“Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth (Mathew 5:5).
Early in my ministry, I had an evangelist tell me, "You've got to run over them before they run over you." He is a great man of God who preaches revivals throughout the United States and in many foreign countries. He has the gift of drawing in the net like Billy Graham. In my church, many were saved during the week he spent with us.
But, I couldn't reconcile his advice to me, a young preacher fresh out of seminary, with what I understood Jesus to teach in this third Beatitude, "Blessed are the meek.”
Evangelist Larry Taylor is from San Antonio, Texas. All that he asks from a church in order to book him for a revival meeting is simply to receive a love offering for him and pay all of his expenses. His work is a faith ministry depending on the Lord to provide for his financial needs. He has a family to support. Moreover, there are several weeks throughout the year when churches do not schedule revival meetings, and he does not get "paid."
Larry had instances where he had been run over by churches. For example, one pastor waited until he dropped him off at the airport to hand him his love offering check for the week. When he opened the check, it was for only $500, and that wasn't the first time that such a thing had happened to him.
Larry told me that love offering checks which he receives are never written with an even number. For example, a check would be for $2,242.75. He also told me that he had watched the offering plates brought to the front each night and had anticipated a good offering.
So, what he did after being robbed by some churches was to wait for his check to be written on Friday nights and insisted that the treasurer or pastor give it to him before he left the building. That way, he could question the church officials if he thought that the offering was smaller than what the people had actually given. By waiting until he was at the airport to receive his check, it was too late to do anything about it.
He told me that several times, church officials had to write another check with the correct offering after he questioned them on Friday nights.
My church received over $2,000 for Larry's love offering. He waited on that Friday night for his check and received the complete love offering as agreed upon.
However, at the next deacons' meeting some of them complained that the evangelist should not have been given all of that money and that some of it should have gone into the church's general fund. But, it was too late! All they could do was fuss. Larry was not going to be run over any more. He had been run over by too many churches and had to stand up for himself.
"You've got to run over them before they run over you."
That didn't sound very meek to me back then. But after my experiences through the years with some cantankerous church members along with prayer, meditation and a study of meek, I finally and fully received the Spirit's gift of meek and discovered that Larry Taylor's advice defines meek.
From 1924 until his death in 1953, H. T. Webster, published a popular newspaper cartoon series titled "The Timid Soul" in the New York World and later in the New York Tribune. In its day, his cartoon was as popular as "Blondie."
Webster created a cartoon character named Casper Milquetoast, a wimpy man who speaks softly and gets hit with a big stick.
The character's name is a deliberate misspelling of the name of a bland and fairly inoffensive food, milk toast. Milk toast, light and easy to digest, is an appropriate food for someone with a weak or "nervous" stomach.
In one frame, Milquetoast's hat had blown off his head into a park that had a sign, "Keep Off the Grass." If he walked on the grass to retrieve his hat, someone might be offended. So instead, he decided that it was time to buy a new hat, and he left his hat on the grass.
H. T. Webster's Milquetoast character is now a word in the dictionary meaning somebody regarded as timid or submissive especially a man demonstrating a lack of courage or self-assurance. Synonyms include fearful, apprehensive, and tentative.
Psychologists would diagnose Casper Milquetoast as a "people-pleaser," a co-dependent putting everyone first before self in order to be accepted by others and to avoid rejection.
There is an acronym that I was taught early in my life, and I believed it. The acronym is J.O.Y. It stands for Jesus first, Others second, and You last. The needs of others are more important than me. Therefore, I should put myself last and others first.
There was a time in my life where I would never have done what Evangelist Larry Taylor did. I would have taken my lumps without confronting anyone. After all, "others first" is the Christian way - so I was taught.
I found that the result of living that kind of people-pleasing life made my life unmanageable and full of resentment. Meek does not mean we are a doormat for others to wipe their feet on. That is hardly inheriting the earth as Jesus promised to the meek.
Meek is not milquetoast which is the common association of meek. Meek is defined in the dictionary as "cowed; showing submissiveness and lack of initiative or will." That definition and the characterization of Casper Milquetoast as meek is not what Jesus had in mind when he pronounced the blessing on the meek.
Meek is not a human milquetoast mouse afflicted with a sense of his/her own inferiority. Meek is not weak. Rather, meek is as bold as a lion and strong as steel.
Nor is meek keeping yourself down by always putting others first as represented by someone like Uriah Heep, the antagonist in Charles Dickens' classic novel, David Copperfield. Uriah Heep, wonderfully hideous, is one of Dickens' greatest triumphs in character creation.
