Meek does not mean weak, but a special strength that does not pay back evil for evil.
Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart. (Matthew 11:28-9, KJV)
In the Bible, the word we translate as meekness — praǘtēs — does not connote weakness. Nor does it convey a submissiveness that is easily imposed on by others. Meekness is a Christian virtue that is a special kind of strength which does not pay back evil for evil.
The Greek word πραΰτης [praǘtēs] has a meaning that does not exactly translate into English
We have no word in English that is an exact parallel to the Greek word praǘtēs. This has caused another stumbling block for Christian victims of abuse.
Praǘtēs is usually translated as ‘meekness’. But here’s the rub: in the English language, the word ‘meek’ connotes quiet, gentle, easily imposed on, submissive. Sir Thomas Brown explained: “Meekness takes injuries like pills, not chewing, but swallowing them down.” But praǘtēs means something rather different.
The word praǘtēs means a quality that is not in a man’s outward behavior only, nor in his relations to his fellow man or his mere natural disposition. Rather, it is an inwrought grace of the soul, and the expressions of it are primarily toward God (James 1:21; 3:13; 1 Pet. 3:15; Septuagint Ps. 45:4). It is that attitude of spirit in which we accept God’s dealings with us as good and do not dispute or resist.
Praǘtēs, according to Aristotle, is the middle standing between two extremes, getting angry without reason (orgilótēs), and not getting angry at all (aorgēsía). Therefore, praǘtēs is getting angry at the right time, in the right measure, and for the right reason. Praǘtēs is not readily expressed in English (since the term “meekness” suggests weakness), but it is a condition of mind and heart which demonstrates gentleness, not in weakness, but in power. It is a balance born in strength of character.
The meaning of praǘtēs is not readily expressed in English, for the terms meekness, mildness, as commonly used in the English language, suggest weakness and pusillanimity — lack of courage or resolution, marked by a contemptible timidity —whereas praǘtēs does nothing of the kind.
As an alternative to ‘meekness’ the word ‘gentleness’ is sometimes used in English translations, but since prautes describes a condition of mind and heart, wheras ‘gentleness’ is appropriate rather to actions, the word ‘gentleness’ is no better than ‘meekness’ and may in fact be less satisfactory.
It must be clearly understood, therefore, that the meekness manifested by the Lord and commended to the believer is the fruit of power. The common assumption is that when a man is meek it is because he cannot help himself; but the Lord was ‘meek’ because he had the infinite resources of God at His command.
How do victims of abuse exercise biblical meekness?
What application does all this have to victims of domestic abuse? By aspiring to and cultivating this inwrought grace of the soul meekness / praǘtēs, the victim can aim to be getting angry at the right time, in the right measure, and for the right reason. And the victim can demonstrate gentleness, not in weakness, but in power.
For example, when we walk on eggshells with our abusers and their allies, making micro-moment choices about picking our battles, deciding what to overtly resist and what to let pass, when to appear to capitulate to (for safety’s sake) and when to contest, when to shake the dust off our feet, when to draw boundaries, when to play gray rock / grey rock *, etc., we are exercising this virtue.
Equally importantly, when we resist the temptation to blame God or to cast Him aside, we are exercising praǘtēs — biblical meekness. Likewise when we resist the temptation to take vengeance into our own hands, we are honouring God’s majesty, power, justice and authority. We are therefore expressing praǘtēs in our relation to God and are inviting/allowing Him to develop in our souls this inwrought grace of meekness.
An inwrought grace
For logophiles, that word ‘wrought’ is interesting too.
1 (of metals) beaten out or shaped by hammering.
2 [in combination] made or fashioned in the specified way: well-wrought prose
ORIGIN Middle English: archaic past and past participle of ‘work’.
God works His good will in us as believers, developing our characters and making us more like Christ as we walk according to His word and His ways. We are not saved by our works; but as we follow our Lord we enjoy the fruit of His work in our souls. And that fruit includes praǘtēs — not weakness that lacks courage or resolution, nor contemptible timidity, but strength that gets angry at the right time, in the right measure, and for the right reason. A condition of mind and heart which demonstrates gentleness not in weakness but in power. A balance born in strength of character.
Praise the Lord!
* the color is spelled grAy in America, but grEy in England.