4. Blessed Are the Hungry (Matthew 5:6)Related Media
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.
Matthew 5:6 (NET)
One of the greatest indicators of health is hunger. When a person isn’t feeling well and he visits the doctor, the doctor often asks, “Have you been eating?” In the same way that physical hunger helps us discern our physical health, spiritual hunger helps us discern our spiritual health. It even displays if we are spiritually alive at all.
It is good to remember that the Beatitudes encompass both the character and aspirations of citizens of the kingdom of heaven. The first and last beatitudes end with the promise, “for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.” This style of writing tells us that each of these characteristics will be present in the life of somebody who has entered the kingdom—somebody who is born again. But not only do these characteristics tell us if we are born again—spiritually alive—they tell us if we are spiritually healthy. No one has ever perfectly modeled these characteristics except for Christ, but if Christ lives in us, they will be displayed in our lives to some extent. Because they are the characteristics of our Lord, we should continually aspire to grow in them.
In this study, we will consider the fourth beatitude, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.”
Big Question: What does it mean to hunger and thirst for righteousness and thus be filled? How should this beatitude be applied?
Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness
Interpretation Question: What type of hunger and thirst is Christ referring to?
The words for “hunger” and “thirst” are not words used of somebody who is casually hungry and thirsty. They refer to someone who is starving for food and someone who will die without a drink.1 This is something most people from developed countries know nothing about. When we’re hungry, we open the refrigerator and grab a snack. If we’re thirsty, we pour a cup of water. But the ancient world, to whom Christ spoke, knew hunger and thirst well. Most families in Palestine could only eat meat once a week. Wages were low, if they existed at all, and did not allow for luxuries—it was just enough to survive. Travel often led people through large deserts with no water; therefore, thirst was a common companion.2 When a person is desperately hungry and thirsty, nothing else will satisfy them—not a beautiful sunrise or sunset, not entertainment or rest—only food and water will do.
The Greek words for “hunger” and “thirst” are present participles meaning a continual hungering and thirsting.3 There is a continual hunger and thirst in the life of true believers that separates them from the world. What is that hunger and thirst for? According to Christ, it is for righteousness.
There is something unusual in this Greek statement. Typically, Greek verbs like “hunger” and “thirst” have partial objects. For example, “I am hungry for some bread” or “I’m thirsty for some water.” But Christ uses an unqualified object. It’s like saying, “I’m hungry for all the bread” or “all the water.” True believers are hungry for complete righteousness—not partial righteousness.4 It’s not OK to love God, and yet compromise in their language, practice dishonesty, or commit immorality. These people want to be fully righteous—partial righteousness won’t do. They want to be perfect like their Lord. God created us for this. Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are his workmanship, having been created in Christ Jesus for good works that God prepared beforehand so we may do them.”
Application Question: What types of righteousness or good works do true believers hunger and thirst for?
1. Believers hunger and thirst for Christ’s imputed righteousness.
God, initially, creates this hunger in an unbeliever as he is convicted of his sin and failures before God. Romans 3:23 says, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 6:23 says, “For the payoff of sin is death”. God made man in the image of God—to be holy. However, all men have failed to be like God in action, word, and thought. Therefore, because God is righteous and holy, we are under his wrath and deserving of death (cf. John 3:36). Hebrews 12:14 (NIV) says “without holiness no one will see God.”
Therefore, how can man have a right relationship with God? How can a person be saved and have eternal life—abiding with God forever? Two thousand years ago, Christ, the Son of God, came to the earth as a man and lived the perfect life that we could never live. He always did what the Father told him to do. He always said what the Father said. He was the perfect child. However, the world, who loves sin and therefore hates righteousness, rejected and crucified Christ. On the cross, Christ not only suffered the scorn of man, but the wrath of God. Christ took the wrath we deserved for our sin so he could offer those who come to him the gift of perfect righteousness.
Romans 3:21-22 says,
But now apart from the law the righteousness of God (which is attested by the law and the prophets) has been disclosed—namely, the righteousness of God through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction
To all who believe in Christ—acknowledging in his life, death, and resurrection for the sins of the world—and turn from their sin to follow him, he imparts his perfect righteousness to their account. Second Corinthians 5:21 says, “God made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we would become the righteousness of God.”
Those who are truly born again have gone through the steps of the Beatitudes: They recognize their spiritual poverty, as they have fallen short of God’s glory—even their righteous deeds are as filthy rags before God (Is 64:6). They mourned because of their sin and because they were under God’s judgment. They became the meek who submitted to the Lordship of Christ and began to hunger and thirst for righteousness. Therefore, God saved them by imparting the perfect righteousness of Jesus to their account. They are now sons and daughters of God and will dwell eternally with him.
