Hungering for Righteousness – Matthew 5:6

Pastor Scott L. Harris
April 26, 1992

Hungering for Righteousness
Matthew 5:6

Every been hungry? Really hungry? So hungry that all you could think about was food? Ever been thirsty? Really thirsty? So thirsty that your mouth was parched and all you could think about was water (not coke, 7 Up, Gatorade or Carbonated Spring Water).

I. Hungering & Thirsting

I want to look at the broad topic of Hungering and Thirsting from two broad perspectives – that of the World, and that of God.

A. The World’s Hunger

First, what is it that the “world” hungers and thirsts after? What is it that those with a worldly mind set seek after, and what is the nature of that pursuit?

1. Objects of Hunger

We find that the world hungers and thirsts after both things that are outwardly sinful and things which may be perfectly fine in themselves, but they distract from the pursuit of godliness.

a. Outwardly sinful (immorality, etc)

I think anyone here could give a long list of the sinful things that people pursue after, but consider these general examples.

We live in a society in which many people pursue after illicit physical relationships. Why? Some think this is the way to gain what they think is love, while others do so just for the few moments of physical pleasure. This elevates something that is in actuality a minor part of life into a central position. It confuses a physical relationship with love and end up distorting both and trading a beautiful gift from God for a facade. Some pursue the illicit relationships to gain something they feel is missing, others simply to escape the pain of loneliness for a few minutes.

There are also many in the world that hunger for riches and material gain. Many are willing to do most anything to gain it such as lie, cheat, steal, back bite. They do whatever they have to do to build their empire. It is a hunger driven by a short sighted perception that does not consider eternity. They believe that the goal in life is a big bank account, or a big house and new cars, or as one bumper sticker put it, “He who dies with the most toys wins.” But life is not a game and everyone leaves all their toys behind upon death. What foolishness to trade your integrity for a bunch of electronic gadgetry or some shiny metal and pieces of rock. Consider that the more things you own, the more things own you. Why? Because the money you make in the future will have to go into the repair and maintenance of what you currently have, or you will need to upgrade or get more of them. Even when you want to get rid of it and throw it in the trash you have to pay someone to haul it away.

How great will the misery of the materialistic person be when they face God. Like the Pharaoh’s of ancient Egypt who believed they could take their possessions with them, they will not only find out that every physical thing from this life will be left behind, but also everything they worked so hard to attain will one day be burned up (2 Peter 3). And for all their foolishness they will spend eternity in Hell.

Others hunger after power believing that if they can control everything then life will be good and fulfilling. There are those that will use murder and mayhem to gain power over other people, and others who are supposed to be more “civilized” who claw their way to the top of the corporate ladder or political position through deceit, back stabbing and payoffs. I wonder how many who have gained it still think that way? Do they really find the world any better because they have gained power? Or will they find that there is always someone above them they can not control? King Nebuchadnezzar of ancient Babylon ruled one of the greatest kingdoms that every existed. The prophet Daniel tells us that Nebuchadnezzar’s pride was lifted up until he sought to receive glory that only belongs to God, and God struck Nebuchadnezzar so that he lost his mind and began eating grass like a cow and living in the fields. His mind returned to him only when he began to humbly worship God. Life is not about gaining power.

Those are four things that men hunger for: physical pleasure, the warmth of relationship, material possessions and power. The Apostle John categorized them in 1 John 2:15 as the “lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life” which he adds are “not from God” and are “all passing away.”

Some find that the hunger in their lives is not being fulfilled and so they seek to numb the pain of that unfulfilled hunger. Some turn to alcohol, others to drugs, but both are sought because the person is trying to escape. True, most people do not get hooked on those things for that reason initially, in fact, usually the introduction to drugs and alcohol comes in a social setting of some sort and the person joins in because they want to belong to the group. However, when a person finds the pain of life numbed by them, it does not take long for the craving to intensify and the feeling becomes overpowering so that one can not live life without them. At the end of Proverbs King Lemuel repeats the oracle his mother gave him, part of which says, “It is not for kings, O Lemuel, It is not for kings to drink wine, Or for rulers to desire strong drink, lest they drink and forget what is decreed, And pervert the rights of all the afflicted. Give strong drink to him who is perishing, And wine to him whose life is better. Let him drink and forget his poverty And remember his trouble no more (Proverbs 31:4-7). Alcohol is for those who have no hope.

