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“But the fruit of the Spirit is…gentleness” Galatians 5:22-23
The New King James Version I quote from most often has “gentleness” in this passage but I am used to hearing and quoting “meekness”. “Gentleness” is without doubt a more positive word choice but it is “meekness” I find in the King James and Amplified versions. It is the word I find most interesting in this list of Spirit Fruit because it is the one that carries the most negative connotation.
What do you think of when you think of meekness? I mentioned in an earlier post how literature forms my understanding of words and, thinking on books I’ve read, I cannot think of one time where a character was described as “meek” and it was meant to be positive. A “meek” character is a “weak” character and is someone to be mocked rather than emulated. This cannot be what the Bible means. Moses is called “very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth” (Numbers 12:3, KJV) and I do not read of a weak man in his story. Jesus calls Himself “meek and lowly of heart” (Matthew 11:29, KJV) and I do not read of a weak man in the gospels. If Jesus were weak, spiritless, spineless, and easily imposed on-all words I’ve found used to define meek-He would have been no threat to the rulers of His day.
I did hope the dictionary definitions would help clarify the meaning of meek for me but they did not. The New World Dictionary gives the first definition of meek as 1, patient and mild; not inclined to anger and resentment and then 2, too submissive, easily imposed on; spineless, spiritless. Webster’s give me “humble and patient, submissive”; not necessarily a negative attribute of a weak character but not necessarily positive either.
Looking at the Greek was also of little help. The Greek word for meekness in the Galatians passage is praotes (G4236) and the Strong’s Concordance defines it as, “gentleness, humility, meekness.” None of the related words, praos (G4235), praus (G4239), and prautes (G4240) offered any enlightenment. The definitions do not go beyond “gentle, gentleness, humble, humility, meek, meekness.” Not a great deal of new information here so I went to my reference materials.
Unger’s Bible Dictionary defined meekness as, “…in the scriptural sense is an inwrought grace of the soul and the exercises of it are first and chiefly toward God” and then quotes Trench’s Synonyms saying, “The Greek term ‘expresses that temper or spirit in which we accept his dealings with us without disputing and resisting; and it is loosely lined with humility and follows close upon it (Eph. 4:2, Col 3:13) because it is only the humble heart which is also the meek, and which, as such, does not fight against God.”
The Vine’s Expository Dictionary defines meekness in a similar way. The entry for MEEK, MEEKNESS says: “PRAUTES, or PRAOTES, an earlier form, denotes meekness. In its use in Scripture in which it has a fuller, deeper significance than in non-scriptural Greek writings, it consists not in a person’s outward behavior only; nor yet in his relations to his fellow men; as little in his mere natural disposition. Rather it is an inwrought grace of the soul; and the exercises of it are first and chiefly towards God. It is that temper of spirit in which we accept His dealings with us as good, and therefore without disputing or resisting”.
The Vine’s Expository Dictionary did not care for “gentleness” as a definition for meekness neither did it suggest prautes/praotes had any inference of weakness: “The meaning of prautes is not readily expressed in English, for the terms meekness, mildness, commonly used, suggest weakness…whereas prautes does nothing of the kind…’gentleness’ has been suggested but as prautes describes a condition of mind and heart, and as ‘gentleness’ is appropriate rather to actions, this word is no better than that used in both English Versions.”
While none of these entries gave me a clear idea what meekness means, I did begin to see a pattern emerge. I found that I was defining meekness for myself as submission to God, but a submission flowing from relationship. I looked to the lives of Moses and Jesus to see if this definition held and I believe it does.
There is a beautiful statement expressing the relationship between Moses and God in Exodus 33:11; “So the Lord spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.” Moses’ story is full of speaking to God, listening to God speak, and then obeying: relationship. And yet, Moses’ didn’t always obey. The word of the Lord came to him to speak to the rock and instead Moses struck it. This disobedience cost him the Promised Land (Numbers 20). Moses’ story is one of a mighty man and one of an incredible relationship with God, and yet this relationship was not perfect: something more was needed.
Jesus is the example of perfect submission and obedience to God. He says of Himself, ““For I have not spoken on My own authority; but the Father who sent Me gave Me a command, what I should say and what I should speak” (John 12:49) and also “Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner” (John 5:19). John 5: 20 says, “For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself does; and He will show Him greater works than these, that you may marvel.” Jesus was submitted to His Father because of love even though that love took Him to the cross.
I would encourage the reading of the stories of Jesus’ arrest: Matthew 26: 50-57 (especially verse 53), Mark 14: 43-50, Luke 22: 47-54, and John 18: 3-12 (especially verse 6). There isn’t space in this post to go into why the cross and why God didn’t/couldn’t choose another way to deal with sin but I hope you can see reading these passages that nothing happened that Jesus didn’t anticipate and allow. He was submitted to His Father’s will and He was anything but weak.
With Jesus’ Spirit within us, we have His same love relationship to the Father. His Spirit at work in us means we can keep ourselves in perfect submission and obedience to the voice of The Father. This obedience is always our choice and I don’t pretend it’s easy. His voice is at odds with the voices we hear in the world. There are so many demands for our attention, time, and activity. Good works need to be done and we’re the ones who need to be doing them. But, our ears are inclined toward the voice of Our Father, we must be about His business, and we only do what we see the Father doing.
“Spineless,” the world calls us. “Spiritless.” “Weak.” These words hurt, especially when they come from someone close to us. We know we are none of these things in Christ Jesus: we are meek. One of my favorite scriptures is Isaiah 30:15: “For thus says the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel: ‘In returning and rest you shall be saved; In quietness and confidence shall be your strength.’ But you would not.”
I will. His Spirit within me strengthens me to choose Him as Jesus chose Him and the cry of my heart becomes, “I delight to do your will, O my God, and Your law is within my heart” (Psalm 40:8)!
Unless notes otherwise, scriptures are quoted from the New King James Version of the Holy Bible, Thomas Nelson, Inc. 1982
The Comparative Study Bible, The Zondervan Corporation, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1984
Guralnik, David B., The New World Dictionary of the American Language, Second College Edition, William Collins + World Publishing Company, Cleveland • New York, 1976
Strong, James, LLD., S.T.D., The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, Tennessee, 1990
Unger, Merrill F., Unger’s Bible Dictionary, Third Edition, Moody Bible Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, 1982, Page 709
Vine, W.E., Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, Tennessee, 1997, Pages 727-728
Webster’s New Reference Library: An Encyclopedia of Dictionaries, Webster’s New Dictionary of the English Language, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, Tennessee, 1984