3. Blessed Are the Meek (Matthew 5:5)Related Media
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Matthew 5:5 (NET)
Application Question: In what ways is this beatitude paradoxical? How does it differ from the world’s philosophy?
The world says it is the proud, the tough, and the aggressive who inherit the earth. It is the survival of the fittest. But Christ says the meek will inherit the land. It is a paradoxical statement, just as the other Beatitudes are.
As we consider this—it is important to remember that the Beatitudes are characteristics of those who enter the kingdom of heaven. The Beatitudes begin and end with “for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.” If these characteristics are not in our lives, however imperfectly, we are not part of the kingdom of heaven.
Again, there is a progression within these characteristics. It starts with being poor in spirit. This means that people intellectually recognize that there is nothing in them that would commend them to God. They are like beggars with no spiritual credit to their account. It is the poor in spirit, and them alone, who are part of the kingdom of heaven. When people recognize their sin and therefore poverty before God, this leads to an emotional response—mourning over sin. From these two attitudes arises the third beatitude, “meekness.” Those who recognize their sin and mourn over it become the meek who inherit the earth.
In this study, we will consider meekness and the promise to the meek.
Big Question: What does it mean to be meek and receive the earth? Also, what applications can we take from this beatitude?
Interpretation Question: What does it mean to be meek and what does it look like practically?
First, it should be said that there is no one English word that can fully capture the meaning of the Greek word. “Prautes” was used of a soothing medicine, a soft breeze, and a trained animal.1 It is typically translated meek, humble, or gentle. Since none of these fully capture the meaning, we’ll consider what it looks like to be meek.
1. The meek are self-controlled or Divinely controlled.2
As mentioned, the Greek word was used of a formerly wild animal that had been broken and trained by its master. Previously, the animal could not be ridden or controlled, but after being trained, it followed the master’s instruction. This is true of believers; when we first come to Christ, we often are wild and don’t fully submit to or trust our Master. However, through both trials and blessings, God teaches us to fully trust and obey him.
We saw this in the life of Abraham. When he first began to follow the Lord, he left his home and family to go to the land to which God called him. However, Genesis 11 tells us that he didn’t leave his entire family behind and that he stopped before reaching Canaan. He brought his father and nephew and tarried in Haran for many years until his father died. Abraham didn’t fully obey God—his obedience was delayed and partial. Then when he finally got to the promised land, there was a famine. Therefore, he immediately left and went to Egypt where he suffered by briefly losing his wife to Pharaoh (Gen 12). Later, as Abraham awaited the promised child, he took things into his own hands by marrying his wife’s servant, Hagar (Gen 16). This caused great strife in his family—strife which continues today between Jews and Arabs. However, in Genesis 22, when God calls him to sacrifice his son, Isaac, he immediately obeys though it would have cost him greatly. Hebrews 11:19 says he was willing to sacrifice his son because he believed God would raise him from the dead. Through his years of walking with God, and at times stumbling, he learned to continually trust and submit to God—he grew in meekness. Instead of responding with delayed obedience or clear disobedience, when God made him wait, put him in a trial, or commanded something perplexing, he learned to immediately obey. Abraham grew in meekness—he was God-controlled.
Young Christians often get mad at God when things don’t go their way. They are like partially trained horses that don’t fully trust their Master and occasionally try to buck him off. Psalm 32:8-9 says:
I will instruct and teach you about how you should live. I will advise you as I look you in the eye. Do not be like an unintelligent horse or mule, which will not obey you unless they are controlled by a bridle and bit.
As immature believers, God must, at times, exert force on us to obey. He must train us to be meek. But as we mature, his Word and pleasure become sufficient.
Application Question: In what ways have you experienced this gradual growth in submission to God and his Word, even as Abraham did?
2. The meek are gentle in response to personal offense, as they trust God with judgment.
Christ taught this in various ways and demonstrated it with his life. In Matthew 5:38-41, he teaches that if someone slaps us on the cheek, we should turn the other cheek. And, if someone makes us go one mile, we should willingly go two miles. If someone wants our shirt, we should give our jacket as well. This is the type of person that the world would call “weak,” but it is not weakness—it is power under control. It is not that the person cannot fight back, it’s that he won’t fight back. He trusts God to fight his battles; it is his job to bless.
We saw this in Joseph’s response to his brothers who had previously sold him into slavery. After Joseph’s father died, the brothers threw themselves down before Joseph—declaring that they were his slaves and pleading with him to not punish them. In Genesis 50:19-21, he responds:
“Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant to harm me, but God intended it for a good purpose, so he could preserve the lives of many people, as you can see this day. So now, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your little children.” Then he consoled them and spoke kindly to them.
