What Does It Mean to Be Meek?

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” – ESV

Often when we think of important qualities and characteristics of a person meekness is not high on the list. Especially in the eyes of the world meekness is often not a desired quality. Today in our modern language the word meek is associated with weak. The image that comes to my mind when I think of being meek is usually somebody powerless, weak, and not able to defend themselves. Is this really the meaning behind the Biblical word for meek? What is the true meaning of Matthew 5:5 and the Biblical idea of meekness?

The underlining Greek word that is translated meek is πραΰς (praus) and means: “to not being overly impressed by a sense of one’s self-importance, gentle, humble, considerate, meek.” [1] The main idea behind the word is gentleness that comes from a humble heart. Meekness is not weakness, but instead the meek person is gentle because of their humility, the meek person is not wrapped up in one’s self and is not prideful. A meek person may actually be very powerful, yet they have the maturity and grace to use their power only for constructive means and not destructive, meekness is “strength under control.”[2]

The quality of meekness is also related to being “poor in spirit” (Matt 5:3). The distinction is that poor in spirit refers more to being broken-hearted because the person realizes their emptiness before God, and the overflow of being poor in spirit is meekness. Matthew 5:5 is an echo of Psalm 37:11 “But the meek shall inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant peace,” as well as Ps. 37:22, 29, 34. In this Psalm the meek person is described as the person who is not resentful, does not bear grudges, does not contemplate insults, and finds his refuge in the Lord. The meek person knows that they cannot claim any good merit before God, and therefore have died to all self-righteousness.[3]

The main idea behind the word is gentleness that comes from a humble heart. Meekness is not weakness, but instead the meek person is gentle because of their humility, the meek person is not wrapped up in one’s self and is not prideful.

In the context of the beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12), “the meek” come between those who both mourn over sin and thirst after righteousness. Therefore, the precise kind of meekness that Jesus is referring to in this verse also requires this sequence. Because the person mourns over their sin and thirsts after righteousness they can be gentle, humble, sensitive, patient, etc. Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones summed it up as: “Meekness is essentially a true view of oneself, expressing itself in attitude and conduct with respect to others … The man who is truly meek is the one who is truly amazed that God and man can think of him as well as they do and treat him as well as they do.”[4]

In Numbers 12:3 Moses is described as “very meek (πραΰς), more than all people who were on the face of the earth.” This characterizes Moses as a leader who was free from self-importance and focused on the interests of others above his own. Jesus also describes himself as “πραΰς” in Matthew 11:29, and also Matthew connects Jesus as “πραΰς” in Matt. 21:4-5 which is a quotation from Zech. 9:9 “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble (πραΰς) and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” This importantly identifies the coming king as πραΰς which Jesus describes Jesus.[5]

As Christians we should desire to be meek, as well as keep in mind the promise of Christ that “they shall inherit the earth.” In times when it is difficult to be meek we should keep Christ’ example in our focus as Paul reminded the Corinthians (2 Cor. 10:1). We should also let meekness control our rebukes (2 Tim. 2:25) and bear with one another with meekness (Eph. 4:2). Jesus displayed the ultimate example of meekness when he stood before his unjust accusers and did not speak a word of self-justification.[6] May we desire to follow Jesus’ example and become meek in the true Biblical sense of the word.

 

[1] “πραΰς,” BDAG, 861.

[2] Stuart K. Weber, Matthew (HNTC 1; ed. Max Anders; Accordance electronic ed. Nashville: B & H Publishing Group, 2000), n.p.

[3] William Hendriksen, Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew (Baker New Testament Commentary; Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1973), n.p.

[4] John R.W. Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount (The Bible Speaks Today; Accordance electronic ed. Downers Grove.: InterVarsity Press, 1985), n.p.

[5] John Nolland, The Gospel of Matthew: a Commentary on the Greek Text (NIGTC; Accordance electronic ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), n.p.

[6] “MEEKNESS,” NBD, 747.

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