Have you recognized your sinfulness and inability before God? No amount of work will save you: church attendance won’t, taking the Lord’s Supper won’t, and neither will baptism. Our only hope for salvation is Christ’s perfect work on our behalf.
While believers hunger and thirst to be made right before God, the world is content—they say, “I’m a pretty good person; I believe God will accept me into heaven,” or they have no desire to be right with God at all. Others desire to be right with God, but instead of recognizing their inability to save themselves, they try to earn their salvation through works. Our only hope for salvation is Christ’s perfect work and sacrifice for our sins. When God resurrected Christ, he was saying, “I accept my Son’s sacrifice on your behalf.” Romans 4:25 says, “He was given over because of our transgressions and was raised for the sake of our justification.”
Have you experienced Christ’s imputed righteousness? Romans 10:13 tells us that anyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. We must turn from our sin and accept Christ as our Lord and Savior, and he will save us.
2. Believers hunger and thirst for practical righteousness.
Those who have been made righteous by Christ in salvation will naturally hunger and thirst to serve God and others through righteous works. Righteous deeds are not the root of salvation, as taught by all other religions; they are the fruit of true salvation—of already being made righteous before God. James said that faith without accompanying works is dead (James 2:17). If our profession of faith does not produce a lifestyle of hungering for and practicing good works, our profession is false. In Matthew 7:21, Christ said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven—only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” Only those who do the will of the Father will enter heaven. Serving and obeying God is a proof of true salvation. This hunger for righteousness begins when we are spiritually born at salvation, just as hunger for food happens immediately with natural birth. A healthy baby desires the nutrients that come from his or her mother. And it’s the same for a spiritual baby—he will hunger and thirst for righteousness and God will fill him. God fills believers throughout this life with righteous works and deeds, and one day, he will ultimately fill them, as they become perfect like Christ (cf. 1 John 3:2). They will serve Christ and others eternally in the coming kingdom (cf. Lk 19:17,19).
Application Question: What are some specific aspects of practical righteousness that believers hunger and thirst for?
- A practical righteousness that believers hunger and thirst for is the salvation of souls.
In John 4, we see the story of Christ meeting with the woman at the well. After talking with her briefly, she leaves to gather her Samaritan friends so they can meet the Messiah. The disciples approach Christ about getting some food to eat. However, Christ sharply responds to them saying: “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. Lift up your eyes, the fields are ripe for harvest!” (John 4:32-35, paraphrase). Soon after, many Samaritans came to hear him speak and believed in him (39-40).
It is the most natural thing for new believers to want to share their faith with all who will listen. They share it with their friends, family, co-workers, and even strangers. Often, they are viewed as over-zealous. But such enthusiasm is simply the natural hunger of someone who has been born again—they want others to know Christ.
It is good for us to remember that hunger is a sign of our spiritual health. Are you still hungry for souls to know Christ?
- A practical righteousness that believers hunger and thirst for is knowing God’s Word.
When Christ was tempted in the wilderness by Satan to turn a rock into bread, Christ responded, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt 4:4). No doubt, while Christ fasted for forty days, he was eating and drinking God’s Word. In fact, his very response came from Deuteronomy 8:3, and every other time he was tempted, he responded with Scripture.
It is the most natural thing for believers to desire God’s Word when they have truly been born again. Before salvation, they are apathetic towards Scripture. They don’t typically desire to read it, study it, listen to it being taught, or obey it. But when they are born again, it becomes their food. Like Job, they cry out, “I love your words even more than my daily bread” (Job 23:12, paraphrase). Like David, they declare, “O how I love your law! All day long I meditate on it” (Ps 119:97). Furthermore, he cries, “Seven times a day I praise you because of your just regulations” (Ps 119: 164).
Are you still delighting in God’s Word and meditating on it all day long? Or has it become a chore and a burden?
- A practical righteousness that believers hunger and thirst for is the knowledge of God.
The Psalmist says:
O God, you are my God! I long for you! My soul thirsts for you, my flesh yearns for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water.
As a deer longs for streams of water, so I long for you, O God! I thirst for God, for the living God. I say, “When will I be able to go and appear in God’s presence?”
Moses who spoke to God face to face and had a more intimate relationship with God than other prophets, cried out, “Show me your glory!” (Ex 33:18). Paul, who met Christ in a vision at his salvation, who received the Gospel by a revelation of Christ (Gal 1:12), who went to the third heaven and heard unexplainable words (2 Cor 12:4), said that he counted everything a loss to gain Christ and that he desired to know him more intimately by experiencing the power of the resurrection, fellowshipping with his sufferings, dying like Christ, and resurrecting like him (Phil 3:8-10).