When he says, “Am I in the place of God?”, this means that it was not Joseph’s right to judge them. It was God’s. Joseph chose to bless them and provide for their children. Paul taught the same thing in Romans 12:19-21:
Do not avenge yourselves, dear friends, but give place to God’s wrath, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Rather, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in doing this you will be heaping burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Obviously, this is perfectly modeled in Christ. Peter said this about him, “When he was maligned, he did not answer back; when he suffered, he threatened no retaliation, but committed himself to God who judges justly” (1 Pet 2:23).
How do you respond when people hurt or insult you? The meek respond with gentleness. They bless and don’t curse. They seek to serve, instead of seeking revenge, as they entrust judgment to God.
Application Question: Why is it so difficult to leave justice with God in regards to personal offense? Should we, at times, defend ourselves? If so, when?
3. The meek are righteously angry at injustice towards others and dishonor toward God.
Righteous anger is a great virtue. Psalm 7:11 describes how God is angry at sin all day long; therefore, we should be as well. Without righteous anger, sin continues, people are abused, God is blasphemed, and nothing ever changes. Often, sin continues simply because we are not angry enough. We are apathetic and unconcerned about the rampant sin of society, the pain of others, and the injustices happening throughout the world; therefore, evil continues to spread.
The meek respond gently to personal offense but with righteous anger when others are injured or treated unjustly. Again, we see this perfectly modeled in Christ. When he was personally insulted, he was like a lamb. He never retaliated and often said nothing. He was powerful; he could have called myriads of angels to defend him, but he didn’t. He willingly submitted himself to God’s perfect will—including death for our sins. However, when it came to others being mistreated or God being dishonored, he was like a lion. He called the Pharisees serpents and whitewashed tombs. He went into the temple twice with a whip and drove out those cheating others and dishonoring God.
In Numbers 12, Moses was called the meekest man on the earth (v. 3). When his sister and brother were angry with him for marrying an Ethiopian woman, he did and said nothing. God defended him by judging his sister and making her leprous. In response, Moses pleaded for mercy and God healed her. But when Israel sinned against God by worshipping the golden calf, he broke the stone tablets, which the Ten Commandments were written on, ground up the idol and made the Israelites drink it (Ex 32). He was righteously angry, but not selfishly angry.
William Barclay translated the word “meek” as “Blessed are those who are always angry at the right time, and never angry at the wrong time.”3 Furthermore, he added:
If we ask what the right time and the wrong time are, we may say as a general rule for life that it is never right to be angry for any insult or injury done to ourselves—that is something that no Christian must ever resent—but that it is often right to be angry at injuries done to other people. Selﬁsh anger is always a sin; selﬂess anger can be one of the great moral dynamics of the world.4
Application Question: In what ways have you experienced righteous anger when others were hurt or God was dishonored? How did you handle it?
4. The meek are humble before God and others.
They are humble because they know their spiritual poverty—how they fall short of God’s glory—and continually mourn it. Where the prideful desire to exalt themselves and, in the process, often put others down, the humble desire for God to be exalted and for others to be lifted up. Philippians 2:3-4 says, “Instead of being motivated by selfish ambition or vanity, each of you should, in humility, be moved to treat one another as more important than yourself. Each of you should be concerned not only about your own interests, but about the interests of others as well.” This is what Christ did, as he became a man and offered his life for others (Phil 2:5-11). This is how Paul was when he said that he would rather be cursed and cut off from Christ so that Israel may be saved (Rom 9:2-3). The humble seek the interests of God and others over their own. Are you humble?
Application Question: How would you describe the difference between pride and humility? How should humility be practiced?
Tests of Meekness
Application Question: How can we tell if we are meek?
We can discern if we are meek by honestly answering a few simple questions:
- Do I submit to God and his Word? Or do I get angry at God and rebel against him, especially when times are hard?
- How do I respond when people accuse or hurt me? In general, do I let God defend me or do I fight for my rights? Martin Lloyd Jones said it this way: “The test of meekness is not whether we can say we are poor sinners, but what we do when others call us vile sinners” (paraphrase).5
- Am I righteously angry when people dishonor God and hurt others? Or am I apathetic when it comes to the honor of God and the pain of others?
- Am I humble or prideful? Am I pursuing the benefit and blessing of others above my own? Or is my prosperity the driving force in my life? Is it important for others to think highly about me? Or am I content with God’s pleasure and approval?
Application Question: Which characteristic of the meek stood out most to you and why? Which aspect do you feel most challenged to grow in? What other questions are good tests of our meekness?
The Necessity of Meekness
Application Question: Why is it necessary to be meek?
1. Meekness provides a proof of salvation.
Again, when Christ said, “they will inherit the earth,” “they” is emphatic—meaning “they alone.” When people have truly been born again, they recognize their spiritual poverty and are led to mourn. This creates meekness in their lives. Because they see their sin before God, it creates a humility—leading them to submit to Christ’s lordship. They begin to imperfectly control their anger. Instead of seeking revenge, they begin to bless their enemies, instead of cursing them.
