Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Meekness Doesn't Equal Weakness

Pastor Bruce Wilkinson once told a story about a student at Taylor University, a Christian college in Indiana. Years ago, they were pleased to learn that an African student, Sam, was going to be enrolling in their school. This was before it was commonplace for international students to come to the U.S. to study. He was a bright young man with great promise, and the school felt honored to have him. When he arrived on campus, the president of the University took him on a tour, showing him all the dorms.

When the tour was over, the president asked Sam where he would like to live. The young man replied, “If there is a room that no one wants, give that room to me.” The president turned away in tears. Over the years he had welcomed thousands of Christian men and women to the campus, and none had ever made such a request.

“If there is a room that no one wants, give that room to me.” That's the kind of meekness Paul listed as evidence of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:23). Our Lord preached in the Sermon on the Mount, ““Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matt. 5:5). Peter, who didn’t learn meekness until after failure, wrote that person who is meek and quite in spirit “is precious in the sight of God” (1 Peter 3:4). James also added, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6).  

Meekness says, “If there is a job that no one wants to do, I'll roll up my sleeves and get dirt under my fingernails. If there's a kid that no one wants to eat lunch with, I'll eat with that kid. If there's a piece of toast that's burnt, I'll eat that piece. If there's a parking space that's far away from the church, I'll gladly walk the extra distance. If there's a burden to bear, I'll shoulder the heavy load. If there's a sacrifice someone needs to make, I'll be the one to stand in the gap.”

Meekness is a spiritual attribute that seems very much lost in our aggressive, self-centered culture. Because people associate it with weakness, or being a push-over, most today do not admire others for being meek. A modern English dictionary or thesaurus makes it clear why meekness is associated with weakness. Notice its synonyms as listed in the Reader's Digest Oxford Complete Word Finder: tame, timid, mild, bland, unambitious, retiring, weak, docile, acquiescent, repressed, suppressed, spiritless, broken, and wimpish. Sounds like a description for a place-faced, effeminate altar boy with the fortitude of a wet noodle. In a world dominated by the strong—ruthless dictators, callous drug traffickers, powerful corporate leaders—no one wants to be the wimp everyone takes advantage of.

We are told that Jesus was gentle, lowly and meek (Matt. 11:29), but at the same time when we study His heroics in the Gospels we learn that He certainly not a limp dishrag either. Jesus was strong enough to drive the money changers and corrupt religious hucksters out the temple with a homemade bullwhip (John 2:13-17), yet tender enough to entertain small children (Mark 10:13-16). He was fearless enough to command the winds and waves to cease their howling, and turned the raging Sea of Galilee into a glassy pond (Mark 4:35-41), yet He was humble enough to stoop and wash the grimy feet of His disciples (John 13:1-11). Jesus often stood to-to-toe with the Pharisees and lashed them with scathing words of judgment and condemnation (Matt. 23:1-38), yet He stood at the grave of Lazarus and wept tears of sorrow (John 11:35). What a stunning contrast of toughness and tenderness.     

I think it’s safe to say that we have misunderstood the true meaning of meekness, especially in relationship to Jesus’ example. Perhaps, the best description we should adopt is “strength under control.” Picture a wild stallion that has been broken and is now tamed. That stallion still has as much power as when he was wild, but now that power is bottled up for the master's use. There is a wonderful cooperation between a powerful horse and its rider. An animal of tremendous size and strength, seven or eight times the weight of a man, submits itself to its master’s control. A horse may race, leap, turn, prance, or stand motionless at the rider’s slightest command. That’s strength under perfect control and that defines the Christian concept of meekness.

When we willingly place ourselves under the control of God, we are following the example of Jesus while He lived on this earth. He submitted His power to the Father’s will (John. 5:30; 6:38; Heb. 10:9). So there is actually great strength in meekness. It’s the power of God’s Spirit working through us when we yield to Him.

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