Matthew 5:5

Matthew 5:5

5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.


It’s hard to imagine the following words being said at the funeral of a bike gang member:  “Bubba was a good man.  He was meek.”  Imagine the looks of consternation and confusion that would bring.  Meek?  Meek?

Perhaps few Beatitudes get as lost in translation as this one.  We know it’s from Jesus and, therefore, theoretically, we are in agreement, but in practice the word meek sounds to us like some sort of deficiency, some sort of lack.  Perhaps, instinctively, we equate the word with thoughts of timidity, feebleness, uncertainty, weakness.  Physically, we imagine the meek as sheepish, uncertain, perpetually shrugging their shoulders, stuck in a kind of unending, “Aw shucks!” shrug. Whatever it means, we do not generally think of it as a compliment.

This is especially so among men.  “He was a man’s man!” we say.  And, by that, we usually mean that somebody is tough, strong, assertive, in control.  Our heroes are rarely meek.  We do not watch Clint Eastwood movies to see meekness.

R.T. Kendall said that “meekness is really unnatural…Sadly, most of us never get there.  Why?  We abort the process before it is completed – by complaining, becoming bitter, being pretentious, self-righteous or self-conscious, seeking credit or pointing the finger.  The result:  meekness eludes us.”[1]

Indeed.  We are not terribly sure we know what the word means, and when we start getting close to an understanding of it we realize how far, in fact, we are from it.  John Stott, one of the fathers of modern Evangelicalism, had this to say about his recognition of his lack of meekness.

I myself am quite happy to recite the General Confession in church an call myself a ‘miserable sinner’.  It causes me no great problem.  I can take it in my stride.  But let somebody else come up to me after church and call me a miserable sinner, and I want to punch him on the nose!  In other words, I am not prepared to allow other people to think or speak of me what I have just acknowledge before God that I am.  There is a basic hypocrisy here; there always is when meekness is absent.[2]

Meekness is absent is many of us, likely most of us.  Even so, Jesus commends the meek, calling them “happy” or “blessed,” saying that they will “inherit the earth.”  It is vital, then, that we try to understand this word.

What is Meekness?

To construct a definition of meekness, it will be helpful to see how other believers have defined the word, how the ancient Greeks used the word, and how Scripture uses it.

One popular definition of meekness is, “Power under control.”  That’s important because self-control certainly does lie at the heart of meekness.  For instance, in Paul’s list of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians, he puts gentleness, which the KJV translates “meekness,” next to self-control (5:23).

Somebody else has said, “The mark of meekness is not the absence of assertiveness.  It is the absence of self assertion.”[3]  This is significant because it rules out any idea of meekness meaning a lack of strong feeling or passion.  Rather, it suggests that the meek know how to manage their feelings and passions and are not governed by them.

One thing is for sure, meekness does not mean weakness.  In commenting on the word, one Greek scholar said, “The English word ‘meek’ has largely lost the fine blend of spiritual poise and strength meant by the Master…It is the gentleness of strength, not mere effeminacy.”[4]  “Spiritual poise and strength.”  So meekness is not the absence of strength or power.  It is simply the refusal to live life along the dictates of strength and power.  In this sense, meekness is closely connected to gentleness.

The Bible backs this connection up.  For instance, in Matthew 11:29, Jesus says, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”  Jesus had power, but He was gentle.  Paul would say to the Corinthian believers in 2 Corinthians 10:1, “I, Paul, myself entreat you, by the meekness and gentleness of Christ…”

Jesus was meek.  Jesus was gentle.  He possessed staggering power, but He did not wield it to intimidate.  It is also interesting to note that Moses, a man surely of some strength, is described this way in Numbers 12:3, “Now the man Moses was very meek, more than all people who were on the face of the earth.”

