Hunger for God
Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. Matthew 5:6
Today’s passage is colloquially known as the Beatitudes; they are called this because they embrace attitudes that we ought to BE and virtues that we ought to have.
One thing that we don’t want to do is regard these as pithy sayings; something that the world tends to do with the scriptures and the Beatitudes are no different.
The particular focus of today’s message is verse 6:
Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. Matthew 5:6
I pray that today’s message highlights the depth contained in these 15 words
The title of the message is “Hunger for God”.
I’m sure that volumes have been written of the subject of righteousness and what it means to be righteous. The first four chapters of our Romans study certainly highlighted man’s depravity in contrast with the righteousness of God.
So I will only give a brief definition.
The word Righteous may be defined as:
To be just in accordance to divine law. When applied to persons, it denotes someone who is pure of heart, and observant of the divine commands in practice; as a righteous man. When applied to actions or deeds, it denotes agreement to the divine will or to justice: as in a righteous act.
Righteousness may be defined as:
Purity of heart and integrity of life; conformity of heart and life to the divine law. Righteousness, as used in Scripture and theology, is nearly equivalent to holiness, comprehending holy principles and affections of heart, and conformity of life to the divine law. It includes all we call just, honest and virtuous, with holy affections.
Thus when applied to God it is almost synonymous to his perfection or holiness.
Keeping all this in mind:
In Matthew 5:20: Jesus makes what might have been a challenging statement to its hearers.
As you read your bibles [and I pray that you do] you realize that Jesus challenges in many ways and in many areas of our lives.
Here he says:
“For I say unto you, That except your righteousnessshall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:20
This statement is challenging on several levels.
Because it implies to the hearer that he is less than righteous; we all tend to think more highly of ourselves than we ought:
“Every way of a man is right in his own eyes: but the LORD pondereth the hearts.”
In this case the hearer might be offended.
And again, because we tend to think more highly of ourselves than we ought; the hearer might automatically think to himself: “No problem: Ten Commandments: I tick all the boxes”.
A certain ruler came unstuck when trying to make THAT claim and sadly walked away unable to give up all for the sake of Christ: his covetousness being exposed by our Lord.
For all intent and purpose the Scribes and Pharisees set a benchmark which might have been seen as unreachable. Remember even Paul who described himself as a Pharisee of the Pharisees; and blameless according to the law of Moses.
This challenge may lead to a sense of defeat: …which isn’t altogether bad: especially if it leads to the pursuit of God.
The Paradox of Hunger:
“Blessed are they…”
There is something of a paradox that we see in the Beatitudes which is this:
It is those who are in a position of need that are also in a position to have that need met.
But before God can satisfy man’s emptiness, he must experience and acknowledge that need or emptiness; in this case hunger and thirst for righteousness.
If there is anything that can be said about our relationship with the Lord: He doesn’t want us to be SELF-SUFFICIENT.
[Turn to Deuteronomy 8:10-19]
In terms of self-sufficiency:
The Lord issues this warning to the Israelites prior to going into The Promised Land and although we live under a different covenant the Lord of those covenants is still the same and requires the same degree of faithfulness.
When thou hast eaten and art full, then thou shalt bless the LORD thy God for the good land which he hath given thee. Beware that thou forget not the LORD thy God, in not keeping his commandments, and his judgments, and his statutes, which I command thee this day: Lest when thou hast eaten and art full, and hast built goodly houses, and dwelt therein;
And when thy herds and thy flocks multiply, and thy silver and thy gold is multiplied, and all that thou hast is multiplied; Then thine heart be lifted up, and thou forget the LORD thy God,which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage; Who led thee through that great and terrible wilderness, wherein were fiery serpents, and scorpions, and drought, where there was no water; who brought thee forth water out of the rock of flint; Who fed thee in the wilderness with manna, which thy fathers knew not, that he might humble thee, and that he might prove thee, to do thee good at thy latter end; And thou say in thine heart, My power and the might of mine hand hath gotten me this wealth.But thou shalt remember the LORD thy God: for it is he that giveth thee power to get wealth, that he may establish his covenant which he sware unto thy fathers, as it is this day. And it shall be, if thou do at all forget the LORD thy God, and walk after other gods, and serve them, and worship them, I testify against you this day that ye shall surely perish. Deuteronomy 8:10-19
In relation to our text and also the passage which I just read: a person has to realize that he is hungry before he will eat or drink to satisfy that hunger or thirst. But we’re deceived however if we think that we are able to meet our own needs or worse still: take credit for what the Lord has done in our lives.
