E MAY SEEM AN UNLIKELY EXEGETE—and perhaps his recall of the details may be a little haphazard—but, in a conversation with a French journalist, Irish rock star and activist Bono offers an interesting retelling of what he describes as “an amazing moment” from the Bible.
“It’s when the children of Israel are wandering through the desert,” Bono explains. “They’ve just been delivered from captivity by Moses, but they’re straight back to worshipping the golden calf. It’s business as usual; they have forgotten the God who delivered them. They keep getting warnings, and finally God just has enough and says to Moses: ‘Get out of the way, I’m gonna destroy my people. Then I’m gonna start again. This experiment has just run out of gas, and this freedom thing is really not working out. So get away from the midst of these people, because I’m gonna vaporize them. I can, I made them, after all.’ . . . And then the Scriptures record that ‘Moses, knowing the heart of God’—this is an amazing line—‘instead of running away, runs into the center of the people and says: “If you take them, take me.”’ And God presumably smiles. It was the Gospels in action, people laying down their life for their brother.”1
A Practical Virtue
This story was echoing in the back of my mind a few months ago when I was involved in a discussion at Avondale College, the Adventist Church’s college in Australia. I had presented a paper on the nature and role of faith in the world today, and was fielding questions from a group of academic staff and students. The question that most caught my attention and continued in my thinking beyond that afternoon was something about what should characterize the church in its mission and ministry in today’s society.
My one-word answer was “humility.” But it’s an answer prone to misunderstanding. Too many negatives come with the concept of humility.
It’s not about standing up for nothing, believing nothing, and being walked over ideologically and practically. Rather, humility at its best is built solidly on the foundation of our belief and our trust in the goodness of God. Brennan Manning observes: “Although truth is not always humility, humility is always truth: the blunt acknowledgment that I owe my life, being, and salvation to Another. This fundamental act lies at the core of our response to grace.”2
Of course, the model and motivation for this is Jesus Himself. Throughout John’s apostolic writing—his Gospel and letters—the love of God is a constant theme. But it is interesting to note what John regarded as the crescendo of this refrain. He introduces the story in John 13* with these words: “[Jesus] now showed them the full extent of his love.”3 John then proceeds to describe Jesus, the eternal Son of God, washing the feet of His dusty and doubting disciples, one by one. According to John, this was the greatest, most profound expression of the love of God—and it was an act of incredible humility.
It is little wonder Paul uses this same motif when urging, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus”4 and goes on to describe the steps Jesus took in humbling Himself, despite being equal with God, to “even death on a cross!”5
In response to that goodness—that overwhelming humility—we expend ourselves, personally and corporately, in serving and seeking the best for those with whom we share our lives and our world. It’s little wonder the prophet Micah linked the impulses for justice and mercy with the imperative to “walk humbly with your God.”6
The temptation of God’s followers had been to seek to take up residence with God on the mountaintops of spiritual experience. That was the crux of Peter’s ill-informed suggestion on the Mount of Transfiguration that they should set up shelters in that time and place.7 But that is not God’s way. Practical humility is about coming down from the mountain to walk amid people who are lost, threatened, or suffering; risking ourselves for their healing and saving.
A Biblical Example
The example of Moses in this regard is daunting. In His anger at the people of Israel, God threatened to destroy them and transfer the promises given to Abraham—that his descendants would become a great nation—to Moses and his family.8 As a descendant of Abraham himself, Moses was being offered a promise nearly as significant as that offered to his ancestors. But Moses resisted the temptation—if it is right to call something offered by God a temptation.
Instead, Moses had the boldness to argue with God—belying the presumption that humility lacks courage or conviction—suggesting that for God to act as He was threatening to act would make Him look bad, quoting back those same promises to God.9 Then Moses went further, putting himself on the line to urge his case with God.
Moses had been struggling to lead these people through the wilderness. They had been complaining and bickering almost from the moment he led them to freedom. Yet Moses said to God: “If You’re not able to forgive them, then blot me out of the book You have written.”10 Moses offered to give up eternity to save those with whom he had shared his journey.
Moses’ outrageous humility apparently changed God’s mind. God sent Moses and the people on their way, with the promise that His angel would go before them.11
A Life-changing Reality
What would it mean if such Moseslike—and Christlike—humility was to characterize the church today? What would it mean for us corporately to react like Moses to God’s offer that He would make Moses’ family a special people—a remnant—among all those who claimed to be God’s people?
After reflecting on this story of Moses with the help of an Adventist pastor friend, Christian writer Brian McLaren suggests: “The faithfulness of a faithful remnant is not crabbed and constricted; it is loyal, magnanimous, and generous.”12 That’s humility, seeking to serve and save others, at a cost
to ourselves and perhaps even before ourselves. We risk ourselves based on the little we know of the greatness and graciousness—the humility—of God.
That’s why the beatitude—“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth”13—is such a life-changing reality. This promise is the foundation for our humble living and active service to our tragic world.
