6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”
John MacArthur has mentioned a fascinating story about thirst from World War I.
During the liberation of Palestine in World War I, a combined force of British, Australian, and New Zealand soldiers was closely pursuing the Turks as they retreated from the desert. As the allied troops moved northward past Beersheba they began to outdistance their water-carrying camel train. When the water ran out, their mouths got dry, their heads ached, and they became dizzy and faint. Eyes became bloodshot, lips swelled and turned purple, and mirages became common. They knew that if they did not make the wells of Sheriah by nightfall, thousands of them would die – as hundreds already had done. Literally fighting for their lives, they managed to drive the Turks from Sheriah.
As water was distributed from the great stone cisterns, the more able-bodied were required to stand at attention and wait for the wounded and those who would take guard duty to drink first. It was four hours before the last man had his drink. During that time the men stood no more than twenty feet from thousands of gallons of water, to drink of which had been their consuming passion for many agonizing days. It is said that one of the officers who was present reported, “I believe that we all learned our first real Bible lesson on the march from Beersheba to Sheriah Wells. If such were our thirst for God, for righteousness and for His will in our lives, a consuming, all-embracing, preoccupying desire, how rich in the fruit of the Spirit would we be.”
It raises an interesting question, doesn’t it? Would it be possible to thirst for God the way these men thirsted for water, to see the quenching of this thirst as just as much a matter of life and death as the quenching of the thirst of these soldiers was? Would it be possible to see the deep cisterns of God’s righteousness as the great goal of our lives, and to live our lives along the contours of that journey?
“If such were our thirst for God, for righteousness and for His will in our lives,” said the soldier, “a consuming, all-embracing, preoccupying desire, how rich in the fruit of the Spirit would we be.”
The Lord Jesus clearly felt that thirsting for righteousness in this way was not only possible but essential. In the fourth Beatitude He said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”
I. What is the Nature of Blessed “Hunger and Thirst”?
Let us begin first with the nature of this huger and thirst. What is the nature of it and how, in fact, should we hunger? First, let us recognize that the metaphor of food and drink was one that Jesus used often, for reasons we will discuss. For instance, in John 4:7-15, we read of this amazing encounter between Jesus and a woman of Samaria. Jesus begins their encounter by drawing a direct analogy between physical, temporary water and spiritual, eternal water.
7 A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8 (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) 10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” 13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”
Later in the same chapter, in John 4:31-34, Jesus switches to the food metaphor as His disciples press him to eat.
31 Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” 32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” 33 So the disciples said to one another, “Has anyone brought him something to eat?” 34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.”
So to the woman who needed to know Him, Jesus spoke of water. To the disciples who were growing in their understanding of Him, Jesus spoke of food. Notice, interestingly, in the passage just cited, that the will of the Father was food to Jesus as well: “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.”
In speaking to the Jews in John 6:27;30-35, Jesus once again drew on the analogy of food.
27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.”
30 So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? 31 Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” 32 Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34 They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” 35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”
Most familiar to us is the moving and crucial analogy Jesus made in Luke 22 between His body and blood and bread and wine.
14 And when the hour came, he reclined at table, and the apostles with him. 15 And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16 For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” 17 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves. 18 For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” 19 And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 20 And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.
Likewise in the rest of the New Testament, we find the food/drink analogy repeated. We find Peter in 1 Peter saying, “2 Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— 3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.” We also find the writer of Hebrews in Hebrews 5 saying, “12b You need milk, not solid food, 13 for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. 14 But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.”
So this is a very familiar and very-often used image in the Bible, this notion of eating and drinking. But what do those verbs mean, spiritually understood? And what is the point of these analogies?
Let us not miss the obvious point of the metaphor: that eating and drinking are necessary to our survival. Eating and drinking are non-negotiables. They are not options. We eat and drink or we die. The most obvious implication of the metaphor of sustenance and the verbs “hunger and thirst” is necessity. It is utterly necessary to eat and drink. And it is utterly necessary for the follower of Jesus to hunger and thirst for righteousness.
But there is more. We do not have to teach a baby to be hungry or to be thirsty. We never have to say to a baby, “Ok, scream now. Tell me you’re hungry.” No, it is inherent. It is an unavoidable component of the state of being alive. Hunger and thirst simply happen to us by virtue of our existence as human beings. This means, then, that the follower of Jesus Christ should inherently desire righteousness (that we will define in a moment) as a matter of survival. Obviously, the unredeemed heart does not inherently desire righteousness, but it is part of the born again heart that it does.
