Sunday, October 16, 2011

Meekness and blessing: (Sermon on the Mount #3)

"Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth." Matthew 5:5

With these words Jesus turned the expectations of the Zealots of his day upside down.

Anticipating the coming of Messiah, the Zealots expected a political leader. They taught and led others to expect someone who would lead them in an overthrow of Roman rule. Living under occupied rule, they anticipated the day they would "inherit" the land. Many were ready and willing to join in what they anticipated would be a physical battle.

Speaking to His disciples - at least one of whom was a Zealot - in the hearing of the larger crowd, Jesus explained that the path to inheriting the land did not lie in military conquest. Instead, those blessed with this inheritance would be individuals characterized by meekness (also translated gentleness) - a meekness that Jesus modeled.

What is meekness? The Greek word praotes literally means "mildness of spirit; gentleness of disposition." Zodhiates expands upon this definition and the balance needed to accurately understand its interpretation:

        Praotes (Zodhiates) – “Primarily it does not denote outward expression of feeling but an inward grace of the soul, calmness toward God in particular. It is the acceptance of God’s dealings with us, considering them as good….However, praotes encompasses expressing wrath toward the sin of man as demonstrated by the Lord Jesus….that virtue which stands between two extremes: (1) uncontrollable and unjustified anger and (2) not becoming angry at all no matter what takes place around you.”

Praotes was used in classical Greek to mean essentially mild or gentle. Aristotle defines it as “the mean between stubborn anger and that negativeness of character which is incapable of even righteous indignation.” However, while classical Greek used this word to mean outward conduct only, the Biblical usage refers primarily to an inward quality related toward God. Essentially, A.T. Robertson notes, “The meekness of the Christian springs from a sense of the inferiority of the creature to the Creator, and especially of the sinful creature to the holy God.” Kay Arthur summarizes: "At the heart of meekness is trust in the sovereignty of God."

Why would persons with this trait be blessed to "inherit the earth"? Praotes is a balanced power or strength that comes from submitting to God’s will. It is that attribute which enables us to handle responsibly the authority God has given us, because we are submitted to His authority. Praotes reflects that aspect of love which does not seek its own; instead, it is entirely focused on the will of God and the good of others. Jesus drives home the point that only those who are prepared to seek God's will and focus on the needs of others are true leaders.

Most of us aren't seeking military conquest, but we can still experience the blessings of meekness. Remember the "prayer of Jabez" popularity a few years back? Jesus' challenge to those who prayed that prayer in expectation of success is that true spiritual victory comes to those whose hearts are meek.

Meekness has been described as complete surrender to God’s will and way; not fighting God; and having strength under control. The word picture frequently given is that of a horse which is broken and able to be ridden - we call such a horse "gentle".

Meekness does not mean having a "martyr" syndrome; parading selflessness to impress others; or becoming a doormat. In fact, meekness doesn’t withhold strength in an effort to be meek; rather, the ability to be meek reveals strength. It includes a righteous anger at what is wrongly done to others. Walking under the control of the Holy Spirit, meekness  can be manifest in a reaction to evil. This is anger "at the right time, with the right people, for the right reason" (Kay Arthur).  

Scripture tells us much about meekness in the other passages in the New Testament where praotes is used. (Many of these passages use "gentleness"; the original word in these cases is praotes.)

·               We should always be willing to teach others in a spirit of meekness.

o   1 Corinthians 4:21 What do you wish? Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love in a spirit of gentleness?

o   2 Corinthians 10:1 I, Paul, myself entreat you, by the meekness and gentleness of Christ--I who am humble when face to face with you, but bold toward you when I am away!

o   Galatians 6:1 Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.

o    2 Timothy 2:24-25 And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth,

 ·        Meekness should characterize relationships in the body of Christ.

o   Ephesians 4:1-2 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,

o   Colossians 3:12-13 Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.

·        Meekness should characterize our relationship to unbelievers.

o   Titus 3:1-3  (1) Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work,  (2)  to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.  (3)  For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.

o   1 Peter 3:15  but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,

·        Meekness is teachable. We should receive God’s word with “meekness” – humbly submitting to it.

o   James 1:21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.

·        Meekness has a quiet but powerful impact on what others see in us.

o   James 3:13 Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom.

o   1 Peter 3:4 but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.
Ultimately, meekness is blessed by looking beyond the present to the future. Matthew 5:5 Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth

Gentleness is an attribute Jesus spoke very plainly about. From His own words we learn that His gentleness gives us rest and that He comes as a humble, or gentle, king. But we see the fullness of praotes so clearly in His incarnation, as described by Paul. In fixing our eyes on Jesus we learn principles of incarnational meekness for our own lives.
o   Meekness is others-focused.

§   (3) Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.  (4)  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

o   Meekness does not grasp, but serves.

