The Strength to be “Weak”
By Paul Ayres
I know the title seems to be a contradiction from what we deem to be the norm, but being a disciple of Jesus Christ could hardly be viewed as normal. The “weakness” that I am speaking of is one born out of strength. It comes from within and it’s deeply rooted in the power of choice, having the strength to choose to be meek.
Some of the New Testament translators had a great deal of difficulty trying to decide what word best fit the Greek word praus. In the New American Standard the word praus is translated “gentle, meek, humility, and consideration.” The word they preferred most often for praus was the word gentle, but I believe such a translation falls short of capturing the true essence of the meaning. The King James Version consistently translated the word praus as meek or meekness; and though I prefer the English word meek rather than gentle, I realize that it too falls short of its intended goal.
A word master of the Greek language helped us in defining the term. Barclay says in his commentary on Matt 5:5 “It is the regular word for an animal which has been domesticated, which has been trained to obey the word of command, which has learned to answer to the reins. It is the word for an animal which has learned to accept control.” The outgrowth of such a definition enriches our understanding of Jesus’ proclamation when He says, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matt. 5:5). Contemplate a wild untrained stallion as he runs free upon mountainous terrain in one of our western states. Now imagine attempts to capture such a volatile and powerful creature. He snorts and raises his front legs in defiance of any threat. How many men have broken limbs or even lost their lives trying to lasso such a majestic animal? Once the animal is captured, injuries or the demise of tamers increase as they try to domesticate the stallion in the corral. It is a difficult task to break a stallion, but once broken (domesticated) he yields to his masters reins. What a beautiful picture of meekness!
It reminds me of the man called Legion in Mark 5:9. He could not be broken by human efforts. Possessed by multiple demons, he was wild and inflicted pain on others as well as himself. No chains could hold him. He was fit only for the “range” of the dead as he lived among the tombs near Gerasenes—until the One who is meek and lowly of heart conquered the evils that possessed him, and then the demonless man willingly placed himself under the control of the master. No rage, no anger, just fit for the master’s use (Mark 18-19). We would all admit Legion was no more as he sat in gentle repose, lowly and meek of heart.
I have begun to wonder if meekness is a forgotten trait among many of those who claim to be followers of Christ. I have witnessed local congregations where peace prospered soon to be replaced by a stampede of fury. Sometimes it starts with a personal offense. Some misspoken word uttered unwisely, perhaps even with good intentions. The offended one is outraged and he cries for vindication. He sees that he has been mistreated and he is livid at the injustice that was perpetrated upon him or his family. The offense cannot go unchallenged, and so he may even begin a tirade from the pew. He doesn’t see the new family sitting behind him who is contemplating placing membership, or numerous unbelievers present—he only sees what he calls “righteousness indignation.” The expression “righteous indignation” is often reshaped and cheapened to hide the wrath of man.
Preachers don’t fare much better. They also tend to mask their venomous attacks with noble terminology such as “I’m defending the gospel.” Someone says, “Don’t you believe in defending the gospel or contending for the faith?” Unequivocally yes. The one who said, “that he was set for the defense of the gospel” also said, “And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle (meek) to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth” (2 Timothy 2:24-25). Let’s not be fooled by Satan, who as a master technician is able to take unrighteous conduct and make it seem righteous.
The ultimate example of meekness is Jesus. He is said to be meek and humble of heart (Matt. 11:29), but what does it mean to be meek and humble of heart? Let’s look at how Jesus reacted to various situations. Notice what made Jesus burn with anger. Was it over ridicule, slander, or other personal offenses against him? Peter helps us with this question “who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously” (1 Peter 3:23). No, He suffered through the indignities of His oppressors. The sons of thunder might ask permission from their Lord to call down fire from heaven to destroy the Samaritans who were offended at Jesus, but not Christ (Luke 9:54). No, Jesus would not have a rebuke for the ignorant Samaritans but there would be one for James and John—“But He turned and rebuked them, and said,‘You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them…’”(Vss. 55-56).
Jesus felt outrage over the oppressed that were being “eaten” by the religious wolves of His day. He would describe these blatant hypocrites as “blind guides, devourers of widow’s houses, sons of hell, whitewash tombs full of dead man bones,” along with other apt descriptions (Matt. 23). He would blaze with anger as He watched His Father’s house being merchandized in John 2:13-17. The tables would be overturned and the patrons whipped as He cleansed the temple. Jesus would suffer personal indignities without a whimper but His anger would burn for the injustice of others and the dishonoring of His Father’s name. Even when we see His anger flaring the most, it was not without restraint. The One who upholds the universe by the word of His power (Heb. 1:3) could have destroyed His enemies with a mere thought. He could have used one angel, and that would have been enough to annihilate the Sadducees and the Pharisees, let alone having twelve legions at His bidding (Matt. 26:53).
In the case of Jesus we see Him choosing to be “weak”—not morally or spiritually but willfully submitting to the Father. On the cross, as His enemies surrounded Him and railed against the only begotten Son of God, He said, “Father forgive them for they do not know what they do.” Jesus desired even His murderers to repent and come to Him, which demonstrated His meek and humble spirit. What magnificent power. What a blessed example of One solely governed by His Father’s will. When He cried triumphantly on the cross “It is finished,” it was not some idle boast. It was the purest expression of meekness ever uttered upon the face of the earth.
It is this kind of spirit born of choice that will make a difference in the world. As Thomas Chisholm said in his hymn, “O to be like Thee! Lowly in spirit, holy and harmless, patient and brave; Meekly enduring cruel reproaches, Willing to suffer others to save.” O, Lord, grant us the strength we need to be meek, for I know that the meek will inherit Your blessings.
(Paul Ayres preaches regularly for the Taylorsville Road church of Christ in Louisville, KY. He has preached in China and, since 1992, regularly makes trips to Kenya, East Africa to preach the gospel. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)