Pastor David B. Curtis


The Blessed Hungry

Matthew 5:6

Delivered 06/30/2002

The blessedness the Lord talks about in Matthew 5:3-12 can be known only by becoming a part of His kingdom, which means becoming a Christian. Christ's words express the conditions for entering His Kingdom, and the ongoing characteristics of those who dwell in it. So far, we have seen that you must be poor in spirit (v. 3), mourn over your sin (v. 4), and be meek (v. 5). To enter the kingdom you must also hunger and thirst after righteousness - perpetual appetites that are found in every kingdom citizen (v. 6).

Matthew 5:6 (NKJV) Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, For they shall be filled.

Just as food and water are physical necessities, righteousness is a spiritual necessity. In Matthew 5:6, Jesus is saying, "Anyone coming into My Kingdom has as great an appetite for righteousness as he does for food and water."

As we study this Beatitude, the first question that we need to answer is:

What is Righteousness? Could you define it? Wouldn't you think that a Christian would understand the biblical concept of righteousness? I think that they should, but because the educational condition of the church today is so poor, most don't. Most Christians today are theologically ignorant. You might ask, "Is it important that we know theology?" Yes! Theology comes from two Greek words: theos, which means: "God," and logos, which means: "word or doctrine." Theology is the doctrine of God. If we, as Christians, are going to love God, we have to get to know Him through the Scriptures.

The church today is so busy entertaining and trying to draw crowds that it has forsaken teaching. We are producing a generation of Christians who don't know theology. Christians can often tell you every sport's figure and all their stats, or the latest gossip on every movie star, but they don't know much at all about their God.

The majority of professing Christians are unable to define even the most fundamental theological words such as; redemption, sanctification, election, justification. Do you understand what it means to be righteous? Do you understand the doctrine of justification? Could you explain it? Martin Luther said, "Justification is the doctrine by which the church either stands or falls." Calvin said, "Justification was the hinge of the reformation." It is the doctrine by which you either stand or fall in the presence of God.

Justification may be defined as: "That act of God whereby he declares righteous him who believes in Christ." Ladd writes, "The root idea in justification is the declaration of God, the righteous judge, that the man who believes in Christ, sinful though he may be, is righteous -- is viewed as being righteous, because in Christ he has come into a righteous relationship with God." Justification is a declarative act. It is not something wrought in man, but something declared of man. It does not make upright or righteous, but declares righteous. Several things are involved in justification.

1. The remission of the penalty:

Romans 6:23 (NKJV) For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

When you are justified, the penalty of spiritual death is removed.

2. The restoration of favor: Justification is more than just an acquittal. We are brought into God's family; we become His children.

3. The imputation of righteousness:

2 Corinthians 5:21 (NKJV) For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
1 Corinthians 1:30 (NKJV) But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God; and righteousness and sanctification and redemption;

Jesus Christ took our sin and bore its penalty on the cross, and he gives us his righteousness. We have been declared righteous by God for all eternity. It will never be reversed or changed. Christ's righteousness has been imputed to our account.

How Does Man Become Righteous?

As early as the days of Job, we find men asking the question, "How can a man be just with God?" That's a question everyone should ask. The answer is two fold:

1. The negative side is: Not by works of the law.

Romans 3:20 (NKJV) Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.

Remember, to be justified is to be declared righteous.

2. The positive side is: By faith alone:

Romans 5:1 (NKJV) Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,

That is justification; we have peace with God. The enmity between us has been put away by the work of Christ:

Romans 4:1-5 (NKJV) What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness." 4 Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. 5 But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness,

We are made righteous by grace through faith:

Romans 3:24 (NKJV) being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,

Paul talks about this righteousness in Philippians 3:

Philippians 3:9 (NKJV) and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith;

"By faith" means: "through the instrumentality of faith." The word "faith" bears the emphasis here. Parallel to this expression is the phrase "the righteousness from God." This places the emphasis upon God as the object of faith. This person gives himself up and takes refuge in God's provision. True righteousness comes from faith in God.

Ephesians 2:8-9 (NKJV) For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast.

What is faith? Since we gain righteousness by faith, I would think that it is important that we know what faith is. Faith is: "Understanding and accent to a proposition."It is believing that a proposition is true. It is personal trust.