As I mentioned earlier, it is helpful to see how the ancient Greeks used the word.  The word for “meek” is the Greek word praus.  William Barclay has pointed to three Greek usages of the word we translate “meek.”  He notes that Aristotle defined meekness as the means between “excessive” anger on the one hand and “excessive angerlessness” on the other hand.  Thus, according to Barclay, the Beatitude could read, “Blessed is the man who is always angry at the right time, and never angry at the wrong time.”  Secondly, the Greeks used the word to speak of a domesticated animal, an animal who had learned to obey his master instead of merely his impulses.  Thus, the word could mean, “Blessed is the man who has every instinct, every impulse, every passion under control.  Blessed is the man who is entirely self controlled.”  Third, the Greeks used the word to speak of humility.  Thus, Barclay tells us, the Beatitude could be rendered, “Blessed is the man who has the humility to know his own ignorance, his own weakness, and his own need.”[5]

John Wesley’s thoughts on this Beatitude can be quite helpful here.  He noted that meekness says something about (a) our relationship to God and (b) our relationship to other people.  He said that when meekness refers to us and God, it means “a calm acquiescence in whatsoever is his will concerning us, even though it may not be pleasing to nature.”  When it applies to us and other people, Wesley defined it as, “mildness to the good, and gentleness to the evil.”  Concerning our passions, he said that the meek “do not desire to extinguish any of the passions which God has for wise ends implanted in their nature; but they have the mastery of all: They hold them all in subjection, and employ them only in subservience to those ends.”[6]

That is quite helpful.  So meekness has to do with self-control, with gentleness, with being in control of one’s anger, with obedience, with humility.  Things are beginning now to become clearer.  With these factors in mind, let me offer the following as a proposed definition:  Meekness refers to a person’s self-controlled gentleness and sober humility arising from that person’s deep inner gratitude for, amazement at, and trust in God’s undeserved favor, grace, and ultimate vindication.

How Does Meekness Relate to the Other Beatitudes?

We have seen that the Beatitudes are progressive, that they stand in necessary relation one with another.  We have said that the Beatitudes can be envisioned as a ladder in the formation of Christian character.  Thus far, we have looked at three ascending rungs:  poverty of spirit, mourning, meekness.

This makes perfect sense.  The poor in spirit are those who see, recognize, and acknowledge their great need for God.  They are the opposite of the haughty in spirit, the rich in spirit, the proud.  They bring nothing to the table but their brokenness and they recognize their great need for a Savior.  Poverty of spirit is the first step towards salvation.  And the poor in spirit mourn.  Mourn what?  Why, their great brokenness, their great lostness.  We saw last week how the tears that will be wiped away from our eyes in glory are most certainly tears of unworthiness.  It is heartbreaking to see our depravity, and it is overwhelming to see His grace.

It follows, then, that the poor in spirit who grieve over their brokenness and low estate will be meek.  They come humbly to the cross.  Meekness is very close to humility.  In fact, some ancient manuscripts of the New Testament list it second.  When St. Augustine wrote the first complete commentary on the Sermon on the Mount, he dealt with meekness after poverty of spirit and before mourning.  It is understandable, but the order we have is the right order.

May I suggest that meekness marks the true ascendancy and formation of the soul?  The poor in spirit and those who mourn are bent under grief, though blessed because of it.  The meek are those who begin to live life simply and with clarity in the light of the first two virtues.  They walk meekly, not weakly, but with an awareness of their need for the Lord God.  They live with a quiet, calm, gentle mastery over life, not because they posses it, but because they are themselves possessed by the Master of life.  They have nothing to prove, nothing with which to intimidate or assert power, nothing of which to boast but Christ and His cross.

I think of the meek men I have known.  I think of my friend Joe.  Joe passed away in a freak accident a few years ago.  It was a painful loss for us because he was such a dear friend and a good man.  He was physically a big man, probably 6’4” I’d guess, and solid.  He was, I’d say, around 60 when he died.

I used to think, “I wouldn’t want to be around Joe if he got riled.”  But Joe never got riled.  Ever.  His face wore a constant smile and he was possessed of a kind of gentleness that was humbling to observe.  He could have been imposing.  He could have been intimidating.  He could have wielded his strength.  But all I ever saw Joe assert was Jesus.  All I ever knew of him was friendship.  In public and private, there was a raw authenticity about him that has challenged me deeply.

No doubt you can think of meek men and women.  Perhaps you are one.  If you are, you will not know it, because meekness by its nature disappears when grasped.  Like the old joke about the guy who wrote the book entitled, Humility and How I Achieved It, the truly meek are unaware that they are meek.  They are not trying to be meek.  That’s the point:  they are not trying to be anything but followers of Jesus.

They know the poverty of spirit that a true awareness of our state outside of Jesus brings.  They know the mourning of those who cry out for mercy.  Their old life is down there, below the lowest rung of the ladder of the Beatitudes.  They are climbing away from it, see?  They are ascending beyond that which formerly held them, and they are doing so solely by focusing on the gentle Savior in whom they rest.

