Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 5:6b “. . .after righteousness:”
When poor in spirit (5:3), we see our own utter insufficiency in spiritual matters. This leads to a mourning (5:4) over sin which allows the power of God to make us meek (5:5), having all our appetites under control. Once granted control over our passions, our next step is to realize all the positive traits which we lack and need added to our lives.
Hungering and thirsting “after righteousness” yields evidence one truly has the life of God planted within. A dead person does not hunger and thirst after food and water. Similarly, the spiritually dead do not hunger and thirst “after righteousness.” St. Bernard found comfort in our text. He knew he was saved because in his heart he always had a strong desire after God. St. Bernard accurately deduced the three key essentials of true spirituality our text reveals: always had, strong desire, after God.
First, St. Bernard claimed he “always had” the desire. Once we begin this journey “after righteousness,” it must continue unabated throughout this life. We have much to accomplish, a long way to go spiritually. We never have such a wonderful experience with God that we are satisfied once and for all. We always desire more of Him. The hungering and thirsting remain progressive in this life. Our business is to keep up the chase, never to grow weary of yearning, ever to desire more of what we do not yet have.
The church at Laodicea had the dubious dishonor of having made God physically ill. Jesus said, “I will spue thee out of my mouth. Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing” (RV 3:16b-17). Laodicea’s malady was lack of desire. Feeling full, she forgot that the emptiest person is one who deems himself the fullest.
May our desire continue without interruption throughout this life. If we are not as close to God as in the past, bewail the loss. It is sad to lose our first love, but grief over the loss is itself a sign of spiritual life. “Blessed are they that mourn.” If we desire to be as strong as we once were, our mourning will help us retrieve it.
Second, the desire must be strong. Hunger and thirst are ardent desires. When famine became severe, Jacob became willing to risk the lives of his sons in an effort to find food (GN 42:3; 43:15). He sent them on two dangerous, arduous journeys to an alien land. David’s three mighty men risked their lives, breaking through enemy lines to fetch water from the well at Bethlehem because David said he was thirsty for it (2 SM 23:15-17). Hungry to the point of risking lives, thirsty to the point of crying aloud–is our hunger and thirst for God this strong?
Do not soothe your conscience because your heart contains a warm, fuzzy feeling for God. The challenge set before us is to ever be testing the intensity of our craving, and the level of our resolve. How earnestly do we want righteousness?.
The rich young ruler wanted Christ, but died lost. He went to Hell not due to no desire for Jesus, but because his desire was not strong enough. The world was nearer and dearer to his heart than Jesus was. The ruler, like other unbelievers, wanted true fulfillment, but was unwilling to come the way of the cross to find it.
Our desire must be strong enough to drive us to seek out the satisfying bread and water. Wicked Balaam claimed a desire “to die the death of the righteous” (NB 23:10). Pious words indeed, but he was unwilling to live the life of the righteous. Pilate asked, “What is truth?” (JN 18:38). A good question, but he did not stay with Jesus long enough to research the right answer. Herod had long wanted to see and meet Jesus (LK 23:8), but never ventured outside his palace to find Him. People too often do not have enough desire to seek out the One they claim to desire to find.
Third, the strong desire must be after God. We are created with many desires and appetites. We always want something. Blessed are they who prioritize their desires aright, who have as their chief objective the being and doing of what is right before God, to be like Christ, to live according to the teachings of the Bible.
Do not waste our strongest impulses on trifles. Yearn for the important. One mark of true hunger and thirst is that it will be satisfied with nothing other than the ongoing, increased righteousness which it seeks. When babies feel full, they are willing to play with a frivolous rattle. But when a child feels hungry, offer whatever rattles you will, he must first have his hunger satisfied. Ever be asking ourselves, are we focused primarily on playing with the rattles of this world or on having the food of righteousness? Make sure our strongest desire is “after righteousness.”
Matt. 5:6c “. . .for they shall be filled.”
When we long to be what God wants us to be, our desire is never in vain. All who hunger and thirst after righteousness are blessed, “for they shall be filled.” They receive their desire–increased righteousness, more Christlikeness. This filling is not something we merit, it is the gift of God. We do not manufacture it, we simply desire it, and God gladly gives it. “Come with hungerings after Christ and be assured of satisfaction. God keeps open house for hungry sinners” (Watson).
Jesus freely satisfies–no deception, no disappointment. We have all known the frustration of a fulfilled desire which did not satisfy. We have climbed a tall ladder toward a door marked “contentment,” only to learn we were deceived, for once we reached the top, the door actually read “counterfeit.” We have all also known the disappointment of having a desire which was never fulfilled. Some dreams seem always to elude us; they remain mirages which never become reality.
Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness, for their fulfilled desire is never a deception–they find exactly what they seek–and their desire is never disappointed–the measure of the supply matches the intensity of the desire.
In this world, it is common to be filled, yet not satisfied. One who hungers after things of earth will never be satisfied. They fill for a moment, but their consumption, like drinking salt water, increases appetites and leaves the inner essence famished. Trying to live on this world’s delights is like trying to survive by eating celery, which requires more calories to digest than it contains. Thus, one can eat celery to the full, yet at the same time be starving to death. Similarly, the things of earth fill for a moment, but leave starvation in their wake. As the prodigal son learned, husks do not satisfy. The blessed ones are those who have a desire for spiritual joys which sustain and satisfy the inner self. Like earthly things, spiritual experiences also fill for a moment, but the latter leave nourishment in their wake.
Turn away from the world. Desire what satisfies. “Happiness is never something that should be sought directly; it is always something that results from seeking something else” (Lloyd-Jones). Anyone who seeks happiness before righteousness is doomed to misery. The journey “after righteousness” is long and arduous, but the way-stations by the road are plenteous and bountiful. The farther we go, the closer to Jesus we get, the more beautiful He is, and the more we want to be like Him.
As Isaac Watts wrote, “The hill of Zion yields a thousand sacred sweets before we reach the heavenly fields, or walk the golden streets.” Each filling along the way is an earnest of fuller happiness and better joys yet to come.