In the end of verse 9, Paul says, "The righteousness which is from God by faith." The source of true righteousness is God. When you trust in Christ, God gives you righteousness. The best you can do on your own is described in:

Isaiah 64:6 (NKJV) But we are all like an unclean thing, And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; We all fade as a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, Have taken us away.

Just in case you hear this and think of a dirty dust rag or a rag that has grease on it that you used to work on the car, let me give you a better understanding of it. The rags spoken of here have reference to one of two things: it either refers to a menstrual rag, or to a rag that a leper would use to wipe his oozing sores. Do you get the picture? Our righteousness is disgusting in the sight of God.

The Greek word that Paul uses here for "righteousness" is dikaiosune. When Paul uses this word, he nearly always has the meaning of: "a right relationship with God" in mind. It means that you are loved and accepted by God.

Justification by faith alone was the doctrine of the Reformation. Martin Luther was studying through the book of Romans, and he came to:

Romans 1:17 (NKJV) For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, "The just shall live by faith."

As he studied this verse, he realized that justification was by faith alone apart from works. This launched the principle of the Reformation -- Sola Fide! Faith alone. This led to the break with Rome whose doctrine was and still is: "Justification was by faith plus works." When you depart from the doctrine of Justification by faith alone, you depart from true Christianity.

A believer receives the righteousness of Christ the moment he believes in Jesus Christ as his Savior through the righteous declaration of a holy God who cleanses and forgives on the basis of the finished work of Christ. That is quite different from the emphasis other religions of the world give today; they stress that you can be righteous if you do what God wants. The Bible says you will be righteous if you believe in what Jesus Christ has done. He has died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins.

If you remember, several weeks ago we said that we believed that these Beatitudes were both covenantal and practical. In the Beatitudes, we are shown the character of the Christian. Christians are blessed because they see their bankruptcy, mourn over their sin, and hunger and thirst for righteousness. Christians are blessed because they are in a covenant relationship with God - this is covenantal. But these Beatitudes also deal with our practical lives. The more a Christian hungers and thirst for righteousness, the greater his fellowship with God, and he is blessed practically and temporally.

Like the previous ones, this fourth Beatitude describes a dual experience: an initial and a continuous; that which begins in the unconverted, but is perpetuated in the committed disciple.

There is a difference between positional and practical righteousness. Positional righteousness is called "Justification." It is a declarative act whereby God declares the believing sinner righteous. Practical righteousness, which is also called "Sanctification", deals with our conduct. Positionally, we are righteous; as righteous as Jesus Christ. Practically, we are to live righteous lives.

If you look at Matthew's use of "righteousness" in verse 10, you can see that he uses it of practical righteousness:

Matthew 5:10 (NKJV) Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

You can see here that by "righteousness" he means: "a pattern of life in conformity to God's will." The person who hungers and thirsts for righteousness, then, hungers and thirsts for conformity to God's will. You are not going to be persecuted for your position before God because it is non-experiential. It is righteous conduct that is being spoken of here.

Many Christian teachers teach that you cannot have positional righteousness without Sanctification, or practical righteousness. One writer says, "He who justifies us also sanctifies us, and we cannot separate justification and sanctification. He who imputed righteousness to us also implants and imparts it to us so that we will live disciplined lives that are in conformity with God's will." Do you agree with this? Think about it, if righteousness is imparted and implanted in us then why do we have so many commands in Scripture to believers to live righteously? Is it natural and automatic for you to live righteously? Tell the truth now!

I may be different from you, but without constant diligence on my part, I tend to live sinful, not righteously.

One writer says, "The life of God in man will always produce a righteous pattern." I think that most believers would agree with that and say that if a person is truly saved, they will live righteously; they will bear fruit. This may be a predominant view, but is it biblical? Would you agree with me that this view is saying that sin cannot reign in the life of a Christian? Look at what Paul says to the Roman believers:

Romans 6:12 (NKJV) Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts.

The verb "reign" is basileuo, which means: "to exercise kingly power, to exercise uncontrolled authority." The verb is present imperative with the negative me, this construction forbids the continuance of an action that is already going on. A literal rendering of this would be: "Stop letting sin reign as a king in your mortal body."

Paul is talking to believers, to saints. It would be pointless to say this to unbelievers. What does this tell us? It tells us that sin can reign in the life of a believer if permitted to. I believe that this verse clearly teaches that righteousness is not imparted.

