The Lost Virtue of Meekness
People follow leaders. There is no escaping this reality. Essential to leadership is that fact. Hence, the New Testament focuses in on character, more than on skill, for church leadership. Leaders provide examples to be followed. Over and over we see the words “imitate me” from Paul’s pen. People reflect leadership. I bring up this observation in light of the trend taking place in social media. Over the course of the last six months, social media seems to have slouched towards anger, vitriol and downright meanness. Why? As I have thought on the issue, it has become clearer and clearer.
If you guessed that this change reflects leadership, you’re right. I’m not referring to the fact that a new president has now incited this anger. He has, no doubt, but social media took a turn for the worse well before he was president. Yet, not before he came into the limelight. Now when we saw that he potentially could become the president, attention turned in an effort to understand him. What we saw - we started to imitate. How he handled his enemies on Twitter slowly became how we handled our enemies on the screen. The result: meekness has seemed to disappear.
Lost in the engagement of ideas in the digital world has been this vital, Christian virtue - a virtue needed more now than ever. Meekness plays a vital role in the Christian life. A simple word search reveals that meekness is necessary for growth in the Word (James 1:21), growth in our Christian witness (1 Pet 3:15), walking worthy of our calling (Eph 4:1-2), and for the expression of true Christian beauty (1 Pet 3:3-4). Meekness flows from the work of the Spirit (Gal 5:23), implying that growth in sanctification accompanies a growth in meekness.
So what is meekness? Unfortunately, the word meek paints a false picture in our minds. Meek people are pushovers with little self-confidence. This is far from the truth. The Greek word behind meekness is a sandwich of a few English concepts. So, in the New Testament the word is translated as meekness, gentleness and even humility. Meekness has nothing to do with weakness. Rather it is an attitude opposite of self-assertiveness, self-interest, and aggression. A meek person is not a weak person, but one who possesses true strength - the strength to remain under control and not assert oneself. A broke horse illustrates meekness. Before becoming broke, the horse used its strength to buck and thrash. But once broke, the horse does not lose its strength. Its power comes under control. That is meekness; not weakness but rather power under control.
Looking for meekness in our world is as vain as trying to herd cats. Thankfully, the Bible provides clear examples of meekness. Let me give two.
David displays one of the greatest demonstrations of meekness in 2 Samuel 16. A chapter earlier, his son Absalom, had abdicated his throne, causing David to flee from his life. Picture it: After thirty five years of reigning over Israel, David is forced to flee for his life from his own son.
In 2 Samuel 16, he is making his way over the Mount of Olives. He was shocked, saddened and tired. At this point shows up Shimei in 2 Samuel 16:6. He kicks David while he is down, throwing stones at David and calling him a “worthless man.” If ever there was a time when he could have defended himself, if ever he could have asserted his power and showed aggression, it was now.
Abishai saw this and even offered to cut Shimei’s head in verse 9. David’s response in verses 11-12 indicates meekness. Rather than assert his power, he kept it under control and kept walking.
One cannot start talking about meekness without mentioning Jesus Christ. He perfectly lived a life characterized by meekness. The greatest illustration came at the end of his life. He was falsely accused and tried. He was tortured and crucified. He experienced all of this while innocent. Isaiah 53:7 reveals that he was oppressed and afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth. He could have defended himself. He could have called down myriads of angels to obliterate the accusers. But he didn’t. He didn’t even speak to defend himself. “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Pet 2:23). That is meekness. That is power under control.
Meekness is completely counterintuitive and counter cultural. Jesus said in Matthew 5:5, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” We think that those who assert their power would inherit the earth. But Jesus’ kingdom does not travel on the same plane as the kingdom of this age. As kingdom participants, let’s follow the true King. Tone the language down. Let him exalt you and defend you. Put on meekness.
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