Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Matthew 5:5 Nice Guys Always Finish…….First?

A little better than a year ago when I began to exposit the book of Matthew, even a few weeks before I started this blog, I had a very specific purpose in what I was doing and why I chose Matthew to work through. I wasn’t preaching anywhere and I hadn’t been given the privilege of teaching in Awana on Wednesday nights so it wasn’t like I needed to get material together to teach. I looked inside of myself and saw a problem. I got saved when I was 12 years old (7th grade, Thursday, after JV Basketball practice) and had been given the glorious privilege to serve God as a pastor of a little church in Northeast Alabama. With almost 23 years of being a Christian under my belt and having served as a bi-vocational minister, I still wasn’t very Christlike. In Romans 8:29, we’re told that God predestined us to be conformed to the image of His Son Jesus. I saw how far short I fell of that. I therefore decided “If I want to be conformed by God into the image of Jesus, I need to make sure I keep a picture of what Jesus looked like in my mind”. To me, the best way to do that was to exposit a gospel. I had never really studied through Matthew and I knew the Sermon on the Mount was a powerful work. I felt prompted by the Holy Spirit to study through this marvelous gospel. And so, here today, I get to the verse that describes the very core of my problem.

In Matthew 5:5, Jesus, again describing the character and life of someone who is “Blessed” (Gk-“makarios” [3107], happy), says that a person who is happy is one who is “gentle”. The King James version renders the same word as “meek”. In either case, I’m not so sure the English translation is a great deal of help here. The word in Greek is “praus” (4239) and according to Thayer’s Greek Dictionary it means “mildness of disposition, gentleness of spirit.”Most of us, me included, think of something very different than what Jesus had in mind when He said this. I picture a soft cloth or something fluffy like a teddy bear. In my mind, it would be something cuddly and snuggly. As usual, the picture that I have in my mind has nothing to do with what this word really means.

The Greek word “parus” has the idea of strength this is under control. In the culture of the day, it was used to describe the virtue of being in control of one’s passions instead of being out of control with wrath on the one hand or passive and unresponsive on the other. It was a word that described someone who was self controlled. The Christian, however, is not supposed to be self controlled, but rather God controlled. For instance, Paul writes in Romans 12:1 that we are to present our bodies as living sacrifices to God. In Galatians, Paul says that “20 "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”

Furthermore, this quality of being gentle does not imply weakness. Rather, it is power under control. The word was used to describe an animal like a horse that had been bridled so that it could be ridden. There is no question as to who is more powerful when you compare a human behind and a horse. Obviously, God designed the horse with much more powerful muscles than a man. However, the horse, when properly trained, has it’s power under control. The power is still there but it is now directed to the task that the man gives it whether it is to carry the man somewhere or pull a plow.

Jesus, of course, is the perfect example of gentleness. Even so, Jesus never compromised on calling for repentance from sin or exposing religious hypocrites. Even when He had confrontations with people, though, He was never out of control. He did what God called Him to do to the extent that God told Him to do it. If you and I are truly being meek, we are living a God controlled life. We are not forceful or rude nor do we seek our own way. We can respond with a kind word when we’re wronged because we know that God is in control over everything anyway. Notice also how this quality follows logically from the other two Jesus has listed. When we recognize our own poverty of spirit (v. 3) and mourn over our sin (v. 4) we will be more than willing to allow God to control and direct our lives. We won’t need to lash out in anger or revenge because we recognize ourselves as sheep with God as our Master Shepherd.

We should also recognize our position as we examine the character quality of being meek. Our society tells us that if you want something, you’ve got to go out and get it. I have been in sales before. Actually, I have a string of plastic name badges that is embarrassingly long, but that’s another story. Some of the sales people that I worked with had the idea that you had to be assertive and treat the customer as if they had your money in their pocket and it was your job to take it from them. We have seen numerous accounting scandals where management felt that they were under tremendous pressure to get the job done no matter what. We have been told over and over that second place is just the number one loser. No one is going to give you anything-you’ve got to take what you want. Nice guys finish last, right?

Not according to Jesus. He says that those who live the God controlled life of being gentle won’t have to worry about staking their claim to a piece of the proverbial pie bur rather that “they shall inherit the earth”. It might look like they would be left out. I mean, other people might step on them and push them around. In the end, however, they are called from the back of the line all the way up to the front. Instead of getting the leftovers they get the pick of the litter. Now, they aren’t exalted because of what they have or haven’t done. Being gentle or God-controlled isn’t something we can do ourselves. This is something that God works in us for His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13). Just like declaring spiritual bankruptcy (v.3) and mourning over our sin rather than over the consequences (v. 4), the quality of being gentle is something that a sovereign God gives to His children. We should pray for the humbleness to allow ourselves to be molded by the Potter’s hand.

Scripture taken from the New American Standard Bible Copyright 1960, 1962, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

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