What is a meek and quiet spirit? The Bible tells us that a woman should adorn herself with this spirit. But what does that mean? Should a woman be a doormat?
The word meek has been a struggle for me in the past, because I felt bad that my personality was so vivacious.
Her words got me thinking about the message that many conservative Christians tend to present to women. They whip out 1 Peter 3:4 and give it to women as their guidebook:
But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.
Unfortunately, this has caused a lot of repression of women. For just one example, I will turn to singing.
Singing with a Meek and Quiet Spirit?
Last year, I attended a week-long conservative Mennonite music camp. I took Class Voice as part of my studies. As part of the class, each of us sang a solo, and then the teacher gave us some guidance on how to improve our voices.
There was a recurring theme through most of the women in the class: they sang quietly. The teacher tried to help them project their voices better:
“Say, ‘HELLO OVER THERE!”
“Hello over there.”
“Try a little louder: ‘HELLO OVER THERE!'”
“Hello over there!”
“Can you do it any louder?”
“HELLO OVER THERE!”
“That’s better! How did that feel?”
The teacher commented that Mennonite women are taught to be modest and gentle. But he pointed out that when singing, they need to sing out and not be afraid to be heard.
My brother attended a similar camp a couple weeks earlier. His Class Voice experience was similar to mine. His instructor, Brandon Mullet, noted that when he had taught music in a Mennonite school, he had to work to get the girls to sing loud enough. The boys weren’t a problem. However, when Mullet started teaching music in a public school, he found things much different. The girls “owned their spaces” and weren’t afraid to let their voices be heard. Mullet attributed the difference to the Mennonite teaching that females should be meek, quiet and submissive.
So What Is a Meek and Quiet Spirit?
First of all, we need to set something straight. The Bible does not tell women to adorn themselves with meekness and quietness. It tells them to adorn themselves with a meek and quiet spirit. That is altogether different.
This meek, quiet spirit is not gender-specific. In 1 Peter 3:4, it’s specifically addressed to women. However, all Christians, both men and women, should be meek. Whatever a meek and quiet spirit is, it does not mean that women should be wimps! God has not called us to be wimps.
1 Peter 3 goes on to say:
For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands: Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement. (1 Peter 3:5-6, KJV)
Based on the context, I believe that “meek and quiet spirit” means that a woman should have a mild, even-tempered spirit. It’s not about her physical personality, but the spirit behind it. God doesn’t give us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and a sound mind (2 Tim. 1:7).
This spirit comes from the work of God. It is not the result of a particular personality type or suppressing oneself. In fact, it’s not even necessarily about how you feel. A mild, quiet spirit comes from trusting in God, just like the holy women of old.
What Does a Meek and Quiet Spirit Look Like?
In short: just about anything.
A woman can be vivacious and outgoing, full of life and vigor, and yet have a “meek and quiet” spirit. She can be the adventurous type, or the type that’s not afraid to get up in front of a thousand people and speak. Actually, a meek and quiet spirit would help her to do so without freaking out.
I know, that might sound like a 180 degree shift from your picture of a “meek and quiet spirit”. It’s time to reprogram.
On the other hand, you may be, naturally, a quiet person. You may be shy and reserved. You may prefer to sew dresses rather than climb mountains. That’s okay! You can still have a meek and quiet spirit.
Some people are naturally more outgoing than others. That’s how God created them. And He did it for a reason. He created each of us to fulfill a specific plan. Your life plan looks different than my life plan, which looks different than Sister Mary’s. That’s the way it’s supposed to be!
We Need to Act Like a Body
I especially address this section to the men. It seems that some men prefer to suppress women, and they have used “meek and quiet spirit” to do so. This needs to stop, guys. It’s time we stop suppressing women and marginalizing them with instructions about a “meek and quiet spirit”.
You husbands, in the same way, live with your wives according to knowledge, giving honor to the woman, as to the weaker vessel, as being also joint heirs of the grace of life; that your prayers may not be hindered. (1 Peter 3:7)
I have also seen numerous women passing along this sort of teaching to other women (Debi Pearl is one that comes to mind). Ladies, please stop abusing your sisters.
God makes each person different. I believe that we, the Church, need to allow one another to be what God has called us to be. At the same time, we all need to guide our behavior according to God’s direction and instructions. For example, we must not rail on one another, argue and fight, or try to domineer over others (Gal 5:20-21). Yet, we also need to be strong and courageous (1 Cor. 16:13).
God has made us each part of the Body of Christ. He gives each of us a spiritual gift, and warns us against comparing ourselves against each other:
If the foot would say, “Because I’m not the hand, I’m not part of the body,” it is not therefore not part of the body. If the ear would say, “Because I’m not the eye, I’m not part of the body,” it’s not therefore not part of the body.
If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the smelling be? But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body, just as he desired. If they were all one member, where would the body be? But now they are many members, but one body.
The eye can’t tell the hand, “I have no need for you,” or again the head to the feet, “I have no need for you.” No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary. (1 Corinthians 12:15-22)
We should not contradict the Bible and allow women to be pastors. But we must allow them to express the gifts that God gives them. For example, they can certainly be prophets, teachers, and evangelists; can certainly minister in music, both vocal and instrumental; can write and speak.
And we must allow (no, encourage!) them to laugh, to express their opinions, to give advice and caution to their husbands, to make decisions without consulting their husbands–in short, to be real humans, equal in worth and respect with men!
So let’s act like a body and not force people to conform to our manmade ideas of what “good Christians” look and act like.