"When I was quite a young boy," said Uriah to David, "I got to know what 'umbleness did, and I took to it. I ate 'umble pie with an appetite ... "People like to be above you," says father, "keep yourself down."
Uriah was told that he had to be humble because he was lucky to get anything from all of these people who were better than him. But, the humiliation and degradation of this kind of meek filled him with rage and resentment.
Uriah put others first, but it was a false meekness. He used meek to advance himself seeking sympathy due to his childhood poverty. He embraced his downtrodden state to manipulate others by evoking sympathy to gain position, favors, and attention from influential, rich characters in the novel.
Uriah Heep, in effect, would say, "Woe is me" in order to prompt the response of "You poor soul" so that he could gain sympathetic treatment for the purpose of weaseling love, appreciation, and position from others. That is not the way to inherit the earth either. It is using meek for selfish ambitions.
"Woe is me" is a bleak outlook on life. Meek is not bleak.
Meek has to do with fire. An April wildfire consumed over 50,000 acres in Texas and destroyed many homes. But, fire under control tempers steel and makes it strong. It warms the home in winter and cooks the food that we eat.
God put fire in the world. Out of control, it is terrifying in it's destructive force. Under control, it strengthens steel.
And, God put fire in us. Out of control, it consumes us and others causing terrible damage. Under Christ's control, there is great strength.
The fire God put in us is our temper. Meek in the way Christ used the word is "strength or temper under the Spirit's control."
The New Testament was written in Greek. Our English word 'meek' is translated from the Greek word "praus." It means in the Greek "temper of spirit under control" or better, temper under Christ's control. It is our temperament that motivates us and gives us power like an engine powers a car.
Meek is manifested by the Lord and commended to believers as the fruit of power. Our Lord was praus or meek because he had the infinite resources of God at His command. We have the resource of his Holy Spirit to infuse us with praus or meek.
Meek is beyond the realm of human achievement. Meek is not attained by study, desire, or anger- management classes. These may be helpful, but they do not lead to "meek" that Jesus meant in the Beatitude because meek is a gift of the Holy Spirit. "The fruit of the Spirit is ... meekness" (Galatians 5:22-23. If Christ is in you, and you are in Christ, then you have the Spirit's gift of meek - temper or strength under control.
But, what about a "blow-up?" What has happened when temper is out of control? Obviously, every Christian still has the fleshly nature, the sin-nature, warring against the Spirit within him/her (see Romans 7-8).
There have been times in my life when the flesh has taken over and my temper erupts. In one meeting several years ago, I felt that I was unjustly criticized in regards to the youth and children's program. I demanded an apology. In my earlier years, I would have just let it go and steamed on the inside. No apology came, and I wasn't going to be run over. One thing led to another. Unfortunately and embarrassingly, I lost it. The Spirit's gift of meek, "strength under control" did not reign over me.
Then there was another time when I was in a super-charged business meeting with the entire church. Further, I had to moderate the meeting. Several hurled accusations against me, but that time, I prayed and asked for the Spirit to control my anger. I made it through on that one with no damage to me or to others, and the issue was resolved.
Both examples from my life illustrate that either we are controlled by the Spirit or controlled by the flesh. In the first instance, I was controlled by my fleshly nature and "inherited" nothing but trouble. I allowed them to control me and blew up like an erupting volcano. In the other instance, I allowed the Spirit to control me and "inherited the earth."
A Christian's temper is Spirit-controlled except on those terrible occasions when the flesh ignites a wild-fire that destroys everyone in its path. The Apostle Paul was fire out of control. Before his spectacular conversion on the Damascus Road, he scorched the earth persecuting and arresting Christians which often led to their execution.
After his conversion, he was fire under control. His fire burned under the Spirit's control across the ancient world establishing churches and strengthening Christians like fire strengthens steel.
Meek is born of power - power under the control of the Holy Spirit.
Another way the Spirit gifts us with meek is through God's gift of fellow Christians. Not too long ago, I had an incident. I felt the fire burning and knew it would soon leap the fire-break. This time, my fleshly nature didn't start a wild-fire. I got home and cooled off. I then called a member of my church for help. His advice led me to approach the person in a different way on the following day, and we resolved the problem for our mutual benefit. However, if I had been my former milquetoast self, I would not have spoken up for what I knew was right.
