Happy Are the Humble (A Study on the Sermon on the Mount)

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. -Matthew 5:5

Aristotle was a great Greek thinker and philosopher of the fourth century BC. For him, the virtues of life were always defined as the mean between an excess and a lack of that virtue. Courage was the mean between cowardliness and foolish actions, generosity the mean between stinginess and waste, and humility the mean between excessive anger and the inability to show any anger at all. For him, the humble person was one “who is angry on the right occasion and with the right people and at the right moment and for the right length of time.”

Christ has already told us we need poverty of spirit. We also need to mourn over sin in our world and in our individual lives. We must have a sound social conscience.

To the above ideas, Jesus adds humility—or as it variously translated gentleness or meekness. Again, what Jesus teaches is foreign to our normal way of thinking and acting. He says to be happy we must have a humble spirit. Such an attitude is not prevalent now nor has it been in history. The prevailing attitude among most people is pride—looking out for our own interests … not letting others treat us unfairly without getting revenge.

Those of Jesus’ day were no different. They were a proud people who were looking for a conquering Messiah to deliver them from their enemies and restore what they assumed was their rightful place in the world. Messiah would deal with the Romans, who oppressed them at the present time.

With this in mind, we can better understand why they did not expect a Messiah like Jesus who was humble in spirit. They were not looking for humility and therefore did not accept or understand Jesus. They did not identify the Messiah with the Suffering Servant Isaiah spoke of. They did not look for a Messiah who would allow his rights to be violated and who would die on a cross.

As Jesus tells us of the importance of having a gentle spirit, he is only asking us to follow his example.

Understand the Meaning of Humility

As we look at what humility means, we will better understand it is not a natural characteristic of humanity but a supernatural working of God’s Spirit in our lives. The word gentle or meek means mild or soft, and carries the idea of soothing medicine or a gently blowing soft breeze. Some manufacturers apply the word to their paper products. When applied to humanity it means we are to be gentle of spirit, submissive, quiet, or tenderhearted.

Jesus displayed such a spirit when he made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. It was evident by his choice to ride a donkey rather than a white horse. He was not coming to conquer Rome or be a military leader. He was not coming to stand up for his rights but to lay down his life for others.

Gentleness, however, does not mean we are cowardly, weak, indolent, or spiritless. Jesus certainly was not any of those. It actually means to have high spirits, courage and great strength. While it is never right for us to be angry when we have been insulted or injured—Jesus wasn’t—it is always right for us to be angry when others have been insulted or injured.

Humility also involves the idea of behavior. It was used of domesticated animals. Animals that have been trained or domesticated learn to accept the control of their masters and are properly behaved. It was also used of people who belonged to the upper class of society because they were usually polite, balanced, and well mannered.

A final idea behind the word is a subservient and trusting attitude toward God. This is probably the primary meaning Jesus referred to. It means to realize we are sinners unworthy of God’s grace and mercy. When we realize this, we turn our eyes to God and see how holy and righteous he is. It means having a proper vertical view. When we realize our unrighteousness, we will desire to be clothed in the righteousness of Christ.

Jesus came to proclaim a kingdom characterized by meekness. Though many would not and have not accepted this style of living, it has been the way of God from the beginning. The psalmist said, “The humble He guides in justice, And the humble He teaches His way” (Psalm 25:9).

Meekness is about power under control. The meek person will be free of violence and vengeance. They will have died to selfish desires. They will be interested in looking out for others more so than for themselves. Serving others will bring them joy. Even when they are insulted or injured, they will love rather than retaliate. Though the meek person has the power to insult and abuse for wrongs committed against them, they will control that power. Not only is this power under control but it is also surrendered to God.

See the Need for Humility

Gentleness is not a trait we can take or leave, and then expect to live a fulfilled Christian life. It is a necessity, especially for salvation. Until people humble themselves before God and admit their helplessness apart from him, they cannot be saved.

Meekness is necessary for our witnessing. Pride will always stand in our way of sharing the love of Jesus. People have this picture in their minds of what Jesus was like, and meekness usually characterizes that picture. Why then would they listen to us if we who claim to be his followers are not like him?

Meekness is necessary if our lives are to bring glory to God. God is never pleased with pride and his Word warns against it repeatedly. When we are proud, we edify ourselves and not him.

Experience th Results of Humility

Jesus says those who are humble will inherit the earth. This does not mean Christians will necessarily own oil wells, live the lifestyle of the rich and famous, or own blocks of downtown Manhattan. The promise pertains to the future.

But in a sense, we do inherit the earth now, for the meek individual is the one who is content and satisfied with what God has given them. Since the God we worship really owns the world and everything in it, and since Christians have been made joint heirs with Christ, we in a sense own all things even now. With this in mind, we need to care for what is ours and thank all those who help us do that.

Of course, Jesus’ primary reference is to the future. Paul tells us the saints will judge the world. We may have to endure sorrow and suffering now, but when Christ returns we will rule and reign with him while we enjoy a new heaven and earth.

We know from reading the first book in the Bible that God originally gave humanity the responsibility of having dominion over his creation, but we quickly distorted that ability by our rebellion against him. But in the future, when Christ returns, we will once again have the ability to do what God initially commanded of us.

Martin Wiles
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