A few years ago a sportswear manufacturer sold T-shirts that read: “The meek may inherit the earth, but they won’t get the ball.” The concept of meekness seems so out of place in our competitive society that describing someone as “meek” is unlikely to be considered a compliment. But Jesus continually proclaimed—and demonstrated—a different way of measuring life and judging success. In the kingdom of God perhaps “getting the ball” just isn’t so important. Jesus taught about a different kind of strength, embodied in humility, which comes only with the assurance of our acceptance by God.
The truly meek risk being ripped-off, overridden, and ignored, not because meekness is weakness but because history has been dominated by the presupposition that might
is right. Accordingly, this beatitude looks to the future—an inheritance. Jesus was probably quoting from Psalm 37 when He included the meek in the list of the blessed. If so, His source expands on the promise that forms the second half of His statement—“the meek will inherit the land and enjoy great peace.”14
A remarkable promise forms part of Jesus’ invitation to join Him in living today as part of His revolution of humility. By coming down the mountain into a world of broken and hurting people, we have the opportunity to show the world the full extent of His love. That call must change us; and it must change our church.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”
*All Bible quotations in this article are from the New International Version.
1Michka Assayas, Bono on Bono: Conversations With Michka Assayas (Hodder & Stoughton), pp. 185, 186. Story adapted from Exodus 32.
2Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel: Embracing the Unconditional Love of God (Authentic Media, 2006 reprint), p. 51.
7See Matt. 17:4.
8See Ex. 32:10.
9See Ex. 32:11-13.
10See Ex. 32:32.
11See Ex. 32:34.
12Brian D. McLaren, A Generous Orthodoxy (Youth Specialities, 2004), p. 130.
Nathan Brown is editor of the Signs of the Times published in the South Pacific Division.
HE KNOCK IS FIRM BUT rhythmical on the door to the law offices of Redders, Monty, and Stewpot. Only a few strides cover the gap to the nearest desk.
“Morning. Not sure who to see about this, but I thought I might get things moving by raising the issue with you. You see, I want to discuss how I go about claiming my inheritance, please.”
“Your inheritance, sir?”
“Yes, I have looked into the criteria and feel that I am more than qualified.”
“And what is it you are looking to inherit?”
“Well, I have done a great deal of soul-searching and self-assessment, and I’m pretty sure I’m in line to inherit the earth.”
“The earth, sir?” The statement is greeted by eyes that are at once both alarmed and amused.
“Yes, I can’t believe that no one has stepped forward to make a claim before.”
“M’mm, I see. The thing is, Mr. . . .”
“The thing is, Mr. Jones, if you think you’re qualified, you’re not. There’s a certain irony that’s actually quite amusing. It’s impossible to claim this inheritance without disqualifying yourself at the same time.” The last statement is accompanied by a shake of the head and a wry smile.
“But the clause is quite clear,” Jones counters. “If you’re meek, you inherit.”
“In my opinion, Mr. Jones, if you were meek, you wouldn’t actually come all this way to tell us just how meek you are. The very fact that you are prepared to show up here and claim the inheritance has undeniable consequences. In this case, you are not exhibiting the spirit of meekness. Thus, therefore, you’re not meek; you don’t inherit.”
“But . . .”
“There you go again. You see, you’re hardly being meek by attempting to argue with me, are you now?” The smile is patronizing to say the least. “Let me see; ah, yes, meekness is defined as: ‘evidencing little spirit or courage; overly submissive or compliant.’” He reads the words slowly, with overdone enunciation as if to emphasize their importance.
“I must say, Mr. Jones, I don’t find you overly submissive or compliant; far from it. I would say more persistent and annoying.”
Finally able to get some words in edgeways, Jones replies, “Well, surely the kind of meekness necessary isn’t one that’s all about a submissive demeanor. It’s not about surrendering rights or cowardice; it has much more positive connotations than that.”
Is that a nasty smell in the room as the wrinkled nose on the face opposite heads north?
“Semantics, Mr. Jones. I’m just not buying it. Ask any man in the street if he is meek. He will question your sanity and rattle on about his masculinity. Ask any woman the same question and she will doubtless go on about standing up to oppression in a male-dominated society. There’s no room in this world for meekness; there are no meek; there is no one to inherit.”
Jones calmly responds, “The essence of meekness is about recognizing that no one is superior to anyone else; it’s about recognizing that without God we are nothing. It’s about standing up to those who are supercilious and proud.”
The figure behind the desk shifts uncomfortably in the seat. “It’s interesting that you mention God, of course, because it is His to give in the first place. But really, do you want us to represent you in front of the Almighty when you’re so, so very unmeek?”
“Far from it: I have shown patience in the face of opposition and abuse, mostly from you, whom I am seeking to represent me!”
“So, Mr. Jones, you think you can come up with a definition that is quite frankly nothing more than a loophole?”
“That’s just it; it’s not a loophole. It’s actually the real meaning behind the verse.”
There is furious scribbling opposite as notes are taken.
Jones continues, “The real meaning is a humble attitude, yes, but one that moves away from the idea that being meek is about being a doormat, to being a doorman; from being someone people walk all over to being someone who has self-worth and helps others.”
The note-taking stops.
“I see one major problem here, Mr. Jones.”
“Well, by your way of thinking almost anyone and everyone could conceivably inherit the earth, and what’s the use of that?”
