Owning what can’t be bought


(system) #1

Meekness is not a popular spiritual gift or a popular character trait in today’s world. TV advertising and the career patterns society tells us are “successful” alike praise and privilege individual success, usually measured in material terms. This affects even the church. Workshops to identify our spiritual gifts are popular among Christians—but how often when we fill out questionnaires are we wanting to discover meekness? How often do we even talk about meekness? But then, all too often we equate meekness with weakness. And who wants to be weak?

Yet it’s not so much about being weak; it’s about a need, in our self-promoting society, to recognise that we as Christians are called to be humble, to put others before us. This truly isn’t weakness. To recognize it as a calling and act upon it may take more strength than continuing to be self-centered! That's because meekness is not being walked over––it's not about self-destruction. It’s about recognizing that “it’s not always about me”. In a culture that celebrates being the best, being number one, elevating the individual performance, meekness teaches us that there is more to life than winning. Or perhaps it teaches us that we have to think about “winning” differently.

Jesus teaches us that only by losing do we gain. “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?” (Luke 9:25.) To “inherit the earth”, I need to recognise that it’s not my own success, but God’s intervention that will make it possible. The Message version of the Bible puts Jesus’s famous words on meekness in the beatitudes (Matt 5:5) this way:

You're blessed when you're content with just who you are—no more, no less. That's the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can't be bought.

Perhaps we need to learn contentment, rather than constantly being seduced by an obsession with always wanting more and striving to be number one.

What would be the consequences of being blessed with meekness as a “fruit of the spirit”? We might learn to moan less about what we don’t have, and instead live to lift others up. So many of us really live extraordinarily comfortable, privileged lives. Most of us can, with very little effort, enjoy a standard of living that would have required literally dozens of servants even 70-80 years ago. We take for granted our creature comforts, our cleaning and cooking machinery, our consumer products. There are so many others who have less than we have in material terms. Meekness can mean being grateful for the fact that, through Christ, we can possess the things “that can’t be bought”.

If we found the Spirit had blessed us with meekness, we might also find ourselves more focused on the many people who, even when they are materially blessed, nevertheless live spiritually impoverished lives. Christ calls us to lift others up—for the first to become last, so that the last can become first. Meekness is about being humble—about wanting others to succeed, cheering them on, not trampling them down to elevate self. This is why Jesus at one point encouraged his listeners to do good in secret (Matt. 6:4). Meekness is less about having the spotlight on me, myself and I, and more about serving the community in ways that don’t draw attention to ourselves, but lift up our Creator God.

Meekness is not popular but then Jesus never called us to popularity. Meekness is not about mildness (contrary to the words of a popular hymn by Charles Wesley, “Gentle Jesus Meek and Mild”), nor is it weakness. Instead it requires firmness of character and strength of purpose. Yet it cannot be simply a choice we make; it must be the manifestation of a relationship with Christ, since it is so contrary to what human beings value. Meekness is indeed a fruit of the spirit, and the key is that it’s when we live spirit-filled lives that the various fruits are evident—not because of us, but because the Holy Spirit lives in us and saturates everything in our lives. That in itself is humbling.

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Kirsten Øster-Lundqvist, M.A., a native of Denmark, is associate pastor of the Newbold Seventh-day Adventist Church in England.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/2185