Hunger can be a powerful motivation. It compels us, and rightfully so, to work, so that we might have something to eat (cf. 2 Thessalonians 3:10). It is, as the saying goes, the best spice, making the things we eat good. When a kid doesn’t want to eat their food, many a parent has correctly observed, “You must not really be that hungry.”
It is with the memory of physical hunger that we can best understand and interpret what Jesus said in the Beatitudes, when He commended the hungry and thirsty, saying, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied (Matthew 5:6).”
The Beatitudes are not the only place in the Scriptures where spiritual need is compared to hunger or thirst.
The Psalmist declares, “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? (Psalm 42:2; ESV)” And again, elsewhere, “O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water (Psalm 63:1; ESV).” The Godly man has a desire for God and the things of God that is palpable, as compelling as any physical need, driving us to do those things which are necessary to satisfy that craving.
The Beatitudes are a description of the man or woman who is going to be able to enter into the Kingdom. The entirety of the Sermon on the Mount, of which the Beatitudes are the introduction, are about the heart and attitude necessary in God’s Kingdom. It is also a Sermon about the standard of Righteousness that God expects to be maintained within the Kingdom. This is why Jesus declared, “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the righteousness of the Scribes and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 5:20).”
Righteousness is central to what it means to be a follower of Christ. The Bible tells us plainly, “By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother (1 John 3:10; ESV).” Likewise, when we think about heaven, the Scriptures describe it as “a new heaven and a new earth where righteousness dwells (2 Peter 3:13),” and tells us concerning the city of God, “nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life (Revelation 21:27; ESV).”
If only the righteous make it into the Kingdom, and righteousness is a defining characteristic of heaven and those who are in it, then it follows logically that a desire for righteousness is a good, if not necessary, quality for those who are going to make it into the Kingdom and into Heaven.
The right thing is not always the easy thing. For this reason, if you have no actual desire to be righteous, then chances are pretty good that when it comes time to make a choice between doing the righteous thing, or doing something else, you are going to often choose to do something other than the right thing. If you don’t care about righteousness, you are not going to have the motivation to do the work necessary to be righteous, with zeal and self-control.
This is why those with a thirst for God and a hunger to be pleasing to God are going to be blessed. Because they have cultivated a heart that is going to seek. And in that seeking God promises that they will find what they want. Again, Jesus, in the Beatitudes was not teaching something new or unique. He was merely making application of what God had always promised.
In the Psalms, we read, “Oh, fear the Lord, you His saints, for those who fear Him have no lack! The young lions suffer want and hunger; but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing (Psalm 34:9-10; ESV).” Likewise, God promised to the prophet Isaiah concerning those He saves, “they shall not hunger or thirst,” and “He who has pity on them will lead them, and by springs of water will guide them (Isaiah 49:10; ESV).”
If you hunger and thirst for righteousness, Christ calls for you to come to Him and enter into His kingdom, for there, and only there, will your hunger be truly and finally satisfied.
If you would like to learn more about the Kingdom, and how to be a part of it, the church of Christ invites you to worship and study with us, at 234 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis, Ohio. Likewise if you have any questions or comments, we invite you to share them with us at chapelhillchurchofchrist.org.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ.