23.2.14 – Strength Used Well – Peter Cheyne

Read John 18:1-13

We have been thinking about “Living Like Jesus” because that is what being a Christian is all about. The Bible talks about us being Christ-like. Or, if we look at it from another angle, we are called to follow Christ. Following means imitating – copying Jesus, learning from Him and doing it.

In one place the Bible puts it very bluntly

1 John 2:6           Whoever claims to live in Him must live as Jesus did.

I suggest we memorise that. I’ll test you in a fortnight and you can test me.

In fact, if we look at the whole paragraph, we see that John is saying that the evidence that we have come to know Jesus is obedience.

1 John 2:3           We know that we have come to know Him if we keep His commands.

Then he repeats that in vv.5-6

1John 2:5b-6       This is how we know we are in Him: Whoever claims to live in Him must live as Jesus did.

Am I a Christian? Well, the question to ask is: am I keeping His commands? Am I doing what Jesus has told me to do? If we keep His commands we will live as He did. Are you living like Jesus?

I find that question extremely challenging but I don’t ask it to make us feel bad. I ask it because I assume all of us do want to know that we really are Christians. Here is the test; here is the biblical reality check: Am I living like Jesus?

We might say, “But that is impossible.”

Well, that is why we are looking at the Sermon on the Mount – this amazing record of one of Jesus’ sermons in Matthew chapters 5 to 7. Jesus talks about life in the Kingdom of God and we might say it is impossible or we might say, that this is the new life that God makes possible. We might say, “What Jesus describes is wonderful. This is so different from life in the world. Jesus calls us to life that is many orders of magnitude better than the life we see being lived out in the world. This is what I want.” What would the world be like if people lived in the way Jesus describes here?

The sermon starts with the Beatitudes: eight statements about blessedness. These people are blessed by God. Some translations use the word “happy”. Everybody in the world wants to be happy. Here is Jesus’ prescription for happiness. Do you trust Jesus enough to believe that this is where happiness is found?

The first Beatitude said, “Blessed are those who are poor in spirit.” Can you remember what that meant?

Blessed are those who know they can do nothing – they are spiritually bankrupt – and so they have to rely on God. For theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. Those who have given up trusting in themselves and have turned to God, receive salvation. The Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.

I am slowly learning that it is folly to trust myself; to think “I can do it. I don’t need to pray. I’ve done this before. I have the technical skills.” Much better things happen when I say to God, “I can’t do it. I need you.” It doesn’t mean that I don’t work hard but it is the difference between working hard and seeing nothing happen, and working hard and seeing God work because I acknowledged that I do not have the resources. It is a huge blessing to see God at work. No wonder Jesus said those people are happy.

The second Beatitude said, “Blessed are those who mourn”. What did that mean?

Blessed are those who, when they see evil, are upset by it, whether it is the evil that Satan is doing, the evil that people are doing or, most significantly, the evil in their own lives. The people who are grieved by that, will be comforted. When God sees that we are grieved by evil, He forgives; He strengthens; He transforms. We can be different people, by the power of the Holy Spirit. That is a comfort.

The third Beatitude says, “Blessed are the meek.” I think this is really interesting. What does “meek” mean? It is not even a word we use any longer, is it? Even if we did, it has come to mean something very different from the word Jesus used.

My old 1964 Concise Oxford Dictionary says that “meek” means “piously humble and submissive; submitting tamely to injury etc.” Dictionary.com says it means “1. humbly patient or docile, as under provocation from others, 2. Overly submissive or compliant, spiritless, tame.”

“Meek” is very close to “weak”. Meek people let others walk all over them and don’t respond, Meek people have no fire in them. They are spineless. They are like Uriah Heep in Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield; a man who constantly referred to his humility and thought of himself as nothing.

Question: Was Jesus like that? Was Jesus a spineless push-over?

Two men in the Bible are described as being meek. One of them is Jesus.

Matt 11:29           29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle [meek] and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

Matt 21:5
“Say to Daughter Zion,
‘See, your king comes to you,
gentle and riding on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’”

Think about those two references. When Jesus invites us to take His yoke, He uses the image of two oxen yoked together. An ox is not weak. An ox is enormously strong. What is more, Jesus said “Learn from me”. He is not saying He is nothing. He is saying that He is the Teacher but He is gentle. Enormous strength; enormous authority but a gentle spirit. He is not going to treat us harshly. He is not a wild, violent, hurtful ox. All that strength is harnessed. It is under control. He is also a servant. He offers to carry the load of that yoke with us. Does that give you a picture of what “meek” means? Meekness includes humility. It is the opposite of arrogance. Meekness is strong but gentle and gracious.

The other reference occurs as Jesus rode into Jerusalem to His death. He describes Himself as their king. This is no mock humility. But their King comes riding on a donkey. A conquering king would enter a city on a great white horse. This King rides a donkey. This King would lay down His life for them. He came not to be served but to serve.

Can you see what “meek” means? Jesus defines for us what “meek” means. It is strength combined with words like gentleness, humility, graciousness, submission, servanthood, discipline.

