Meekness is a term and a moral quality that is not well understood in the world around us. A quick search online or in a dictionary will give you negative or undesirable meanings alongside definitions that are more in keeping with the Spirit’s usage in the Bible. Merriam-Webster includes definitions such as “deficient in spirit and courage” and “not strong”, but I hope to show from the scriptures that those characterizations of our English word “meekness” do not belong in a biblical lexicon of meanings associated with that word.
In fact, Mr. W. E. Vine in his Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, writes this, quoting an earlier work by himself and another1: “The meaning of prautes (the Greek word translated into English as ‘meekness’) is not readily expressed in English, for the terms meekness, mildness, commonly used, suggest weakness and pusillanimity to a greater or less extent, whereas prautes does nothing of the kind . . . It must be clearly understood, therefore, that the meekness manifested by the Lord and commended to the believer is the fruit of power.”
The Lord Jesus is preeminent among the exemplars given in the scriptures for this godly characteristic, this “inwrought grace of the soul” (W. E. Vine). He is of course that blessed paragon of meekness and of every other moral virtue (Matthew 11:29; II Corinthians 10:1). In the Bible we also find the man Moses, who excelled in meekness relative to all of his contemporaries (Number 12:3). We see this grace of meekness taught repeatedly by Paul the Apostle, and he exhorts his son in the faith Timothy more than once of the need for meekness in his dealings with those in his sphere of influence (I Timothy 6:11; II Timothy 2:25).
Mr. Vine continues with further help as to meekness: “The common assumption is that when a man is meek it is because he cannot help himself; but the Lord was ‘meek’ because He had the infinite resources of God at His command. Described negatively, meekness is the opposite to self-assertiveness and self-interest; it is equanimity of spirit that is neither elated nor cast down, simply because it is not occupied with self at all.”
The Lord Jesus was as meek as He ever was when rebuking His disciples for their lack of faith,2 when He looked upon the hypocrites around Him in anger3 and upbraided them in faithfulness to His God, or when He made a whip and overturned the tables of the money changers in the temple.4 It was His Father’s will that He was occupied with. The zeal for God’s house was Jesus’ motive. The testimony of Jehovah must be given in faithfulness, and His perfection of meekness meant that His actions were without self-interest or a thought of vindicating Himself. The meek and lowly One defended the holy character of His relationship with His Father when He was accused of having a demon, but He allowed to pass without self-defense the intended slight of the Jews in deeming Him a Samaritan.5
Moses surely failed in meekness when he smote the rock twice in impatience and anger against the murmuring rebels (Numbers 20). But he was steadfast and faithful in that quality when he cast down and broke the tables of testimony on his descent from Mount Horeb (Exodus 32), when he made the Israelites to drink of the pulverized golden calf, and when he rallied the children of Levi to Jehovah’s side in the execution of judgment upon their wicked brethren. Perhaps we could say that glory crowned his meekness when he then stood in the gap to intercede with Jehovah for those who deserved to be blotted out of the book of the living. Moses offered himself, his own life, in the stead of his brethren, whom he had only recently, in the moral power of meekness, chastened and judged in faithfulness. Meekness is not weakness. Weak persons, weak leaders among the people of God, are not meek, and truly meek saints are not weak ones, but are endowed with moral and spiritual power by the Spirit of God.
We must look yet at Timothy, whose natural demeanor was that of timidity, which could be considered to be a form of cowardice. We shrink from using the terminology of cowardice, but Mr. J. N. Darby and some others have rendered the phrase “the spirit of fear” in II Timothy 1:7 as “a spirit of cowardice”. Meekness is manifestly not cowardice, and has no connection to it. Cowards are not meek, and neither are the meek cowards. A meek soul overcomes the fear of the shame of association with the testimony of the Lord (II Timothy 1:8), and this is the exercise about which Paul exhorted Timothy to be strong and faithful. We might even conceptualize meekness as being the outcome of having a spirit of “power, and of love, and of wise discretion” (J.N.D.). If spiritual power bears the fruit of meekness, then love and wisdom, or wise discretion, channel it for greatest moral effect in the godly.
Much more could be written on this subject, but I end with these comments. Humility alone is not meekness, nor is submissiveness, though the meek one will be humble and in proper subjection as called for by the relationships he is in. Meekness entails an active, overcoming power in the face of moral and spiritual obstacles, overcoming as well in the atmosphere of the power of darkness in the world.
The Spirit of God works to develop His fruit, including meekness, in the lives of all of those He dwells in.6 As meekness characterized the Lord Jesus, so the Spirit desires that it should increasingly characterize His own. And so it will be, that by the godly power of meekness, the meek7 shall at last inherit the earth.
1 “Vine’s Expository Commentary on Galatians” 2 Mark 4:40 3 Mark 3:5 4 John 2:13-17 5 John 8:48-50 6 Galatians 5:22-23 7 Matthew 5:5