The biblical qualities of meekness and gentleness are misunderstood and undervalued in today's society of extremes—where all too often people tend to angrily overreact or passively underreact.
Elephants are so strong they have frequently been used for logging—to carry large logs and even uproot trees. But these giants are usually gentle, especially when tamed from a young age.
The elephant's trunk in particular is an example of strength coupled with precise control. Its trunk, with more than 40,000 individual muscles, is strong enough to rip branches from trees but sensitive enough to pick up a single blade of grass!
The trained elephant illustrates the great value of having both strength and careful gentleness—unlike the proverbial "bull in a china shop."
Compared to English, the Greek language has more precise words for describing the valuable quality of trained animals like elephants and horses. The New Testament uses those same Greek words for a virtue God wants His people to develop.
When the apostle Paul lists "meekness" as the eighth attribute among the fruit of the spirit in Galatians:5:23 (King James Version), he uses the Greek noun praotes or prautes— and "meekness" is the closest translation for the Greek word used here. (Similarly, the closest English translation for the related Greek adjective praos or praus is "meek.")
We are to be meek ( yielded, teachable, responsive ) first of all in our relationship with God, and secondly meek ( humble, gentle, respectful ) in our relationships with people. To become this kind of person, God must tame and train us!
A word with a closely-related meaning is magnanimous, defined as "generous in forgiving; avoiding resentment or revenge; unselfish."
Meekness is an important part of true love. "Love is patient, love is kind . . . It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered" (1 Corinthians:13:4-5, New International Version).
The Bible places great value on meekness. Jesus said, "Blessed are the meek [Greek praus ], for they shall inherit the earth" (Matthew:5:5). That's a mighty big reward for being meek!
But since "meek" is no longer a popular or commonly used word, modern Bible translations frequently substitute the almost-synonymous word "gentle." Scriptures quoted in this article are mostly from the New King James Version, which uses "meek" and "gentle" interchangeably.
However, be aware that gentleness refers mostly to actions, whereas meekness refers to attitude— one's whole state of mind as well as actions. Meekness produces gentleness. This explains why meekness is one of the beatitudes—beautiful attitudes for which God promises blessings (Matthew:5:5).
Meekness is not weakness!
Many people confuse "meek" with "weak." It's regrettable that they rhyme because godly meekness requires strength!
For a physical comparison, if you were badly injured and needed someone to gently carry you, wouldn't you want someone who was really strong? You wouldn't want a person who might stumble or clumsily struggle with you!
Adding to the confusion is the idea that hair-trigger angry reactions are "normal." As a result, some people assume that a person who doesn't retaliate tit for tat must be afraid or mousy. But true strength is shown by a secure individual who stays cool, thinks first and then responds in the way that will best help the other person. "A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger" (Proverbs:15:1).
Consider God! He is all- powerful, but He never misuses His power. He is the perfect Father who never overreacts, is gentle with His often-unruly children and always does what is best for us.
Consider also the example Jesus Christ set while on earth. Although He could call on divine power, He was approachable, sympathetic, kind and loving. He said, "Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly [humble] in heart" (Matthew:11:29, emphasis added throughout). He used His power for healing rather than hurting. Remember His words: "Learn from Me."
Fruit of the Holy Spirit
The greatest power on earth is the power of the Holy Spirit. It is this Spirit—God's Spirit—that enables people to be far more meek and gentle than they could ever be without it, as Paul shows in his letter to the churches of Galatia.
Paul knew that the Christians there were backsliding into hostile attitudes and personal conflicts. He wrote that some were "biting and devouring each other" (Galatians:5:15, NIV). He urged them to "through love serve one another" (verse 13), reminding them, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (verse 14).
What the Galatians needed was to "walk in the Spirit" (Galatians:5:16). And what did he say is the result of following the lead of God's Holy Spirit?
Paul went on to write of how that Spirit would transform our lives: "But the fruit [product, effect] of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control" (verses 22-23).
What a great solution! God doesn't leave us on our own to work up these virtues. By putting our faith in God, repenting of our sins and being baptized, we can "receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts:2:38). And that gift includes wonderful fruit!