§   (5)  Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,  (6)  who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,  (7)  but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 

o   Meekness is humbly obedient.

§  (8)  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

o   Meekness has a kingdom focus.

§   (9)  Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,  (10)  so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,  (11)  and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

What about in the lives of ordinary humans? John the Baptist was considered “great” by Jesus and yet his ministry was extraordinarily brief and he ended up dead because of his adherence to truth. Through John’s life we can see some more principles of meekness (John 1:6-39; 3:23-30; Matthew 11:2-11).

·        John accepted the call God gave him.

o   (1:6)  There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.  (7)  He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him.  (8)  He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.  (9)  The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.  (10)  He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him.  (11)  He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.  (12)  But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,  (13)  who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.  (14)  And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

·        John knew Who was of first important.

o    (15)  (John bore witness about him, and cried out, "This was he of whom I said, 'He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.'")  (16)  And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.  (17)  For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.  (18)  No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known. 

·        John rejected opportunities for self-glorification

o   (19)  And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, "Who are you?"  (20)  He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, "I am not the Christ."  (21)  And they asked him, "What then? Are you Elijah?" He said, "I am not." "Are you the Prophet?" And he answered, "No."  (22)  So they said to him, "Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?"  (23)  He said, "I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, 'Make straight the way of the Lord,' as the prophet Isaiah said."  (24)  (Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.)  (25)  They asked him, "Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?"  (26)  John answered them, "I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know,  (27)  even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie."  (28)  These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.  (29)  The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!  (30)  This is he of whom I said, 'After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.'  (31)  I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel."  (32)  And John bore witness: "I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him.  (33)  I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, 'He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.'  (34)  And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God."

·        John did not withhold his own disciples from Jesus – he yielded them to the greater kingdom good.

o    (35)  The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God!"  (37)  The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.  (38)  Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, "What are you seeking?" And they said to him, "Rabbi" (which means Teacher), "where are you staying?"  (39)  He said to them, "Come and you will see." So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour.

·        John willingly stepped out of the picture so the focus would be on Jesus.

o    (3:23) John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there, and people were coming and being baptized  (24)  (for John had not yet been put in prison).  (25)  Now a discussion arose between some of John's disciples and a Jew over purification.  (26)  And they came to John and said to him, "Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness--look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him."  (27)  John answered, "A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven.  (28)  You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, 'I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.'  (29)  The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom's voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete.  (30)  He must increase, but I must decrease."

·        Faced with death, John didn’t expect deliverance – he only sought assurance.

o   (Matthew 11:2) Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples  (3)  and said to him, "Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?"  (4)  And Jesus answered them, "Go and tell John what you hear and see:  (5)  the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.  (6)  And blessed is the one who is not offended by me."

Meekness usually goes against our natural inclinations. How can we become authentically meek?

·        Submit to God’s work in your life.
Remember the definition of meekness - submission to God's will is at the heart of meekness.
·        Deepen humility by beholding the glory of God.
o   2 Corinthians 3:18  And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
o   Humility – tapeinos – means modesty toward self and piety toward God; arriving at a correct estimate of ourselves (not falsely low or high); results from emptying ourselves of self. It is the correct estimation of God which results in a correct estimation of ourselves. Humility will make submission to God's sovereignty possible.
·        Learn to be teachable by studying how Biblical characters dealt with their own need to learn. True teachability is obedient to the lesson.

o   Acts 18:24-28 - Apollos had to be taught the word “more accurately” and learned, then went on to share with others
o   1 Chron. 13:1-14 and 15:1-15 - David reacted in fear and anger but found instruction in God’s word and obeyed
o   The Biblical meek response to tragedy or failure is to search God’s word. It's ok to ask questions - just seek the answers while sitting right at His feet.

·        Examine your willingness to teach others gently.

o   “God’s teachers are not called to wield the Word of God like a baseball bat. The Sword of the Spirit is to injure Satan, not the body of Christ.” – Beth Moore
o   1 Thessalonians 2 – Paul described his ministry in Thessalonica as one in which he came to them "gently". 
Around the world, missionaries seek to practice “incarnational ministry” - to walk as Jesus did among the people they are serving. Think of your own ministry context (family, job, church, or other relationships). How can the principles of incarnational meekness in Jesus’ life help you as you seek to make an impact for the kingdom of God? Ultimately, meekness is the path to more than we can imagine. Dietrich Bonhoeffer paints a picture for us:

God does not forsake the earth; he made it, He sent His Son to it, and on it He built His church. Thus a begining has already been made in this present age. A sign has been given. The powerless have here and now received a plot of earth, for the have the church and its fellowship, its goods, its brothers and sisters, in the midst of persectuions even to the length of the cross. The renewal of the earth begins at Golgotha, where the Meek One died, and from thence it will spread.

Cost of Discipleship, p. 100  

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