When you are wronged, when your self-hood is attacked by others, or when others falsely accuse you, a milquetoast response inherits nothing. A Uriah Heep, "woe is me," response inherits disgust and disdain. The fiery fleshly response breaks through the fire wall and creates a fire-storm. A meek response, temper under control, inherits the earth.
The Scripture admonishes us to "not fret because of evil men or be envious of those who do wrong" and assures us that "the meek will inherit the land and enjoy great peace" (Psalm 37:1,11).
Moses had the Spirit's gift of meek. In fact, the Bible tells us that "Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth" (Numbers 12:3).
Pharaoh certainly didn't run over Moses. And, Moses didn't allow his sister and brother, Miriam and Aaron, to run over him either. In a trying situation, he could have exploded and burned out of control. But, he didn't. Moses manifested meek - temper under the Spirit's control.
Miriam and Aaron attacked Moses' self-hood when they criticized him for marrying an Ethiopian woman. Frankly, it was none of their business who he married. Moses had every right to explode and tell them off after their unjust criticism. But, he didn't. He allowed the Spirit to control him instead of his flesh. He calmly stood up for himself trusting God for help.
God sent Miriam and Aaron a "see me note." When I was teaching, teachers dreaded and feared the "see me" note from our principal to meet him in his office because of some problem that the teacher had created. I got my share of them. My goal was not to have a single "see me" note, and I had one year without receiving the worrisome memo!
God sent Miriam and Aaron a "see me" note to meet Him in his office, the Tabernacle. Whew! What a meeting! Here is the documentation from that meeting. "The anger of the LORD burned against Miriam and Aaron, and he left them. When the cloud lifted from above the Tabernacle, there stood Miriam-- leprous, like snow. Aaron turned toward her and saw that she had leprosy" (Numbers 12:9-10). Meek Moses stepped up, then stood back, and let the fire of God execute justice.
Meek is temper standing up under the Spirit's control PLUS trusting God to right wrongs done to our self-hood instead of blowing our tops.
Inherit the Earth
Mary Karr has the Spirit's gift of meek, but it
wasn't always the case. She was a wild-fire out of control.
Mary was raised in East Texas where her father worked in the oil fields. She describes her childhood in her best selling book, The Liar's Club, as one of mental illness, violence, neglect, and substance abuse. Her mother suffered from mental instability and tried to fend off her demons with liquor and tranquilizers. Her father was a heavy drinker.
Mary Karr's childhood included the traumas of rape, and sodomy. Her mother's addictions took priority over carrying for Mary. Moreover, her embittered, mean maternal grandmother lived with them and constantly criticized and terrified the children.
After Mary left home, she plunged into the abyss of alcoholism and the inferno of madness. She drank herself into the same numbness that nearly devoured her troubled mother. She eventually would stand on the precipice of suicide.
She had married a wealthy man, but the marriage was doomed from the outset. She then entered and exited several relationships with other men to finally attach in a sick, co-dependent relationship with an author who committed suicide in 2008.
Bottomed out and desperate, she began attending Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). The first three steps to sobriety are these:
1. We admit we were powerless over alcohol - that our lives have become unmanageable.
2. We have come to believe that a Power greater than ourselves can restore us to sanity.
3. We make a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understand Him.
Through AA, God chose to reveal Himself to Mary Karr who confessed that she had been a "Black Belt" sinner and lifelong agnostic.
She made the decision to turn her will and her unmanageable life over to the care of God. Christ came into her life in a dramatic conversion followed by her entrance into the church.
Her astonishing resurrection is reflected in her life and writings. One of my favorites is her poem, "Who the Meek Are Not."
Not the bristle-bearded Igors bent
under burlap sacks, not peasants knee-deep in the rice paddy muck,
nor the serfs whose quarter-moon sickles make the wheat fall in waves
they don't get to eat. My friend the Franciscan nun says we misread
that word "meek" in the Bible verse that blesses
To understand the meek
(she says) picture a great stallion at
full gallop in a meadow, who -
at his master's voice - sizes up to a stunned but instant halt.
So with the strain of holding that
great power in check,
the muscles along the arched neck keep eddying,
and only the velvet ears
prick forward, awaiting the next or- der.
"With the strain of holding that full power in check" and awaiting the next order from the Master's voice - that is a picture of meek. Mary Karr inherits the earth just as Jesus promised the meek. She is under the Spirit's control now.
The Lord's promise is to all of us. With our temper standing up under the Master's control, we inherit the earth.
Rev. Dan White is founder and pastor of North Columbia Church, Appling, Georgia. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org