Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Yeah. That sounds about right. The meek. The weak people. The ones who never stand up for themselves. They just take whatever comes their way. Truth is, they’re probably the only kind of people who would even accept this old broken down world as part of their inheritance. Everyone else is smart enough to turn it down. Of course, there’s always the question of whether we’ll just literally blow the whole thing up in one huge nuclear war. Then the only inheritance is going to be a whole lot of cosmic dust. For the meek. Yeah – that sounds right. Blessed are the meek – Not!
Except that it really doesn’t sound right. On the off chance you don’t recognize the opening line, here it is again, with some “context” provided by text formatting.
Mt 5:5 Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
So it’s from Jesus. The creator of this whole universe we live in. Including this old broken down world. And the creator of me and you. Given that, something’s got to be wrong with that whole first paragraph. The thing is though, I dare say, the majority of the world believes the first paragraph is true. Unfortunately, if we’re honest, a look at the world around us shows that a number of people calling themselves Christians hold that same view. Clearly, the truth of this simple beatitude is lost on much of the world. Blessed are the meek – it must be true. Somehow.
Blessed are the meek, but who are the meek?
As we see from dictionary.com, that opening paragraph is an accurate description of how most people look at the “meek”.
See what I mean? “Overly submissive“. As in who else but the meek would even be willing to accept this old broken down earth as part of their inheritance.
But is that what Jesus said? Remember, there are at least two differences between what Jesus intended to say and the way we interpret the word “meek” today. One is the language. Jesus likely spoke Aramaic. The Gospels were written primarily in Greek. We end up with English words, translated from the Greek. The other difference is culture. Words spoken 2,000 years ago don’t always mean the same thing as they do now. So let’s look at “meek”, from the point of view of someone who actually heard Jesus speak the word.
4239 πραΰς [praus /prah·ooce/] adj. Apparently a primary word; TDNT 6:645; TDNTA 929; GK 4558; Three occurrences; AV translates as “meek” three times. 1 mildness of disposition, gentleness of spirit, meekness. Additional Information: Meekness toward God is that disposition of spirit in which we accept His dealings with us as good, and therefore without disputing or resisting. In the OT, the meek are those wholly relying on God rather than their own strength to defend them against injustice. Thus, meekness toward evil people means knowing God is permitting the injuries they inflict, that He is using them to purify His elect, and that He will deliver His elect in His time. (Is. 41:17, Lu. 18:1–8) Gentleness or meekness is the opposite to self-assertiveness and self-interest. It stems from trust in God’s goodness and control over the situation. The gentle person is not occupied with self at all. This is a work of the Holy Spirit, not of the human will. (Gal. 5:23). Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.
Meek – then versus now
That sure is different. We look at meek as referring to the way in which we interact with other people. Us versus them. But in Jesus’ time, at least among the Jewish people, the meaning was quite different. Jesus brought God into the equation.
Meek had to do with our interaction with God. We accept His dealings with us as good, and therefore without disputing or resisting. Then, because of the way we view God, our interactions with other people are a direct result of our interaction with God. For a Jewish person at that time, it was all about Yahweh. For a Christian today, it’s all about Jesus.
So the rest of the world, IE. non-Christians, doesn’t see the fact that we are “meek” with God, not “meek” with them. It’s an important distinction. In the definition above we read:
Thus, meekness toward evil people means knowing God is permitting the injuries they inflict, that He is using them to purify His elect, and that He will deliver His elect in His time. (Is. 41:17, Lu. 18:1–8) Gentleness or meekness is the opposite to self-assertiveness and self-interest. It stems from trust in God’s goodness and control over the situation.
So God has His reasons for the things that happen to us. And that includes when other people do things to us. When that happens, we meekly accept what comes because it’s from God. We don’t, or at least shouldn’t worry about the person that did something to us. God will take care of it, provide justice, in His own time. There’s always the possibility that God is also using the event to purify both people – the one being injured and the one who is causing the injury. In cases like that, Jesus pays the price that God’s justice requires.
All of those concepts are totally lost on non-Christians. And all of those concepts are, from time to time, forgotten by every Christian. Since we’re on the topic, the “Christian” who always “forgets” or never actually understands, probably isn’t truly Christian at all. If that’s you, may I lovingly suggest that some soul searching is in order? It’s not just about this beatitude. It’s about our whole way of life. Ultimately, it’s about our very souls. Therefore, understanding this, dare I say, old-fashioned meaning of being “meek” is critically important.