Then, to continue bearing spiritual fruit, think of yourself as a branch. The key is to stay attached to the trunk of the true vine, Jesus Christ (John:15:1-6).
It's easy to see how the attributes among the fruit of the Spirit overlap and relate to each other. Meekness and gentleness relate very closely to love, longsuffering (being patient and not short-tempered), kindness and self-control.
It's also easy to see how desperately we human beings need God's Spirit to overcome the "works of the flesh"—the ugly and evil tendencies of human nature (Galatians:5:19-21). We surely need meekness and gentleness in place of "hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions"!
Later we see how important gentleness is when it comes to helping someone caught up in a sin. Paul said, "You who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted" (Galatians:6:1). Paul not only meant we should show gentle words and actions, but also a humble attitude rather than a superior and self-righteous approach (see verse 3).
To fight or not to fight?
Should a Christian be a fighter? A physical fighter, no. A spiritual fighter, yes. Right after Paul wrote to Timothy to "pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness," he went on to say, "Fight the good fight of faith" (1 Timo- thy 6:11-12). This kind of fight is not against people but against evil influences, especially those of Satan and the demons (Ephesians:6:11-12). We are to use spiritual weapons, not physical weapons (2 Corinthians:10:4).
Successful spiritual warfare requires great courage and endurance. Paul wrote, "Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong" (1 Corinthians:16:13).
But in our relationships with people, we are not to be combative or argumentative—we are to be peacemakers.
Paul also wrote: "Love one another with brotherly affection . . . Live in harmony with one another . . . Repay no one evil for evil . . . If possible, so far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all'" (Romans:12:10, 16-18, Revised Standard Version).
When someone hurts you, just take it rather than hurting back. That's what Jesus meant by loving everyone and turning the other cheek (Matthew:5:38-45).
Since we all like to be treated gently, why not treat everyone else gently? "And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise" (Luke:6:31). That's the Golden Rule!
Qualities that relate to meekness and gentleness
As with the fruit of the Spirit, other scriptures also show us how certain virtues go hand in hand. Paul said we are to "walk . . . with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love" (Ephesians:4:1-2).
He also wrote that we should "put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering, bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do" (Colossians:3:12-13).
Meekness includes voluntarily "submitting to one another" (Ephesians:5:21). In a long passage, Peter spoke of the importance of submission of all kinds—Christians toward government (1 Peter:2:13), servants toward masters (2:18), Christ's example of submitting to His tormentors (2:21-25) and wives toward their husbands (3:1).
Peter also encouraged wives to emphasize inner beauty rather than outer beauty—"the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight" (1 Peter:3:4, New International Version). Then in verse 7, he exhorted husbands to be true gentlemen and to honor their wives.
To everyone, Peter wrote, "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect" (1 Peter:3:15, NIV).
Two scriptures use another Greek word that specifically means "gentle." One says that "a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle [ eepios ] to all, able to teach, patient" (2 Timothy:2:24).
And the other one beautifully shows Paul's great love for those in the churches he watched over: "But we were gentle [ eepios ] among you, just as a nursing mother cherishes her own children. So, affectionately longing for you, we were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us" (1 Thessalonians:2:7-8).
The world sorely needs this kind of TLC—tender loving care!
Grow in meekness and gentleness
To keep your attitudes and actions meek and gentle, you will need to swim upstream against the culture's current of rudeness and roughness. Paul foretold that "in the last days . . . men will be lovers of themselves . . . unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal" (2 Timothy:3:1-3). Doesn't that describe much of the content on television and in movies?
God is calling people out of such darkness to be "the light of the world"—to set the right example for others (Matthew:5:14). That's a tall order. But God is ever ready to help us. Pray earnestly for His help. And make a habit of reading God's Word so it can transform your thinking and way of life.
Remember that an important part of being that shining light is having godly meekness and gentleness. And someday the whole world will be a peaceful and happy place. That someday is when Christ returns and the meek inherit the earth! GN