But there is something else as well. Not only are hunger and thirst necessary and inherent, they are progressive in human beings. As we eat, we grow. As we grow, the nature of our sustenance grows as well. Fifty-year-old men do not pull out baby bottles at construction sites and take their milk for lunch. They do not pull out small bottles of horrific smashed peas and spoon them down with little baby spoons. That would be absurd! Why? Because they have graduated to solid food. They are grown and their food has grown as well.
When Jesus says we are blessed when we “hunger and thirst for righteousness” He is saying that our hunger should be marked by urgency, necessity, newborn instinct, and ever-growing taste, need, and expectation. Paul understood this last point well when he said to the Corinthians, “I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh” (1 Corinthians 3:2-3). The point being, they should have been ready for meat, their tastes and appetites and capacities should have progressed. We are intended to grow in our appetite for righteousness.
Because the analogy of food and drink are so familiar to us, we can now understand the nature of this hunger. The early Christian Chromatius said that this Beatitude is speaking of those who “virtually burn with passionate longing in their hunger and thirst.” That is not a bad way to put it. We might also put it like this: the hunger spoken of in the fourth Beatitude refers to an urgent, instinctive, progressive, undeniable desire and need for righteousness, without which we would starve to death.
II. What is the Righteousness for Which the Blessed “Hunger and Thirst”?
But what is the righteousness for which we are to hunger and thirst? Having defined the nature of the hunger and thirst, let’s now try to define the object of it. John Stott has helpfully pointed out that the Bible speaks of righteousness in three ways: legal righteousness (i.e., justification), moral righteousness (i.e., character and conduct), and social righteousness (i.e., social justice). Put in more simple terms, legal righteousness refers to salvation, moral righteousness refers to personal holiness, and social righteousness refers to fighting unrighteousness in the social order. But to which of these is Jesus referring in the fourth Beatitude?
It is usually agreed that the word righteousness in the gospel of Matthew is not used in terms of saving righteousness, what we might called imputed righteousness, the crediting of the righteousness of Christ to our account for salvation. If we were to look for that in the Beatitudes, we would rightly look for it in poverty of spirit and mourning. When are hearts are broken and repented before the Lord, He saves us in Christ. Matthew’s gospel certainly does teach salvation, but he usually refers to righteousness in terms of the second sense, moral righteousness, personal holiness, the fruit of discipleship.
Charles Quarles has noted that “in the Gospel of Matthew, the term ‘righteousness’ normally refers to actual personal righteousness that results from one’s relationship with God, that is, the righteousness of sanctification rather than the righteousness of justification.” For instance, in the beginning of the next chapter, in Matthew 6:1, Jesus says, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.”
Now, certainly the righteousness we manifest as we submit to, follow, and grow in Christ includes social righteousness. A righteous man or woman of God will not be content to see his or her neighbor crushed and destroyed by some kind of injustice. Furthermore, our moral righteousness surely stems from the righteousness of Christ at work within us. But what Christ is speaking of here is the manifest, personal righteousness of the follower of Jesus who is becoming more like His master. That is the object of our hunger and thirst: lived, manifested, exhibited, personal righteousness stemming from the fact that we are born again, made alive in Christ.
Let us now apply the proper kind of hunger and thirst to the proper kind of righteousness we are called to pursue. The hunger spoken of in the fourth Beatitude refers to an urgent, instinctive, progressive, undeniable desire and need for the personal, moral righteousness that disciples of Jesus should manifest, without which we would starve to death.
This raises an unavoidable but uncomfortable question: do you have that kind of hunger and that kind of thirst for that kind of righteousness? Do your bones burn to be righteous? Does your heart strain towards greater godliness, greater holiness? Is it your consuming desire to have more of Christ and more of the life He intends for you?
It is actually quite easy to gauge this. What is on your mind? What is in your head? What do you want? What drives you? What motivates you? What consumes you? Just how badly do you want righteousness, the life of a disciple? Are you discontented with where you are with Jesus? Does it ever cross your mind?
What do your personal habits reflect in terms of priorities? Have you opened God’s Word this week? This month? This year? Have you prayed, called out to God? Have you shared your faith? Sought opportunities to share your faith? Do you even want to share your faith?
Have you asked the Holy Spirit to reveal to you the true state of your own soul? Have you placed yourself under the judgment of Scripture? Do you want to? Would it ever occur to you to do so?