Christ says if these characteristics are not showing up in our lives, we are not part of his kingdom. The world is wild and unruly—they don’t obey God. But the believer has submitted control of his life to God and wants to obey him. Since he has been forgiven so much, he forgives others when they fail him. Because God’s nature abides in him, he is angry at his sin and that of others, so he fights against it.
Is meekness being demonstrated in your life—bringing assurance of salvation? Kent Hughes describes the importance of meekness for assurance this way:
Again, this is not to suggest that you are not a Christian if you fall into these sins [referring to being harsh, grasping, vengeful, and uncontrollable], but rather to point out that if they are part of your persona, if you are a self-satisfied “Christian” who thinks that the lack of gentleness and meekness is “just you” and people will have to get used to it, if you are not repentant, you are probably not a Christian.
Jesus’ words are not demanding perfection. The point is, however, that if a gentle/meek spirit is not at least imperfectly present in your life, if it is not incipient and growing, you may very well not have the smile of Christ, which is everything.6
2. Meekness is necessary as an act of obedience.
In Scripture, God commands believers to be meek. Colossians 3:12 says, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” (ESV). Many times, we must respond in meekness simply as an act of obedience to our heavenly Father.
3. Meekness is necessary to receive and understand God’s Word.
In the ESV, James 1:21 says, “Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.” In order to receive the seed of the Word of God, we must have meek hearts—hearts willing to submit to our Master. If we rebel and fight against what Scripture teaches, the Word of God will never take root in our lives to save or sanctify us.
In fact, we need meekness—a willingness to submit to our Master’s Words—to even understand Scripture. John 7:17 says, “If anyone wants to do God’s will, he will know about my teaching, whether it is from God or whether I speak from my own authority.” If we don’t want to do God’s will, we won’t be able to truly understand God’s Word. We’ll twist and pervert Scripture to make it fit our desires, or we’ll reject it outright. We need this meek spirit in order to receive and understand Scripture.
4. Meekness is necessary in order to properly teach Scripture.
In 1 Peter 3:15 (NIV), Peter said:
But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect
“Gentleness” is the same word for “meekness.” Without gentleness, we’ll harm people with God’s Word. We’ll argue, fight, and push people away. Paul said in Ephesians 4:15 that we must speak the truth in love. Without humility, we’ll puff ourselves up with our knowledge and condemn others. We’ll be like the Pharisees who sought to hurt and control others with Scripture, instead of edifying and healing them. In addition, without righteous anger—an important aspect of meekness—people will never recognize the seriousness of sin. We need meekness to properly teach God’s Word.
Application Question: What are your thoughts about the importance of meekness for assurance of salvation and to receive, understand, and teach Scripture? What are some other reasons why meekness is necessary?
Growth in Meekness
Application Question: How can we grow in meekness?
We develop meekness through several ways:
1. To grow in meekness, we must ask God for it.
Meekness is a supernatural characteristic. It is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:23). Pride, lack of self-control, and fits of rage are fruits of our flesh (Gal 5:19-20). We must cry out for the Holy Spirit to bear the fruits of humility, self-control, and gentleness in our lives.
2. To grow in meekness, we must yoke ourselves to Christ, in discipleship.
Christ said this in Matthew 11:29, “Take my yoke on you and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Again, “gentle” can be translated “meek.” In biblical times, a young ox was yoked to an experienced ox so that he could be trained. Christ is the perfectly meek one. As we commit to Christ and abide in him through praying, studying his Word, serving, etc., he will train us to be like him. He will train us to keep our mouths closed when people criticize or hurt us and to trust that God will defend us. He’ll teach us to be righteously angry—consumed with God’s glory and justice for all.
Are you allowing yourself to be trained by Christ—the one who submitted his rights to God and trusted God’s judgment? Or are you allowing yourself to be trained by the world—seeking the earth now instead of in eternity?
3. To grow in meekness, we must grow in faith.
In the same way, a wild horse must learn to trust the master in order to be tamed, we must also learn to trust God to grow in meekness. This concept is also reflected in Psalm 37, in which Matthew 5:5 was originally quoted. David, the author of this wisdom Psalm, begins it with:
Do not fret when wicked men seem to succeed! Do not envy evildoers! For they will quickly dry up like grass, and wither away like plants. Trust in the Lord and do what is right! Settle in the land and maintain your integrity!
It is easy to focus on the prosperity of the world who do not acknowledge God and sometimes persecutes the just. This often leads to discouragement and, at times, even following the world’s path. In Psalm 37:10-11, David said: “Evil men will soon disappear; you will stare at the spot where they once were, but they will be gone. But the oppressed will possess the land and enjoy great prosperity.”
