This post is the 5th in the series of posts on the Beatitudes—a section that spans from Matthew 5:3-12. In this section, the Lord Jesus describes 8 attitudes that should be present in the life of everyone who claims to be his follower. In this post, we will be looking at the fourth attitude—the attitude of hungering and thirsting for righteousness as described in Matthew 5:6, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”
“You are what you eat” is a famous saying that’s often used when dealing with the body. If we seek to maintain a healthy lifestyle, we must only eat the right kind of food. What is true in the physical realm is also true in the spiritual realm.
In the 4th beatitude, paradoxically, our Lord gives us an eating plan, not for the body, but our souls. He not only tells us what we ought to “eat,” which is righteousness but also how we are to eat it, with a deep longing. “Hunger” and “thirst” are simply metaphors signifying a strong desire. And the desire is for “righteousness,” i.e., right living. People who display such longing, Jesus says, receive God’s blessing, approval, and favor. They are the “blessed” ones. And the reward for pursuing “righteousness” as a lifestyle? Jesus says, “they will be filled.” That, in essence, is the message of this beatitude.
What is the Righteousness described in this Beatitude?
The righteousness described here is not a reference to our position in Christ, i.e., the right standing we have with God when we place our faith in Christ [Rom 3:22]. The Beatitudes and, for that matter, the entire lifestyle called for in the Sermon on the Mount are not the qualifications for entering the kingdom of God. On the contrary, they are to be the characteristics of those who have already entered it. These are the results of salvation, not the cause for salvation.
But, how can we know for sure we have a right standing with God? Put differently, how can we be sure we are genuinely saved? How can we know for sure our faith is genuine? What is the evidence? Answer: By examining our lives to see if we are truly righteous in God’s sight. This righteousness is what is called “practical” righteousness. Positional righteousness that comes from faith in Jesus will always lead to practical righteousness! “Every good tree bears good fruit” [Matt 7:17]!
Characteristics of Practical Righteousness.
You see, our lives don’t lie. They tell us if we are doing what is in agreement with God’s standards, i.e., if they are right in God’s sight. So, that’s the righteousness that Jesus is talking about in this beatitude—the practical side. In fact, in the entire Sermon on the Mount, Jesus describes what it means to display a life that is right in God’s sight. If we were to do a little survey of Matthew 5-7, here is what we come up with.
A righteous life will hunger and thirst for: reconciliation [Matt 5:23-24], sexual purity [Matt 5:28], marital faithfulness [Matt 5:32], pure speech [Matt 5:37], non-retaliation [Matt 5:39], love for enemies [Matt 5:44], practicing righteous acts to please God alone [Matt 6:1], God’s glory than self-advancement in prayer [Matt 6:9-15], storing treasures in heaven [Matt 6:19-21], trusting in God than giving into worry [Matt 6:25-33], judging others with compassion [Matt 7:1-12], and finally, building a life on the words of Jesus [Matt 7:24-27].
So, you see, Jesus details it out for us in the Sermon on the Mount as to what a righteous life ought to look like. Followers of Jesus who the Holy Spirit indwells will have a holy hunger and a thirst for doing what is right. Just like our natural body craves for food and drink every day, the spiritual side craves for this righteousness—this right living at all times. It’s never satisfied. That’s why Jesus describes this hungering and thirsting in the present tense—always hungering, always thirsting for doing what is right in God’s sight. It’s an ever-present and ever-increasing appetite. It’s not an outward show of religion but an unceasing longing to obey God’s will from deep within the heart.
And when there is a failure to obey God’s will, there is deep anguish within the soul. There are no excuses but genuine sorrow that leads to acknowledging sin and pleading with God for cleansing and the strength to get back on track. You see, the constant cry of a righteous heart is like the cry of one old Scottish believer, “O God, make me just as holy as a pardoned sinner can be!”
The Reward for a Righteous Lifestyle.
Jesus promises, “they [and they alone] will be filled” to those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. The language indicates this filling is not something we can do for ourselves. It’s something that God does in us. God fills us. But what does God fill us with? What is the craving here for? Righteousness! So, God fills us with that righteousness we hunger and thirst for!
You see, in one sense, those of us who are followers of Jesus do experience the joy that comes from our positional righteousness in Christ. So, there is a filling we experience. But, when we also long to do what is right in God’s sight, the Holy Spirit does indeed help us to put that desire into action. And in that sense, that longing is satisfied. That’s the joy of practical righteousness.
But due to indwelling sin, this longing is not satisfied continually. However, in the future, when Jesus returns, we will get new bodies. And the new body will sin no more, and thus for all eternity, we will continually submit to God’s commands. And then, we will constantly be filled with the joy that comes from never-ceasing obedience.
Can you imagine a complete life of obedience—always doing what is right in God’s sight? Not only in a personal sense but also in a worldwide sense, we will see righteousness rule. Peter says, “we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells” [2 Pet 3:13]. Those who long now—will eventually find that longing completely satisfied when Jesus sets his kingdom in the future. That’s his promise.
3 Benefits of Pursuing a Righteous Lifestyle.
While one could list several benefits of pursuing the righteous lifestyle this beatitude calls for, I have listed 3 for our consideration.