Hunger of the spiritual kind can manifest in many different ways:
It might manifest restlessness and boredom, anxiety or stress, irritability or anger, moodiness or depression. One thing all of these have in common is that there is something lacking in a person’s life: The root cause and the ultimate solution to the problem is the same in each case and comes from our relationship or lack thereof with the Lord.
But worse than this
Hunger [think both physically and spiritually] can also cause a person to behave in various and ungodly ways. Even the most seemingly meek among us are capable of “devouring” their nearest and dearest due to hunger. This dark period in Israel’s history is preempted in Deuteronomy.
We see that (even):
The tender and delicate woman among you, which would not adventure to set the sole of her foot upon the ground for delicateness and tenderness, her eye shall be evil toward the husband of her bosom, and toward her son, and toward her daughter, And toward her young one that cometh out from between her feet, and toward her children which she shall bear: for she shall eat them for wantof all things secretly in the siege and straitness, wherewith thine enemy shall distress thee in thy gates. Deuteronomy 28:56-57
It is pretty horrendous to think that even the tenderest of us would succumb to eating their own children in a time of desperation.These verses highlight the potential for mankind to behave in ways that are anything but righteous. And the precipitating motivation of this was of course…physical hunger. It pays to realize [firstly that these things come to pass] and that the reason for the famine and thus the hunger that followed was sent by God as a result of idolatry on the part of Israel [Northern Kingdom]
There is something else that we see in scripture and that God allows us to go through periods of hunger in order to teach us something.
I know in my own life that it hasn’t always been possible to see what God is doing in my life. What we do know is that he makes everything beautiful in his own time. He that began a good work will complete it.
“And he humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the LORD doth man live.” Deuteronomy 8:3
What we see in this passage is that humilityand especially humility through suffering [which doesn’t exclude chastisement] is a vital part of the process.
I can’t tell you how greatly encouraged I was by this verse: this is when I began to read the word again after a protracted period of time. This verse certainly has a special place in my heart. But it is only in looking back that I’m able to make sense of it; which also helped me to move forward and not make the same mistakes again.
And so it is:
That in acknowledging this desire or hunger that you are able to be blessed and are indeed already blessed. The blessing is in many respects, only able to be known retrospectively
(when we do look back).
The Lord certainly humbled me [through circumstances in my life] and allowed me to virtually starve. But in doing so, he also presented the opportunity and the means for that hunger to be satisfied.
It wasn’t a coincidence that I made the commitment to read the bible from cover to cover; something that I had never done before. The blessings that I received from adopting this habit have taught me that I cannot live a single day for him without reading his word.
We all have to come to the realization that it is his word that must sustain us and it is his word that transforms us.
The sad thing is that we don’t always come to the realization of how desperately God is trying to get our attention; in giving us what E M Bounds calls a “heavenly appetite”.
The Premise of Hunger:
“which do hunger and thirst…”
In Genesis we see that. Adam and Eve’s initial desire for food [not bad in itself] resulted in them disobeying God. Instead of staying within the boundaries of God’s only commandment, they chose to disobey God: perceiving that the forbidden fruit had hidden benefits [it was good to eat and was able to make one wise].
Scripture teaches us that mankind has been given the capacity; not only to desire but also to make choices in regards to these desires.
It uses words such as: covet, crave, lust, ravening, lasciviousness, wanton etc. the words on this list have obvious negative connotation.
In life we are going to have various desires: some good and some not so good. Our verse today presupposes not only the ability to desire [ie. hunger and thirst] but also the ability to choose those desires.