Similarly, in Psalm 73, another wisdom Psalm, Asaph said his feet almost slipped, as he envied the arrogant and their prosperity (Ps 73:2-3). It wasn’t until he went into God’s sanctuary that he understood their ultimate end and found strength to persevere (Ps 73:17).
Likewise, if we are to inherit the land and God’s blessings, we must go into God’s sanctuary and see the end of the wicked—those who live for this world. We must learn to trust God to defend and reward us, and ultimately to judge the ungodly.
How do we grow in faith—our trust in God?
In short, Romans 10:10 says faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. As we live in God’s Word, our minds become transformed by it. We begin to understand that in God’s economy, the first will be last and the last will be first. It is the meek and humble, not the proud and arrogant, who inherit the land. Without living in God’s Word, our faith will be weak, and we’ll get discouraged and possibly start following the path of the world—seeking to inherit the earth now.
Application Question: How is God calling you to pursue growth in meekness?
Inherit the Earth
Interpretation Question: What does it mean to inherit the earth?
To inherit the earth seems to have three aspects:
1. In the future, the meek will inherit the earth at Christ’s coming.
When God created the earth, he gave dominion of it to man. However, when Adam sinned, paradise was lost. Satan became the prince of this world, and sin brought this world into bondage. Instead of staying in a state of newness and fruitfulness, it decays, grows thorns, and causes pain. However, one day, at Christ’s return, he will give the world again to the meek. At that time, there will be a renewal of the earth—the lion will lie down with the lamb, the cow will feed with the bear, and children will lead them (Isaiah 11). There will be perfect peace in the world. Paradise will be ruled by the meek, as they are co-heirs with Christ (Rom 8:17).
2. Presently, the meek inherit the earth in the sense that they are not owned by their possessions.
Kent Hughes said it this way:
But there is also a present inheritance that abundantly enriches our earthly existence. There is a sense in which those who set their minds on riches never possess anything. This was given classic expression by one of the world’s wealthiest men when asked how much is enough money. “Just a little bit more,” he answered. He owned everything, yet possessed nothing!
It is the meek who own the earth now, for when their life is free from the tyranny of “just a little more,” when a gentle spirit caresses their approach to their rights, then they possess all.7
The world is constantly ruled by the spirit of more. They need the newest phone, the newest laptop, the newest clothes, and the newest car, and therefore never really possess anything. Instead, things possess them. However, when believers don’t focus on the things of this world, it allows them to “seek first the kingdom of heaven” and Christ says, “all these things will be added unto them” (Matt 6:33 paraphrase). God meets their needs now, and one day, they will possess all things.
3. Presently, the meek inherit the earth in that God often exalts them to places of leadership and authority now.
God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6). He took Moses who was the meekest man on the earth and put him in leadership over his chosen people. He took Joseph from slavery and prison and made him second in command over Egypt. He took David, a shepherd boy, and made him king over Israel. God blesses the meek and often gives them the land—leadership and authority—now.
“Blessed are the meek, for they [alone] will inherit the earth.” Only these people will receive the eternal inheritance of the earth. And only these people possess the earth now. For most, the world and its things possess them. God often places the meek in places of authority and leadership now, which is just a foretaste of eternity.
Application Question: What do you think about the statement, “Most people don’t possess things; things possess them”? In what ways is this true? Why should believers relate differently to earthly possessions? How have you seen or experienced God putting the meek in places of authority now?
The world says it is the proud, the tough, and the aggressive who inherit the earth. It is the survival of the fittest. But Christ says it is the meek—the ones who submit to God and trust him to defend them. It is those who humble themselves before their Master and submit to his leading who inherit the land.
Are you one of the meek? It is the meek, and the meek alone, who inherit the land. Thank you, Lord. Amen!
Copyright © 2019 Gregory Brown
Unless otherwise noted, the primary Scriptures used are taken from the NET Bible ® copyright © 1996-2016 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.
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1 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (p. 170). Chicago: Moody Press.
2 Hughes, R. K. (2001). The sermon on the mount: the message of the kingdom (pp. 34–35). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.
3 Barclay, W. (2001). The Gospel of Matthew (Third Ed., p. 111). Edinburgh: Saint Andrew Press.
4 Barclay, W. (2001). The Gospel of Matthew (Third Ed., p. 111). Edinburgh: Saint Andrew Press.
5 Hughes, R. K. (2001). The sermon on the mount: the message of the kingdom (pp. 37–38). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.
6 Hughes, R. K. (2001). The sermon on the mount: the message of the kingdom (p. 36). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.
7 Hughes, R. K. (2001). The sermon on the mount: the message of the kingdom (p. 37). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.