a preference for quiet, minimally stimulating environments.” They are not the same, but share quietness as a trait. Many people assume this quietness is a sign of weakness.
Also, shyness implies submissiveness. And in a competitive culture that reveres alpha dogs, one-downsmanship is probably the most damning trait of all.
Yet this is where the shy and the introverted, for all their differences, have in common something profound. Neither type is perceived by society as alpha, and this gives both types the vision to see how alpha status is overrated, and how our reverence for it blinds us to things that are good and smart and wise.
All too often, we hear people twisting Godly traits beyond recognition to make them seem less appealing. We also see traits that God hates exalted by society. I have a hard time finding balance between these two extremes. I struggle with shyness, but I can also speak before I think and wish I had exercised the virtue of silence. I intend to dress with modesty, but sometimes settle for frumpy or wear something a bit tighter than usual because I know guys will notice. I seem to go from walk-all-over-me peacefulness to stereotypical red-head temper with nothing in between.
We can’t let ourselves pick and choose qualities we admire (I like this trait from the Bible, but I like this idea from feminism) to make a “self” that we feel comfortable with. Christ calls us to get outside our comfort zone and follow Him, not matter what outside pressures say. In many cases, our challenge as Christian women is to move past the negative reactions society has to Godly traits and follow His teaching in spite of what the world says. God doesn’t ask us to be shy, frumpy doormats, but neither does he want us to hold on to worldly ideals that conflict with His way of life. He wants daughters clothed with strength and dignity who submit their lives to Him and know when to keep silent and when to speak.
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)