Very few of us in modern conditions of life know what it is to be really hungry or really thirsty. In the ancient world it was very different. A working man in Palestine ate meat only once a week, and in Palestine the working man and the day laborer were never far from the border-line of real hunger and actual starvation.
It was still more so in the case of thirst. It was not possible for the vast majority of people to turn a tap and find the clear, cold water pouring into their house.
So, then, the hunger which this beatitude describes is no genteel hunger which could be satisfied with a mid-morning snack; the thirst of which it speaks is no thirst which could be slaked with a cup of coffee or an iced drink.
It is the hunger of the man who is starving for food, and the thirst of the man who will die unless he drinks.
If we recognize our deep spiritual need (the first beatitude), we will be filled with profound sorrow (the second beatitude), and we will be ready and anxious to yield ourselves to God and His will (the third beatitude).
This will make us cry out, “God, I want You in my life. Please bless my life. Tell me what to do, and I’ll do it!” This is hungering and thirsting after righteousness (the fourth beatitude).
Christians growing closer to the Lord Jesus want what he wants. Whenever you pray for God’s will to be done, you are getting hungry for righteousness. Pray often, until the little pangs become a passion and your heart becomes centered on what God wants most.
This beatitude is in reality a question and a challenge. In effect it demands. “How much do you want goodness? Do you want it as much as a starving man wants food, and as much as a man dying of thirst wants water?” How intense is our desire for goodness?
Most people suffer from what Robert Louis Stevenson called “the malady of not wanting.” It would obviously make the biggest difference in the world if we desired goodness more than anything else.
In his mercy God judges us, not only by our achievements, but also by our dreams. Even if a man never attains goodness, if to the end of the day he is still hungering and thirsting for it, he is not shut out from blessings.
This beatitude puts righteousness is in the direct accusative. The meaning is that the hunger and the thirst is for the whole thing. To say I hunger for bread in the accusative means, I want the whole loaf. To say I thirst for water in the accusative means, I want the whole pitcher.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for the whole of righteousness, for complete righteousness.
The psalmist wrote, “As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God?” (Psalm 42:1-2 nrsv).
Those who have an intense longing for righteousness are blessed.
This refers to being so filled with God that the person completely does God’s will, without tripping up, sinning, making mistakes, and disappointing God.
Righteousness refers to total discipleship and complete obedience. It may also refer to righteousness for the entire world—an end to the sin and evil that fill it. In both cases, God’s promise is sure—they will be filled. He will completely satisfy their spiritual hunger and thirst.
Regarding the longing for a righteous world, Peter wrote “But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness” (2 Peter 3:13 niv).
The fourth beatitude bridges the God-centered concerns of the first three and the neighbor-centered focus of the last four. Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness experience that longing in at least three forms:
The desire to be righteous—to be forgiven and accepted by God; to be right with God.
The desire to do what is right—to do what God commands; imitating and reflecting God’s righteousness.
The desire to see right done—to help bring about God’s will in the world.
The Bible has a number of examples of how strong the motivation of hunger can be. Esau became so hungry that he “sold his own birthright for a single meal” (Hebrews 12:16; Genesis 25:27–34).
The Israelites in the wilderness angered the Lord by crying for “the fish . . . , the cucumbers and the melons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic” they had eaten in Egypt (Numbers 11:5; see v. 10).
They shall be filled … The desire for righteousness is the only desire of man that can be truly and finally satisfied. Appetites of the flesh, all of them, can be satisfied only for the moment.
The question each of us should ask is “Do I have that intensity of hunger and thirst for God, His way, and His will?”
Following are some tests that might help you determine whether or not you really hunger and thirst for righteousness.
Are you more concerned about physical things or spiritual things? Is being close to God more important to you than acquiring possessions? Is being right with God of greater concern than being popular with people?
Are you more desirous of living a godly life than you are of being successful? What are your priorities? Some find it difficult to sit still for a sermon, while they have little trouble sitting for hours of entertainment.
Do you take advantage of every opportunity to be “fed” spiritually, to learn about God and His way? An old farmer told a preacher, “You seem to spend a lot of time urging people to come to Bible classes and worship. I never have to urge my cows to come to the feeding trough.”
A starving person does not have to be begged to go where food is available.
Are you on time for spiritual “meals,” or do you show up late? A really hungry person is waiting at the table when mealtime is near.
Is your spiritual appetite growing and maturing? Are you starting to enjoy “solid food,” or are you still on a “milk” diet (see Hebrews 5:12–14; 1 Corinthians 3:2)?
Develop an appreciation for spiritual nourishment. Is there some physical food you enjoy now that you did not enjoy the first time you ate it?
Perhaps you had parents who insisted you eat it, so you gradually learned to like it. Perhaps, as an adult, you discovered you needed certain foods for good health and have persisted in eating them until you now enjoy them. Even as we can develop an appreciation for physical food, so we can develop an appreciation for spiritual food.
Improve your spiritual appetite by spiritual exercise. Nothing makes food taste better than a hard day of physical labor. Even so, spiritual exercise will make us long for and enjoy spiritual food.
Paul told Timothy, “Exercise thyself . . . unto godliness” (1 Timothy 4:7b).
Improve your spiritual appetite by “eating” regularly. A person who does not have regular mealtimes may lose his appetite or fill himself with “junk food” which destroys his appetite for healthy food.
Spiritually, we need to have regular “mealtimes.” The Bereans were complimented by Luke because “they received the word with great eagerness” and examined the Scriptures “daily” (Acts 17:11). We need to be present for congregational “mealtimes,” and we also need daily times for personal study and prayer. Regular study will enable us to handle the Word accurately (2 Timothy 2:15).
(5) Beware of appetite killers. Even as physical junk food can destroy one’s appetite for healthy food, mental junk food can diminish our interest in God’s Word. We can so fill our minds with worldly matters and worldly entertainment that spiritual food loses its appeal for us. Some people long for things of this world which cannot satisfy the soul (see Isaiah 55:2).
Even as God satisfied the physically thirsty and hungry in the wilderness, so He satisfies the spiritually thirsty and hungry today.