Meekness too often is confused with humility, but it is not being humble. Being humble is being poor in spirit. Meekness is defined in the original Greek as “gentle, forgiving, or benevolent”.
My favorite definition for benevolent is:
1. intending or showing kindness;
2. showing or motivated by sympathy and understanding and generosity;
3. generous in providing aid to others
4. generous in assistance to the poor
So, being meek is NOT being humble; rather, it is being gentle, forgiving and kindly generous. Michelle will tell you that I am naturally forgiving and generous (and generally gentle), but I have learned to focus most notably on my words and the control of my tongue. I have a naturally sarcastic sense of humor; I am a natural tease; often I have crossed the line between harmless banter and cutting comments. I never mean them to be hurtful, but I am not always gentle with the application of my humor.
(As an aside, I do not hope and pray for practice being forgiving – since I do not pray for opportunities to be in a situation where I need to forgive. I don’t feel right about praying that others do things that require forgiveness simply so I can learn to do it better, so I can’t bring myself to ask for more opportunities to forgive. Perhaps an acceptable alternative is to pray for the ability to see where forgiveness is required and the ability simply to do so more quickly and immediately.)
Again, “meek” is defined as “gentle, forgiving, benevolent” – with benevolent defined as “kindly generous”. Initially, I saw these as three distinct aspects of meekness, but it hit me as I thought about it that they simply are different ways to say the same thing.
I was participating in a discussion thread on a large group blog that was getting fairly polarized, particularly between a couple of commenters. I identified immediately with one of those commenters, and I was about to respond to something the other one said – something with which I disagreed. Suddenly, it hit me – right out of the blue:
I could be “gentle” in my response, by softening what I felt like saying; I could be “forgiving” in my response, by not taking his comments personally – which would lead me to be less harsh and more gentle in my response and softening what I felt like saying; I could be “benevolent” (kindly generous) in my response, by pausing before I responded and really thinking about if there was something of value in his comments – something I could compliment or from which I could learn – which would cause me to be less harsh and more gentle and soften what I felt like saying. Any one of these initial efforts would lead automatically to the other two – making my response, if I chose to pursue it in that manner, more gentle, forgiving and benevolent – making me more meek in my response.
What hit me strongly is that meekness is not just an action. It inspires our action, but fundamentally it is a way of seeing things – a viewpoint – a perspective – an outlook – an attitude. We don’t just act meekly; we are meek. We don’t just act gently, we are gentle. We don’t just act forgiving; we are forgiving. We don’t just give generously; we are generous. Iow, actions don’t bring meekness; meekness inspires actions.
I think we need to stop trying so hard to do and focus instead on BECOMING. The “do” will happen as a direct result of our becoming – only it will be His fruits rather than our works. Rather than asking, “What would Jesus do?”, perhaps we should be asking, “Who has Jesus asked me to become – and what would he have ME do as I strive to become what He wants me to be?”
I am not saying we shouldn’t care about our actions – not at all. We should try to do what we have been commanded to do. What I am saying is that our actions follow the condition of our heart and soul – and that becoming more meek will make us stop and consider our actions before we do them. Without the change of heart that comes as we develop characteristics like meekness, “doing” often is a struggle – a painful and possibly depressing process; with that change of character, “doing” is a proactive and positive pursuit.
Humility is a great foundation, and meekness (in a real way) is the practical application of humility. Gentle, forgiving and generous – I would love to be remembered by those words when my friends and family gather to say good-bye.