Editor’s note: The purpose of this series is to walk our readers through the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 in order to help them understand what it teaches and how to apply it to our lives. This is our first such series here at Servants of Grace through an extended biblical passage and is part of our larger commitment to help Christians learn to read, interpret, reflect, and apply the Bible to their own lives.
- Dave opened the series by looking at Matthew 5:1-3.
- In the second post in this series Dave explored Matthew 5:4.
- Today Zach looks at Matthew 5:5.
The Beatitudes are some of the most popular teachings Jesus ever gave throughout the Gospels. They’ve become our “coffee cup theology.” Many of Jesus’s sentiments are winsome, even mystical proverbs. The reality is, the truths Jesus was teaching the crowds that day were extremely provocative, weighty, and life transforming. In fact, people walked away from these lectures “astonished at his teaching” because Jesus was unraveling for them everything they had previously been taught, and spoke with an authority unlike anything previously experienced (Matt. 7:28-29).
We come today to perhaps one of the most seemingly upside-down, controversial, brow-raising statements Jesus makes throughout the entire Beatitudes, alluding to Psalm 37:11. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” This is a counterculture message, no matter what age or time period is being addressed. The word that the entire verse hinges on is “meek.” It brings up many questions we will try to address: Why is this verse countercultural to the disciples of Jesus, and to us? What does mean to be meek? Why are we called to meekness?
First, we’ll address how provocative this statement is. When Jesus says that it is the meek that will be blessed, this sends a fault line through Jewish culture, and we still feel the aftershock even in the 21st century. First-century Jews were very familiar with the passed-down stories of God’s promises, to bring a kingdom to this people and restore their name and fortune (Ex. 19:6, Isa. 60:15, Jer. 33:17). These people have been waiting on the righteous branch to rise to the throne and finally execute justice (Jer 23:5). What kind of themes come to mind for the Jews? Military conquest. Unwavering power. Impeccable leadership. Proud demeanor. “When we find one who exhibits these qualities,” they supposed, “our inheritance will be near.” But then, Jesus explodes their categories and introduces the true inheritor, the man of meekness.
We also fall into this illusion in our 21st-century context. Where the Jews sought the building up of self through war victory and kingly rule, we seek the building up of self through shameless and adamant self-promotion. Os Guinness reflects:
The daily communications of the wired world attest that everyone is now in the business of relentless self-promotion–presenting themselves, explaining themselves, defending themselves, selling themselves or sharing their inner thoughts and emotions as never before in human history…The great goals of life, we are told, are to gain the widest possible public attention and to reach as many people in the world with our products–and always, our leading product is Us.1
Guinness’s point is clear: meekness is oftentimes not even on our radar, much like the Jews of Jesus’s day. So, what it meekness, and why does it matter?
Meekness, at its core, is not so much an internal humility with ourselves (see “poor in spirit” in Matt. 5:3) as much as it is an external humility in dealing and relating to others. This idea culminates in the person and work of Jesus, who, in the ultimate act of meekness, gave Himself and paid the penalty we couldn’t once and for all (Gal. 1:4). The truth is, we’re not made for that level of meekness. None of us could replicate a fraction of the sacrifice made at Golgotha. So what does Jesus actually call us to here in Matthew 5:5?
I have argued elsewhere that our culture has a weak and imperfect definition of what it means to be meek2. In short, many of us automatically relate meekness to weakness. Meekness is often seen as a deficiency, not strength. But in Matthew 5:5, it’s clear that Jesus would call a meek man a strong man. Meekness, as we’ll see, is ultimately being strong enough to be soaked in biblical humility. Martyn Lloyd-Jones elaborates:
The meek man is one who may so believe in standing for the truth that he will die for it if necessary. The martyrs were meek, but they were never weak; strong men, yet meek men. God forbid that we should ever confuse this noble quality, one of the noblest of all the qualities, with something merely animal or physical or natural.3
Lloyd-Jones goes on to call meekness “a true view of oneself, expressing itself in attitude and conduct with respect to others.”4 As we can clearly see, an attitude of meekness is a fusion of being grounded in truth while being generous in love. Truth and love were meant to complement one another, as the Bible indicates by its pairings of these two pillars throughout Scripture (i.e. Zech. 8:19; Eph. 4:15; 1 Pet. 1:22; 2 Jn. 1:1).
So what is the result of living a life of meekness? Jesus promises that such people “shall inherit the earth.” What does this mean? Drawing from one of the clearest examples of meekness in the Old Testament, Moses, we can see what Jesus meant by His statement. Here’s the scene: In Numbers 12 Miriam and Aaron bring a complaint forward against Moses concerning his marriage of a Cushite woman. (12:1). The Lord hears these contentions (12:2). Then, almost as a sort of parentheses, the reader is informed, “the man Moses was very meek, more than all the people who were on the face of the earth” (12:3). For the rest of the chapter, we learn that Miriam and Aaron’s complaints kindled the anger of God (12:9), and it led to some serious signs of God’s judgment and punishment.
What does this small anecdote teach us about inheriting the earth? The man of meekness (Moses in this case) is a man of patience, who easily rests in the sure and swift hand of God to act justly on His timing. The meek man, therefore, inherits the earth, because he knows that Christ will execute justice and righteousness and shall deal wisely in the world (Jer. 23:5). Moses didn’t need to bite back at his siblings. He had an Advocate in his corner, ready to defend him for his faithfulness in his tasks. That’s exactly what God did when he came to Miriam and Aaron as a pillar and sharply rebuked them (12:5-9). That’s exactly what Jesus will do, according to Matthew 5:5, when He comes again.
Meekness is important, especially in a world where hostility towards believers is intensifying. But it is a noble task, a true display of strength, and it is a quality we can demonstrate when we have the confidence that God will be in our corner. As John Calvin says, “God nevertheless keeps watch for [the meek], and, whilst they are silent, the wickedness of the ungodly cries out to, and is heard by, God.”5 This is controversial stuff for a culture that prides itself on always advocating for ourselves. But it is trust in the God of Justice, and faith that our gentleness is an avenue for God to be strong. He who has an ear, let him hear, and take Christ’s yoke upon him, for He is meek and lowly in heart (Matt. 11:29).
1 – Guinness, Os. Fool’s Talk. InterVarsity Press, Downer’s Grove, IL, 2015. 15-16.
2 – Barnhart, Zach. “Calling Men to Meekness.” Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Accessed at http://cbmw.org/topics/leadership-2/calling-men-to-meekness/
3 – Lloyd-Jones, Martyn. Studies in the Sermon on the Mount. Eerdmans. Grand Rapids, MI., 1971. 68.
4 – ibid.
5 – Calvin, John. Commentaries, Numbers. Accessed at http://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cal/view.cgi?bk=nu&ch=12#1