One of the most famous of the sayings of Jesus, and perhaps the most widely mocked, is the Lord’s assertion, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5).
It is not uncommon to run across those who laugh and scoff at the idea, discounting the teaching, and deciding that meekness is for the birds. But the true disciple of Christ should take care of doing so, and realize that what Jesus is essentially teaching us is that meekness is not just desirable, it is mandatory.
First, the setting of the quote is that of the Beatitudes, which is a description of the individual who is going to find salvation in the Kingdom. The Beatitudes are not a smorgasbord of qualities from which we can pick and choose, but are each one a necessary part of a whole and godly man. This unity of form is showcased by Jesus bookending the sayings with the same blessing, “for of such is the kingdom of heaven,” as well as by the many passages elsewhere in the Scriptures which speak to the necessity of each of the qualities in a Christian.
Beyond this though, the actual blessing upon meekness is rather pointed in its meaning. The phrase, “inherit the earth,” can also be translated as, “inherit the land,” and is a call-back to the Old Testament imagery of inheriting the promised land of Canaan. When God freed His people from Egypt in the book of Exodus, it was with the goal of giving them a country. In a similar way, the preaching of Jesus was, “the Kingdom of Heaven,” is at hand (cf. Matthew 4:17). A Kingdom is a country ruled by a king; and this is what Jesus was promising God’s people – that He would lead them into a new country.
While the Old Testament Israelites were being given a physical tract of land on which to settle, we do well to remember that the Old was merely a shadow of the true gifts God was wanting to give His people (cf. Hebrews 10:1) and God had something better in mind all along for the faithful (cf. Hebrews 4:1-9). We, as Christians, are looking for a new heaven and a new earth (2 Peter 3:13), a realm not of flesh and blood (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:50), but a heavenly realm where we can live eternally. As the Bible says of our place in God’s Kingdom: “our citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20a).”
All of which is to say, that what Jesus is saying is that the meek are blessed because they are the ones who are actually going to make it to heaven. That’s a wonderful promise, but we have to recognize both the exclusionary nature of the promise, as well as the binary nature of the choice before us. Jesus tells us pointedly that not everyone is going to enter the Kingdom (cf. Matthew 7:21) and He is also quite pointed in making it clear that those who do not enter the Kingdom will be cast away (cf. Matthew 7:23). There are only the two paths we can follow: a narrow path leading to life upon which few travel, or a broad path leading to destruction upon which treads the majority (cf. Matthew 7:13, 14).
So if it is the meek, and only the meek who are going to inherit God’s promised land, ie. make it into the heavenly realm, then truly they are blessed and truly we should greatly desire to be among their number.
So, what does it mean to be meek?
To be meek, in the context of Jesus’ teaching does not mean to be timid and fearful. We should recognize that the Lord who chastised His apostles for their fear (cf. Matthew 8:26) and encouraged them to be bold and forthright in their preaching (cf. Matthew 10:26-27) was not encouraging timidity. Jesus wanted zeal from His followers.
On the other hand, what Jesus did actively encourage was love and gentleness. Jesus was Himself meek and gentle in dealing with others, though He was never fearful or timid. He approached the lost with kindness and compassion, and He worked tirelessly to help those who were in need. When the apostle Paul was pleading with the Corinthians to repent, He did so by “the meekness and the gentleness of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:1). Gentleness is an aspect, or fruit, of a Spirit-filled and Spirit-led life (Galatians 5:22-23) and a Servant of the Lord is required by God to learn how to be gentle in dealing with others (2 Timothy 2:24-25). We are called, as servants of Christ, to walk worthy of our calling with all humility and gentleness (Ephesians 4:1-2).
Gentleness and love may seem like strange or unwanted virtues to some, but if you want to get into heaven, Christ teaches us repeatedly that they are mandatory. We might want to listen and start working on being the meek individuals He tells us we need to be.
If you would like to learn more about the Kingdom, and how to be a part of it, the church of Christ invites you to worship and study with us, at 234 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis, Ohio. Likewise if you have any questions or comments, we invite you to share them with us at chapelhillchurchofchrist.org.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ.