A Commentary by John Stott
Matthew 5:5 Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
The Greek adjective *praus* means ‘gentle’, ‘humble’ ‘considerate’, ‘courteous’, and therefore exercising the self-control without which these qualities would be impossible. Although we rightly recoil from the image of our Lord as ‘gentle Jesus, meek and mild’, because it conjures up a picture of him as weak and effeminate, yet he described himself as ‘gentle (*praus*) and lowly in heart’ and Paul referred to his ‘meekness and gentleness’ (Mt.11:29; 2 Cor,10:1; cf. Zc.9:9). So, linguistically speaking, the NEB is quite correct to refer in this beatitude to ‘those of a gentle spirit’. But what sort of gentleness is it, on account of which those who have it are pronounced blessed?
It seems important to note that in the beatitudes ‘the meek’ come between those who mourn over sin and those who hunger and thirst after righteousness. The particular form of meekness which Christ requires in his disciples will surely have something to do with this sequence. I believe that Dr. Lloyd-Jones is right to emphasize that this meekness denotes a humble and gentle attitude to others which is determined by a true estimate of ourselves. He points out that it is comparatively easy to be honest with ourselves before God and acknowledge ourselves to be sinners in his sight. He goes on: ‘But how much more difficult it is to allow *other people* to say things like that about me! I instinctively resent it. We all of us prefer to condemn ourselves than to allow somebody else to condemn us.’
For example, if I may apply this principle to everyday ecclesiastical practice: I myself am quite happy to recite the General Confession in church and call myself a ‘miserable sinner’. It causes me no great problem. I can take it in my stride. But let somebody else come up to me after church and call me a miserable sinner, and I want to punch him on the nose! In other words I am not prepared to allow other people to think or speak of me what I have just acknowledged before God that I am. There is a basic hypocrisy here; there always is when meekness is absent.
Dr Lloyd-Jones sums it up admirably: ‘Meekness is essentially a true view of oneself, expressing itself in attitude and conduct with respect to others … The man who is truly meek is the one who is truly amazed that God and man can think of him as well as they do and treat him as well as they do.’ This makes him gentle, humble, sensitive, patient in all his dealings with others.
The ‘meek’ people, Jesus added. ‘shall inherit the earth’. One would have expected the opposite. One would think that ‘meek’ people get nowhere because everybody ignores them or else rides roughshod over them and tramples them underfoot. It is the tough, the overbearing who succeed in the struggle for existence; weaklings go to the wall. Even the children of Israel had to fight for their inheritance, although the Lord their God gave them the promised land. But the condition on which we enter our spiritual inheritance in Christ is not might but meekness, for, as we have already seen, everything is ours if we are Christ’s. (1 Cor.3:22).
Such was the confidence of holy and humble men of God in Old Testament days when the wicked seemed to triumph. It was never expressed more aptly than in Psalm 37, which Jesus seems to have been quoting in the beatitudes: ‘Fret not yourself because of the wicked … The meek shall possess the land … Those blessed by the Lord shall possess the land … Wait for the Lord, and keep to his way, and he will exalt you to possess the land; you will look on the destruction of the wicked’ (Ps.37:1,11,22,34: cf.Is.57:13; 60:21). The same principle operates today. The godless may boast and throw their weight about, yet real possession eludes their grasp. The meek on the other hand, although they may be deprived and disenfranchised by men, yet because they know what it is to live and reign with Christ, can enjoy and even ‘possess’ the earth, which belongs to Christ. Then on the day of ‘the regeneration’ there will be ‘new heavens and a new earth’ for them to inherit. (Matt. 19:28. literally; 2 Pet.3:13; Rev.21:1). Thus the way of Christ is different from the way of the world, and every Christian even if he is like Paul in ‘having nothing’ can yet describe himself as ‘possessing everything’ (2 Cor.6:10). As Rudolf Stier put it, ‘Self-renunciation is the way to world-domination’.
Tomorrow: Matthew 5:6. Those who hunger and thirst after righteousness.
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of the Sermon on the Mount. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.