Would you describe your Christian life right now, today, as a river or a swamp? A journey or a nap? Progress or regress? Are you moving forward? Do you want to move forward? Does it even matter to you whether or not you move forward?
Do you hunger and thirst for righteousness? Can you say that you are hungering and thirsting, right now, for righteousness?
III. What is the Satisfaction Granted Those Who “Hunger and Thirst”?
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,” Jesus said, “for they shall be satisfied.”
For they shall be satisfied. Here is the great separation between physical hunger and thirst and spiritual hunger and thirst: physical hunger and thirst are never satisfied. You eat and drink and are satisfied, but only for brief time. Just some short hours later it is as if you haven’t eaten at all. It does not satisfy.
Jesus, of course, knew this and made the point himself. “Everyone who drinks of this [physical] water will be thirsty again” (John 4:13). “Do not work for the food that perishes” (John 6:27). Physical water never satisfies for long. Food inevitably perishes. But those who hunger and thirst for righteousness “shall be satisfied.” That fascinating Christian character, Clarence Jordan, who founded the prophetic Koinonia fellowship down there in South Georgia, said this of our Beatitude:
One might eat and eat of the superficial, cotton-candy righteousness vended by the professional religious hucksters and never have that hunger assuaged. People might drink and drink of their holy water and never have their thirst quenched. But the kingdom righteousness is meat indeed and drink indeed – rich, nourishing, satisfying. Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for it, for they shall find that it meets their deepest needs.
In one sense, this is clear enough. The spiritual nourishment of righteousness is superior to physical nourishment. But in another sense it is not so clear, for surely Jesus cannot mean that we can reach a place of righteousness where we no longer want any more righteousness. On the contrary, the more we grow in righteousness, the more righteousness we desire. Speaking of the fourth Beatitude, the early Christian Apollinaris said that “such fulfillment does not produce a turning away but rather an intensification of the desire.”
Yet, there certainly is satisfaction in growing Godward, is there not? Thus, spiritual food and drink satisfies, but not in the way that we think of satisfaction, not in the sense of completion. In other words, hungering and thirsting for righteousness inevitably leads us to hunger and thirst for more righteousness while at the same time, Jesus says, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness shall be satisfied.
What are we to make of this? Does this hunger and thirst for righteousness satisfy or does it make us hungrier and thirstier for righteousness? The answer is yes!
As a matter of fact, what we have here is a wonderful paradox, a mystery, that type of odd truth that Jesus was always pointing to and expressing in discussing what life in the Kingdom is like. We might state it like this: those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are satisfied, not through the disappearance of hunger but through the sweetness and joy of greater desire for greater righteousness. The satisfaction is in the yearning, for the yearning is itself the sweet dessert of satisfaction.
Like a great story that we do not want to end or a soul-stirring song that we keep yelling “Encore!” after, hungering and thirsting for righteousness is a journey with its own rewards, a well leading to deeper waters, a meal leading to new and surprising tastes. The journey does not end, because the journey is life itself. We hunger and thirst for righteousness, knowing that when we begin to approach it, whole new fields of greater righteousness lay ahead. And as we run along, following the Lord Jesus, learning His ways and placing our feet in His footprints, we find that the journey is a dance of joy, not a burden, and our one great satisfaction in Christ is the assurance that the dance is eternal, to the praise and glory of Almighty God!
 John MacArthur, Matthew 1-7. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1985), p.180, quoting E.M. Blaiklock, “Water.” Eternity (August 1966), p.27.
 Manlio Simonetti, ed. Matthew 1-13. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. New Testament, vol.Ia. Thomas C. Oden, ed. (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), p.84.
 John R.W. Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1978), p.45.
 Charles Quarles, The Sermon on the Mount. NAC Studies in Bible & Theology. Ed., E. Ray Clendenen (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2011), p.60. Quarles rejects the notion of this righteousness being “imputed righteousness” because “the preponderance of evidence precludes it from being a legitimate exegetical option. The term ‘righteousness’ (dikaisosune) simply is not used elsewhere in the Gospel of Matthew in the sense of imputed righteousness. It is highly unlikely that ‘righteousness’ refers to justification in the immediate context. Matthew 5:10 pronounces a blessing on those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness. To read ‘righteousness’ as ‘justification’ here would make little sense.”
 Clarence Jordan, Sermon on the Mount. (Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 1970), p.17.
 Manlio Simonetti, ed., p.84.