Adrian Peck is a technical sales manager for a food manufacturer. He attends the St. Albans Seventh-day Adventist Church, about 20 miles north of London.
SHOOK MY HEAD IN DISBELIEF, disappointed that our game had ended in such an abrupt and unnecessary fashion. I wondered if I’d made the right decision. Part of me felt as though I’d done the right thing, but my other half saw it differently.
I can’t believe I just did that, I thought.
The incident had occurred a few minutes earlier while my friends and I were playing our daily after-school pickup game of cricket. As the umpire that day, I’d given a fellow ninth-grader, Jason Marks,* an out on a caught-behind appeal by the wicketkeeper—much to his displeasure. Infuriated, Jason stormed toward me, bat in hand.
“That was a bad call, ump,” he yelled. “I’m not out.”
“You edged the ball and the wicketkeeper caught it; the call stands,” I replied.
“I’m not leaving, and if you don’t change the call, then no one else is batting,” Jason said while pointing the bat at my face.
By this time, the other players had gathered around, trying to quell Jason’s anger, while I was caught between two options. Clearly words weren’t going to help the situation; after all, I’d repeatedly asked Jason to calm down. I could make one of two decisions. I could walk away, knowing that if I did, I’d look like a chump in front of my friends; or I could settle this in a slightly less verbal manner. I walked.
A Rarely Used Concept
The word “meek” is seldom used in everyday dialogue; it is somewhat foreign in contemporary language. When one thinks of meekness, the beatitude “Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth” (Matt. 5:5) usually comes to mind. But does one really understand what it means to be meek? Has society truly grasped the concept of meekness?
“I can use it in a sentence, but I can’t explain what it means,” says an Adventist young adult in the Midwest.
“I associate meekness with a quietness of spirit,” says Allison Tucker, a 27-year-old academy teacher. “When I think of someone who’s meek, I think of someone who is content and not in need of constant attention.”
Karolyn Maynard, a 21-year-old Adventist, agrees with Tucker’s definition, adding, “Meekness is the constant acknowledgment and reliance on God that comes along with stripping yourself of pride and self-centeredness.”
Ellen White offers a lucid description of the third beatitude from Jesus’ teachings on the mount: “Jesus, the brightness of the Father’s glory, thought ‘it not a thing to be grasped to be on an equality with God, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant.’ Philippians 2:6, 7, R.V., margin. Through all the lowly experiences of life He consented to pass, walking among the children of men, not as a king, to demand homage, but as one whose mission it was to serve others. There was in His manner no taint of bigotry, no cold austerity. The world’s Redeemer had a greater than angelic nature, yet united with His divine majesty were meekness and humility that attracted all to Himself” (Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing, p. 14).
Pierre Monice, 22-year-old senior pastor of the First Tulsa Seventh-day Adventist Church in Oklahoma, succinctly sums up the biblical understanding of meekness: “Meekness is Christlike humility.”
Jesus was the perfect example of meekness in the past; He is the perfect example of meekness in the present; and He will continue to be the perfect example of meekness in the future. Meekness is Jesus. To be meek is to bathe oneself in the humility and selflessness that Jesus exemplified in every encounter, every day.
Now, More Than Ever
Sadly, in contemporary culture words such as “humility” and “meekness” are often used synonymously with “weakness” and “unassertiveness.”
Monice suggests that in a society in which individuals are constantly encouraged to exhibit self-sufficient personalities, the word “meekness” can often be viewed as a “light, pushover-type word.” However, he says the key to attaining Christlike meekness lies in following Jesus’ earthly example by forming a closely knit spiritual relationship with God.
“The main thing about Jesus was that He had a tight connection with His Father every day, and all His power came from God, so that He wasn’t relying on Himself,” Monice says. “Nowadays, it’s true that many people don’t have that deep connection with God, so they rely on their own power. And once you rely on your own power in every aspect, you are going to fail.”
Jesus exemplified strength in His meekness and humility, nullifying society’s inherent assumption that one cannot be both meek and strong. “The meekness Jesus was portraying came through the strength of His Father. So when we start improving our spiritual connection with God, then we can be meek and strong at the same time,” Monice says.
“Jesus emptied Himself, and in all that He did, self did not appear,” wrote Ellen White. “He subordinated all things to the will of His Father. When His mission on earth was about to close, He could say, ‘I have glorified Thee on the earth: I have finished the work which Thou gavest Me to do.’ John 17:4. And He bids us, ‘Learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart.’ ‘If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself’ (Matthew 11:29; 16:24); let self be dethroned and no longer hold the supremacy of the soul” (Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing, pp. 14, 15).
It’s been almost 10 years since my playing-field incident with Jason, and for the first time I view my actions differently. An overwhelming feeling of weakness, inadequacy, and unassertiveness had followed my decision to walk away that day. I wasn’t even sure I’d done the right thing. Now, nearly a decade later, I can look back with confidence, assured that I made the right decision.
Ten years ago walking away was a sign of being a push-over, a timid person who could easily be picked on. Today, even though society may view it differently, those same actions signify a Christlike characteristic we should all strive to attain—strength in meekness.
*Not his real name.