By now, it should be obvious that blessed are the meek must be true. The question is – how? How can the meek be blessed by inheriting this messed up world? Actually, there appear to be two answers to this question, depending on the context. Even the context of pretty much the exact same words.
The meek in the Old Testament
It doesn’t have “blessed are” in the text, but from what David says in Psalm 37, the meek certainly were blessed. In the Old Covenant manner.
Ps 37:3 Trust in the LORD and do good;
dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.
Ps 37:4 Delight yourself in the LORD
and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Ps 37:5 Commit your way to the LORD;
trust in him and he will do this:
Ps 37:6 He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn,
the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.
Ps 37:7 Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him;
do not fret when men succeed in their ways,
when they carry out their wicked schemes.
Ps 37:8 Refrain from anger and turn from wrath;
do not fret—it leads only to evil.
Ps 37:9 For evil men will be cut off,
but those who hope in the LORD will inherit the land.
Ps 37:10 A little while, and the wicked will be no more;
though you look for them, they will not be found.
Ps 37:11 But the meek will inherit the land
and enjoy great peace.
We really shouldn’t be surprised to read this from David. After all, he’s the only one in the Old Testament to say anything even close to:
Ps 51:11 Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
That’s from after David’s sins related to Bathsheba. And just in case you didn’t catch the connection, think about the first beatitude – blessed are the poor in spirit. Also consider David’s actions that were in line with blessed are those who mourn, after the same events.
The meek will inherit the land – what did David mean?
So here in Psalm 37, David says to trust God, delight in God, and commit our ways to God. All of these are elements of New Testament faith as well. What’s different is the response from the Lord – dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. The Old Covenant was about life on this earth. The New Covenant is all about the next life.
So while David says – the meek will inherit the land and enjoy great peace, and Jesus says – they will inherit the earth, the meanings were very different. Sort of.
In David’s time, the blessings were either immediate or coming to future generations. For instance, Old Testament references were initially about getting to the Promised Land. The land flowing with milk and honey. For a time, it was about being able to stay there, in peace. Eventually, it became a promise to return to that land, after they were defeated and taken off to foreign lands. Their suffering always was a result of not trusting God, delighting in God, and committing their ways to God. Returning to God would restore the people, eventually, to the promised land. Physical land.
The meek in the New Testament
But in the New Testament, Jesus was referring to the next life. As in many cases with the Old Testament, David’s statements could also be taken as a prophecy of what was to come – that it would be about the next life. The catch here is that the many Jews who didn’t believe in a resurrected life would never make that connection. How could they?
Therefore, when Jesus said
Mt 5:5 Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
It was likely either misunderstood, or it was incredibly shocking. To both the Pharisees and Sadducees it was blasphemous. To the Pharisees because Jesus said He was God, and was promising this as the Son of God. To the Sadducees, it was blasphemous for that same reason, plus the additional claim that resurrected life was real.
For those who accepted it as Jesus meant it, this would have been a message of joy. Joy, as in what the Angels said to the shpeherds when Jesus was born:
Lk 2:8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
The meek in today’s world
But what kind of message is it today?
For starters, depending on which survey you read, about 25% of people who claim to be Christian do not believe in the resurrection of Jesus! I can’t even imagine how that’s possible – to be a Christian and not believe in the resurrection. But apparently that’s the case. For those people, Jesus’ words seem to mean nothing. So why be “Christian”? In fact, how can you even call yourself Christian if you don’t believe what Jesus said? Certainly, there’s no blessing there.
However, for those Christians today who do believe in a resurrected life, what kind of blessing is it to inherit this earth? I mean, it’s a mess. Like I said earlier – who wants it?
The meek in Hebrew and Greek contexts
Before we get to some conclusions, let’s look at one more context issue. Jesus was alive during a time when both Greek and Hebrew were spoken. Both cultures existed, as well as others. Given that the Old Testament is in Hebrew and the New Testament primarily interpreted from Greek, this is important.
meek, a quality with different meaning in Jewish and Greek contexts.
Not surprising, really. Especially since it has yet another context in today’s world. Let’s take a look and see what’s happening.
In the Hebrew tradition, “the meek” (‘anawim) are virtually synonymous with “the oppressed”; the term is generally descriptive of a social condition (lack of power) rather than a virtue. In Greco-Roman literature, however, “meekness” is comparable to humility and is often listed as a virtue of slaves and others who do not try to rise above their station. Most references to “the meek” in the Hebrew Bible should be understood in the former sense.