Such are the objects of the world’s hunger and thirst. They seek things such as physical pleasure, intimate relationships, material possessions and control, and if those cannot be gained, then they seek a way to numb the pain. The world hungers after these things from a perverted sense of value resulting in world desiring that which is sinful.

b. Neutral items (good things that distract, Hebrew 12)

But the world may also hunger after things which in themselves are neutral. Consider that the objects just mentioned may or may not be sinful, but the manner in which the world pursues them can definitely bring sin.

Physical pleasure is good in the proper context. Proverbs 5:18,19 saying to “rejoice in the wife of your youth” and “be exhilarated always with her love.” Intimate relationship is why Eve was created for Adam. She was to be a helpmeet, one who is alongside, not a slave. Look at the context of Genesis 2 and you will see that Eve was created because “it was not good for the man to be alone.” Eve was made to “correspond” or “be suitable” for Adam, which is why the section concludes that the man is to leave his mother and father and “cleave” (glue himself) to his wife.

Material possessions are not sinful. Proverbs even commends the man that collects possessions in order to leave an inheritance to his children’s children (Proverbs 13:22). Power & control within the guidelines of Scripture are also not wrong – parents are to control their children (1 Timothy 3:4), governments are to keep order in a nation (Romans 13:4), Elders are to “exercise oversight” over the flock of God (1 Peter 5:2). Even “numbing pain” in the proper context is good. I do not believe there is anyone here that would argue against giving someone pain medication prior to, during and immediately after surgery! Again, the object itself may not be sinful in itself, but the manner in which the world pursues it does bring about sin.

Hebrews 12:1,2 gives the believer a proper perspective in this matter. It says, “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Not only are we to lay aside the sin which can so easily entangle us – we also lay aside every encumbrance. The picture here is of a runner in a race who does not encumber himself with anything unnecessary. Obviously the runner would have to set aside sinfulness, i.e. shortcutting the track, purposely tripping the other runners, starting before the proper time, etc., because he would then be disqualified. But the runner also lays aside other things that are not sinful but may be a hindrance. Does a runner wear combat boots? How about a knapsack with some water and high energy snacks inside? Why not wear a tuxedo, or if a lady, an formal evening gown? You could do any of those things if you wanted, but they would hinder you greatly. A runner keeps his goal in mind which is the finish line. We do the same and set our eyes on Jesus Christ who has left us the example of how to run the race.

I do not know what may be hindering you from running the race, but I pray you will set it aside regardless of what it is. Are you redeeming (making the most of) the time (Ephesians 5:16), or do worthless things squander away the precious hours. T.V. is one of the worst culprits in our society for doing that. I would challenge you to spend as many hours in the Word of God as you do watching T.V. Another common hindrance to running the race are the pulp magazines and books. There are too many wonderful Christian books whether they be theologies, contemporary issues or biographies, to waste time with material that does not build us up in the faith. Do not mimic the world in its pursuit of either sinful things or things that hinder your running the race of life for Christ.

2. Futile Pursuit of Happiness

The great problem how the world responds to hunger and thirst is that it has the wrong goal. The world sets happiness as its goal.

a. Happiness – A by product, not a goal

But happiness is a by product, not a goal. Our text this morning says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for (the) righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” Blessedness, a word that was used to describe the happiness the god’s of Greek mythology were supposed to enjoy, is not the goal of the Christian – it is the by product of hungering and thirsting after righteousness. The people of the world would do well if they would learn at least that point.

