Meekness is Learned not Inherited by Elisabeth Elliot
All the passages below are taken from Elisabeth Elliot’s book “Keep a Quiet Heart.” It was published in 1995.
The world cannot fathom strength proceeding from weakness, gain proceeding from loss, or power from meekness. Christians apprehend these truths very slowly, if at all, for we are strongly influenced by secular thinking. Let’s stop and concentrate on what Jesus meant when He said that the meek would inherit the earth. Do we understand what meekness truly is? Think first about what it isn’t.
It is not a naturally phlegmatic temperament. I knew a woman who was so phlegmatic that nothing seemed to make much difference to her at all. While drying dishes for her one day in her kitchen I asked where I should put a serving platter.
“Oh, I don’t know. Wherever you think would-be a good place,” was her answer. I wondered how she managed to find things if there wasn’t a place for everything (and everything in its place).
Meekness is not indecision or laziness or feminine fragility or loose sentimentalism or indifference or affable neutrality.
Meekness is most emphatically not weakness. Do you remember who was the meekest man in the Old Testament? Moses! (See Numbers 12:3). My mental image of him is not of a feeble man. It is shaped by Michelangelo’s sculpture and painting and by the biblical descriptions. Think of him murdering the Egyptian, smashing the tables of the commandments, grinding the golden calf to a powder, scattering it on the water and making the Israelites drink it. Nary a hint of weakness there, nor in David who wrote, “The meek will he guide in judgment” (Psalm 25:9, KJV), nor in Isaiah, who wrote, “The meek also shall increase their joy in the Lord” (Isaiah 29:19, KJV).
The Lord Jesus was the Lamb of God, and when we think of lambs we think of meekness (and perhaps weakness), but He was also the Lion of Judah, and He said, “I am meek and lowly in heart” (Matthew 11:29, KJV). He told us that we can find rest for our souls if we will come to Him, take His yoke, and learn. What we must learn is meekness. It doesn’t come naturally to any of us.
Meekness is teachability. “The meek will he teach his way” (Psalm 25:9, KJV). It is the readiness to be shown, which includes the readiness to lay down my fixed notions, my objections and “what ifs” or “but what abouts,” my certainties about the rightness of what I have always done or thought or said. It is the child’s glad “Show me! Is this the way? Please help me.” We won’t make it into the kingdom without that childlikeness, that simple willingness to be taught and corrected and helped. “Receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:21, KJV). Meekness is an explicitly spiritual quality, a fruit of the Spirit, learned, not inherited. It shows in the kind of attention we pay to one another, the tone of voice we use, the facial expression.
One weekend I spoke in Atlanta on this subject, and the following weekend I was to speak on it again in Philadelphia. As very often happens, I was sorely tested on that very point in the few days in between. That sore test was my chance to be taught and changed and helped. At the same time I was strongly tempted to indulge in the very opposite of meekness: sulking.Someone had hurt me. He/she was the one who needed to be changed! I felt I was misunderstood, unfairly treated, and unduly berated. Although I managed to keep my mouth shut, both the Lord and I knew that my thoughts did not spring from a depth of loving-kindness and holy charity. I wanted to vindicate myself to the offender. That was a revelation of how little I knew of meekness.
The Spirit of God reminded me that it was He who had provided this very thing to bring that lesson of meekness which I could learn nowhere else. He was literally putting me on the spot: would I choose, here and now, to learn of Him, learn His meekness? He was despised, rejected, reviled, pierced, crushed, oppressed, afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth. What was this little incident of mine by comparison with my Lord’s suffering? He brought to mind Jesus’ willingness not only to eat with Judas who would soon betray Him, but also to kneel before him and wash his dirty feet. He showed me the look the Lord gave Peter when he had three times denied Him—a look of unutterable love and forgiveness, a look of meekness which overpowered Peter’s cowardice and selfishness, and brought him to repentance. I thought of His meekness as He hung pinioned on the cross, praying even in His agony for His Father’s forgiveness for His killers. There was no venom or bitterness there, only the final proof of a sublime and invincible love.
But how shall I, not born with the smallest shred of that quality, I who love victory by argument and put-down, ever learn that holy meekness? The prophet Zephaniah tells us to seek it (Zephaniah 2:3). We must walk (live) in the Spirit, not gratifying the desires of the sinful nature (for example, my desire to answer back, to offer excuses and accusations, my desire to show up the other’s fault instead of to be shown my own). We must “clothe” ourselves (Colossians 3:12) with meekness—put it on, like a garment. This entails an explicit choice: I will be meek. I will not sulk, will not retaliate, will not carry a chip.
A steadfast look at Jesus instead of at the injury makes a very great difference. Seeking to see things in His light changes the aspect altogether.
In Pilgrim’s Progress, Prudence asks Christian in the House Beautiful, “Can you remember by what means you find your annoyances at times, as if they were vanquished?”
“Yes,” says Christian, “when I think what I saw at the Cross, that will do it.”
The message of the cross is foolishness to the world and to all whose thinking is still worldly. But “the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength” (1 Corinthians 1:25, NIV). The meekness of Jesus was a force more irresistible than any force on earth. “By the meekness and gentleness of Christ,” wrote the great apostle, “I appeal to you…. Though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds” (2 Corinthians 10:1, 3-4, NIV). The weapon of meekness counters all enmity, says author Dietrich Von Hildebrand, with the offer of an unshielded heart.
Isn’t this the simple explanation for our being so heavy-laden, so tired, so overburdened and confused and bitter? We drag around such prodigious loads of resentment and self-assertion. Shall we not rather accept at once the loving invitation: “Come to Me. Take My yoke. Learn of Me—I am gentle, meek, humble, lowly. I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28-29 paraphrased). [106-109]