“Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness”
(Matthew 5:6 – Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.)
The fourth beatitude, “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled” expresses the very vitality of every Christian’s experience. This beatitude promises not only happiness to the believers who hunger and thirst after righteousness, but also that their hunger and thirst will be satisfied to the point of being filled. The words “hunger” and “thirst” have very similar definitions in that they describe a strong want and eager desire. Thirst is used when this desire is for something to drink, and hunger used generally for food, but they are similarly defined as not just a desire, but a vehement desire.
Noah Webster’s 1828 Dictionary defines “righteousness” as: “In theology, in which it is chiefly used, 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 justice, honesty and virtue, with holy affections; in short, it is true religion.” We can rewrite this beatitude to read: “Happy are they that eagerly desire holiness and true religion: for they shall be filled to abundance with righteousness”.1
This appetite begins with hearing and receiving the words of Christ. In John 6:63, Christ said that, “the words I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.” This is why He said in verse 53 of the same chapter, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you.” Some people have tried to literalize these scriptures; however, Christ is showing a spiritual application of what happens when a person consumes spiritual food, whether it done through prayer, reading, meditation or listening to the preached Word. For example, when a sinner hears the Word of God, and then believes it, this will produce spiritual life within them. This is what Christ meant when he said in John 3:5, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” The word “water” has more than one meaning in the scriptures, and in this case, it means “the Word of God”. A person would have to first hear about Jesus, and then believe by obeying the Word of God. This is not saying that a person just needs to “believe”, but it means that there is a turning away from their sins with genuine, godly sorrow, and acceptance of Christ as their Savior and obedience to His teachings. In 1 John 5:1-3 it says, “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.”
The Apostle Paul tell us in 2 Corinthians 5:1, when a person has been regenerated, they become “a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” Similar to how a newborn infant eagerly desires to drink nourishing milk not long after birth, a person that has been born again (spiritual birth) will begin feeling spiritual hunger pangs, and desire to read and pray on a daily basis. These spiritual desires are imperative to maintaining the spiritual life that has been received from Christ. Continually consuming righteousness is how a Christian grows in the things of God. It is essential that God’s people mature spiritually, as we are instructed in 2 Peter 3:13 to “grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” The proper nourishment and growth of a believer was also Paul’s burden to the Church of Ephesus and it still applies to Christians today. In Ephesians 4:13-15 it says, “Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ.”
Throughout the natural human life, there is a desire to eat and drink as a healthy baby, child and adult. When a human has no appetite, this is generally an indication that something is not right. A healthy saint will hunger after righteousness. A person’s spiritual growth and health will depend how much of an appetite they have for the Word of God. It says in Psalm 81:10, “open thy mouth wide, and I (God) will fill it.”
Another perspective surrounding this subject is effort. An example of this is a person coming home from work and smelling the dinner that has been prepared for them. The person is able to see and smell it, but unless they come to the table, sit down at the table pick up their utensils and eat it, they will never get any of the nourishment. Just like in the literal sense it takes effort to seek out, prepare and eat the proper food for our bodies, it takes effort to do the same seeking, preparation and eating of spiritual food for the inner person. Babies are bottle fed, but it is not too long until they are taught to use a spoon and fork and begin to feed themselves. In time, they are expected to not only feed themselves, but as adults, begin obtaining, preparing and eating food on their own. That same effort to secure spiritual food throughout the week needs to be taken. Just like we plan and obtain food to feed the physical body, planning and careful consideration should be taken to what will be fed to the soul.
How long should a believer eagerly desire and hunger after righteousness? Every mature Christian should never forget how it felt when they were “newborn babes” in Christ (1 Peter 2:2): it was their desires for the sincere milk of the Word of God that caused them grow in spiritual things. These spiritual desires should remain in a believer as they progress throughout their life. A person that stops eating or starts eating halfheartedly will eventually become weak and sickly and, in time, if this doesn’t change, they will die spiritually. Instinctively, most mothers know that their newborn child needs nourishment in order to grow into a healthy adult. However, even after they are grown up, they still have to maintain their health by eating and exercising properly. In life, this is generally not a problem because life and strength depend on our natural food, and most people enjoy eating. This principle is applicable to spiritual things as well. There has to be a continual strong desire for spiritual nourishment if we wish to maintain a profitable spiritual experience of salvation. Job makes this profound statement in Job 23:12, “Neither have I gone back from the commandment of his lips; I have esteemed the words of his mouth more than my necessary food.” This is a powerful statement, and it illustrates why Job was able to come through his trials and afflictions, and at the end, God blessed him with twice what he had in the beginning (Job 42:12).
We can also look in the Bible at David, who went through many trials in life, but he maintained his strong desire for the things of God. This desire is clear in this heartfelt statement he made, found in Psalm 27:4, “One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to enquire in his temple.” David’s desires were so passionate to be in the presence of God that in Acts 13:22, God called David “a man after mine own heart.” In Psalm 42:1-2, he said, “As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God?” This is a beautiful example of a hunger and thirst after righteousness.
One of the dangers to seasoned Christians who are on fire for the things of God, is becoming stagnant or complacent in their experience. This slowing down usually happens gradually over a period of time. Just like a person “works” up an appetite in the physical sense by physical labor and exercise, the spiritual man must work for God in order to keep the appetite strong. There is a difference between the appetites of a person who hasn’t eaten in a few hours and hasn’t done much physical labor and a person who hasn’t eaten in few hours but has been working hard physically. Obviously, the one who hasn’t eaten in a few hours and has been working hard is going to be more thankful and less picky for what has been provided for them when dinner time comes. This is how seasoned Christians can keep themselves from becoming complacent concerning the things of God. The wise man said in Ecclesiastes 9:10, “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might.” So, having this spiritual mindset helps a Christian maintain their healthy appetite for the Word of God. In Psalm 92:13-14 it says, “Those that be planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God. They shall still bring forth fruit in old age; they shall be fat and flourishing.”
The blessing of this beatitude is being spiritually filled, which brings satisfaction, contentment and happiness to every Christian. This is why Paul was able to say in Philippians 4:11-13, “Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” Paul tells Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:7-8, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: 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.”
Paul’s testimony can be the testimony of every born-again Christian. It is why our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ said, “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. The Amplified Version of the Bible portrays this verse’s meaning a little stronger: “Blessed and fortunate and happy and spiritually prosperous (in that state in which the born-again child of God enjoys His favor and salvation) are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness (uprightness and right standing with God), for they shall be completely satisfied!”
- Webster, Noah, American Dictionary of the English Language, First Edition, 1828