When Jesus had the attention of His disciples, He sat down as any good rabbi would do with his students when He unfurled one of His most memorable lessons to His disciples. We know it as the “Sermon on the Mount.”
This time it was in the presence of a large crowd. He started in a way uncharacteristic of teachers in His day. He began speaking of humility, mourning and meekness — all downward postures and all related with one another (Matthew 5:3–5). Conventional instruction in His time was to vaunt the strength of the teacher or the high position or aspiring future of the people of Israel. Instead of speaking about kingdoms and inheritance coming from conventional displays of strength, victory and triumph, He spoke to His disciples about kingdom triumph and earth-seizing inheritance coming from a lower posture — one of submission.
Meekness is one of the characteristics mentioned of those who are living blessed lives. It is an interesting concept. Meekness is powerlessness or weakness that is part of a person’s developed character, not forced upon them. It is intentionally exercised. It is restraint of a person who “can but won’t” stand out, exert influence, leverage strength or demand attention. It is an exemplary characteristic … for someone else to exhibit. We like meek people because they refuse to take too much attention from us or insert themselves too much into our story. They do not intimidate or leverage their influence. That might give them less power. But it gives us more. Meekness is appreciated in others and not frequently pursued by most.
There is some abandonment in meekness. Exercising meekness means that we render ourselves intentionally powerless or weak. We subordinate our will to something or someone greater than us. We seek the will of someone else rather than our own. Meek people are not small because someone makes them small. They just realize that something greater is what they need to be about. They realize that someone greater is present that should be acknowledged.
We view this characteristic as oddly fitting in a team sport. In sports terms, we ask people who might possess great individual skill to restrain their dominance or reorient the attention they might generally receive for the sake of something greater than their individual performance — a team triumph. It is one of the greatest themes in sport. Teams are littered with stars and high performers who are members of perennially losing teams. They can never see their part in the team’s failure. After all, they dominate their position and exert their will. The stars score significant numbers of points and have individual stats that prove their greatness. And their team loses often.
In other cases, some outstanding athletes understand the tendency for self-advancement leading to a team’s demise but understand the preferred way. They understand that though their skill is outstanding, they need to play a certain role and allow others to play theirs. It is only when everyone is able to excel in role fulfillment that success will come. It is difficult to not simply dominate. But they are looking for something greater than personal achievement. The same is true with being in an orchestra or in the military or any endeavor where success does not depend upon individual skill alone, but understanding how restraint and elevating the talent of others work toward greater success. Meekness is like that.
Meekness does not mean that a person is insecure or lacking in self-esteem or talent. Meekness is exhibited most often by people who “can but don’t” for good reason. It is admittedly difficult to have words to say, but not say them if it is better to withhold them. The meek can do that. It is hard to have opportunity and not to seize it. The meek can see what the opportunity will produce for good or bad. It is excruciatingly difficult for many to have resources and withhold spending them on whatever a person wants to spend them. The meek will look at the bigger picture and choose how to use resources for larger gain than personal gain alone. It is rare to see someone with power who refuses to wield it for personal advantage for the sake of something bigger. Meekness does just that. It is intentional powerlessness or weakness when the potential is present.
Not everyone who is weak is meek. They might just be truly weak. They might even resent their powerlessness and weakness. But, all who are meek display weakness when strength is possible. I find it interesting that Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” God entrusts the earth, His wonderful creation, as an inheritance to the ones who will not use it for their own ends but for His. The meek will inherit the earth naturally since God’s will is supreme with them.
Bishop Matthew Thomas has been an active part of the Free Methodist Church since 1979. His ministry roles have included serving as a pastor, church planter, missionary and superintendent.2