Jesus: Meek is the Pastoral Gene

Life_in_Tension_web“Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart,
and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matt. 11:29 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Meekness is the pastoral gene. “Freedom lies in obedience to our calling.” [1]

We know this not only from the words of Jesus, but his disciples and those that followed. For example, Jesus says:

“And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.” (Matt. 10:42 ESV)

The Greek word used here for disciple, μαθητής, means: “one who engages in learning through instruction from another, pupil, apprentice” (BDAG, 4662). Here the expression, “little ones”, which is used six times in the New Testament (NT) [2], refers not to children but to young believers (or seekers). Consequently, disciples are not just Jesus’ students but are instructed to teach young believers with meekness—to have a servant attitude in teaching. Teaching is one activity that pastors do all the time—they teach by what they say and what they do.

The Apostle Paul paraphrases Jesus’ command and makes this meekness an explicit requirement for church leaders. For example, he writes:

“And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.” (2 Tim. 2:24-26 ESV)

Elsewhere Paul includes meekness and gentleness in his lists of the fruit of the spirit. [3]

This same sentiment is echoed by James, Jesus’ brother, and leader of the church in Jerusalem when he says: “Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom.” (James. 3:13 ESV) The Apostle Peter admonishes us to practice apologetics also with meekness: “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15 ESV) But as Bridges (1996, 180) observes, citing George Bethune: “No grace is less prayed for, or less cultivated than gentleness.”

Interestingly, meekness is cloaked in one of the most famous images of Christ: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11 ESV) The image of the Good Shepherd is, in fact, a Messaic image prophesied by Isaiah in one of his Servant Song passages:

“He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.” (Isa. 40:11 ESV)

The Apostle John pushes this metaphor even further in the Book of Revelations where the shepherd is also a lamb (Rev 7:17).

In the Gospel of John’s great pastoral passage, the risen Christ asks Peter three times if he loves him and to each of Peter’s responses he asks Peter to care for his sheep (John 21:15-18). Just like he does with Peter, Jesus bids us, as disciples, to care for his flock and to do it with gentleness clothing ourselves with meekness.


[1] Colson and Fickett (2005, 30)

[2] Matt. 10:42; 18:6, 10, 14, Mark 9:42, Luke 17:2.

[3] e.g. Gal 5:19-23; Col. 3:12-14.


Bauer, Walter (BDAG). 2000. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3rd ed. ed. de Frederick W. Danker. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. <BibleWorks. v.9.>.

Bethune, George. 1839. The Fruit of the Spirit. Reiner Publications.

Bridges, Jerry. 1996. The Practice of Godliness. Colorado Springs: NavPress.

Colson, Charles and Harold Pickett. 2005. The Good Life. Carol Stream: Tyndale House Publishers.

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