It seems to be a fine line between a social condition with a lack of power versus someone who knows their place and doesn’t try to rise up. In the Greco-Roman context, that attitude is looked at as a “virtue”. In today’s world, virtue generally implies some sort of moral connotation. Given that it used to be viewed as a “positive” attitude possessed by a slave, it’s hard to imagine that we would use the word in the same manner today.
In this present time, people who are oppressed are often looked down on by those above them. Not that it’s any different from Greek and Roman times, but virtue just isn’t involved. That’s why the author wrote Most references to “the meek” in the Hebrew Bible should be understood in the former sense – one where the person knows their place and stays in it. Not because they show any kind of virtue, but because they know better than to try to rise up. The price for trying to move up will be high. And it’ll be inflicted by those above them.
In Isa. 11:4, the meek are equated with “the poor,” and in 29:19 they are equated with “the neediest people” of the earth. Thus, the promise in Ps. 37:11 that “the meek shall inherit the earth” should be read as a reversal of social conditions, rather than as a reward for an appealing attitude. When God’s will is done, the meek (i.e., the oppressed of the earth) will get what they had coming to them all along (an inheritance, not a reward); they will receive their share of the promised land, of which they had been unjustly deprived.
Well, that’s kind of the right idea. Under the Old Covenant, it was very much a social condition, as in a change of status in this life, on this earth. However, there’s a catch to that. Pulling Isaiah 11:4 out of its context definitely supports this view. But let’s start from the beginning of chapter 11 to see if the expressed view still holds.
Some Biblical context to the cultural context of “meek”
The Branch From Jesse
Isa 11:1 A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
Isa 11:2 The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him—
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of power,
the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD—
Isa 11:3 and he will delight in the fear of the LORD.
He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,
or decide by what he hears with his ears;
Isa 11:4 but with righteousness he will judge the needy,
with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;
with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.
We have a problem right away: A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The problem is compounded as we continue to read: The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him… .
The problem? Isaiah’s prophecy, the stump from Jesse, is none other than Jesus. Therefore, what follows in Isa 11:4 is about the New Covenant, to be ushered in by Jesus. And that’s not about social conditions. It’s not about a reversal of life situation and condition in this life. It can’t be. Truth is, Jesus promised that His followers, the meek, will have exactly the opposite.
Jn 16:29 Then Jesus’ disciples said, “Now you are speaking clearly and without figures of speech. 30 Now we can see that you know all things and that you do not even need to have anyone ask you questions. This makes us believe that you came from God.”
Jn 16:31 “You believe at last!”Jesus answered. 32 “But a time is coming, and has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me.
Jn 16:33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
A conflict of contexts related to “meek”
As you can see, that’s not a reversal of social conditions. That’s a worsening of social conditions. So while the words did mean changes in this life to the people under the Old Covenant, we have to realize that it was also a prophecy about a different kind of reversal to those of us under the New Covenant. You know – like the first shall be last, the least shall be the greatest, Etc. Not in this life, but in the next.
Because of that, and because of the passage below, it seems better to view Psalm 37 in the same light:
Ac 13:16 Standing up, Paul motioned with his hand and said: “Men of Israel and you Gentiles who worship God, listen to me! 17 The God of the people of Israel chose our fathers; he made the people prosper during their stay in Egypt, with mighty power he led them out of that country, 18 he endured their conduct for about forty years in the desert, 19 he overthrew seven nations in Canaan and gave their land to his people as their inheritance. 20 All this took about 450 years.
“After this, God gave them judges until the time of Samuel the prophet. 21 Then the people asked for a king, and he gave them Saul son of Kish, of the tribe of Benjamin, who ruled forty years. 22 After removing Saul, he made David their king. He testified concerning him: ‘I have found David son of Jesse a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.’
Ac 13:23 “From this man’s descendants God has brought to Israel the Savior Jesus, as he promised. 24 Before the coming of Jesus, John preached repentance and baptism to all the people of Israel. 25 As John was completing his work, he said: ‘Who do you think I am? I am not that one. No, but he is coming after me, whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.’
So we have David, whose father was Jesse. And after many generations, we have Joseph, Mary’s husband.