Though a believer meets Christ at salvation, that only whets his appetite. There should be a continual hungering to know and experience God more.
Are you still hungering and thirsting to know God and experience him?
- A practical righteousness that believers hunger and thirst for are the specific works God has called them to.
Each believer is God’s workmanship; he has fashioned every believer in a specific way to serve him (Eph 2:10). As we walk with God, he cultivates both our desire and aptitude for these specific works, and then gives us opportunities to serve. Philippians 2:13 (NIV) says he works in us to “will” and to “act” according to his good pleasure. For some that will include parenting and raising godly children; for others that will include serving in business, education, or politics; for others, it might include serving in full-time ministry. As we walk with God, he cultivates a hunger and thirst for the specific righteous deeds he has called us to, which will glorify his name.
Application Question: How would you rate your hunger from 1 to 10 for the various practical righteous works mentioned—knowing God, his Word, and evangelizing? What specific and unique works has God cultivated a desire for in your life? How are you serving or pursuing service in that unique capacity?
Lack of a Spiritual Appetite
Application Question: Why do believers often lack a spiritual appetite?
There could be many reasons for lack of a spiritual appetite:
1. Some lack a spiritual appetite simply because they have never been born again.
A spiritual appetite is a necessary proof of salvation. Jonathan Edwards called these “religious affections.” We may have seasons when we are not as hungry, but if we have never experienced these affections, then we have never been born again. A continuous lack of appetite might represent a lack of true life.
2. Some lack a spiritual appetite simply because their diet is unhealthy.
Parents often tell their children: “Don’t eat sweets before dinner because they will ruin your appetite!” In the same way, many Christians are feasting on sin and things of the world, and these rob them of their spiritual appetite and therefore the blessing of God. God approves and smiles upon those who are desperately hungry for righteousness.
We see another good picture of this in 1 Peter 2:1-2. Peter says, “So get rid of all evil and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. And yearn like newborn infants for pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up to salvation.”
He calls for the believers to get rid of various types of sin, and then calls them to yearn for spiritual milk—referring to the Word—like newborn babies so that they can grow. The implication is that feasting on sin and the things of the world hinders our appetite for the things of God. John said it this way: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15). Essentially, he states, “You can’t love both.” If we are loving the things of this world—things that dishonor God or don’t acknowledge him—we will find our love for God decreasing. In the same way, when we are constantly feasting on things that acknowledge and honor God, our love for the things of the world will decrease and our love for God will increase.
3. Some lack a spiritual appetite simply because of busyness.
When it comes to natural hunger, many neglect eating simply because they are too busy. In the midst of their busyness, they don’t notice or pay attention to their hunger and therefore skip meals. No doubt, this happens spiritually, as well.
Certainly, we get a picture of this in the story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10. Christ visited the two sisters’ house. While there, Martha was busy being a good host—serving everybody. The problem, as she saw it, was that her sister, Mary, was simply sitting at Jesus’ feet while he taught. Martha became angry and confronted Jesus. She said to him, “Tell my sister to help me.” Christ simply responded, “Martha, Martha, you are busy about many things. She has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken from her” (38-42, paraphrase).
What’s paradoxical is that Martha was doing a good thing; she was serving God and others. However, good things are most commonly the enemy of the best things. Many are just like this. They are busy doing good things like work, ministry, recreation, etc.; however, they are neglecting what’s most important. They don’t have time to pray, study God’s Word, or worship; therefore, their spiritual appetite for these things decreases.
Personally, I have noticed that when I’m implementing the spiritual discipline of Sabbath—where I take one day a week to cease working and rest—that it rejuvenates me not only physically but spiritually. I find that I’m more thankful and joyful. I desire to pray, read God’s Word, and serve more. However, when I neglect my Sabbath, I start going into survival mode. I’m not thankful, joyful, or prayerful—I’m just trying to survive.
Are you still spiritually hungry? If not, why not?
Application Question: What practices, or neglect of practices, often leads to a lack of spiritual appetite in your life?
Fostering a Healthy Appetite
Application Question: How can we develop a healthy appetite for the things of God?
1. To foster a healthy appetite, we must confirm that we are born again.
We cannot conjure up a desire for the things of God. Romans 8:7 says, “because the outlook of the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to the law of God, nor is it able to do so.” First Corinthians 2:14 tells us,
The unbeliever does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him. And he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.