Benefit # 1. We can have genuine assurance of salvation [Rom 8:14-16]. High levels of assurance cannot be achieved through low levels of obedience. Think about it. When we doubt our salvation, is it not due to living in sin? Of course, one can be deceived about their salvation. But in general, obedience as a lifestyle does bring genuine assurance, and, as a result, we will experience joy in the Christian life.
Benefit # 2. We will experience answers to our prayers—both in the personal and in the intercessory category [Psa 66:18, Jas 5:16b]. Just as sin blocks God from hearing our prayers, righteousness opens the door for God to hear and answer. Personal and intercessory prayer is useless if we live in sin without a desire to turn from it. However, these prayers can be powerful when offered by a soul that hungers and thirsts for righteousness.
Benefit # 3. We can be an effective witness for Christ [Matt 5:16; 1 Pet 2:12]. A righteous life cannot remain hidden. It is the best advertisement for the gospel. A changed life shows Jesus has the power to change lives.
How to develop an ongoing hunger and thirst for righteousness?
How do we grow in this beatitude? How do we develop an ongoing hunger and thirst for this righteousness? In 2 ways.
1. We must actively develop a longing for God himself. First of all, we must understand that the holy longing for doing what is right comes when there is a deep longing for God himself—who is all righteous. It’s not just that we pursue the right life. At the core, we must pursue God himself, who is the sum and source of all righteousness. That was the attitude of God’s people in the past.
Psalm 42:1, “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God.”
Psalm 63:1 said, “You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water.”
Isaiah 26:9, “My soul yearns for you in the night; in the morning my spirit longs for you. When your judgments come upon the earth, the people of the world learn righteousness.”
So, we must long for God himself. The Giver, more than anything else, should be the desire of our hearts.
2. We must actively develop a longing for God’s Word. Secondly, this increase in our longing for God must also increase our longing for God’s Word. Why? Think about this for a minute. When we love someone, we want to know everything about them. What they like, what they don’t like, etc.
In the same way, if we love God and want to know what he likes, what he does not like, we must go to that one source that reveals these truths to us—the Scriptures. Since the righteousness mentioned in this beatitude deals with doing what is right in God’s sight, then the only place where we can find what is right in God’s sight is in his holy Word. In other words, God’s Word must be the regular food for those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. That’s why we repeatedly read in the Bible, God’s people continually desiring and delighting in God’s Word.
Psalm 119:20, “My soul is consumed with longing for your laws at all times.”
Job 23:12 “I have not departed from the commands of his lips; I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my daily bread.”
Jeremiah 15:16 “When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, Lord God Almighty.”
Matthew 4:4 “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God. “
1 Peter 2:1-3 “1 Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. 2 Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, 3 now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.”
The more we hunger after God’s Word—not just with the intent for head knowledge, but for obedience, the more we will obey. And the more we obey, the more we will experience this filling of righteousness. And as a result, the more we will hunger and thirst for God’s Word. And the cycle will continue.
In the same way, the more we walk in disobedience, the less hunger, and thirst for God’s Word. And the less hunger and thirst for God’s Word, the lesser the obedience. In this case, one feeds the other—this time in a negative sense.
So, longing for God, which leads to a longing for God’s Word—these are the 2 means of growing in our hunger and thirst for righteousness.
Do you have such a longing? Remember, you are what you eat. What is the desire of your heart? Desires don’t lie!
A Plea to Hunger and Thirst after this Righteousness.
There is a custom in India that many Hindus do when a person dies. I recall doing it as a young boy [when I was not yet saved] when my father died. One would take a handful of rice and put it in the dead person’s mouth. And as the body is later moved to the burial ground, that rice remains uneaten. Why? Because a dead body does not experience any hunger or thirst! In the same way, spiritually dead people don’t have any hunger and thirst for righteousness. So, if you profess to be a Christian and yet have no craving for doing what is right in God’s sight, then you must ask yourself this question: Am I spiritually alive?
Remember, the Sermon on the Mount is a mirror that Jesus holds up in front of us to see if our life matches what he says should be the life of those who profess to be his followers. His words at the end of the Sermon on the Mount makes this clear, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” [Matt 7:21]. Among other things, the will of the Father is that we have a holy hunger and a holy thirst for righteousness—for doing what is right in his sight. If we don’t have that hunger, then we cannot legitimately claim to be his children.
We must not deceive ourselves. If our lifestyle does not indicate righteousness, we must, without delay, repent and genuinely come to Christ broken over our sins and, by faith, accept the forgiveness he offers. That’s how we can receive God’s righteousness. And from that time on, we will be prompted by the Holy Spirit to long for more and more of this righteousness in our daily lives as long as we live, and God will keep filling us. And when Christ returns, we will experience that complete filling once and for all as we will please God forever from that time on.
A Word of Warning.
Those who, in this lifestyle, reject this hungering and thirsting for righteousness lifestyle will experience a hungering and thirsting in the future. However, it will be a hunger and thirst for relief from the suffering that results from the torments of hell [Lk 16:24]. And that hunger and thirst will never be satisfied—for all eternity. What a horrifying life!
We are what we eat. If sin is our food, the end result is terrible suffering in hell. On the other hand, if righteousness is our food, the end result is tremendous bliss in heaven. Those are the only two destinies. What will we choose? Terrible suffering or an immense joy. May God help us choose joy due to pursuing what Jesus calls us to pursue in this beatitude. Blessed indeed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
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