Meekness is the Pastoral Gene

Life_in_Tension_revision_front_20200101Take 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)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Meekness is a pastoral characteristic, as Charles Colson (2005, 30) writes: “Freedom lies in obedience to our calling.” We know this not only from the words of Jesus, but also from 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)

Here he is encouraging his disciples to display humility lived out (or meekness) in front of, not children (“little ones”), but young believers (or seekers). The word for disciple (μαθητής; “mathetes”) here means—“one who engages in learning through instruction from another, pupil, apprentice” (BDAG, 4662)—and Jesus’ disciples were instructed to teach young believers with an attitude of gentleness and service, modeling meekness in what they said and did.

The Apostle Paul paraphrases Jesus’ command, making teaching meekness (or gentleness) an explicit requirement for church leaders, as when 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)

Gentleness (or meekness) also appears on many of Paul’s lists of the fruits of the spirit (e.g. Gal 5:19–23; Col 3:12–14) and in the writing of James and Peter (Jas 3:13; 1 Pet 3:15). 

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) The image of the Good Shepherd is, in fact, a messianic 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)

The Apostle John pushes the shepherd metaphor even further when he writes:

For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. (Rev 7:17)

Here the messianic shepherd is also both a lamb and a king, underscoring that meekness is a divine attribute.

Shepherding likewise anchors the great pastoral passage in the Gospel of John where the risen Christ confronts and restores Peter to leadership:

Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these? He said to him, Yes, Lord; you know that I love you. He said to him, Feed my lambs. (John 21:15)

Three times Jesus asks if Peter loves him and with each of Peter’s responses he asks Peter to give up fishing (catching fish with hooks and nets) and to take up shepherding (caring for, defending, and feeding sheep; John 21:15–18). As with Peter, Jesus bids all his disciples to care for his flock displaying meekness.


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

Meek is the Pastoral Gen

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Preface to a Life in Tension

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