September 1, 1996
What kind of qualities are the most helpful in getting you to the top of the ladder of success? If we take for granted that you actually have the skills needed to do the job, then you likely will be told to take the offensive, be bold, aggressive, assertive, forceful, and zealous.
It seems like businesses are looking for middle linebackers to take a killer instinct into the work place. Governments and politicians on both sides of the issue aggressively demonize the other side. It's hard to find anyone who really wants to play a genuinely friendly game of touch football!
The common assumption is that if you are not forceful and bold you will be ground up in the stampede. This assumption was developed into a full blown philosophy by Fredrick Nietzsche. Nietzsche was a German theologian Hitler studied and applied.
Nietzsche said the biggest mistake Jesus ever made was saying, "Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth." He reversed it and made his own beatitude. It reads, "Assert yourself, it is the arrogant who take over the earth." See how this appealed to Hitler?
I suppose most of us in our more honest moments would admit we're not especially attracted to the quality of meekness. Most of us have experienced pushy people getting ahead, stepping on us in the process. We don't like it. So when things aren't going our way at home, or work, or in the neighborhood, our strategy of first resort- at least some of the time- is to push back!
But when we read in God's work that the proof of God's presence in our lives is a different response: Galatians 5:22, 23 says, "...gentleness and self-control." The word for gentleness is the very same word for meek in Matthew 5:5
Gentleness or meekness is a symptom of being filled with God's spirit. Does it surprise you that this is a character quality God says must be planted in your heart? Many of us would agree if it is ever going to happen it will take an operation of God to pull it off (I can't grit my teeth and do it), but why is God so insistent on this quality?
To answer that question let's first find out what this quality does not consist of. Then let's look at an accurate definition. Finally we can look at its relevance to our families, neighborhoods, jobs, and our church. How important is gentleness to our lives?
First, what it isn't: obviously it is not a know-it-all attitude; it is not demanding, dogmatic, pushy, domineering, overbearing, harsh, or abrasive. This should almost go without saying, but sometimes when preachers are done defining and redefining, some point that seemed obvious is suddenly confusing.
But now the not so obvious: The English dictionaries define "meekness" as: shy, compliant, passive, spiritless, submissive, weak, and yielding. It is no wonder we don't like the word. Here we see a graphic example of how language changes. In 1611 when the King James Version translators used the word "meekness" to translate the original word, prautes, it had a much different meaning in English. This is why we need to keep updating our Bible translations: because language is a constantly changing thing.
Another of today's dictionary translations of meekness is timid or cowardly; but Revelations 21:8 lists eight kind of people who will go to hell. Among them are the usual suspects: murderers, the sexually immoral, liars, but the very first quality listed is "the cowardly." Obviously meekness or gentleness is NOT the same as a spineless, weak kneed, fainthearted doormat because those people are going to Hell!
So now we must move on to a working definition. Aristotle defined prautes as the middle point between too much anger and too much apathy. A meek person got angry for the right reasons, at the right time and to the right degree. It is passion under control.
Gentleness is not weakness, rather it is a cool headed dignity, a poise, or composure that frees a person from compulsively proving how strong they really are. It was a word used to describe a spirited animal that had been well trained.
Hadden Robinson tells about a young soldier in the Greek Peloponnesian wars who wrote his fiancée about a gift he had for her. It was a white stallion. He described it as "the most magnificent animal I have ever seen. He responds obediently to the slightest command. He allows his master to direct him to his fullest potential." And then he wrote, "he is a meek horse."
No one would mistake this stallion for an old plow horse that would let you beat it and abuse it and it would just stand there. He meant it was a spirited, powerful horse, disciplined and under control. It was a powerful horse with composure!
Read Matthew 21: 1-13 (11:29)
Jesus is the perfect example of gentleness. He was never a bully nor was He ever a doormat. He could wash the disciples' feet, and He could rebuke them with very stinging remarks. He was not schizophrenic. He was all the power of God under perfect control and composure.
So what is the relevance of this quality for you and me? I think there is a lot of evidence to prove that the arrogant and pushy do not "inherit the earth." They may reek havoc for a while, but do they ever establish ultimate control?
Hitler applied Nietzsche's beatitude to the full and ended up in a musty, smelly bunker with his only option suicide. Down through history nations such as Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, and Rome seemed invincible; leaders like Caesar, Napoleon, Hitler, and Stalin appeared in control.
Appearances are deceiving. At the height of his power, Stain slept in seven different bedrooms in a randomly selected fashion- each with an elaborate locking system. He always had five limousines travel together with the curtains drawn. He had a special guardian for his tea bags. Does he sound like someone enjoying his control? Or even in control?
Even if you want to consider an individual unknown, how far does a cocky, abrasive, know-it-all really get? No one actually wants a rude, self-seeking person as a close friend. Power hungry people are routinely lonely.
Pride, arrogance, or conceit is a weird disease. It makes everyone sick except the person who has it. And it usually puts a target on the back of that person. As the mother whale said to her baby, "When you get to the surface and start to blow, that is when you get harpooned."
Nietzsche's beatitude is really a curse. It is fairly accurate, even in this world to say: Cursed are the cocky, the arrogant, and the boastful; unhappy are the elbowing, the pushy, the crowding, doomed are the hot-headed, the unapologetic, and the rude- they are miserable here on earth and have no hope of heaven.
But the need for gentleness reveals our weakness. We cannot grit our teeth, bend our back, clinch our jaw and turn ourselves into gentle people. It is a result of the Spirit living in us. Without the Holy Spirit, people with strength use it selfishly, and people without strength hate those who have it. With the Spirit, you can be a content person, a person of composure, a person confident in God's resources.