|A Study of the Sermon on the Mount (Part Three)|
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Matthew 5:5 (NKJV)
We need to realize that part of the war on Christianity is being fought by changing the meanings of words. For instance, in Hebrews 11:1 we read “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” However, our modern concept of the word faith is a blind belief, instead of belief based on the “evidence of things not seen.” That evidence is the revelation of Christ in our hearts when we repent and make Him Lord. In a similar way, we associate the word meek with weakness and cowardice. Most people do not consider those characterized as meek to be blessed. But the original word in Greek is praus, and it was considered by the great philosophers such as Aristotle to be one of the great ethical words, and a compliment to those described by it.
Praus refers to a person in control of his or her emotions and actions. Every person in the world is subject to manipulation by circumstances, spiritual entities, other people, and one’s own flesh. God wants us to be balanced and to control ourselves in an exemplary way – but He has to test us so we can find out where we fall short. The soldier hopes to be brave when he comes under fire, but until it is a reality no one knows whether he will fight or run. Until we have a conversation with an exceedingly provoking person, we do not know if we will lose our temper or not. Likewise, if we are never forced to submit to an unreasonable, overbearing person in authority, we cannot gain the essential experience of controlling our anger and practicing quiet submission. Most occupations require academic study, but are not truly learned until the student has participated in on-the-job training. The building of personal character is especially learned in this manner. Praus is a virtue that is forged through many personal, real world situations, some of which are painful.
Ruling One’s Own Spirit
“He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.” Proverbs 16:32 (NKJV)
Praus refers to the control of one’s own spirit. Having this quality does not mean that we go through life as a mouse, unwilling to confront anyone regardless of what they do. Jesus was perfect in all His conduct, and yet He made a whip and chased the moneychangers out of the temple. His anger was appropriate and even necessary in response to the gravity of the situation, but it was also rare as compared to his typical demeanor. Jesus was not a weak man; He was rather a controlled one. Let us not mistake self-control for clamming up and not reacting to life’s problems. Let us not mistake it for leniency with children when they should be disciplined. Nor let us mistake it for allowing sin to continue in the church when we are aware of it. Certain things must be confronted and withdrawal and cowardice are not godly characteristics.
When we think about it, the only thing we have control over is how we act. Ultimately we have no power to control others, nor can we change our circumstances, but we can control our own actions – we can choose what we say and do. Our temperament may be such that we frequently lose control, and we may even think that we must yield to our anger and frustration. However, the truth is that we have free will and can choose how we respond to situations in life. In fact, proper control of oneself is a quintessential Christian character trait.
The World Versus the Christian
The media glorifies the strong man. Athletes are lauded in our society for their physical prowess, regardless of their moral estate. Imagine if Goliath was alive today. Would he not be a multimillionaire football or basketball player? It would not matter that he might be scandalously evil – his size and strength would make him more popular than a slight lad of exceptional moral character such as David, the son of Jesse. Movies today also glorify revenge – the public seems to never tire of watching some protagonist “get” someone back. Imagine how attendance would fall off if at the end of one such movie the movie star forgave everyone instead of killing them! People would be disappointed and call the movie a flop – for the whole point in dramas such as these is to reach a climax where sweet revenge is exacted. However, this whole concept is antagonistic to the following biblical commands:
“Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, `Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. Therefore, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink…”Romans 12:19-20 (NKJV)
“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.” Romans 12:14 (NKJV)
Praus does not sell in a pagan and agnostic society, but those who exercise it will always be the salt and the light in such a society. Self-control is, in fact, the mainstay of reaching society for Christ. Without it, there is no distinction for the Christian; with it, the fragrance of Christ scents air. This scent will be the fragrance of death to those who are perishing, but to those who are seeking the truth, it will be the most refreshing attraction in the world.
Some of us make a mess of things in the area of getting along with others. We do not exemplify praus in our lives, and perhaps we feel convicted about this. We have offended people, perhaps even close relatives, and the witness of Christ has been tarnished due to our unabated tempers. Perhaps we are not overtly angry, but in subtle ways have allowed anger to alienate others. If this is the case, it is not an unusual predicament, and it can surely be cured. God is in the business of reconciliation, and He is certainly the God of the second, third, and who knows how many chances.
“A fool’s wrath is known at once, but a prudent man covers shame.” Proverbs 12:16 (NKJV)
One Christian man sought reconciliation with a colleague at work who was offended because they held different professional opinions. The offended man was not a believer, and was given to grudges – in fact, he had alienated many other employees. He was also hard to like – somewhat grumpy in disposition, and he had a habit of not listening to people, and walking away from them while they were still speaking. At first the Christian became provoked and wrote the man off as a lost cause. He wanted simply to ignore him. However, over some time God dealt with him and he prayed for reconciliation.
One day the churlish man agreed to meet with him, and they talked together privately. He then accused the Christian of many things, most of which were not at all true, but the Christian held his peace. He was tempted to defend himself, but being familiar with praus, he realized that the only way to fix this relational breech was to be the bigger man and take the false accusations.
Now let us be clear about this particular situation, which is a true story. There is certainly a time to respond to a false accusation. One is expected to respond when falsely accused, and questioned regarding the veracity of events that have transpired. However, there is a time to respond, and a time to hold one’s peace, and in this case there was no reason to debate the allegations.