When it comes to the idea of hunger, we can easily understand that it is a desire or appetite which needs to be fulfilled. We understand this in a physical sense and it is logical that physical needs are satisfied by physical methods: Hunger is satisfied by food. Thirst is satisfied by drink. Tiredness is satisfied by sleep. Cold is satisfied by warmth.
In our text today we are ultimately looking to address a spiritual need.
A problem exists, however when we attempt to satisfy a spiritual need by physical means.
This is particularly sad for a world that doesn’t know God:
As I said:
GOD IS DESPERATELY TRYING TO GET YOUR ATTENTION.
After all it was Jesus’ purpose to seek and to save that which was lost.
But rather than turn to Christ people often turn to other things to satisfy the need which can only be met by God. They turn to things like television and other entertainments; or worse still: drugs, alcohol and other addictions.
Unfortunately for the drug user there is a law in regards to addiction [and economics also] which is called the law of diminishing returns. The basic principle of this law is that in order to produce the same high, the more of the substance you need to take.
But this is not so with the Lord.
“And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.” John 6:35
When it comes to satisfying spiritual needs through physical means the bible gives us this example:
But refuse profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise thyself rather unto godliness.For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come. 1Timothy 4:7-8
This could be the classic example of this is the so-called “gym junkie” who might spend all his time building physical muscle and condition but neglects spiritual muscle and his spiritual condition.
To profit little is to profit little.
But exercising ourselves unto godliness has eternal benefits and rewards.
On the other hand we see this description in Philippians in regards to a group of people who were righteous in their own eyes [boasters] but clearly wicked.
(For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.) Philippians 3:18-19
These were clearly worldly and their desires were ungodly.
If we don’t accurately acknowledge or assess the nature of the hunger we won’t address that hunger appropriately; especially since it is a spiritual matter.
We saw in our previous point, that hunger can manifest in various ways: restlessness and boredom and discontentment, anxiety or stress, irritability or anger, moodiness or depression.
Being in such a state can cause a person to reject the good and desire evil.
And the people spake against God, and against Moses, Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? for there is no bread, neither is there any water; and our soul loatheth this light bread.And the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died. Numbers 21:5-6
It is particularly sad when we as God’s people reject his provision in our lives. We see in this example that the people should have been content with God’s provision but instead they complained and invoked the wrath of God.
Even prior to this [also in the book of Numbers] we see:
And the mixt multitude that was among them fell a lusting: and the children of Israel also wept again, and said, Who shall give us flesh to eat? We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlick: But now our soul is dried away: there is nothing at all, beside this manna, before our eyes. Numbers 11:4-6
We know that Egypt is frequently used as a picture of the world [the house of bondage]: In the passage we just read we see that the children of Israel resented leaving the delicacies of Egypt; [of course] forgetting the bondage that they were under.
James deals particularly with worldliness in chapter 4 and he gives us this verse which cuts right to the heart and which I think could very well be referring to this event described in the previous verses.
Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God. Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy?James 4:4-5
James highlights the wickedness of not being faithful to God [calling the readers adulterers and adulteresses]. The implication is that God is able to supply all our need and that we shouldn’t look to the world for satisfaction. This is especially true concerning things that should be of eternal value.
Remember in Galatians:
“For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.” Galatians 5:17
If you are born again you know that there are two natures dwelling in you; wrestling against each other. This leads into our next point
The Pursuit of Righteousness:
“But seek ye firstthe kingdom of God, and hisrighteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” Matthew 6:33
In the sermon on the Mount [of which the Beatitudes is part] Jesus seems to be laying down a challenge as we see a further reference to righteousness.
In this verse Jesus exhorts us to seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness FIRST[not last] before seeking to fulfil our obvious need for the basics of life.
In Romans, Paul expounds on this:
“For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.” Romans 14:17
Again we see a comparison of the attainment of our daily needs with that of spiritual virtues.
This of course flies in the face of psychology and in particular the theories of a man call Abraham Maslow who postulated what he called:
THE HIERARCHY OF NEEDS:
He broke these needs into certain categories:
Basic needs:Physiological and Safety needs i.e food, water and shelter
Psychological needs:Love and a sense of belonging and accomplishment.
