There are plenty of people ready to give advice. Parents are always ready with instructions, or it may be friends. Or strangers often. Or newspaper columnists. Or pastors. And if that isn’t enough advice for you, the bookshops have shelves full of self-help books that will tell you how to succeed in life.
They will tell you to study hard, work hard and play hard. They will tell you that life is a contest and you have to win, by defeating everyone else. They will try to teach you how to be assertive. They will tell you how to win the contest for power, prestige, influence and status. If you listen to all the advice and act on it, I think you will become a workaholic and a neurotic mess.
What everyone seems to be doing is fighting to be on top of the world. Except those people who don’t like fighting and are made to feel like failures.
In the third beatitude, Jesus says that to ‘inherit the earth’ you must be ‘humble’. That is meek, gentle, mild. How many self-help books do you know with a chapter on how to be meek? By ‘inherit the earth’ Jesus means take your rightful place as God’s son or daughter with authority over creation and your home in God’s kingdom.
To be meek and mild and gentle is usually seen as a negative. This sort of person is assumed to be weak, they get bullied, they are tongue-tied, shy and nervous. Why would anyone want to be meek, mild and humble?
Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche was a poet and philosopher who was born in 1844 in Prussia. He said the greatest virtue of them all is the will to power. Nietzsche argued that ‘good’ is everything that increases your sense of power. And he said that ‘bad’ is anything that is weak. His conclusion was that happiness was the feeling of growing power and overcoming resistance. He strongly denounced the emphasis on kindness and compassion that Jesus taught. The only way for society to advance into the age of the superman, he claimed, was to break free of the influence of Jesus.
One man took these views and rigorously applied them more daringly than anyone else in order to create the perfect society. His name was Adolf Hitler.
Jesus said, ‘God blesses those who are humble.’ Those who are meek, those who are mild, those who are gentle. This is what the English word ‘gentleman’ actually means, but it is many years since anyone used it in this sense.
Humble does not mean apathetic.
Toward others, it means we are humble and gentle, sensitive and patient.
Toward God, it means we are submissive to the divine will, not proud, self-sufficient or refractory, not peevish and apt to complain of divine dispensations.
It requires us to be willing to accept the position of servant. There is no place in meekness for pushiness, self-vindication and stubbornly refusing to give ground.
Israel was set free from Egypt in weakness, not strength. The Hebrew slaves did not fight their way out of Egypt. When the church has tried self-assertion instead of humility and mildness the result has been tragedy. The wretched and shameful history of the crusades, and the inquisition for example, testify to this.
In Philippians 4:5 Paul’s instruction to the church was simple: ‘Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do.’ He was in prison when he said this.
He could have become self-assertive and demanded he be set free, complained about his ill treatment, threatened eternal damnation against all those who treated him badly. He could have, but he didn’t. He followed the example of Jesus, who when he was on trial did not utter one word against his accusers. Jesus, who said not one unkind word to the men who tortured him. Jesus, who declined even to defend himself.
Being meek, mild, gentle and humble extends into all areas of life.
Whenever we are in a position of status or power to dominate another person, Jesus calls us to serve them humbly. We renounce our ability to control, bully, or dictate to others by word or deed.
And so you can see that being humble is not the easy way out for wimps. Meekness is when the strong choose to serve others rather than control them.
Jesus said: ‘The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.’ (Matthew 20:28)
Jesus could have called out the angelic cavalry when he was arrested, but instead told his followers to put away their swords. God’s purposes are best fulfilled by servanthood.
The humble do not expect or demand any special treatment. They are not easily insulted and are slow to take offence. Humility is the enemy of pride. It disqualifies us from a desire for special treatment or status. Since being humble is what brings us a blessing, it really is stupid to work hard to earn a false blessing of public recognition by the futile effort to gain status in church or at work.
In order to be humble you have to stop taking yourself so seriously.
If you are meek, mild, gentle and humble, your first concern will be others. Are others receiving what is due to them. Are others being loved, respected, cherished, blessed.
When you go into a shop, it will not be your concern if the assistant is showing a great enough degree of deference. When in a restaurant you will not be first concerned if you are being served, but will be concerned for the waiter. You will first care and bless your juniors at work and in school. You will have no concern for how they treat you.
You won’t boast about your achievements or your education or your hard work. You will instead seek always to serve others.
Are you the first to make a cup of coffee or clear things away, or do you consider yourself too busy for that, too important. Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, and he told us to do the same thing. The leader is the servant of all.
Those people with a sense of entitlement are not those who will inherit the earth.
Meekness toward God is that disposition of spirit in which we accept his dealings with us as good, and therefore without disputing or resisting.
And it is God himself who tells us to lay down our pride, our ego and treat everyone we meet with humble love. God himself tells us to give everyone dignity and not ever think more of ourselves than we think of others. God himself came to earth and allowed us to spit on him, whip him, tie him to a tree, insult him, call him vile names, hammer nails into him, stick a spear into him, kill him.
As his followers we are not to boast, but to follow this example.
We have to be meek. We have to be mild. We have to be gentle. We have to be humble.
We have to be like Jesus. We have to put ourselves aside. We have to die to self.
And then we shall inherit the earth. Because Jesus said, ‘God blesses those who are humble, for they will inherit the whole earth.’