When the colleague had finished, they shook hands, and there was no more rancor. We learn from this that it is important to steel oneself against self-defense and self-vindication when an attempt at reconciliation is made. If the Christian had defended himself, the situation would have been exacerbated, creating even a greater problem. St. Augustine prayed, “Lord, deliver me from the lust of self-vindication.” King David prayed, “Let my vindication come from Your presence; let Your eyes look on the things that are upright.” Psalm 17:2
Praus and the Church
Perhaps the place where the lack of praus is most obvious is in churches. Not that we see angry displays, but rather more subtle fissures of anger. Another true story involves a minister who was teaching the Bible in a large church. During one session, a woman of high standing there, one of the pillars of the church as it were, raised her hand to ask a question. She normally added her views, but because the time was running short, and the teaching was building to a special conclusion, he explained that he could not answer any questions. Her hand went down in anger, and for months afterwards the minister could not win her back. This was the case, even though he apologized several times afterward. A coldness from her lingered in the air, which was probably noticed by others. Perhaps it would have been better for the him to have allowed her speak, but this is not the point. Rather, we must look at her behavior, for this is a prime example of a saint not controlling her anger and making trouble in the church over a minor incident.
Unfortunately, this example of pettiness is not an isolated incident. Where pride reigns in the heart, a stubbornness is borne which seems to prevent the saint from staying above minor, trivial annoyances. Humility and praus work interactively – they are not independent of each other. Part of praus is practicing the Scripture we read in 1Corinthians 13:5 (KJV): “Love…is not easily provoked…” Let us consider where we are headed regarding this virtue. Are we sweeter and more yielding than a year or so ago, or have we grown bitter? Aged people many times have physical reasons for being short-tempered, but they must resist, for they are God’s leaders in the church. Regardless of whether one wants the responsibility or not, more is expected of those who have greater experience.
In general, let us consider praus as an elementary, basic characteristic of the faith, which if not practiced becomes a detriment to the very foundation of the church. If relationships are not right at the primary level, there will be an air of disturbance in the church. Non-believers coming in will feel it and not wish to return, and even believers will find it a chore to attend. We read the following from the Book of James:
“For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there.” James 3:16 (NKJV)
Pettiness has ruined many fellowships, and untold millions are in hell because of fights within the church. Believers who would vaunt their credentials, saying that they teach Sunday school and read their Bible daily, etc., oftentimes miss the fact that they act carnally and foolishly in response to those around them. Being irritated by others, holding grudges, and using politics to get what we want are all evidences of a lack of praus in one’s life. It is praus, or self-control, that stops a man from an escalating argument when a driver in front pulls out suddenly and almost causes an accident. It is praus that stops a person from repeating a juicy bit of “information” about someone in the church. It is praus that drives a person to greet the smelliest, dirtiest visitor who wanders into a church with a hearty welcome. It is praus that answers gently when everything inside a person wants to answer roughly. (“A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Proverbs 15:1) It is praus exercised in a believer’s life that causes her to refrain from arguing when everything inside wants to respond. “The beginning of strife is like releasing water; therefore, stop contention before a quarrel starts.” Proverbs 17:14
Praus keeps us from suing other believers, regardless of what loss we must take because of it: “But brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers! Now therefore, it is already an utter failure for you that you go to law against one another. Why do you not rather accept wrong? Why do you not rather let yourselves be cheated?” 1Corinthians 6:6-7. Praus lends new understanding to how Christ behaved, when accused by the vilest of religious hypocrites. “He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth.” Isaiah 53:7.
Praus is the power through which we may fulfill the longing of Jesus for His true church, and it is also the key to influencing the world for Him. “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:35.
The Power of Meekness
The power of praus cannot be underestimated in the Christian life. It is essential and needs to be practiced in our relationships with every person we are in contact with – at work, at church, in marriage, and with relatives. It is the power which allows us not only to get along with others, but also to manifest the working of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Praus is not only self-control – it is rather inextricably connected to God-control. It describes the person who is yielded to the Holy Spirit in speech and action. It is the Christian who stays close to God who is able to exemplify this gem of a character trait. We might say, in interpreting this beatitude, “Blessed is the man whose emotions and actions and speech are appropriate for the situation he is in. He is angry at the right time, but never angry at the wrong time. He uses his sphere of influence over others when led by the Holy Spirit to do so, but never through selfish manipulation. He waits before he reacts, and considers how God would have him act.”
This is the great goal – and surely we all miss it to some extent, but understanding what Christ is teaching helps us practice it. By the way, praus is not characterized in the life of the stoic. It is not a state of being constantly inscrutable and unemotional – that type of behavior makes a person superficial and oblique. A colorless, uncaring personality that cannot be moved is not an expression of praus. Jesus showed emotion, but He was not over-emotional. As with anger, He was emotional at the right time. There is nothing weak about showing emotion when it is warranted by the circumstances. Masculinity is not demeaned by tears, especially in relation to tragedies that should elicit them. Compassion is also a great character trait, and God showed that a perfect man is a caring man, for we learn much about Christ in the following two-word Scripture: “Jesus wept.” John 11:35.
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