Hungering and Thirsting - Notice the intensity of which we are to long for righteousness:

Matthew 5:6 (NKJV) Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, For they shall be filled.

When Jesus uses the words hunger and thirst, He is speaking of real hunger and thirst. Most of us have a very hard time identifying with what Jesus intended to communicate. We have never really experienced true hunger or true thirst. Jesus was speaking of starvation, and the intense hunger which it brings. Generally, when we say that we are hungry, we mean that it has been several hours since we last ate. But this is not hunger. The kind of hunger of which Jesus spoke could not be satisfied by a mid-morning snack. The kind of thirst of which He spoke could not be quenched by a brief trip to the water cooler. He was speaking of people who are in desperate and dire circumstances, like those who are suffering from famine.

There have been famines throughout history. In 436 BC, Rome experienced a famine so severe that thousands threw themselves into the Tiber River. They desired to drown rather than starve to death. Severe famine struck England in 1005 AD. Great famines enveloped Europe in 879, 1016, and 1162. We have seen famines spread throughout the third world countries where tens of millions have died of starvation. But few Americans have any concept of the intensity of the hunger and thirst referred to by the Lord Jesus in the beatitudes.

In biblical times in the Middle East, dying of thirst would be a very real danger in those dry, arid regions. Jesus is saying that just as the body craves and desires food and water, so the believer is one who craves and desires righteousness. That desire is a driving motivation for the believer.

A book written by Major Vivian Gilbert called The Romance of the Last Crusade(N.Y.: D. Appleton & Co., 1927) describes the British liberation of Palestine in World War I. Dr. E.M. Blaiklock related part of it in a magazine article:

"Driving up from Beersheba, a combined force of British, Australians and New Zealanders were pressing on the rear of the Turkish retreat over arid desert. The attack out-distanced its water-carrying camel train. Water bottles were empty. The sun blazed pitilessly out of a sky where the vultures wheeled expectantly. Our heads ached,' writes Gilbert, 'and our eyes became bloodshot and dim in the blinding glare.... Our tongues began to swell ... our lips turned a purplish black and burst ....' Those who dropped out of the column were never seen again, but the desperate force battled on to Sheria. There were wells at Sheria, and had they been unable to take the place by nightfall, thousands were doomed to die of thirst. 'We fought that day,' writes Gilbert, 'as men fight for their lives.... We entered Sheria station on the heels of the retreating Turks. The first objects which met our view were the great stone cisterns full of cold, clear, drinking water. In the still night air the sound of water running into the tanks could be distinctly heard, maddening in its nearness; yet not a man murmured when orders were given for the battalions to fall in, two deep, facing the cisterns. He describes the stern priorities: the wounded, those on guard duty, then company by company. It took four hours before the last man had his drink of water, and in all that time they had been standing 20 feet from a low stone wall, on the other side of which were thousands of gallons of water.I believe,' Major Gilbert concludes, 'that we all learned our first real Bible lesson on that march from Beersheba to Sheria wells.'" Blaiklock added, If such were our thirst for God, for righteousness, for His will in our life, a consuming, all-embracing, preoccupying desire, how rich in the fruits of the Spirit would we be" ("New Light on Bible Imagery: Water," Eternity [August, 1966], pp. 27-28).

The Greek verbs Jesus used are powerful: peinao, which means: "to suffer deep hunger," and dipsao, which means: "to suffer thirst." Those are the strongest impulses in the natural realm.

Grammatically, Jesus expressed the two Greek verbs as present participles, which imply continuous action. He was speaking of those continuously hungering and thirsting for Christ's righteousness.

David was a man who hungered and thirsted for righteousness. He was a man after God's own heart (1 Sam. 13:14). He walked in close communion with God. He wrote:

Psalms 23:1-4 (NKJV) The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. 2 He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. 3 He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness For His name's sake. 4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

David personally experienced God's protection, care, and guidance. Listen to David's heart cry after God:

Psalms 63:1 (NKJV) O God, You are my God; Early will I seek You; My soul thirsts for You; My flesh longs for You In a dry and thirsty land Where there is no water.

David's hunger and thirst for God never diminished.

