What is Hungering and Thirsting for Righteousness?

I have often wondered what it actually means to hunger and thirst for righteousness.  First, having grown up in a working class home in the US I have no real point of reference for what it means to be really hungry or thirsty.  I have always had food and clean water readily available to me.  Second, what does “righteousness” actually mean?  Is it simply abstaining from evil?  Does it mean reading you Bible and praying?  Is it only a longing for justification?

For the truly hungry, the desire for food is all consuming.  I remember walking through a slum in Brazil a few years ago and watched as a woman set her garbage on the curb to be picked up.  As she walked quietly back to her home several children came running, seemingly from nowhere, to the place she had left the bag of trash.  I watched as children eagerly tore through the plastic bag and pulled out scraps of food.  They were kneeling on the sidewalk consuming garbage, because hunger consumed them.

In the Bible we see stories of people in famine.  There are cases where they eat bird droppings and donkey heads.  There are even times where mothers eat their own children to survive.  In light of all of this, whatever “righteousness” is I know I can’t say that I hunger and thirst for it; at least not to the extent that a starving child searches for scraps of bread.

As a young Christian I understood hungering for righteousness to mean that I would avoid evil things like lust and adultery.  I thought that it meant that I would progressively read my Bible more and spend more time in prayer.  In essence if I avoided the big sins and practiced spiritual disciplines then I was hungering for righteousness.  While these are good things and they are certainly an aspect of what is meant in Matt 5:6, this is a woefully inadequate understanding of the verse.

Without question we see here a reference to the righteousness of God found in Christ Jesus.  Those who are poor in spirit realize their sinfulness and inability to rectify it.  They mourn over their sin to the point of repentance and faith in the one whose blood cleanses them and they are justified.  Christ takes their sin upon Himself and graciously gives them His righteousness.  Certainly the God given brokenness for sin that leads to a longing to be reconciled to God is an aspect of what is meant in Matt 5:6.

Is justification all that is in view here?  Does this verse have anything to say to the believer who is being conformed to the image of Christ?  Absolutely!  We see two additional aspects of this desire for righteousness.  One is a hunger for personal holiness.  It is clear that the one who is made righteous should desire to live out that righteousness in a practical way.  Grace is not a license for sin and we are indeed called to be holy as God is holy (1 Peter 1:15).

Second, is a hunger to see God’s righteousness spread throughout the world system.  In The Institutes John Calvin said “Righteousness includes all the duties of justice, that every man may receive his just dues.”  In addition, Tim Keller in Generous Justice, says “If you are a Christian, and you refrain from committing adultery or using profanity or missing church, but you don’t do the hard work of thinking through how to do justice in every area of life – you are failing to live justly and righteously”.  As citizens of the Kingdom of God we must be actively seeking to spread the righteousness of our King through every aspect of our lives and society.  This is the aspect of hungering for righteousness that is most often neglected or totally overlooked.

In closing, we see that hungering and thirsting for righteousness is a daunting task.  It is not one that fallen men will ever desire on their own.  However, when the Spirit of God changes our hearts and we are reconciled to God we are made righteous.  This results in a desire to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves.  As a result, we begin to long for personal holiness and for the world around us to be reconciled to God that He would rule and reign in all aspects of life.

Do you hunger for that type of righteousness like a starving child longs for a crust of bread?  I know I don’t, but I want to!  By God’s grace I pray that my life would be marked by this type of hunger and thirsting for righteousness.  That I would not be content to just go to church, avoid a list of sins, occasionally read my Bible, and pray over my meals.  That would be a tragedy and a life wasted.

The Value of the Kingdom of Heaven

People from around the world long for an opportunity to immigrate to the USA, they are willing to pay any price for the chance at a better life.  Many Latin Americans risk their lives and all of their money to come across the border illegally.  Many others wait decades in order to enter the country by legal means.  They all do this because of the surpassing worth they place on living in this country.  As great as we might think our country is, it is a barren wasteland compared to the glory and the goodness of the Kingdom of Heaven.  Therefore, how much more should we be willing to do to enter into that kingdom?

In Matthew 13:44-46 Jesus gives the parables of the hidden treasure and the pearl of great price.  In vs 44 the Kingdom is compared to a treasure hidden in a field.  A man stumbles upon it and in his joy sells everything he has to buy it.  For those of us who are passionate about salvation being by grace through faith and not works we immediately get defensive over such a statement.  Salvation is not for sale, no one can purchase the grace of God, but this is a gross misunderstanding of these two parables.  The point is not that one can purchase entrance into the Kingdom but that the value of the Kingdom is unsurpassed.

It’s important to point out that this parable is not so concerned with the morality of the man.  That is not the point; however he did not act immorally.  Had he actually retrieved the treasure it would have belonged to the land owner.  Instead he left the treasure and went and sold everything and bought the field acquiring the treasure as well.

It’s interesting that the man joyfully sold everything and bought the land.  He did this joyfully, because he understood that the hidden treasure was worth far more than all his worldly possessions combined.  In contrast, when Jesus told the rich young ruler to sell all of his possessions and give to the poor (Matt 19:21) the young man went away in sorrow (Matt 19:22).  Unlike the man who found the hidden treasure the rich young ruler did not comprehend the exceeding worth of the Kingdom of Heaven and thus was unwilling to forsake all and follow Christ.

The point of the second parable is to reinforce the first.  Here a merchant is skillfully searching high and low for beautiful pearls.  When he finds one of great value he likewise sells all that he has in order that he might purchase it.  Again, we see the unsurpassed value of the Kingdom of Heaven.  The merchant is willing to pay whatever price necessary to acquire such a valuable jewel.

Both of these men reveal an important quality of the Kingdom.  The first man was simply living his life when he unexpectedly stumbled upon a hidden treasure.  On the contrary, the merchant was actively seeking to find a precious pearl.  In either case we see that the Spirit of God moves upon people as he chooses whether they are seeking the truth or oblivious to it.

As previously stated, the primary point of these parables is the supreme value of the Kingdom.  While salvation is, absolutely, the free gift of God, nevertheless, there is a cost to following Christ.  The Lord told his followers to store up treasure in heaven, not on earth (Matt 6:19-20), because where our treasure is our hearts will be also.  Jesus told his disciples to store up treasure in heaven by selling what they have and giving to the needy (Luke 12:33), which is being rich toward God (Luke 12:21).  Jesus said that his disciples must deny self, take up their cross and follow him (Matt 16:24).  In fact it will cost you your life to follow Jesus (Matt 16:25).  However, as much as it cost to be a citizen of the Kingdom, like the man who found the treasure, we can pay the price with exceeding joy when we realize the unsurpassed value of the Kingdom of Heaven.