You do not get to be meek by trying to be meek.  You get meekness by standing in awe of Jesus and His cross and empty tomb and then living life in the shadow of those great life-altering truths.  The believer does not aim for meekness.  He aims for Jesus, and finds meekness in the process.

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

How do the Meek Inherit the Earth?

It is an unexpected thing for Jesus to say, “the meek…shall inherit the earth.”  The tense is future, “shall inherit,” yet the Beatitudes are bookended by the present tense inclusio of the Kingdom:  “theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.”  Thus, the Beatitudes are future and present tense.

In seeking to understand this, it is helpful to realize that the third Beatitude is an almost verbatim recitation from Psalm 37. Listen to the first eleven verses of this psalm, paying special attention to the last one:

1 Fret not yourself because of evildoers; be not envious of wrongdoers!

2 For they will soon fade like the grass
and wither like the green herb.

3 Trust in the Lord, and do good;
dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.

4 Delight yourself in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.

5 Commit your way to the Lord;
trust in him, and he will act.

6 He will bring forth your righteousness as the light,
and your justice as the noonday.

7 Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him;
fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way,
over the man who carries out evil devices!

8 Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath!
Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.

9 For the evildoers shall be cut off, but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land.

10 In just a little while, the wicked will be no more; though you look carefully at his place, he will not be there.

11 But the meek shall inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant peace.

The 37th psalm is speaking of Israel’s inheritance of the promised land, despite being assaulted by their enemies.  “But the meek shall inherit the land.”

It is interesting to note how v.11 ends:  “and delight themselves in abundant peace.”  Since Jesus is quoting this verse, it is not inappropriate to say that “for they shall inherit the earth” is Jesus’ commentary on v.11’s “and delight themselves in abundant peace.”

We “inherit the earth” in a future sense in the coming of the new Heaven and new earth at the consummation of all things.  We will, literally, inherit the earth, inherit the promised land.  But now, in Christ, we inherit the earth through the other-worldly peace that Christ gives us.  We are in possession of all we need.  We know we are still pilgrims in transit, yet the peace of the promised land is ours.  Christ has done it for us.  We live yet between the “already” and the “not yet,” to be sure.  But the promise of home is already being made known to us through the work of the Christ who has crossed the Jordan of death to bring us to a land of plenty.  He has crossed it, and He is coming back for us.

Brothers, sisters:  put your eyes and hearts on the meek and blessed Jesus.  He is gentle.  He is kind.  He is humble.  He is good.

When we seek Him instead of His gifts, He gives us the gifts unlooked for.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.


[1] R.T. Kendall, The Sermon on the Mount. (Minneapolis, MN: Chosen Books, 2011), p.36.

[2] John R.W. Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1978), p.43.

[3] Daniel M. Doriani, The Sermon on the Mount. (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 2006), p.20

[4] A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament. Vol.1 (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1930), p.41

[5] William Barclay, Gospel of Matthew. Vol.1. The Daily Study Bible (Edinburgh: The Saint Andrew Press, 1956), p.91-93.  Charles Quarles notes F. Hauck and S. Schulz’s careful analysis of “the Hebrew OT use of the word ‘meek’ and their conclusion that “a meek person is ‘one who feels that he is a servant in relationship to God and who subjects himself to Him quietly and without resistance.’” Charles Quarles, Sermon on the Mount. NAC Studies in Bible & Theology. Ed., E. Ray Clendenen. Vol.11 (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Academic, 2011), p.55.

[6] John Wesley, Sermons. Vol.1-2. The Works of John Wesley. Vol.5-6, Third Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1998), p.263.

2 thoughts on “Matthew 5:5

  1. Great peace have those who love thy law and nothing will cause them to stumble. Ps 119:165 What great joy to discover that all things received with a happy heart relieves us of the burden of offenses even if our lot is difficult and painful. When we begin to receive with thanksgiving both the good things and the difficult things as the same in light of the Cross, then we are free from the worry about our inheritance or our lot in life. Great sermon. I love the way you put this one together. Remember those who basically say with their life that …”I am great because I am so humble”. Perhaps if we pray for them and follow the example of Jesus, then their “greatness” will look different to them and they will reconsider the source of both humility and meekness. Good job on this topic. Kudos to the Wymanator!

  2. Pingback: Matthew – Walking Together Ministries

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