Several years ago, Chuck Norris, the actor and martial arts expert (who is also a Christian) had finished a long day of acting in a Texas town, and had gone to get dinner. While he was sitting in the restaurant, a man came up to him and said, “You are sitting in my booth.” Norris didn’t like the man’s tone, but he just got up quietly and moved to another booth. A few minutes later, the man came back to him and said, “You’re Chuck Norris, aren’t you?” He said he was. The man said, “You could have kicked me around just then, but you didn’t!” And Norris proceeded to talk to the man, and made a friend of him. Chuck Norris illustrates the meaning of the quality we are looking at today in Matthew 5:5, the quality we call “meekness.” “Meekness” is not “weakness”; it is strength submitted to the control of God and His will.
This morning we are continuing our study on “The Disciple’s Character” – at how the Beatitudes of Matthew 5:3-12 are composed of eight character qualities of Jesus Christ, which God is working everything together to build into your life. We have seen that the first, and indispensable quality is that of poverty in spirit – dependence upon God. You must totally depend upon HIM to even enter the kingdom (“nothing in my hand I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling”), hence “theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Then last week we looked at the quality of mourning, that if we mourn our sins, and the sins of others, and turn them into tearful prayers, God will hear and answer those prayers for ourselves and others. And of course, Christ exemplifies both of these qualities.
But this morning we come to a quality that is perhaps the most misunderstood of any of the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the meek” (or some translations say “gentle.”) Whenever a person uses the word “meek”, there is picture that comes to mind: timid, mousy, fearful, weak. That is not what the word means. Chuck Norris in that restaurant was not “weak”; he was “meek.” There is a big difference. Let’s look at what the Bible tells us about this important quality …
I. THE MEANING OF MEEKNESS:
The Greek Bible word in Matthew 5:5 (praeis) is often translated “meek” or “gentle”, but it doesn’t mean “weak” at all. The word was used of a horse, which was powerful, but had come to be trained to submit to the will of its master. It is strength controlled; submitted to the will of its master. And that’s a good picture of the real meaning of meekness: trusting and submitting to the will of God.
We can do our best try to define things we see in scripture, but we can have a lot more confidence when God just gives us a scriptural definition:
— Like in Hebrews 11:6, where God just gives us a definition of faith. He says there that it is: “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen.”
— Or in Hebrews 1, where He gives us the definition of angels. He says in :14 that they are “ministering spirits sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation.”
— God does that same thing with meekness too, in one of the Old Testament Psalms, Psalm 37. In fact, if you read Psalm 37, you will come to :11 “the humble will inherit the land”. That verse in Hebrew is virtually the same as Matthew 5:5 is in Greek: “the meek shall inherit the earth.” God gave us there in Psalm 37:11 an Old Testament foreshadowing of exactly what Jesus would teach us in Matthew 5:5 in the Beatitudes. I call Psalm 37 “The Meekness Psalm”, because if you read It, you will find that the whole Psalm describes in detail what meekness is, and what the “meek” person does, and does not do. If you want to really know what meekness is, and how you can get the blessing that Jesus promises in Matthew 5:5, then study Psalm 37.
If you have your Bible I hope you’ll turn to that chapter for just a moment. The best summary of the quality of meekness that is found in Psalm 37 is perhaps in :3, where it says: “Trust in the Lord and do good.” That’s very simple, and yet very powerful: “Trust in the Lord and do good.” That verse teaches us that meekness is based on trust in God; it involves a submission to Him and His will; which leads a person to do the right thing. “Trust in the Lord, and do good.” That is the essence of meekness.
Now if you study the Psalm, you will find that meekness is described from several different “angles” — but basically it says the same thing over again in different ways: trust in the Lord and do good.
— The Psalm begins with :1 “do not fret because of evildoers”. Our natural response to evildoers is to try to “do something about it”, to “get them back” – sometimes even employing ungodly methods to do it – and we justify it because, after all, they were evil to us in the first place and they “deserve it”. But God says, don’t do that; be meek. Instead, “trust Me, and do what is good.”
— He says in :5 “Trust also in Him, and HE will do it.”
— :7 “rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him”,
— :8 “cease from anger and forsake wrath … those who wait for the Lord will inherit the land …”
And so on throughout the Psalm. But you get the idea: the meek person is the person who trusts in God, and who “takes his hands off” the situation, trusting God to take care of it. It does NOT mean that the person is “weak” — he COULD do something — but because he is “meek” — he trusts GOD’S power and strength and judgment in a given situation, not his own.
There are so many insights on the quality of meekness in Psalm 37. Some of you today are facing a situation in your life in which God wants to teach you this quality of meekness. I hope that you will take some more time on your own read and study and meditate on Psalm 37. God will show you there what it means to be “meek”, and how to apply that quality in the situation you are dealing with right now.