An appetite for the things of God is a supernatural work that God does within a person in order for him to respond to God in salvation (cf. Eph 2:8-9) and obey him (Phil 2:13). Therefore, if one has never accepted Christ or if one suspects that his profession is not genuine, he should confess his sins before God and commit to following Christ as Lord and Savior (cf. Rom 10:9-10, 13). God will save him, fill him with the Holy Spirit, and give him a new nature, which desires the things of God.
2. To foster a healthy appetite, we must stay away from appetite-killers.
We must repent of any sins—turning away from ungodly entertainment, relationships, and other practices. With good things, we must be disciplined with them or let them go as well. We must be vigilant in protecting our spiritual appetite.
3. To foster a healthy appetite, we must eat.
If a natural baby doesn’t eat for a day, the parents will take him to the doctor and that doctor will connect the baby’s arm to an IV. The doctor will force-feed the child because if the child doesn’t eat, he’ll die. We should do the same spiritually. Often the wisest thing we can do when we lack a spiritual appetite is force-feed ourselves. We should wake up in the morning and get into the Word and prayer. Before bed, we should do likewise. We should take advantage of spiritual opportunities like small groups, worship services, and other ministries. We must force-feed ourselves in order to cultivate our hunger.
4. To foster a healthy appetite, we must eat with others.
One of the most enjoyable activities on the earth is eating with others. Friends eat together, families eat together, people interested in one another eat together, strangers eat together to get to know one another. As we eat with others, it often increases our enjoyment of the food.
Proverbs 13:20 says, “He who walks with the wise becomes wise, but the friend of fools will suffer harm” (paraphrase). Wisdom and foolishness in Scripture are not intellectual issues but spiritual issues. The fool says in his heart there is no God (Ps 14:1). Therefore, the wise are those who love, honor, and obey God. By walking with the wise, we will become wise. If we walk with those who love and study God’s Word, it will increase our love and knowledge of the Word. If we walk with those passionate about evangelism, the spirit of evangelism will catch fire in our hearts.
However, the opposite is true as well. If we walk with those who are disobedient to God or who compromise their faith, we will do the same. It is often said that friends of the same feather flock together. Often our closes friends will be people like us—either people who desperately hunger for God and the things of God or people who lack spiritual hunger.
Which are you? Are you helping cultivate hunger for God in those around you? Or are you putting out their fire by your compromise?
Application Question: How is God calling you to pursue a healthier appetite? Are there any other ways believers can cultivate a healthy appetite?
The Promise to the Hungry
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be satisfied.
This promise seems to have two aspects:
1. God promises to fill the hungry with righteousness.
The word “satisfy” can also be translated “fill” (NIV). Essentially, this means that our righteousness is proportional to our spiritual appetite. Those who hunger for God’s Word—God reveals it to them in deeper ways. Those who hunger for souls—God gives them disciples. Those who hunger to serve—God provides opportunities. Therefore, those who don’t hunger lack righteousness.
It has been those who desperately hungered for righteousness throughout history that God used the most. It was not the wisest or most talented. It was those that hungered. John Knox, who God greatly used to stir revival in Scotland, once said, “Give me Scotland or I die!” He was somebody who desperately hungered and thirsted, and God greatly used him as a result.
Are you desperately hungry for righteousness in your life and others? If so, God will fill it. If not, you will lack righteousness.
2. God promises to satisfy the hungry.
There is an emotional component to the word “satisfy.” Most are never satisfied because they pursue contentment in possessions, fame, power, and love. However, only righteousness can truly satisfy us—only knowing God and serving him and others. Anything else will leave us dry, both in this life and throughout eternity.
Application Question: In what ways have you experienced hunger for righteousness and God satisfying that hunger? In what ways have you experienced lack when you haven’t hungered?
Appetite is an indicator of our physical health, and it’s the same with our spiritual health. God smiles on and approves of those who desperately hunger and thirst for righteousness. They hunger for a more intimate relationship with God, a deeper knowledge of God’s Word, the salvation of the lost, and ultimately, God’s will to be done in every situation. Because they hunger and thirst, God fills and satisfies them. And one day, they will ultimately be satisfied with God’s presence and perfect righteousness in heaven.
Are you still hungering and thirsting for righteousness? If so, God promises to fill those desires.
Copyright © 2019 Gregory Brown
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2 Boice, J. M. (2002). The Sermon on the Mount: an expositional commentary (p. 41). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
3 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (p. 181). Chicago: Moody Press.
4 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (p. 183). Chicago: Moody Press.