More context problems with the “meek”
I know – seems like something’s wrong here, since the link is through Joseph and Joseph wasn’t actually, literally, physically, Jesus’ father. But let’s look at something from Job. It shows how the people of the time look at Isa 11:1 A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
Job 14:7 “At least there is hope for a tree:
If it is cut down, it will sprout again,
and its new shoots will not fail.
Job 14:8 Its roots may grow old in the ground
and its stump die in the soil,
Job 14:9 yet at the scent of water it will bud
and put forth shoots like a plant.
Interesting isn’t it? Just when it seems like we hit a “dead end”, pun intended, there’s new life. Just like when it seems the family tree is dead, because of the Joseph issue above, there’s new life. Yes, Mary’s the mother of Jesus. Joseph is not the biological father of Jesus. But God stepped in and Jesus is like the “second Adam” that Paul wrote about:
1Co 15:42 So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; 43 it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.
If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being” ; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. 46 The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. 47 The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven. 48 As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the man from heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven.
Resolving conflicting contexts of “meek”
And so the “tree” is alive, as described in Job. Jesus is the stump of Jesse, as it was written in Isaiah. And just as Isaiah is a prophecy of the birth of Messiah, as well as the future judgment of the New Covenant, so is David’s Psalm 37 verse: But the meek will inherit the land and enjoy great peace.
On the one hand, it seems like a very round-about way to put the pieces together. And yet, at the same time, it’s amazing what happens. At first, appears there are all sorts of dead ends and loose ends. But across hundreds of years and from many different authors, all those ends are brought back to life and neatly tied up. The only “author” capable of doing that is God, as He “authored” the entire universe from its beginning to its current state.
The Greek equivalent (used in the LXX of Ps. 37:11) is praeis, and in the NT, there is some question as to whether that word is used in the Jewish sense to mean “the oppressed” or in the Greco-Roman sense of “those who accept their station in life.” Most interpreters think that 1 Pet. 3:4 uses the word with the latter meaning, which may be why the NRSV translates it “gentle”; the point seems to be that women should adorn themselves with the spirit of a submissive, quiet person who does not put on airs or act with a sense of self-importance. The same Greek word (praeis) is applied to Jesus in Matt. 11:29 and 21:5 (cf. Zech. 9:9), where the NRSV translates it “humble. Powell, M. A. (2011). meek. In M. A. Powell (Ed.), The HarperCollins Bible Dictionary (Revised and Updated) (Third Edition, pp. 618–619). New York: HarperCollins.
Now that we’re at the end of looking at the word meek from the Greek / Roman context, have you noticed anything missing? There is something. Actually, someone.
More conflict – The meek in God’s context
It’s fascinating that, after all that, none of the referenced sources wrote about the work meek in the context of God. From God’s point of view. From the words of Jesus. It’s like we’re so interested in making God in our image, that we pretty much ignore the actual words that Jesus spoke. It’s not like Jesus spoke in English. Unless you speak Hebrew or Aramaic, He didn’t use your language from today either.
Further, Jesus didn’t speak this morning. Or yesterday. Jesus walked the earth nearly 2,000 years ago. Things were very different. The culture was totally different. Even the Covenant from God that we live under today is different from the one in effect prior to Jesus arrival on the earth.
I point that out, because at this point, I’m wondering why we haven’t read anything like what we started with:
Meekness toward God is that disposition of spirit in which we accept His dealings with us as good, and therefore without disputing or resisting. In the OT, the meek are those wholly relying on God rather than their own strength to defend them against injustice. Thus, meekness toward evil people means knowing God is permitting the injuries they inflict, that He is using them to purify His elect, and that He will deliver His elect in His time.
When we read of the death of Lazarus in John’s Gospel, Jesus said this to Martha:
Jn 11:25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; 26 and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
When we couple that statement with the earlier one where Jesus promised trouble in this life, why would we think Jesus meant anything other than blessed are the meek in this life, because they will inherit the earth in the next life?
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth – why?
Earlier I asked why anyone but the meek would even want to inherit the earth. But now I have more questions. Like, why does Jesus think inheriting the earth is such a great thing? And if it is a great thing, why does Jesus want to give it to the meek? Is it so He can have a bunch of subservient people following His every command as He micro-manages the earth back into greatness?
This beatitude seems to be getting more and more strange. There must be still more to examine. Let’s start with the last question. It seems only right, since Jesus said the last will be first.
Blessed are the meek – does Jesus want subservient slaves to restore the earth?