II. ASPECTS OF MEEKNESS
So with that understanding about what the basic meaning of meekness is, let’s look at some of these key aspects of this quality of meekness in a little more detail:
1) Meekness is based on a trust in God. Psalm 37 said “trust in the Lord and do good” – and it repeats that theme: “trust in Him”; “rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him”, etc. All through Psalm 37, the meek person is encouraged to trust God in their situation. The reason the meek person can respond meekly in their situation is because they do trust God. They don’t have to respond in an ugly fashion; they don’t have to take things into their own hands; they trust God, and that TRUST in God is at the heart of Biblical meekness.
When Timothy McVeigh exploded the bomb at the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995, a man named Bill Day lost his sister in the explosion. The Daily Oklahoman did an extended interview with Mr. Day some time later, and the whole article was remarkable due to his lack of bitterness and wanting to get revenge – which marked so many of the other victim’s families. They asked him why he was not bitter, and Day said: “Because I am a Christian, I believe no one is going to get away with anything, and it’s more fearful to fall into the hands of God” than for him to get his own revenge. Bill Day trusted in God’s judgment, and so that freed him to do what was right in his own heart and actions. That is meekness. But it begins with trust in God.
2) When you really trust in God in a situation, then secondly, you “take your hands off of it.” Like Psalm 37 says, “cease from anger, forsake wrath” (:8), “do not fret; it leads only to evildoing (:8); evildoers will be cut off” (:9), but wait for the Lord. Basically God says in that Psalm, “If you trust Me, then take your hands off of it, and trust Me with it!” That’s hard for us to do.
Back when my son Michael was very young, I remember one time, we were playing with alphabet blocks, and he said, Dad build it really tall! But every time I would get several of them stacked up, and it started to get tall, he would reach in and try to do something with it, and every time he did, he knocked them over and they would fall down. I finally looked at him and said: “Michael, if you want me to build it tall, then let me do it!”
I think there’s a sense in which God is saying that same thing to some of us here today, in our situations. He’s saying: “Trust ME with this; keep your hands off of it! You are just going to mess it up. Trust in Me, and do good.”
This reminds us again that this is what you have to do for your salvation: “take your hands off of it” – remember the old hymn: “Nothing in my hands I bring; simply to Thy cross I cling.” Stop trying to earn your salvation by doing a bunch of good works and deeds, and just trust what Jesus did on the cross to save you. Some of you here today may need to take your first step in meekness by “taking your hands off” your own salvation, and trust God for it.
And you can see the process here; how these Beatitudes work together in sequence: first, you are “poor in spirit” — realizing that you are a sinner, and a “beggar” spiritually before God. Then you “mourn” over your sin. This drives you to Jesus, where you “take your hands” off your salvation,and meekly trust what He did on the cross to save you.
So first of all, meekness applies to salvation. But it also applies all through the Christian life as well. Many times we have situations in our lives that we just need to “take our hands off of” and let God take care of it. Just commit it to Him in prayer. (I think it’s significant that the measure of our response to each of the first 3 Beatitudes is our prayer: if you’re poor in spirit, you will show your dependence upon God by the way you pray; if you mourn over the sins of others, you will pray; and here, if we are meek, we won’t take things into our own hands, but we will entrust it to God in prayer. We see yet again that prayer is the key to the Christian life!) But the problem many of us have is that because we do not really trust God, we don’t pray, and instead we keep taking things into our own hands, and when we do, we mess it up.
3) Consequently, the giveaway sign that you are NOT being meek is when you do not “do good.” Psalm 37:3 defines meekness as “trust in the Lord and DO GOOD.” When you are not really trusting God, you do not “do good”. You take things into your own hands. You get your own revenge. You cheat. Why do you do these things? Because you are not trusting that GOD will take care of it. So you do what YOU can do, because you don’t trust Him.
It is like in the Book of Genesis, when Abraham went into Egypt, and he told his wife Sarah that he wanted her to tell everyone that she was his sister, because she was beautiful, and he was afraid that the Egyptians would kill him for her. So they lied, and Pharaoh initially took her into his household, and she was almost compromised, until the truth was found out. But why did Abraham lie? Why did he compromise? At the heart of it, it was because he didn’t trust that God would take care of him in Egypt, so he “figured out a way” to take care of himself, by lying and compromising. He didn’t “trust in the Lord”, as Psalm 37 says, so he didn’t “do good.”
Maybe you can think of situation in your life recently in which this has been true of you? Is there an area of your life which you are afraid is not going to work out, so you are “taking things into your own hands” in a wrong way – cheating, lying, going behind somebody’s back, or in some way compromising what you know is right, in order to get things to turn out the way you think they should? God is saying, “Don’t do that! Learn to be meek: trust in Me, and do what is good.”
