There are a number of reasons why we tend to associate meekness with weakness. First, the two rhyme. When you hear the sound “eekness” in both words, your mind does the automatic disservice of associating the two as synonymous. This is an unfortunate instance where the English language inadvertently does damage to itself. I can’t prove this, but I doubt that the two words are homonyms in any other language. I know for sure they aren’t in koine Greek or in biblical Hebrew. So be careful not to fall into the trap of thinking that they are identical because they sound similar.
Second, our culture quite often associates the two. We naturally think of meekness as “mousey-ness.” Quiet squeaks and quick scurries to the dark in order that one might not be seen. That’s meekness, so we think. Again, it’s not true. We both love and hate mice. We have an aversion as a culture to people who throw their weight around in order to get what they want or in order to get where they want. Sure, our left hand roundly condemns people who act like that while our right hand thwacks people who are in our own way when we’re in a hurry. Meekness is good for others but not for me. We have no idea what to do with meekness. We want people to have meekness, but we also realize it gets in the way of me getting what I want. And anymore, a person with good manners (i.e., meekness) is seen as both weak and bigoted, like when I hold the door open for a lady coming out of a coffee shop and she mutters “Sexist!” under her breath. It took a certain amount of meekness for me not to utter a return epithet.
So what is meekness? I like to define it as “well-directed strength.” It is the quality by which a person directs their strength toward a positive result. Aristotle used it as the quality of character that helped a person live in the middle of two extremes, neither brusquely angry nor milk toast passive. I mentioned last Sunday that the English word comes from the Old Norse term that means “soft.” Yet, it’s not a softness that is flimsy and unstable. Rather, it is a softness that coats a strong, hard inner strength. It’s like granite encased in velvet. You might enjoy touching it, but you sure don’t want to be hit by it.
Biblically, meekness is the ability to accept what God gives with humility and the resolve to rejoice and pursue Christ regardless. James exhorts us to receive the Scriptures with meekness because through them God is able to do a saving work of grace in us. Channel your strength so that you don’t harden your heart to God but instead that you might employ your strength for the purposes necessary to become a doer of the Word that you’ve heard.
With respect to others, meekness is the ability to channel your strength in service to them for their good and for God’s glory. We are told to defend our faith with meekness in 2 Peter 3:15. That takes a certain amount of strength. When you are in need of defending something, it is very hard not to go on the offensive as well and be… well… offensive. Rather, carefully, respectfully, and meekly interact with your attackers. That takes a lot of character, a lot of strength. It would be much easier to lose control and go for the jugular, so to speak. And that usually doesn’t help much. It is natural and it is easy to react to a situation with harshness, but meekness assumes you have a certain amount of strength and encourages you to use that strength well.
In Colossians 3:12, Paul tells us to put on meekness like a new suit of clothes. As a believer, you have every hope of putting on meekness because while it may not be natural to you and me, it is to Jesus, and we’ve been united with him. Every necessary component of meekness is already inside you as branches of the divine vine. It is through receiving the word with meekness that it is brought to the surface, and it is through your slow but sure putting on of meekness that it becomes more and more natural to you as you become more and more conformed the image the Christ in whom you trust. In the process of spiritual growth, you will find with others that are walking the straight and narrow path that meekness is not weakness. It is well-directed strength.