Let me get technical here for a minute. In the Greek language, verbs like hunger and thirst are normally followed by nouns in the genitive case. In English, genitives are usually expressed by placing the word "of" before a noun. When a Greek person was hungry, he would literally say, "I hunger for of food." That is a partitive genitive - a noun in the genitive case that indicates a person wants part of what is available. He wouldn't say, "I hunger for food," because that would mean he hungered for all the food in the world. Rather, he would phrase his statement to mean he wanted enough food to satisfy his need.

However, in Matthew 5:6, the normal use of the partitive genitive is abandoned. Instead, the accusative case is used, which makes the verse read, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after all righteousness." The Christian is never satisfied, because no matter how righteousness he is, he is never sinless.

Also, in Matthew 5:6, the definite article appears in the Greek text before "righteousness." Christians are to desire "the" righteousness - the righteousness of God.

Our hunger and thirst for righteousness begins with salvation and continues in practical sanctification. Looked at in its widest aspect, this hungering and thirsting refers to that panting of the renewed heart after God (Ps. 42:1); that yearning for a closer walk with Him; that longing for more perfect conformity to the image of His Son.

I am utterly amazed when I see Christians who apparently have little or no passion for God. I say "apparently" because it is hard to know what is really in a person's heart from what is going on outwardly. We must be very careful not to judge people simply by what we see. But when I see people who apparently have no passion for God, my heart is grieved. I am speaking of people who have no desire to read God's word, no desire to pray; who only participate in corporate worship when it is convenient for them; who make no sacrifices for Christ. These are truly marks of having a passion for God, and when they are absent, I think we can only conclude that we do not have a passion for God.

I have never experienced starvation. I would suppose, however, that a starving person has only one desire. That person is possessed by a single, all-consuming passion. Only food has the slightest attraction or appeal to that person. Nothing else is important. Nothing else has even the slightest appeal.

"They, And They Alone, Shall Be Filled" -

A unanimous declaration of the thirteen united States of America was passed on July 4, 1776. We know this document as the Declaration of Independence. The second sentence of this document reads: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." I have always been intrigued by this phrase "the pursuit of happiness." Indeed, our entire culture seems to be taken with the idea that the pursuit of happiness is and should be the main goal of every person. And we go at it with abandon. But do we ever really attain it?

St. Augustine said, "Thou madest us for Thyself, and our heart is restless, until it rests in Thee." C.S. Lewis said, "If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world."

Jeremiah 2:13 (NKJV) "For My people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, And hewn themselves cisterns; broken cisterns that can hold no water.

God made man with a thirst for Him, but man refuses the well of living water. It's sad to see people attempting to meet their hunger and thirst with the wrong things. They need fulfillment and meaning in life, but seek to fill themselves with worldly pleasures, possessions, power, and praise.

The prodigal son thought pleasure, possessions, and popularity would fulfill his needs. But his soul was still hungry, and he finally had the sense to say to himself:

Luke 15:17 (NKJV) "But when he came to himself, he said, 'How many of my father's hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!

He returned to his father's house and was given a feast (a picture of fellowship). The world's "food" of riotous living tries to meet the soul's hunger with the pleasures of sin but send it away starving. Those who respond to the Spirit of God come running to the Father and are given a feast that fills the hungry soul.

"They shall be filled" - Could it be that what Jesus is saying is that until we come to the place where we have such a single-mindedness in our passion for God that we will never experience true satisfaction? As a matter of fact, that is precisely what I think He is saying! The question to you then becomes: Do you have a passion for God? Do you hunger and thirst after righteousness? Is this your desire? Is this what you want above all else? Are you starving for God? You will find nothing else which will satisfy that hunger:

Isaiah 55:2 (NKJV) Why do you spend money for what is not bread, And your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, And let your soul delight itself in abundance.

God asks, "Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy?" Only God satisfies. So, we need to come to the place where we are hungry for God. We must desire Him so passionately that our desire causes us to do something about it. Nothing less than that passion will cause us to act properly.

The person who hungers and thirsts for righteousness, then, hungers and thirsts for conformity to God's will. This is practical sanctification. A Scottish saint cried out in prayer, "O God, make me just as holy as a pardoned sinner can be!"

What are the signs of true hunger and thirst for righteousness? If you have real hunger, you will experience pain. Isn't that true? You will experience pain and feel your life ebbing away from you, as we read in Psalm 107:5, "They were hungry and thirsty, and their lives ebbed away." It is the kind of pain you feel in your stomach that can only be relieved by eating. We must have such a hunger for righteousness; for perfect conformity to God's revealed will.