Self-fulfilment needs: Self-actualization and achieving our full potential which includes creativity.
He arranged them into a pyramid with the basic needs at the base and the higher pursuits at the top and in terms of motivation stated that the individual will not seek the higher pursuits until the basic needs are met.
Of course the believer’s search is outside of himself and God wants us to turn the pyramid upside down and replace self-realization with Christ-realization.
The unbeliever is seeking something within himself. The Christian is seeking a real God who is outside himself and who actually exists. The sad thing for those in the world is that they are stuck on the hamster wheel chasing a carrot.
Maslow’s theory of course is nothing more than atheistic humanism. And even those who would pursue what they believe are spiritual pursuits do so under the guise of pantheism and assign personal attributes [such as the ability to give] to an impersonal universe.
Remember when we defined righteousness that we were applying a moral absolute given by a moral law-giver and not by some random universe.
This is why it is so important as Christians to maintain a biblical world view and to be transformed by the renewal of our minds.
The kingdom of God is the spiritual realm where his righteousness or perfect order rules and reigns.
If Jesus tells us that the pursuit of God and his righteousness must be our first consideration in life:
WE HAVE TO TAKE HIS WORDS SERIOUSLY
Notice that it says: Seek first the kingdom and HIS righteousness and NOT OUR OWN [self-righteousness].
The apostle Paul was MADE to understand this and this is his prayer and desire:
“And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith:” Philippians 3:9
Prior to this in: He states that he was blameless as far as the law was concerned (or so he thought).
God sets a high standard when it comes to righteousness; actually it is more than a high standard: IT IS PERFECTION
It is a standard that is impossible to reach:
“O my soul, thou hast said unto the Lord,
Thou art my Lord: my goodness extendeth not to thee;” Psalms 16:2
Another way of saying this might be:
As much as I try I’ll never be as good as you Lord.
Since only God is perfect we have a problem.
There is a common misconception that if I do enough good that it will eventually make up for all the bad things we have done. They see the attainment of eternal life like climbing a ladder that they will eventually reach the top. But this is a futile effort.
This is exactly why the Gospel is GOOD NEWS for the sinner who realizes that he has fallen short of that standard.
And this is why these words from David are such a comfort to us:
“Blessed is the man unto whom the LORD imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile.” Psalm 32:2
Of course there is only one person who has met that perfect standard:
And that is Jesus himself.
“For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” 2Corinthians 5:21
As I said
In the introduction: the search for righteousness ought to be a search for God himself. We know that when we search for God with all our heart:
HE WILL BE FOUND
As believers our walk with the Lord should be one of continued righteousness and of seeking God.
But if you’re not spending time with God then your desire won’t be for the things that he desires. Delight yourself in God and he will give you the desires of your heart. Those desires will ultimately be godly desires.
The blessing is that the desire to spend time with God will only grow as you DO spend time with him.
The flesh CONSTANTLYwars against the Spirit…and God’s will for our lives.
The Promise of Righteousness:
“: for they shall be filled”.
If your desire is for righteousness [particularly if it is a response to the realization of your own sinfulness] then God WILL satisfy that desire. We know this because his word tells us that he has already provided the means for that desire to be fulfilled.
It is NO coincidence that the very first mention of the word righteousness in the bible is in Genesis and inextricablyconnected to FAITH. So often in the bible we get an insight into a particular doctrine from the first mention of the word.
Just as we see the very first mention of the word love connected to the sacrifice of an only son [Genesis 22:2]; here we see the word righteousness connected to the response of the man known as the father of our faith.
And, behold, the word of the LORD came unto him, saying, This shall not be thine heir; but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir. And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be. And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.Genesis 15:4-6
And so it is right throughout scripture “THAT THE JUST SHALL LIVE BY FAITH”.
One important clue in regards to the promise of righteousness was made some 600 years through the prophet Jeremiah.
Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth. In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely: and this is his name whereby he shall be called, THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS. Jeremiah 23:5-6
It is not hard from a retrospective to recognize Jesus in this prophecy and we know from scripture that it is his righteousness that is imputed to the believer through faith in him.
