The Holy Spirit enables us to produce meekness, a necessary attitude for understanding God's Word. An added benefit to the meek is that God promises them the enjoyment of peace. A meek and quiet spirit is so very precious to God that he calls it an imperishable ornament, and He rewards the meek with inheritance of the earth.
Martin G. Collins
We should recognize that, when Jesus presents meekness in Matthew 5:5 as a highly desirable quality, He prefaces it with "Blessed are the poor in spirit" (verse 3) and "Blessed are those who mourn" (verse 4). He places it within a context that contains qualities that are similar to meekness. Alexander MacLaren writes in his comments on verse 5, "[Meekness] is the conduct and disposition towards God and man which follows from the inward experience described in the two former Beatitudes, which had relation only to ourselves" (Expositions of Holy Scriptures, vol. 6, "St. Matthew," p. 130). In other words, meekness is the active fruit of the other two, but whereas being poor in spirit and mourning are both internal in operation, meekness is both internal and external in its execution in one's life. Though this is not a complete description, it lays a good foundation.
Godly meekness is impossible unless we first learn a just and lowly estimate of ourselves. We must become poor in spirit. We do this by coming before God in deep penitence and with a clear knowledge of the vast difference between ourselves and what He is and what He means us to be. Paul says in Romans 12:3, "For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith." While pride destroys self and others, humility serves and builds.
Mourning springs from a sense of sin, from a tender conscience, from a broken heart. It is a godly sorrow over our rebellion against God and hostility to His will. It is the agonizing realization that it was not just sin in general but our own sins that nailed Christ to the stake. Notice that Matthew 5:4 is in the present tense, meaning that mourning is not confined to our initial repentance—it is a continuous experience. The Christian has much to mourn. If his conscience is kept tender by an ever-deepening discovery of human nature's depravity, his sins—both of omission and commission—are a sense of daily grief. Paul writes in Romans 8:23, "[W]e ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body." He adds in Romans 7:24, "O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?"
At the same time, this does not mean a Christian lives his life with a hang-dog expression and attitude, or that he lives his life feeling that he is a dirtbag or sleazeball who is still mucking around in a moral septic tank. A Christian is also forgiven, cleansed, and justified by the blood of Jesus Christ. He has access to God the Father, is the apple of His eye and has an awesome hope before him. He has the Holy Spirit in him. He is a child of the great Creator and looks forward to being resurrected and inheriting God's Kingdom. Christ died for him, and this creation exists for his perfection. A Christian has many reasons to feel a sense of exultation for what has been provided for him. An awareness of sin—as long as it is not allowed to become obsessive—will help him continue in a humble frame of mind by keeping pride in check, tempering his judgments, and allowing him to accept the events of life in a spirit that produces great contentment.
These qualities are produced when, with God's help, we rightly measure ourselves against the right standards—God and His law—rather than each other, and discover how much we owe to God's merciful grace. Anyone thus convicted and then forgiven and cleansed by Christ's blood is in the position to produce godly meekness.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fruit of the Spirit: Meekness
During His earthly lifetime, Jesus demonstrated these qualities in His own person, and He expects us to do likewise. It is interesting and noteworthy that God places the Sermon on the Mount near the beginning of the very first book in the New Testament, immediately after Jesus begins to preach the gospel of the Kingdom of God. Also of note is that it follows His call for repentance - for deep, heartfelt, sincere, and radical change in a person's thinking and way of life. This change is what causes conversion to God's way. Then the Beatitudes appear as the preamble to the best-known sermon ever preached, teaching intended for those who have repented and are being converted.
We must not be deceived into thinking Jesus intended the Beatitudes for eight separate groups of disciples, some of whom are meek, while others seek righteousness, and yet others endure persecution. Far from it! These are eight distinct qualities of the same group, all of whom are to be poor in spirit, merciful, mourning, making peace, etc. Nor should we pass them off as intended only for an elitist group singled out from among the disciples, thus forming a kind of spiritual aristocracy. They are Christ's specifications of what every disciple ought to be. All of these qualities should characterize each of His followers.
Just as surely as every Christian character should produce all nine segments of the fruit of the Spirit, so Christ's eight Beatitudes describe His ideal for every citizen of God's Kingdom. Unlike the gifts of the Spirit, which He distributes as He wills to different members of His body to equip them for different kinds of service, the Beatitudes are qualities each Christian needs. We cannot escape our responsibility to seek them all.
Each beatitude pronounces the person who possesses that quality as "blessed." We need to understand this word because, as some have rightly noted, the Greek word used by Matthew, makarios, can also be translated as "happy." Happy, however, is not the correct translation in this context. Happiness is subjective; the same things do not always make everybody happy. And we can certainly rule out mourning as a producer of happiness. Instead, Jesus makes objective judgments about the state of the citizens of God's Kingdom. He declares, not what they feel like, but what God thinks of them. People with these qualities gain His approval. Because God thinks well of them, they are "blessed." God's blessing is far broader and exceedingly more important than merely being "happy."