A number of years ago, as a younger pastor, I was in a church in which we were having the election of our deacon officers, and I had the sense that this particular election would greatly influence the direction of our church. There were some men whom I felt would take us in a good direction, but there were also some others, whom I was afraid would be nominated, who would take us in a very poor direction. I know of a lot of pastors who would just go to some friends on the deacon body and say, “Hey, this is a really important election, would you nominate so-and-so for chairman?” Pastors do that kind of thing all the time. And I will admit that I was tempted to do that in this situation. But I just felt a strong conviction from God, “Just trust Me, and do what is right.” So instead of “taking things into my own hands” like Psalm 37 warns us against, I just decided to spend extra time in prayer, and ask GOD to orchestrate the election according to His will. Well it turned out that when all the votes were counted, I could not have hand-picked the officers any better than the ones who were elected. I went back to my office and just knelt down before God, and said, God, thank You, for teaching me to keep my hands off of it; to trust You, and do what is right. It was just like Matthew 5:5 says; just like Psalm 37:11, “The meek will inherit the land”. It is always best to trust God, and do what is right.
Some of you are in a situation right now, in which you are being tempted to take things into your own hands in an ungodly way. But God is saying, don’t do that. Don’t manipulate; don’t compromise; don’t lie or cheat or take things into your own hands. Be “meek” instead: “Trust in Me, and do what is good”!
III. EXAMPLES OF MEEKNESS
I believe this quality of meekness is one that is often overlooked, but all of the great men of God in scripture were meek: they trusted in God and did what was right. Let’s look at some of their examples, and they will show some of us how we need to respond in our own situations:
— In Numbers 12, Aaron and Miriam grumbled about Moses’ leadership. They said, “has the Lord spoken only through Moses?” But Moses did not respond to them. He didn’t take things into His own hands. In fact, Numbers 12:3 says “Now Moses was the meekest man in all the earth.” He was “meek” because he didn’t take things into his own hands; he entrusted this situation to God. And the Bible tells us that God’s anger burned against Aaron and Miriam, and He punished them for their rebellion against His anointed leader and established Moses. But Moses himself left it alone; he trusted God and did what was right.
–You see meekness in II Samuel 16, when King David was forced to leave Jerusalem when his son Absalom rebelled and took over the kingdom. There was a man named Shimei, who was a relative of Saul, the king whom David replaced, and he came out and threw stones at David and his men as they retreated out of town, and shouted after him: “Get out, get out, you … worthless fellow!” One of David’s best soldiers turned to David and said, “Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Let me go over now and cut off his head.” But David said, My own son is rebelling against me, how much more this fellow? He said, no, perhaps the Lord has told him to curse me, leave him alone. And then he said: “Perhaps the Lord will look on my affliction and return to good to me instead of his cursing this day.” (:12) See what David did? He didn’t take things into his own hands; he didn’t strike back at him. Instead he looked to the Lord – trusted in Him, that HE would take care of this situation, and so he did what was right. David was meek, and God blessed that, and David literally “inherited the land” and became king of Israel again.
But the greatest example of meekness is found in the life of Jesus. All of these qualities found in the Beatitudes are His, and this one is too. Was Jesus meek? Did he humbly trust God’s plan for His life? Did He trust in the Lord and do good? Absolutely! There is no greater example of meekness than in Jesus:
— Paul, writing in II Corinthians 10:1, said, “I urge you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ”. So Paul saw Jesus as the ultimate example of meekness that we are to imitate.
— Jesus Himself said in Matthew 11:29 “Come to Me all who labor … for I am meek (“gentle” it is often translated).” And He not only said that He was meek, He lived it out:
— When He was being arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, Peter took out his sword and struck one of the arresting party and cut his ear off. But Jesus rebuked him, and He said “Do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:53) Jesus allowed Himself to be taken; He knew it was God’s will. He was not “weak” – as the old song says, “He could have called 10,000 angels” (12 Roman legions would actually have been closer to 75,000; it doesn’t matter; it would have taken only ONE!) – no, Jesus wasn’t “weak” here; He was “meek”. He trusted that this was God’s plan; He didn’t take things into His own hands like Peter did with his sword. Jesus lived out this quality of meekness: He trusted in God, did what was right, and He didn’t take things into His own hands.
And if you are I are going to be like Jesus, which is God’s number one priority for our lives, we have to learn to be meek. All of the great people of God have learned meekness: the greatest figure in the Old Testament, Moses; King David, the man after God’s own heart; and Jesus Christ Himself, all exemplified meekness. If you have any desire to be a great person of God one day; if you have any desire to be like Jesus, you must allow God to build this quality of meekness into your life. And when you do, it will be such an important step to becoming like Christ, and to become a powerful witness for Him …
During the Battle of Gettysburg, there was a Union Soldier, who hated the Confederates, and he had his leg shattered by a Southern musket ball in the battle. He lay, bandaged, but helpless on the battlefield, right by Seminary Ridge where he could see Picket’s Charge — and he watched as that last great charge failed, and the South’s forces under Robert E. Lee were defeated.
