According to Genesis 3, male passivity always leads to trouble for men and for women. When discussing biblical manhood, therefore, we often emphasize the need for men to shun their tendency toward passivity and embrace their God-given calling to pursue courageous intentionality in their homes, churches, places of work, and greater communities. For some guys, however, it is difficult to distinguish between meekness–an admirable and Christlike quality–and passivity.
Let’s start with definitions. A few Sundays ago I preached a two-part series on biblical manhood. In the first sermon I defined passivity as the neglect to exercise God-given leadership in the face of clear and present responsibilities. For “meekness,” Merriam-Webster gives us three possibilities: (1) enduring injury with patience and without resentment; mild; (2) deficient in spirit and courage; submissive; (3) not violent or strong; moderate.
Out of all of these, the first option best comports with the biblical witness. As with any word in our Bibles, translators have chosen English words that most accurately render the meaning of the original. As we can see in the above definition, meekness has taken on some negative connotations in the contemporary linguistic milieu. But if we define “meekness” in relation to Jesus Christ, we must reject options (2) and (3), for Jesus was never deficient in courage or strength. The Greek word translated “meek” in Matthew 5:5–“Blessed are the meek”–is the same word Jesus uses to describe himself in Matthew 11:28:
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls (ESV).
Meekness, then, should be defined in terms of gentleness and a willingness to yield to the needs of others. In relation to discussions on manhood, I would say that meekness is the demeanor with which men should carry out their active leadership.
In other words, an intentional, courageous, proactive, forward-thinking man who plans for the good of others will not be harsh, or boss others around, or push his weight around, or revel in his authority. He will be willing to yield to the preferences of those he leads, so long as those preferences are not sinful or threaten to take them off a God-glorifying path.
He will also be patient and gentle with those who struggle–not easily annoyed or unkind. And, although he is meek, he will be courageous and willing to face difficult decisions, take the blame when he is wrong, speak the truth with love, and take the initiative to lead where it is appropriate in his sphere of influence and responsibility. Like Jesus, he is gentle with people but fiercely intentional in working and planning for the good of others.
In his book When Sinners Say ‘I Do’ Dave Harvey provides a helpful definition of meekness and its relation to passivity.
Meekness has nothing to do with being weak or passive. Meekness is power harnessed by love. It is an expression of humility that will not bristle or defend when challenged about motives. In fact, a meek person realizes that he could have selfish motives and must evaluate himself. This fruit of the Spirit helps us govern our anger, restrain our tongue, and maintain our peace. A. W. Tozer said, “The meek man . . . will have attained a place of soul rest. As he walks on in meekness he will be happy to let God defend him. The old struggle to defend himself is over. He has found the peace which meekness brings (130).
Meekness, then, is the guiding affection by which a man will fulfill his God-given role as leader. He will be strong, decisive, courageous, and intentional. But he will see himself primarily as a servant, laboring for the good of others, never prone to defend himself, willing to bear slander and abuse, and ready to defer to the preferences of those he leads.