Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
In this study we continue to look at the first part of Jesus’ famous sermon, the part which is known as ‘The Beatitudes.’
This verse of scripture is much easier to understand than the previous ones, but what it asks from us is genuinely a very big challenge! While looking at this challenge, may I encourage you not to be disheartened. Paul wrote about this life being like a race towards a goal. But he had not reached it yet. So rather than being discouraged, he pressed on towards the goal – getting rid of any unnecessary encumbrance, so that he may receive the prize to which he was called.
And so it is for all of us. However committed you are, however determined and persevering you are, you and I are still a ‘work in progress’. The race is not yet finished. If Paul had ‘not yet reached it’ towards the end of his life (writing to the Philippians), then the chances are that the same is true for you and for me.
I once read a book, a whole book, devoted to the difference between being hungry and being thirsty in this verse. This obviously seemed to be very important to the author, but it left me feeling that I wasted my time…
You know, God can speak to you through a scripture and lead you to something wonderful and right that is just for you. Praise God! He loves us and always tries to lead us and talk to us. ‘He who has ears to hear, or eyes to see…’ as it says in scripture. But it is also possible to become carried away with such things and begin to feel that this is a word for everyone. And in this particular text, the book was missing the point.
As with all the verses of the Beatitudes you are first given a personal quality followed by the resulting spiritual effect. It is a one for one exchange, for want of a better way of describing it. And so the first half of the verse is a singular thing about a person whose desire is to please the Lord and grow closer to Him. The ‘hunger and thirst’ is a figure of speech for one thing, it is not two separate qualities. And it is, I hope, fairly obvious what this quality is.
I would place one word of warning here. This verse is NOT an excuse for an entry into legalism. In fact I would go further than that. It is not even an encouragement to get to know the ten commandments or the laws in Leviticus or anything like that at all. I will try to explain…
I would relate this verse to the first of the 3 love commandments of Jesus that we read of in the synoptic gospels and is, itself, a quote from the Old Testament: you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.
When every atom and every part of your whole being is full of love for a person, then certainly you wish to please that person. And when you are separated from that person, a hunger and thirst for that person consumes you. All your thoughts are filled with this person and all your dreams also. All those who have fallen truly and deeply in love know exactly what I mean. I would encourage you to believe that the hunger and thirst that is spoken of in this verse is something that comes out of love for our Lord.
There is something else that is important to understand here. We have no righteousness of our own that will ever be acceptable to our God, nor will we ever have. We can’t work for this, and we can’t pay for this. No learning of 600 or 700 laws, followed by obedience to all of them, will ever make us acceptable to God. Nor will preaching or arguing with others to obey them – whether you talk to them about sacrifices, telling lies, murder or homosexuality.
Making legalism known will get neither you nor them closer to God – and can instead bring an enmity on earth that did not exist before you opened your mouth. Such ‘righteousness’ is something that the apostle Paul said that he had every right to boast about. But that this ‘righteousness’ he counted as ‘filthy rags’ (in the original it is the spiritually unclean, dirty menstrual cloths) compared with Jesus.
And that is the point: Jesus took on Himself our unrighteousness and so took the punishment for it on Himself so that we who accept this gift of grace can be clothed in His righteousness.
So… rather than being hungry and thirsty to follow all the instructions and ordinances of legalism, today’s text is rather about having the love of God so strongly in our hearts, wanting to be like Jesus and clothed in His righteousness.
This verse is not about the fact that we are a ‘work in progress’ – because for sure, even those of us who have known the Lord for 40 or 50 years will still have faults that others will be able to see. It would be great if we were perfect, but we all know the reality… But there is also another reality which is what this verse is actually about. And it is something that is already achieved – because the work of the cross is a finished work. Jesus Himself declared ‘it is finished!’
So, we are aware that it is our personal sin that separates us from God. But with hearts that are full of love for our Lord, we hunger and thirst to be closer and closer with Him. And this is already achieved for us in that we can boldly enter the presence of God clothed not in our own righteousness, which is as filthy rags, but in the righteousness of Jesus. That which was bought for us by the redeeming grace of His death on the cross of Calvary.
As we think on this wonderful act of love, let it cause that response of love and awe and wonder in our own hearts – causing us to love the Lord even more and to desire to be even closer in our walk with Him every day of our lives.
There is future tense in this verse, because at the time it was spoken, Jesus was yet to die on the cross. But now we do not need to wait for the filling – the work is already done!
And yet, as well as that ‘spiritual clothing’ of righteousness, we would actually love to walk sin free… Paul wrote many things about this with regard to his own life, and made it clear that this is something none of us will manage until we are called to be with the Lord.
However, as mentioned in a previous study, we have been sent the ‘comforter’ – the Holy Spirit – to empower us for the spiritual life and for righteousness. We can ask, and be given help and strength to find victory in our own lives. The more I read these verses, the more there is to be so thankful for in them!