It so happened that General Lee himself and his officers, as they organized their retreat, rode right by this man. Although he was weakened by his injury, he was so bitter that he looked Lee right in the eyes, managed to raise his hands, and yell, “Hurrah for the Union!” Lee suddenly stopped his horse, dismounted, and came over to him. The man said later, that he thought his life was over. But instead, he said that Lee looked at him with such a sad expression on his face, that it took all fear from him, and Lee took his hand, and said, “My son, I hope you will soon be well.”
That soldier later wrote: “If I live a thousand years I shall never forget the expression on General Lee’s face. There he was: defeated, retiring from a field that had cost him and his cause almost their last hope, and yet he stopped to say words like that to a wounded solder of the opposition who had taunted him as he passed by! As soon as the general had left me, I cried myself to sleep there on the bloody ground.”
WHY did that man cry himself to sleep? Why will he remember that episode for 1000 years? Because people just don’t do what Robert E. Lee did that day. Even good people – like some of us here — when we’re mistreated, all our friends tell us how bad those people are, and how we are justified in getting them back, and we make our catty remarks, and get our revenge … that’s just what people do.
But what Lee did cut this man – with an admittedly bitter heart – to the core, and broke that hardened heart, because you just don’t see people do this. THIS IS THE CHARACTER OF JESUS CHRIST lived out. This is meekness exemplified. Robert E. Lee was not powerless there that day: one word from him and that solider was a dead man. Lee was not “weak”; he was “meek.” He was not powerless; but he restrained his power. He did not take things into his own hands. He entrusted himself to God, and did what was right – even in the face of cruel taunting. And when he acted like that, it broke the hardest heart.
You know, if you and I would live like Jesus Christ in front of people like that, it would have a powerful effect on the hearts of those around us. Some people are always looking for the newest and best “evangelistic tools”, but you know what — the greatest evangelistic tool there is, is a Christ-like life. Years ago the great Puritan pastor Richard Baxter wrote: “Men would sooner believe that the gospel is from heaven, if they saw more such effects of it upon the hearts and lives of those who profess it.” And this quality right here is one of them they would notice the most; because very few people really live this way. But this is exactly what God wants to create in you: a Christ-like meekness, that may be your greatest witness to those around you.
But you’ve got to remember: you can’t “just do this” on your own: Biblical meekness is something that God’s Holy Spirit has to produce in you. Galatians 5:22-23 says “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, GENTLENESS (which is the same Bible word for “meekness”) and self-control.” It’s the fruit of the SPIRIT. Which means that you’ve got to be a Christian, first of all. You have to know that God’s Holy Spirit is IN you to do this. And then you need to work together with the Lord to produce this fruit in you.
But you can be assured, that if you are a Christian, God IS working in your life right now, to build this quality into you. Remember Romans 8:28-29 tells us that God is working all things together to conform you to the image of Christ. I have no doubt that some of you are in a situation right now that God has specifically allowed to come into your life, so that you will have the opportunity to learn this quality, and to demonstrate to the world that THIS is how a follower of Jesus Christ responds. And when He does, and when people see this in you, they will be “cut to the heart” and glorify God because of you. This isn’t the way “everybody” acts; but it is the way a follower of Jesus does. “Trust in the Lord and do good.” “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”
— As we bow our heads together, some of us have a specific situation in our lives, that we need to trust God with right now. You need to recognize that God has allowed this situation to come into your life, to give you an opportunity to learn and demonstrate this quality of meekness. You can’t do it on your own; but ask God right now, by the power of His Holy Spirit in you, to help you “trust in Him and do what is right” — no matter what anyone else does. Memorize this verse, quote it when you need God’s help, and ask Him to help you trust Him and do what is right.
— Or maybe you would say, I have never really trusted God for my own salvation. You have been trying to “earn” your way to heaven, and today you need to “let go” of that, and trust what Jesus did on the cross to save you. Just tell God: “nothing in my hand I bring; simply to Thy cross I cling.” I can’t save myself, but I trust YOU to save me, right now. And if you’re doing that today for the first time, come and tell me, and we’ll set up a time for you to be baptized.
— Or maybe you HAVE trusted Jesus to save you, but you have never made it public, and followed through by being baptized. Come share that with me, and we’ll set up a time for you to be baptized.
— And as always, if you or someone you know needs prayer, please don’t hesitate to bring the burden on your heart to the Lord, as we respond to the word of God today …