The second half of each beatitude reveals what the blessing is. Just as surely as all eight of the qualities should be part of each Christian, so each should share in the eight blessings. As the eight qualities provide broad overviews of our responsibilities, the eight blessings give us insight into the broad privileges that come to us because we are meeting our responsibilities and God is pleased.
Are the promised blessings intended for the future or now? The answer is both. God does not expect a Christian to have to wait until the future becomes the present to be blessed. Although we must endure heavy trials and pressures from time to time, is it not possible to be blessed with contentment and a sense of well-being - rather than a troubled spirit and debilitating anxiety - while patiently going through them?
Is not the Kingdom of God a present reality that we can, as Paul says in Colossians 1:13, be "translated into" in the here and now? Can we not obtain mercy and be comforted now? Can we not become children of God now, and in this life have our hunger satisfied and thirst quenched? The reality is that all eight blessings have both a present and future fulfillment. We enjoy the firstfruits now, yet the full harvest is yet to come. As R.G.V. Tasker, professor of New Testament exegesis at the University of London, writes, "The future tense . . . emphasizes their certainty and not merely their futurity. The mourners will indeed be comforted, etc." (The Gospel According to St. Matthew, p. 61). We receive some of the blessing now but much more later.
John Donne, author of the poem used in the song, "No Man Is an Island," says of the Sermon on the Mount: "All the articles of our religion, all the canons of our church, all the injunctions of our princes, all the homilies of our fathers, all the body of divinity, is in these three chapters, in this one Sermon on the Mount." No doubt he employs a measure of hyperbole here, but it indicates the esteem that those who search deeply into this message hold for it. The Beatitudes are this profound message's introduction, paving the way for us to receive the rest. They are like a verbal bomb blast that forcefully gathers our attention by establishing standards of responsibilities of great height and depth.
Attempts to classify them into groups have met with some success, but John Chrysostom (AD 347-407) described them simply, "as a sort of golden chain." Like the Ten Commandments, each stands alone, but at the same time it is firmly linked to all the others, making a complete set of qualities each child of God must have to be in His Kingdom. One commentator sees the first three beatitudes as having overlapping qualities and combines them in one link, the following four in a second link, and the eighth as a final link in a three-link chain. The simplest grouping is probably the best, however. The first four, dealing specifically with one's relationship with God, sets the stage for the final four, which have more to do with one's relations to man.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Beatitudes, Part Two: Poor in Spirit
Meekness (gentleness, NKJV) is so important that it is the third characteristic Jesus mentions in His foundational teaching, the Sermon on the Mount: "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth" (Matthew 5:5). Obviously, the world's ideal of the perfect man is very different from His. The meek are among those so favored that they will share in Jesus' inheritance of the earth.
He was not the first to state the importance of meekness, but He was the first to collect, in what we call the Beatitudes, a God-authored, organized list of the characteristics of the perfect man. Others have made lists of outstanding virtues, but Jesus' list is unique in that He relates them to the Kingdom of God and in the depth and breadth of what He meant.
How can this be, though? Given how modern man considers those who are meek, His statement about meekness is almost incomprehensible. The world would word this, "Blessed are the strong, who can hold their own." The world favors more conspicuous and so-called heroic virtues. Those who are strongly—almost fiercely—competitive, aggressive, and assertive are the ones who receive recognition, admiration, and reward. Do they not seem to end up on top of the pile, possessing the most and best despite other obvious and perhaps even offensive flaws in their character?
On the surface, this beatitude seems to have little meaning, and what there is seems to contradict the plain facts of everyday life. No sensible person, looking about the world or studying history, could sincerely accept it at face value. Unfortunately, many Christians have ignored it in practice, perhaps regretting that no doubt it should be true, but that it certainly is not so in the real world. Rather than taking God at His Word, they remain conformed to the world's standard of practice, missing the benefits meekness will produce in their lives. Remember, Jesus Himself says this: Blessed—happy, favored—are the meek.
So we must decide. Jesus either meant what he said, or He did not; He either knew what He was talking about, or He did not. Jesus is either a reliable guide, or He is not. We must either take Jesus seriously or not, and if we do not, we should drop His teaching altogether. If we decide to straddle the fence and strive for some characteristics but not others, we become hypocrites. Of course, the true Christian will accept it, learn from it and grow in it.
What Jesus says is a very practical doctrine. It may at first seem impractical, foolish, and even wild, but He was no sentimental dreamer who dealt in empty platitudes. He was an unflinching realist who has given us a great key to prosperity and dominion under God's purpose. One commentator, Emmet Fox, author of an entire book on the Sermon on the Mount, states that this beatitude "is among the half dozen most important verses in the Bible."
"The meek shall inherit the earth," and when they do, they will proceed to govern it. Meekness is a virtue God has determined those who will have dominion in His Family must possess. Without it, will we even be there?
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fruit of the Spirit: Meekness
Jesus' words paraphrase the words of David in Psalm 37:11: "But the meek shall inherit the earth." Notice that neither Jesus nor David says anything about inheriting some mystical place in the heavens.
Earl L. Henn (1934-1997)
Basic Doctrines: The Reward of the Saved
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Matthew 5:5:
1 Corinthians 2:2
1 Thessalonians 4:17
1 Thessalonians 4:17