In fact, the Greek word (praus) is used of a horse that has been broken in. It retains all of its strength and power but that strength is now under control. Some people are like the wild horse. They react violently and unpredictably. But the meek person has all of that power under control.

For example, how do we react when we are hurt, or insulted, or offended? Some people will shrivel up into a little ball and be crushed. That is one extreme. Other will lash out and hurt back, very quick to defend themselves. Meekness means you respond with controlled strength. It might be the strength required to turn the other cheek; to be hurt yet again. It might be the strength required to answer gently. It might be the strength required to seek reconciliation or to apologise. Going back to someone and seeking reconciliation runs the risk of being hurt again. It is turning the other cheek, giving someone the opportunity to slap you again. But it is what God wants and it requires strength. Part of meekness is the ability to bear a grievance graciously.

We might think of Jesus during His trial when sometimes He simply said nothing. But that wasn’t weakness. It was dignified strength. Sometimes He did respond but it was controlled and dignified and gracious. That is meekness.

Think how Jesus responded when people tried to trap Him with questions. They never got the better of Him. He had wisdom and strength. But He also wasn’t threatened and argumentative. He was strength under control. Think how He reacted when Judas came and betrayed Him with a kiss. He faced Him courageously. He asked a simple question: “Judas, do you betray me with a kiss?” He spoke against His disciples reacting violently. He healed the ear that was sliced off one of the servants. He went with His attackers without resisting. Was that weakness? No that was huge strength used well.

The Greek philosopher, Aristotle, defined virtues as the mean between two extremes. He described praus/meekness and the mean between excessive anger and excessive angerlessness. Some people become angry far too easily. Some people should have a bit more passion; they just don’t care. In the middle is meekness. Jesus wasn’t passionless; indifferent. There were things that made Him very angry and it was right for Him to be angry. William Barclay paraphrases this Beatitude by saying, “Blessed is the man who is always angry at the right time and who is never angry at the wrong time.”

I think it boils down to being strong but not with a focus on ourselves. Meekness is never pushy or forceful. It is gentle. Some people always want their own way. Some people are always defending themselves. It is all about me. We talk about strong personalities. Strong personalities have very definite opinions that they insist on. They want things done their way. We call them strong but I think it is weakness. They are not even strong enough to be able to be quiet and listen and consider other possibilities, or strong enough to let someone else’s suggestion prevail. It must be their way. Meekness says, ‘It is not about me.”

Jesus didn’t defend Himself but when He saw religious leaders refusing healing for a suffering man, He got angry. When He saw traders ripping people off and desecrating God’s temple, He got angry. Meekness is certainly not weakness. Nor is it loss of control. It is strength used well- used in a godly way.

Why are meek people blessed? Jesus says they will inherit the earth. Society thinks that unless I assert myself; unless I fight for my rights, I will miss out. If you want to gain, you have to fight for it. God says, “No, forget about yourself. Humbly trust me and I will give you everything. Seek first my kingdom and my righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well.”

Is this possible? Can you be meek? How do we get this balance between strength and gentleness? This is not about self-control. This is not about will-power. Let’s go back one Beatitude – those who mourn. If you recognise that you are not meek like Jesus, does that grieve you? Do you want to be different?

Let’s go back two Beatitudes. Blessed is the person who knows that he or she is spiritually bankrupt and needs God. I cannot do it, Lord, change me. This ability to model gentleness, humility, submission, graciousness, servanthood, selflessness is not self-control. It is God-control. This same word (praus) is part of the fruit of the Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit’s working in our lives is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness… There it is: praus, meekness, gentleness… and self-control.

Sad is the person who is always trying to assert himself. Happy is the person who, transformed by the Holy Spirit, combines strength with gentleness; grace and truth, like Jesus. He or she will not miss out. He or she will receive everything. They will inherit the earth. “Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke18:14)

For Reflection

  1. The other man in the Bible described as being meek was Moses (Number 12:3). Consider Moses’ character. How does he illustrate what meekness means?
  2. The adjective “praus” (meek) and the noun “praotes” (meekness) occur in the following passages. Reflect on them asking God for understanding and for the transforming work of the Holy Spirit in your life.
    1. Praus: Matt 11:29,  21:5, 1 Peter 3:4.
    2. Praotes: 1 Cor 4:21, 2 Cor 10:1, Galatians 5:23, 6:1, Eph 4:2, Col 3:12, 2 Timothy 2:25, Titus 3:2, James 1:21, James 3:13, 1 Peter 3:15
  3. William Barclay says, “The meaning of the word [praus] is, in fact, so great and so comprehensive that it defies translation.” It is a big concept. Nevertheless, write down words that you think are part of that definition.
  4. Give each word a score indicating how strongly present it is in your life. What does that reveal? Are there any words you didn’t write down because you are not good at them but they are part of meekness. Add them to your list.
  5. What do you want to say to God about meekness in your life. Pray that or, if it helps, write it down.
This entry was posted in Sermon on the Mount and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to 23.2.14 – Strength Used Well – Peter Cheyne

  1. Gary Scoggins says:

    Good word Peter! I really enjoyed reading this! Well thought out. Thank you.

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