Meekness: Is It Weakness? "Creepiness"?
2nd Corinthians 10:1-8
What comes to mind as soon as you hear the word “meek”?
Most likely, “weak”. Meekness
is weakness, in the minds of most people. Think
of the associations that surround “meek” for most people.
A meek fellow is “milquetoast”, someone who falls over as soon as
huffed upon and puffed upon. Or a
meek fellow is a “creep”, like Uriah Heep, a character in one of Charles
Dickens’ novels. Uriah Heep likes
to ooze alongside people, wringing his hands and whimpering, “I’m so humble,
you know, so very humble.” He’s
not humble at all; he’s merely “creepy.”
A meek fellow may be the sort of person the clergy are depicted to be in
movies and plays 50% of the time: harmless to be sure, but laughable in their
naiveness and their gullibility and their trusting simple-mindedness.
(I say 50% of the time, for the other 50% of the time movies and plays
depict the clergy as cold and cruel.)
Something’s wrong in our understanding, because Jesus speaks of himself
as “meek and lowly in heart.” Something’s
wrong in our understanding, because the book of Numbers reports, “Now the man
Moses was very meek, more than all men that were on the face of the earth.”
(Num. 12:3) Moses is the meekest of
all, and Moses, everyone knows, is the figure in
Moses is meek. Jesus is meek.
Christ’s people are to be meek, for the meek are destined to inherit
the earth. Paul tells the Christians
in the Colosse to clothe themselves in meekness.
James insists that Christians are to exemplify the meekness born of true
wisdom. Then what is meekness?
we probe the apostles’ understanding of the work and the manner in which it
characterises our discipleship, we must understand that the Greek word pra/utes,
“meek”, had a long history in the philosophy of ancient
The ancient philosopher Xenophenon described as meek that wild horse
which has been tamed but whose spirit has never been broken.
Because the wild horse has been tamed, it’s useful; yet because its
spirit hasn’t been broken the horse is still lively, vigorous, energetic.
The ancient philosopher Plato used it of the victorious general who
spares a conquered people. The
general has triumphed, to be sure; yet he allows to live and thrive even the
people he could have annihilated. Plato
also used the word pra/utes,
“meek”, of a physician who does whatever he has to do in order to treat the
patient effectively, and yet whose treatment causes the patient the least pain
The ancient philosopher Socrates described as meek the person who can
argue tellingly a matter of utmost importance to him yet do so without losing
The ancient philosopher Aristotle used the word of the person who is
properly angry at shocking injustice yet whose anger never degenerates into
ill-temper or vindictiveness or a spirit of retaliation.
Now when we bring together all these illustrations from the world of
ancient Greek philosophy, it’s plain that meekness is strength
exercised through gentleness. The
wild horse now tamed is a horse gentle enough to harness yet strong enough to
work. The triumphant general is
plainly strong or he wouldn’t have triumphed, yet every bit as gentle or he
wouldn’t have spared the conquered people.
The physician is so very gentle as not to hurt the patient unnecessarily,
yet so very resolute as to effect a cure. So
far from weakness, meekness is strength exercised through gentleness.
One week before his death Jesus enters
The meekness that characterises our Lord’s life he expects to
characterize ours too. “Learn
of me”, he says, “for I am meek and lowly in heart.”
Then we must learn of him, for discipleship is a matter of having his
life reproduced in us. We
must come to exercise strength through gentleness.
We must be people who are impassioned yet gentle at the same time,
effective without being coercive, vigorous without being wild.
speaks of several situations where we are called to be meek.
One is the situation where someone has to be corrected.
Paul writes to the church in
There have been times when I was sure I was righteously redressing
injustice, and may in fact have been doing just that – when at the same time
someone else noticed that my sub-agenda was revenge.
I should never want to be made aware of my vengefulness in such a way as
to humiliate me publicly; at the same time, it would never be a kindness to
leave me uncorrected, for then my sin-compromised heart-condition would only
worsen. There have been occasions
when someone took me aside and told me quietly that the “joke” that I
thought funny enough to tell others in fact wounded many.
To be sure, it wounded them precisely where I had no idea it would, or
else I wouldn’t have told it. Still,
the fact that I wounded others unknowingly doesn’t mean for a minute that I
shouldn’t be corrected. As much as
I need to be corrected, however, I want to be corrected gently.
Everyone knows that offence can be taken where offence has been given.
Offence can also be given, however, where no offence was intended.
And offence can be taken where no offence has been given.
These are three situations where correction is needed.
If offence is given intentionally, the offender should be taken aside and
corrected, albeit gently. If no
offence was intended but was given nevertheless, then the offender should be
informed that while he intended no
offence (at least consciously) he’s still guilty
of offence, and should therefore be corrected.
But if no offence was given at all yet someone takes “offence”, then
the fault lies with the “offended” person; this time it’s not the offender
but rather the offended who should be taken aside and led to see that the
offence is merely imagined, however much the “offended” person was pricked
by the imagined offence. These three
scenarios are played out before us every day.
In each case a different approach is needed.