Just as hunger and thirst follow you home, follow you to bed, follow you to work, follow you everywhere with their imperative demands, so does the heart cry after purity, integrity, and righteousness when you are Christ's disciple. The hunger and thirst after righteousness follows us home to bed and back to work in the morning. It follows us wherever we go. Our hearts could be meditating on the Lord while we are doing our daily chores or while we are driving in the car. No matter where we are, the hunger follows us.

We desire to be right in our conduct, but by nature we tend to be rash and harsh. We tend to speak hard things which abuse and wound other people. Then we come home and our heart smites us, and we desire for the Lord to make us gentle and loving. We crave for Him to give us the fruit of the Spirit, which is love.

We desire to have right thoughts. Love not only covers sin, but love "...thinks no evil," (1 Corinthians 13:5). How often have we thought evil against others? In our thoughts we find such impurity. We must come back before the Lord day after day longing for Him to give us right thoughts and true love, so we may show love, cover evil, and think no evil. We hunger and thirst after a heart of love to our fellow man.

How often do you feel like Paul when he said:

Romans 7:19 (NKJV) For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice.

Paul wanted his conduct to be corrected. He saw so much wrong in himself. This is where the hunger and thirst after righteousness comes from. We begin to thirst after the purifying work of the Spirit; that He will take away our wrong thoughts.

Ponder this: Not only should we hunger and thirst for righteousness in ourselves, but also we should have a desire to see righteousness in others. When we see those who claim to be Christian; our own children, our friends, and relatives living in rebellion against God's will, we should have such a hunger and desire for the Lord to work His grace in their hearts.

What if we don't have this hunger and thirst - this overwhelming, intense, all-consuming, painful hunger and thirst? It could mean that we are dead. Why? Dead people don't hunger. Or it could mean we are sick, because sick people don't hunger either. Let me assure you, hungering and thirsting is a sign of life and health. We must examine ourselves to see whether we are truly hungering and thirsting after righteousness.

The Greek word translated here as "filled" was used of foddering an animal. Here it speaks of being completely satisfied. God will make us satisfied. "They shall be filled."Like the first part of our text, this also has a double fulfillment: an initial, and a continuous. "Filled" is a divine passive, which means, simply, that it is God who fills us. The beatitude simply says, "They will be filled," but the meaning is: "They will be filled with the fullness of divine and perfect righteousness," because that is what they have been hungering after.

From what we have already said, it may seem that a paradox exists: God will satisfy us, but we will continue to hunger and thirst. I'm satisfied when I eat a piece of New York style cheese cake, but I always want more! The satisfaction one piece provides also increases my desire for more of the same. That is a picture of what righteousness is for the saved - the more we are filled with the rich, sweet taste of Christ's righteousness, the more we desire it.

Thomas Watson said, "He has most need of righteousness that least wants it" The Beatitudes"Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1980, p. 124". Do you find yourself saying, "Oh, wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" (Rom. 7:24). Or are you self-righteous, thinking everyone else is wrong, and you are right?

If you are in any sense satisfied with yourself, you need to question whether you really hunger after righteousness. The pain of constantly falling short of God's standards characterizes those who hunger after righteousness. Believers need to hunger for righteousness as a starving man hungers for food.

Do you hunger and thirst for the Word of God? Jeremiah said:

Jeremiah 15:16 (NKJV) Your words were found, and I ate them, And Your word was to me the joy and rejoicing of my heart; For I am called by Your name, O LORD God of hosts.

If you hunger and thirst after righteousness, you will spend time in God's Word. The hungry do not need to be told to eat. Believers shouldn't have to be told to read and study their Bibles. If you have no desire to learn what Scripture says about increasing in righteousness, you are not functioning as a child of the kingdom should. Either you are being sinful, or you aren't a kingdom citizen.

If you want Christ and your sin or Christ and something else, you aren't hungering and thirsting after righteousness. A hungry man doesn't want food and a new suit. A thirsty man doesn't want water and a new pair of shoes. If you claim a relationship to Christ, but you aren't hungering and thirsting for righteousness, you need to honestly question your spiritual state; you are either dead or sick.

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