That reference to the last will be first is from the event when the rich young man approached Jesus. That’s actually kind of irrelevant for our topic, but I like to always be complete and provide context. In any case, here’s what Jesus said at the end of that incident, when Peter asks what will there be for those who continue to follow Jesus.
Mt 19:28 Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.”
This doesn’t sound like a slave being micromanaged to restore the earth – will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. Not even close. Especially when we remember this from Isaiah:
New Heavens and a New Earth
Isa 65:17 “Behold, I will create
new heavens and a new earth.
The former things will not be remembered,
nor will they come to mind.
Isa 65:18 But be glad and rejoice forever
in what I will create,
for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight
and its people a joy.
Isa 65:19 I will rejoice over Jerusalem
and take delight in my people;
the sound of weeping and of crying
will be heard in it no more.
which is the prophecy of this passage in Revelation:
Rev 21:1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
Rev 21:5 He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
Rev 21:6 He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. 7 He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son.
Nope. No subservient slaves to restore earth here. Jesus will create a new earth. Himself. No reason to expect anything other than it will be spoken into existence, just as the first one was. But this time – there will be no fall.
So, there must be something else.
blessed are the meek – why does Jesus want to give it to the meek?
OK – if it’s not because Jesus wants to tell us every little thing we need to do, then why? Could it be that we might actually know what to do? Or that we will know what to do? That we won’t all be little robots all doing the same thing – just being like good little angels singing worship songs all day?
We get one clue to that from:
Jn 10:7 Therefore Jesus said again, “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who ever came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
Notice especially the part about that they may have life, and have it to the full. That tends to not sound like a bunch of robots. It could be, if we all do exactly the same thing, and do it as well as possible. That may be a dream scenario for Jeff Bezos and his Amazon warehouse workers scurrying all over the place fulfilling orders as fast as possible. But it hardly seems likely that God’s looking for the same thing from us.
At one point in John’s Gospel, he writes of something Jesus said to His disciples:
The Vine and the Branches
Jn 15:1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
Jn 15:5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”
Notice that Jesus does speak of two different kinds of “branches”. Actually two different kinds of people. Those who produce fruit and those who don’t. For those who bear fruit, we have two more things to notice.
First of all, If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. Of course, those who bear fruit are the ones that we’re talking about in the Beatitudes. But remember, we’ve already seen that the Beatitudes are actually a series of characteristics and blessings that Jesus’ followers may have. Ideally, we all come to possess all of them. You know – starting with being poor in spirit, then increasingly our mourning becomes the Godly type of mourning, rather than what the pagans do.
In the same manner, the things we’ll ask for are also a progression. Early on, when we only recently started to follow Jesus, our requests tend to be very simple. As our faith grows, and as our trust in Jesus increases, we’ll ask for more. We’ll be ready to perform greater tasks for Him. In that way, we’re obviously not all the same. But that could be viewed as still being robots, doing the same kinds of things, with the only differences being what “version” we’re on. Like today’s computers, where some have been upgraded, and others haven’t.
Enter the second point: This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit. The fruit is the visible outcome from what we do for God’s glory. The thing is, fruit is a generic word. There are many different kinds of fruit. Jesus often made references to fruit. For example:
A Tree and Its Fruit
Mt 7:15 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.”
Yes, Jesus spoke about good and bad fruit. But He also made reference to both grapes and figs. Two different kinds of fruit. Put this together with the previous verse, and we end up with different people, doing different things (different fruits) and accomplishing different types of outcomes even within the same general category of “fruit”. That’s like red, green and black grapes. And within each color, different varieties and sizes. As we can see, not all the same.
So again, the things that Jesus says point to each of us being different. So to Him, life to the full is each of us doing the things that God created us to do.
Paul puts all this together and makes it more obvious in 1 Corinthians:
One Body, Many Parts
1Co 12:12 The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.
One body. Many parts. The Church – not any particular church, but the Church – as in all followers of Jesus.
1Co 12:14 Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.
In a more detailed way than before, this shows that we clearly are not all the same. But we are all necessary.
1Co 12:21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
Going back to the fruit scenario, it’s like fruit salad, in a sense. When combined in just the right ways, the salad is better than any one fruit alone. In our case, the entire body of the Church is better than any one member of the Church. Synergy is the modern word for it. The interaction of elements that when combined produce a total effect that is greater than the sum of the individual elements. You’ve probably heard it as the whole is more than the sum of its parts.
