Hunger and Thirst for the Right Thing

#8 in the Sermon on the Mount Series

Matthew 5:6 reads this way in the NASB:

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

Hunger is Natural

In this Beatitude, the word translated hunger speaks of an avid, strong desire. The word translated thirst speaks of intense longing. Hunger and thirst are part of our common experience of life. They are drives that are built into us so that we draw in the water and nutrition we need to keep our bodies going.

Jesus uses language that we can all understand. All of us have experience hunger for food and thirst for water. As he did with the woman at the well in John 4, Jesus is pointing us beyond our natural hunger and thirst to a higher spiritual reality. He is saying that in the same way we need food and water to be physically healthy; we need righteousness to be spiritually healthy.

The verbs translated hunger and thirst are in the present tense. Jesus is not referring to an event in the past on which we can rest our hope, nor is it an event only in the future. The present tense indicates current, ongoing action. He is saying, “Blessed are those who continue hungering and thirsting after righteousness.”

What is Righteousness Anyway?

Growing up, I always understood this beatitude to be encouraging us toward right actions. In other words, hunger and thirst after doing the right thing. I now think that this is not the primary emphasis.

Keep in mind that among the hearers of Jesus were the Pharisees. They would hear this beatitude and think themselves to be already achieving this. They did many “righteous” acts. Yet later in the sermon, Jesus tells us that “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:20) So, this beatitude cannot be primarily focused on righteous acts.

What then is the righteousness to which Jesus refers? The righteousness we are encouraged to pursue is right standing before God. This is a righteousness that begins on the inside and works its way out in actions.

Righteousness has three aspects:

  1. Right legal standing before God – those in Christ have been declared righteous (Romans 8:1)
  2. Right heart attitude (see Psalm 51)
  3. Right actions which result from 1 and 2 (see James 2:14-26)

The Source of Righteousness

The Apostle Paul, in Ephesians 2:1-10, tells us that we are born dead in our “trespasses and sins.” But through faith in Jesus Christ, God gives us spiritual life. As a result, we are no longer trapped in our selfish, sinful lifestyle. We have the option to use the freedom given to us to walk away from our sins.

Apart from Christ, we may clean ourselves up on the outside, but we would then be like the Pharisees who were condemned by Jesus as “white washed tombs” (Matthew 23:27). A whitewashed tomb may look nice on the outside but inside it is full of rottenness and decay.

Jesus Christ is the only source of true righteousness available to us.

The Promise

Jesus tells us that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be filled. The word literally means eat until full.

This filling is a certainty because anyone who has this desire has Jesus waiting to embrace him. There is no chance of rejection. If righteousness is your desire, if you’re tired of your current lifestyle and want something better, Jesus will accept you. Jesus invites all who are “weary and burdened” to come to him and he will give them rest (Matthew 11:28). There are no exceptions, no-one is rejected.

I love that no matter how bad I mess up, if my desire is for righteousness, that desire will be satisfied. It will be done, not in my strength, but by Jesus Christ. Paul tells us in Philippians 1:6 that God began the process in me and he will see it through to the end. I do not have to worry about the outcome, I simply need to trust in God and he will direct where and how I should go (Proverbs 3:5-6).

Are you hungry and thirsty for righteousness? Jesus is waiting for you.