Happiness is like a rainbow – you can only enjoy it while it is there. If you try to pursue it, it just moves farther away. Think a moment about being happy? What are you thinking about? Why does that particular thing bring you happiness? Can you think of a time that it did not make you happy? Why not? Probably because you pursued it as a goal in itself rather than the normal reason you do it. Let me give you an example from my own life to illustrate. Most you know by now that I have a weakness for chocolate. I enjoy eating it. It is a very nice treat when I get some for what every reason. But what happens if I am a little down and I start thinking that I can regain happiness by eating chocolate. First I go and get a couple of pieces of candy and I like that. But soon, I find I am not satisfied with just a couple of pieces, so I go get more. Then more. Then more. Pretty soon it can come about that even before I finish the piece I am currently eating I am already wanting the next piece. The consequence of that wild pursuit is not sustained happiness, but a headache from too much sugar, I wear it on my face and my waist line increases, and none of that makes me happy. When happiness is pursued, the pleasure gained diminishes which increases the demand which decreases the pleasure, etc, etc.

b. Solomon’s conclusions

Solomon certainly understood this principle. Solomon was the richest and wisest man that ever lived. In the middle part of Solomon’s life he did not pursue the Lord, but instead all that the world could offer. Chapter 2 of Ecclesiastes records his pursuit of pleasure and possessions. He tried laughter (v.2); wine (v.3); material possessions including houses, vineyards, gardens, parks, ponds, orchards, male and female slaves, and large herds of animals (vs.4-8); Silver and gold (v.9); entertainment (v.9); sex (he had 1,000 women in his harem); and he had already pursued intellectual knowledge (1:18). Solomon’s conclusion (v.11) – “Thus I considered all my activities which my hands had done and the labor which I had exerted, and behold all was vanity and striving after the wind and there was no profit under the sun.” With all this in mind, his finally conclusion to the book in chapter 12:13,14 carries great weight – “The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgement, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.”

With this in mind, consider again our Lord’s words to us this morning from Matthew 5:6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for (the) righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”

B. Godly Hunger

Notice again here that there is a godly hunger and thirst, but that it is not for happiness – or even for blessedness. The world falls into sin because it hungers after sinful things and/or it makes happiness the object of its hunger.

1. Object is Righteousness

For the believer, the object of the hunger and thirst is righteousness. In fact the text here in Greek includes the article. It is “the” righteousness. Blessedness comes from pursuit of the correct goal. We are to hunger and thirst for “the righteousness.”

What is “the righteousness”? It is the very thing that we must surpass the Scribes and Pharisees in if we are to enter the kingdom of heaven (5:20). You will recall that this is the very point of the whole Sermon on the Mount. You will not enter the kingdom of heaven unless you are truly righteous. Since we know that the Scribes and Pharisees did not have it, though they claimed it, then we know that what they believed and how they acted was not demonstrative of true righteousness. They believed they would make it to heaven because they were physical descendants of Abraham. A correct genealogy is not enough. Therefore it really does not matter how pious your parents were, for you have to answer for yourself. The Pharisees also did a lot of “good” things, but they always did them to show others how “good” they thought they were. Therefore, true righteousness is not a matter of self righteousness or of doing good things that impress others.

Righteousness means to posses the quality of being righteous -which means to “be in conformity with moral law.” Therefore to be righteous means to be in conformity with all the standards that God has set for us. What is the standard that God has set for us? Repeated three times in Leviticus and quoted by the Apostle Peter in 1 Peter 1:16 the Lord God has said, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” The standard to conform to is the very holiness of God. That is what we are to be hungering and thirst for – God’s holiness in our own lives.

Jesus said in John 14:9 that, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father.” Paul said in Col. 1:15 that Jesus is, “the image of the invisible God.” The writer of Hebrews said in 1:3 that Jesus is, “the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature . . .” Jesus demonstrates full the holiness that God wants men to hunger and thirst after. We are to hunger and thirst after being like Jesus Christ. I hope that is your burning desire – to be like Jesus Christ in all your thoughts and attitudes as well as in everything that you do.

2. Intensity of Hunger (illustrations)

How strong should that desire be? We are to hunger and thirst after it. The double image of both hungering and thirsting intensifies the idea being presented.

The picture here is not of just wanting a meal or a better meal because it has been awhile since you ate (ex. – coming home at the end of the day. It is more like Captain Eddie Richenbacher in WW II after his plane ditched in the South Pacific and he spent many weeks floating in a raft.

David described this longing in Psalm 42:1,2. It is a panting after. It is what fills the mind and directs all the efforts made by the body. One goal and one goal only is in mind and that is to satisfy the thirst.

