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Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Let Us Reason Together, Part 3: The Path of the Meek

"You make a good point. I'm, I guess, kind of, s-s-s-so-sor....ahem, well, you know what I mean."
 For the past two weeks we've been on the topic of the Christian way to have a discussion that may include disagreements and differences of opinion. In part one, we talked about kindness in debate, and in part two, we talked about listening and working with others when we encounter obstacles and problems in the discussion. This week, we're going to talk about where humility and meekness come into a discussion.

Now, most people have great difficulty saying the words "I'm sorry," and "I was wrong," and "You were right." However, in a serious discussion, there is usually a time and a place for these words.  The Bible instructs us to, "Live in peace with each other," (1 Thessalonians 5: 13 NIV), and this is not really a one-time warning. Disagreements should not be the normal mode of our lives. The fact that they are explains why there are so many unresolved conflicts in the world, from divorces to wars and generational feuds, both inside and outside the Christian community.

But God has called Christians to be meek and humble as Christ was, even when we get into an argument. What exactly does God mean by that, and what exactly is He expecting us to do? Let's find out.

Define Meekness and Humility

Meekness is sometimes mistaken for weakness. According to the dictionary, the word means "showing patience and humility; gentle, submissive." These don't seem to be winning traits in an argument, but Jesus Himself praised them highly. He even mentioned meekness specifically in a sermon known as the Beatitudes: "Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth," (Matthew 5:5 NIV).

Jesus didn't just praise meekness; He lived it while He walked the earth. He was patient with the Pharisees (Jewish teachers of the law), and He was patient with the weaknesses and failings of His disciples, explaining to them over and over again the basic lessons they were slow to learn. He was gentle with Peter, even after Peter denied even knowing Him. Jesus was submissive to the authorities and leaders who tried Him in a sham court, tortured Him, and executed Him. Above all else, Jesus was humble, obeying God's plan with strict obedience like a servant or slave, no matter what others thought of Him, instead of trying to get His own way or preserve His own dignity.

Meekness sounds like a pattern for losers, yet it is strength in God's service. Jesus could have been a "heavy hitter," always forcing His point across and demanding that others give Him honor above everyone else. He certainly had the authority to do so! Instead, He came to show us that God wants willing friends, not drafted enemies. Meekness means putting aside one's own feelings, desires, and will for a little while, in the interest of giving another person freedom and honor. This is not popular, but no one could argue that it is bad.

Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth. Matthew 5:5 NIV
By being meek toward God and obeying His plan all the way to the point of death, Jesus gave God the chance to prove Himself and His plan to be right and good. God rewarded that obedience with resurrection and eternal life. By being meek toward His fellow man, Jesus earned the approval of everyone. They might not have agreed with Him, but they couldn't find fault with the way He treated them, and they were even confronted with the reality that they needed to be more like Him if they wanted to call themselves righteous.

So, how do the meek inherit the earth? While the forceful cut to the head of the line and gain some prosperity and honor along the way from their fellow man, the meek choose righteousness over human approval, and in the end, God honors them with the gift of eternal life.

Meekness is delaying a certain type of gratification (gratification of our need for honor and approval), until that moment, which may come many years later, when that need will be fully satisfied by God, in a much larger way than any crowd of people could have accomplished. After all, "[God] mocks proud mockers but shows favor to the humble and oppressed," (Proverbs 3: 34 NIV).

Winning or Losing Gracefully

Right in line with this discussion on meekness is the topic of how to win (or lose) gracefully, that is, in a meek and humble way.  It might seem like a good idea to rub it in and celebrate our victory openly when our side wins and the other side loses, particularly when there was no question that our side was backed by God's approval. However, this is what the Bible says: "Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when they stumble, do not let your heart rejoice, or the Lord will see and disapprove and turn his wrath away from them," (Proverbs 24: 17-18 NIV).

In fact, there are several recorded prophecies against neighboring kingdoms who gloated and rejoiced when Israel was taken into captivity in Babylon (in books like Jeremiah, Amos, Nahum, and Zephaniah).  God punished Israel's sin first because of their hypocrisy, but at the same time, He swore to punish their neighbors as well, because overlooking their sins at that moment would have been hypocritical on His part. What was God trying to say? Only that when a human enemy loses, we should pause and learn from it, so that we don't fall for the same kind of reasons. After all, it very well could have been us, if we had chosen differently.

On the other side of the coin, if we find ourselves the losers of an argument, we shouldn't be sore losers. If we have been proven wrong, we should remember that "Love...rejoices with the truth," (1 Corinthians 13: 6 NIV), and warmly receive the truth that has been shown to us.  Even though it may not be what we were hoping for, we know that it is what is good for us. If we have lost unjustly, we should remember that Jesus was meek when dealing with His enemies, because He was trying to give them another chance and win them over.  Being petty and immature certainly isn't going to do that.

The Power of Apology

 So, let's say we've forgotten to be meek and humble, and gloated over our victory, or said a few things we probably shouldn't have. There is still a chance to humble ourselves. It's called an apology.  Yeah, I know, most of us are fairly allergic to that word, and when we apologize, it's often half hearted or partially left to the imagination. A total apology feels like losing part of ourselves, and it probably is.

As a wise friend once said to me, "God doesn't want to hurt your pride. He wants to kill it." Pride is the thing that dies when we humble ourselves, become servants to the one we hurt, and ask forgiveness. Pride is an over-inflated sense of self, and it leads to separation from God and others. It is our downfall, as it says in Proverbs 16: 18 (NIV), "Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall."  God wants to defeat our pride, because He doesn't want to see our destruction.

That means that if we have to give up any victory we've gained in a dispute by apologizing, we must do it. It might not change a thing with our opponent, but it's what our soul needs (see Matthew 5: 21-24).  Since a real, heartfelt apology is incredibly rare in this world, it might get approval from others. It might. That doesn't mean it will. Apologies are more about setting things right between our hearts and God than they are about winning arguments. Nevertheless, this needed to be mentioned, because it's essential to being a meek Christian.

In Summary

God's position on meekness is entirely contradictory to what the world perceives as strength in a discussion. He honors those who are kind, patient, and servant-like over those who push forward and gain victory in any way they can. He sets the meek apart from the mainstream by directing them to continue this pattern of meekness, even after a victory, even after a defeat, even when the time for apologies has come.

Why does God make such a point about meekness? Because it is part of His very character, and He wants our character to be more like His--healthy and above reproach. The point is not whether we win the temporal argument and vanquish our fellow man, but rather that during and all through an argument, we continue to honor our Savior, so that we can one day enjoy our eternal reward and lasting inheritance with the Lord.

 Hope in the Lord and keep his way.  He will exalt you to inherit the land; when the wicked are destroyed, you will see it. (Psalm 37: 34 NIV)