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11 | Does meek mean doormat?

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Hi my name is Dean Smith and in this episode I ask the all-important question, does meek mean doormat?

In His sermon on the mount, Jesus said:

“Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the world.” (Matthew 5: 5)

Dictionaries define meekness as quiet, docile, an unwillingness to disagree, submissive, gentle and easily imposed on.

These definitions would certainly leave the impression that if Christians want to inherit the world, we need to bow our head, submit and take on the role of a doormat.

So this would also mean Jack Phillips is wrong.

He is a Christian and owned Masterpiece Cakeshop in Denver Colorado. In 2012, a homosexual couple entered Masterpiece Cakeshop asking Phillips to make them a cake for their gay wedding.

Phillips turned them down citing his Christian beliefs about gay marriage. Now before you suggest Phillips was discriminating against them because they were gay, this wasn’t true.

Phillips told the couple, he was willing to make them a cake, but he would not decorate a cake with their gay marriage wording.

After Phillips turned them down, the gay couple made an official complaint to the Colorado Human Rights Commission stating the baker had discriminated against them.

The Commission ultimately ruled against Phillips and ordered him to not only make and decorate a cake, but also demanded he and his employees undergo re-education training.

Now if Phillips truly wanted to inherit the earth, he should have meekly complied and slovenly caved to the Commission’s demands.

But he didn’t.

Instead, with the help of a non-profit legal organization, Alliance Defending Freedom, that is dedicated to protecting religious freedom in the US, Phillips decided to appeal the Commission’s decision to a real court.

His case eventually wound its way to the US Supreme Court and in 2018 it ruled in favour of Phillips.

The court said Phillips’ freedom of religion rights needed to balanced with the rights of the gay couple and since the baker was willing to bake the gay couple a cake, he was not discriminating against them because they were gay.

The US Supreme Court also stated that Phillips had been treated unfairly by the Colorado’s human right’s commission, stating that it:

“showed elements of a clear and permissible hostility towards the sincere religious beliefs motivating his [Phillips] objection.”

The court further noted, that the Commission had previously allowed other bakers to refuse decorating cakes with messages they did not agree with, but did not allow Phillips the same freedom for his sincerely held religious beliefs.

In an interview on the Today Show after his victory, Phillips said:

“I serve everybody. I don’t discriminate against anybody. It’s just that I don’t create cakes for every occasion that people ask me to create … a wedding is just an inherently religious event and the cake is definitely a specific message that goes with that.

“I wouldn’t create a cake that would be anti-American or disparaging against anybody for any reason. Even cakes that would disparage people who identify as LGBT. Cakes have a message”

Since then Phillips has decided to sue the Colorado Human Rights Commission alleging they have an “anti-religious bias” against the baker.

Clearly Phillips is not acting very meek or submissive with these court actions.

So are Phillips’ actions contrary to what Jesus said about being meek or was the Lord saying something different from how we have traditionally understood this verse.

When we take a closer look at the Greek word “praus” translated “meek” in this passage, I am not sure “meek” is the best interpretation.

HELPS word studies describes “praus” this way:

temperate, displaying the right blend of force and reserve (gentleness). (“strength in gentleness”) avoids unnecessary harshness, yet without compromising or being too slow to use necessary force.

Praus is not describing a submissive person, it is describing an individual with power, but one who knows when to use it and when not to. It also describes a person who “avoids unnecessary harshness.”

A while back, I was watching a video of famed Canadian psychology professor Jordan Peterson who has gained international fame for his fight for freedom of speech. In his videos, Peterson often cites Biblical passages and concepts, and in this instance, he talked about the word meek used by Jesus in Matthew.

In his study of the word praus, Peterson said it referred to a powerful man who not only owned a sword, but was trained how to use it. Though well-armed, he also knew when to keep it sheathed.

I found this definition interesting, because we see the sword analogy in action during Jesus’ ministry. Luke says that at one point Jesus told His disciples that if any of them did not own a sword, they should sell their cloak and buy one. They needed to be prepared to defend themselves

36 He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. (Luke 22 verse 36)

The disciples were armed and we know from the Bible that in at least one instance they used a sword to defend themselves.

This took place while Jesus and His disciples were in the garden of Gethsemane. After receiving information from Judas on Christ’s whereabouts, the High Priest and his guards went to the garden to arrest Christ.

When they showed up, Peter actually pulled his sword and cut off the ear of one of the High Priest’s slaves. Though the disciples were armed and ready to defend Christ, Jesus knew that this was not the time for a fight. It was time for Christ to go to the cross and die for the sins of the world.

Jesus actually told Peter to sheath his sword and then Christ healed the slave’s damaged ear (Matthew 26:51-52). After He was arrested, Christ said He could have called down 12 Legions of angels to defend Him (Matthew 26:53), but had chosen not too.

It was “praus” in action. Christ had the power to act, but chose not too because this was not the time.

It is clear from this that “praus” does not portray a person who is weak or cowardly.

But there is another idea here as well. We see from HELP’s definition that the word can also be translated “gentle.” The word was used to describe war horses trained for battle. Around their riders and handlers, these horse were docile and restrained, but when it came time for battle the horses were ready to fight.

The ancient patriarch Job provides a vivid description of war horses in battle. They would start pawing the ground when they heard the enemy clanging their swords and spears and waited for the sounding of the trumpet to charge into battle:

“Do you give the horse his might?….
21 “He paws in the valley, and rejoices in his strength;
He goes out to meet the weapons.
22 “He laughs at fear and is not dismayed;
And he does not turn back from the sword.
23 “The quiver rattles against him,
The flashing spear and javelin.
24 “With shaking and rage he races over the ground,
And he does not stand still at the voice of the trumpet.
25 “As often as the trumpet sounds he says, ‘Aha!’
And he scents the battle from afar,
And the thunder of the captains and the war cry. (Job 39: 19, 21-25 NASV)

This is not meekness as we translate it today. Meekness is not cowardliness. Meekness is not avoiding confrontation or a battle. Meekness is knowing when you should use your sword and when you should keep it sheathed.

So what did Jesus actually mean when He said that only the meek will inherit the earth?

I believe the Lord was telling us that tyrants have a shelf life, they will not inherit the earth. If they do not know when to sheath their sword, show no mercy and continually treat their subjects with brutality, they will turn against them at the slightest opportunity.

So meekness does not mean Christians should act as doormat, there are times we may need to take action. Even Jesus did that when He cleansed the temple of the traders and money changers.


  • Lead image: Credit Chris
  • Supreme Court decides Colorado gay wedding cake case: A timeline of events: Foxnews
  • Supreme Court sides with Colorado bake who refused to make wedding cake for same-sex couple: Foxnews
  • By 7 -2 decision, Supremes scold Colorado for hostility to ‘deep and sincere religious beliefs’:
  • Todd Starnes: A win for Masterpiece Cakeshop but it ain’t over yet: Foxnews
  • Supreme Court decision

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