Also remember the thing about the weakest link. Jesus’ desire is for all of us to be equally strong, because we support each other. Different. Part of the whole. Strong together. In other words, life to the full – the best we can be.
Viewing the meek – Why the scenic route?
By now, you may be wondering why that entire last part is included. Couldn’t I have made it a lot shorter and still shown that Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth?
Absolutely! But there’s something else I also want to show you.
Remember, in the first two Beatitudes, the blessings began immediately. They reached fulfillment / completeness in the next life, to be sure. But being in the Kingdom of God began right away. So did being comforted. But with this inherit the earth blessing, it seems like it cannot possibly happen before the next life.
And you know what? It can’t. We already saw that the next life will involve a new earth. So inheriting that new earth in this life makes no sense.
But there is something we can experience right away. Earlier, we looked at John 15:1-8. It was about The Vine and the Branches. That section ends with this passage:
Jn 15:9 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. 17 This is my command: Love each other.
Notice first of all: I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. By bearing fruit, the fruit for which we were created and designed, we may have the joy of Christ. Now.
Even in verse 13, Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends, there’s a double message. Yes, Jesus literally laid down His life for us. However, in a very real sense, every follower of Jesus lays down our lives for others as well. Our natural inclination, because of sin, is to be a branch that bears no fruit. It’s to be a weed. A thorn. A thistle. Anything but a producer of God’s fruit. By choosing to follow Jesus, we lay down that part of our life, and bear fruit for Him instead. A cause for joy.
But also a sign of meekness. Putting aside what we’d rather do, and instead bow to the desires of our Creator. Becoming meek. Having joy. Having life to the full, because we became meek.
But there’s even more – I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends. In case you don’t already know it, when we read “servant”, it’s really watered down. Here’s what it meant in Jesus’ time:
1401 δοῦλοσ1, δοῦλοσ2 [doulos /doo·los/] adj. From 1210; TDNT 2:261; TDNTA 182; GK 1528 and 1529; 125 occurrences; AV translates as “servant” 118 times, “bond” six times, and “bondman” once. 1 a slave, bondman, man of servile condition. 1A a slave. 1B metaph., one who gives himself up to another’s will those whose service is used by Christ in extending and advancing His cause among men. 1C devoted to another to the disregard of one’s own interests. 2 a servant, attendant. Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.
Yes – slave. It’s likely not translated as slave today because of the connotation of slavery these days. What The Hebrew law of the Old Testament referred to was someone voluntary entering into a master / slave relationship. The slave would work for the master, and the master would take care of the slave. It’s that kind of relationship that Jesus referred to earlier in His ministry. Not forced. And as we saw in the Gospels, people were free to leave at any time. And they did, when things got too tough for them.
Jn 6:52 Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
Jn 6:53 Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever.” 59 He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.
Many Disciples Desert Jesus
Jn 6:60 On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”
Jn 6:61 Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! 63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. 64 Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. 65 He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him.”
Jn 6:66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.
Jn 6:67 “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.
Jn 6:68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”
So somewhere in the progression of our faith, as we move from new believers – to knowing that Jesus is the Holy One of God – to bearing much fruit, we cease being slaves of Jesus, and become someone Jesus calls friend. Becoming meek, obeying Jesus, is but one step along that path.
Blessed are the meek – conclusion
So we’ve seen the progression in the Beatitudes continue.
Blessed are the poor in spirit – those who, with the Help of the Holy Spirit, remove their own earthly desires, their own selfish spirit – allowing the Holy Spirit to come in and guide them to fulfill the desires of God.
Blessed are those who mourn – those who, as the Holy Spirit continues to fill them, realize more and more the impact of sin on themselves, on others, and on all of creation.
Blessed are the meek – those who have given up even more of themselves, followed ever more closely the encouragement of the Holy Spirit, reach a point where they become meek. Rather than trying to ignore the Holy Spirit, or fighting Him, they are ever more ready to acknowledge His desires and follow willingly.
We also saw the paradox of becoming meek. When we give up our own desires for ourselves, we actually experience more of life. A better life. Life to the full, as Jesus put it. So while it may appear like it results in an inheritance that we don’t want, being meek and inheriting the earth really is a great thing. Because when we actually do inherit the earth – the new earth – there’s so much more that comes with it. The completion / fulfillment of everything we’ve looked at so far. But also everything that’s to come in the rest of the passage known as the Beatitudes. Remember, we’re not even half-way through yet. Surely, the best is yet to come.