In one case it’s the offended person (offended by imagined offence) who
is to be corrected; in the other two cases, the offender.
How effective correction is in any
situation depends largely on how that correction is administered.
Angry denunciation ends only in a flare-up.
Caustic rebuke provokes retaliation.
Mocking contempt produces smouldering rage that burns underground for
ever so long but finally bursts into a flame that consumes everything it can
lick. No one is genuinely humbled by
public humiliation. No one is helped
to own her own “baggage” by having it ridiculed.
No one is brought to repentance by being taunted or lampooned or laughed
at. And of course no one is moved to
a fresh start in life by having to defend himself where he’s indefensible, to
be sure, but where he has to defend himself in order to survive psychically.
To be sure, you and I can be corrected profoundly only if we are addressed vigorously and
persistently. At the same time, we will
be corrected only if we are addressed gently.
Our Lord was never gentler than he was the day he spared the life of a
guilty woman about to be stoned, and then put her on her feet saying, “I’m
not going to condemn you. You
shouldn’t do it again.”
situation where scripture urges meekness is our witness as Christians.
The apostle Peter writes, “Be ready at all times to answer anyone who
asks you to explain the hope you have in you.
But do it meekly.” We
Christians ought to be able to say something
when we are asked about the faith that possesses us.
If we know whereof we speak when we say, “I believe in Jesus Christ”,
then we ought also to be able to say more
than this by way of amplifying this or explicating it.
It isn’t pretended for a moment that we ought all to be world-class
apologists for the faith, able to counter the arguments of nay-sayers who may be
merely clever but who also may have very searching arguments against the
Christian faith. Still, when our
child asks us who Jesus is, or our teenager asks us why she should have to go to
church, or our newly-bereaved neighbour asks us about the future of the
deceased; here, the apostle Peter tells us, we must both have something to say and
say it gently.
Would we ever be tempted to say it non-gently?
Would we ever be tempted to commend our Lord nastily?
I think we might be, depending on the context.
To be sure, when the child asks us what’s good about Good Friday, or
when the puzzled teenager questions us about the prevalence of evil in a world
ruled by one who is both good and mighty, it would be difficult to imagine
anyone replying in an ugly manner or displaying a nasty mood.
There are other contexts, however, where the Christian is mandated to
speak and where we can be tempted to
reply non-meekly. Such contexts, I
think, are those where Christian discipleship conflicts starkly with the
life-style of so many non-Christians. Not
so long ago I was in a high school in
Where our convictions concerning a Christian life-style starkly conflict
with the life-style that is touted and exemplified all around us we are much
more prone to uphold the truth and at the same time regard those who differ from
us as stupid or malicious or apparently sub-human.
Having to criticize the positions that others hold, we are always in
danger of allowing criticism of a position to degenerate into contempt for those
who hold it. And of course it will
then be “obvious” that all such people are greater sinners than we are
ourselves. It’s here that all such
temptation has to be resisted.
Yes, we are to be ready to
speak on behalf of the truth that has seized us, and of course we shall do speak
as strongly as we can. Just as
surely we must temper our strength with gentleness.
Meekness isn’t weakness; meekness is strength exercised through
gentleness, and this adorns the Christian as surely as it exalts our Lord.
 Lastly, we
must consider the matter of leadership. Moss
is said to be the meekest man on earth. (Numbers 12:3)
Then is Moses ineffective? a pushover? spineless? voiceless?
On the contrary, Moses is the single most telling figure in
Moses is a colossus but he doesn’t coerce.
He stands taller than anyone else but he doesn’t tyrannise.
He doesn’t stand above his
people when they sin. He doesn’t stand
apart from them when they meander in the wilderness.
He remains intimately identified with them even as he bears the tension
of leading them. Moses is possessed
of immense authority (none greater in
The difference is crucial. Authoritarianism is the manner in which
tyrants and bullies threaten and throw their weight around.
Authority is what genuine leaders display as their people recognise their
gifts and graces. People know that
the tyrant’s authoritarianism is a curse upon them.
Just as surely they know that the leader’s authority is a blessing.
Meekness, strength exercised through gentleness, is authority manifested
Which do we want: authority or authoritarianism?
What kind of rulers do we need? What
mood and mindset do we think should permeate our society?
Some of us are parents, some schoolteachers, some employers, some leaders
of church groups or community organisations.
All of us are voters. Perhaps
this is the most telling point: all of us are voters.
Surely we want to live under neither ineffective “wimps” nor
Moses was the both the meekest and the most effective.
(After all, the whole of western society is unimaginable without the Ten
Words he brought with him from Sinai.)
Did I say Moses was the meekest? Surely
our Lord was meeker still when he did his most effective work at the cross.
Little wonder he has told his followers, “Take my yoke upon you (bind
yourself to me) and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart.” (Matt.
Our Lord has promised that the meek are going to inherit the earth.
He doesn’t mean that those who are meek now are going to get their
chance later to tyrannise others and profit from it as well.
He means something very different. In
rabbinic teaching of first century