Since NONE of us are good THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS is such a fitting title for Christ:
The bible describes Jesus as the spotless lamb and the one who fulfilled all righteousness. And not just in his life but also through his death. Despite being tempted in all points he knew NO sin.
We see this plainly displayed in Matthews account of Christ’s temptation in the wilderness.
And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungred. And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple, Matthew 4:2-5
We see Christ tempted in these points:
God’s position of worship
In case you are wondering:
Satan’ tactics haven’t changed over the centuries. If he can get us to question God’s word and doubt his goodness then he has succeeded in replacing him as the object of our worship
In each occasion Jesus resisted the temptation by using the word of God against the tempter.
If we ever hope to do the same we need to read and know our bibles.
As I said in the introduction, the Beatitudes aren’t just pithy sayings:
THEY ARE SOLID PROMISES MADE BY A GOD WHICH DOESN’T LIE AND GIVEN TO US THROUGH HIS INFALLIBLE WORD
Another such promise is found in Psalms:
“For he satisfieth the longing soul, and filleth the hungry soul with goodness.” Psalm 107:9
In case you are wondering why the bible makes such a big deal of righteousness and the attainment of it, we read in Hebrews:
“Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord:” Hebrews 12:14
WITHOUT HOLINESS NO-ONE WILL SEE GOD [Repeat]
Ultimately [again] the pursuit of righteousness is a search for God and that search finds fulfilment in the person of Jesus Christ and the power of the gospel.
It is only when the unbeliever gets to a cross-road in his life he has to decide whether to believe God or find another way to account for and satisfy the emptiness that exists within him.
But just as Abraham believed God and it was accounted to him as righteousness; we too are counted righteous if we believe God.
We believe God when he says that there is none righteous, no, not one.
We believe when he says that all OUR RIGHTEOUSNESSES are as filthy rags.
We believe God when he says that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.
We believe God when he says that Jesus died and rose again for the forgiveness of our sins.
Despite the extreme importance of righteousness throughout the entire bible the pursuit of righteousness and righteous living isn’t a popular message in most modern churches. The pursuit of righteousness for a believer requires the overcoming of sin and resisting of temptation; again through the power of the gospel.
My brethren, count it all joywhen ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing”. James 1:2-4
Yet we are told to count it: ALL JOY
And not all drudgery
This of course, requires a certain amount of discipline…
As we know from our study in Romans 7 in regard to the believer’s struggle with sin.
But what we need to remember is that he has given us the means to do it:
“According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue:” 2Peter 1:3
What are those things:
The indwelling of his Spirit for one thing
And also his word which feeds, washes, guides and comforts us.
Sadly many preachers would have you pursue wealth as an indication of the Lord’s blessing. The bible also speaks much about covetousness…especially in these last days. In fact it’s not even seen as covetousness but entitlement.
I can’t say that I have read in the bible to “put on wealth” and yet we do see this exhortation:
PUT ON THE BREAST PLATE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS
[Praise God for biblical churches]
The benefits of righteous living are always going to outweigh those of sinful living.
Proverbs tells us that:
“In the way of righteousness is life; and in the pathway thereof there is no death.”
Another benefit is the intimate relationship that righteousness has with peace:
“Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.”
This is perfectly fulfilled through the gospel message which tells us that:
“…being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ:”
On the other hand;
Scripture tells us that following the lusts of the flesh God will send leanness to our souls and not the abundant life that is promised by Christ.
They soon forgat his works; they waited not for his counsel: But lusted exceedingly in the wilderness, and tempted God in the desert. And he gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul. Psalm 106:13-15
This is a real lesson on reaping and sowing:
God isn’t mocked and he will hand you over to your lusts and their consequences.
The Lord has an answer for all of our troubles and is able to meet ALL our needs:
We just need to look to his word
Even if it is simple as “Peace be still” “I will never leave you nor forsake you”
The ultimate incentive for righteous living and the word I wish to finish with is this:
“Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing”. 2Timothy 4:8