Is your desire to be like Jesus Christ in personally holiness that intense? I pray that it would be! It needs to be. And in understanding the flow of this section of the Sermon on the Mount it is part of being truly righteous. It is part of what will be present if one is really a Christian, someone who is truly saved and is part of the kingdom of God:

Poor in Spirit – destitute before God, begging for His mercy and grace. (See: Blessed are the Poor in Spirit)

Mourning – over sin. The sorrow for personal sin that brings repentance. The comfort of personal forgiveness. (See: Blessed are Those Who Mourn)

Meekness – the character of being God centered rather than self-centered. Being submissive to God’s will in all things resulting in obedience to Him in all things because of faith and Trust in Him. (See: Blessed are the Meek)

Hungering and thirsting after the righteousness – now turning from self fulfillment and self protection and toward God in desiring to walk in holiness. Or more simply stated, wanting more than anything else to have the character of Jesus Christ in both thought and deed.

The wonderful blessing is that the factual statement presented here is that those that do hunger and thirst after righteousness will be filled.

II. Being Filled

A. Christ’s Righteousness – Justification

One reason I say that this beatitude is central in salvation is that salvation is not attained unless we are righteous. We can not enter heaven unless we are holy. Heb. 12:14 even puts it that bluntly – “follow peace with all, and holiness without which no man shall see the Lord.”

1. Too Difficult – Demands perfect holiness

Some react immediately to this and say that makes salvation too hard. No one can be holy because that means being perfect and no one can be perfect. You are right. This does demand holiness. This does demand perfection. No one can meet those qualifications on their own. God has to do that for you. And that is exactly what He has done in Jesus Christ.

Turn to Romans 3 and see how God does this. In Chapters 1:18-3:20 Paul has shown that no man is righteous before God – not the ungodly unbelievers (1:18-1:32), nor the religious unbelievers (2:1-16), nor the Jewish unbelievers (2:17-3:8), for all are guilty before Him (3:9-20). Read Rom.3:21-28 and 5:1).

God has justified those that have placed their faith in Jesus Christ. In Romans 10:4-10 Paul explains the same thing even using the term “righteousness.” (Read Rom. 10:4-10).

Holiness is too difficult a requirement for a man to attain. It only comes as a free gift of grace from God through faith.

2. Too Easy – by grace, it is free.

Some react to this and say, “Free? That is too easy. That can not be the way to salvation.” Those that would say that have yet to come to grips with the first of these beatitudes – being poor in spirit. Because only those that think they can some how attain salvation by their own efforts would react in such a way. We come to God as destitute beggars who rely totally upon His grace and mercy. It is His good pleasure to grant that to us. Ephesians 2:8 even tells us “for by grace are you saved through faith and that not of ourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works lest any man should boast.” Any man who tries to attain salvation on his own merit is not saved and will not enter the kingdom of God.

B. Personal Righteousness – Sanctification

While we are made righteous before God by His grace through justification by our faith in Jesus Christ, hungering and thirsting after righteousness does not end there. We are positionally made righteous at the moment of justification but we are being made practically righteous – righteous living in the present – through the process of sanctification. We become more and more like Jesus Christ in character by presenting ourselves as slaves to righteousness. (Read Romans 6:15-23 with emphasis on v. 19. We are called to righteousness in several passages – Eph 6:1; 1 Tim 6:11; 2 Tim 2:22)

C. Final Fulfillment

And of course our ultimate hope is that final fulfillment when our position in Christ before God of being holy will match our very lives in practical holiness. We hunger and thirst for that righteousness when our positional holiness and practical holiness meet and we are perfectly holy. That will be our glorification. We look forward to being in the new heaven and the new earth “in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13), and as 1 John 3:2 says so wonderfully – we shall be like Jesus, Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we shall be. We know that, when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is.”

Final Comment: How do you know if you are hungering and thirsting for

1) Dissatisfaction with self. The person who is satisfied with their self righteousness will see no need for God’s

2) Freedom from dependence on external things for satisfaction. Earthly things will not satisfy the hunger.

3) A craving for the Word of God and to be in prayer. The Bible and prayer is our source of nourishment.

4) Finding pleasure in the things of God in all circumstances.

5) Unconditional desire for righteousness. There is a longing for it no matter how God chooses to provide it.

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