In case you missed it, there was an interval post about the anti-beatitudes taught by satan.

This is post 4 of the beatitudes, thus we are half way through. So far we’ve considered: blessed are the poor in the spirit, those who mourn, and those who are meek. Now we look at the 4th Beatitude, found in Matthew 5:6.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”

We will look at this beatitude generally, and then consider ways that “hunger and thirst for righteousness” can go wrong.

Here are 2 other verses with a similar analogy:

Psalm 42:1-2
As the deer pants for streams of water,
so my soul pants for you, my God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When can I go and meet with God?

1 Peter 2:2-3
Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk,
so that by it you may grow up in your salvation,
now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.

So we have these analogies between physical eating/thirst/nourishment, and our spiritual life. Let us think quietly for a few moments about these comparisons between the physical and spiritual. Have you ever thought of the spiritual life in this way?

A couple thoughts…

⇒ One… Physical hunger or thirst should be natural. Like breathing. If we lack hunger or thirst, this generally indicates a problem – an illness – whether physiological or psychological. It is a symptom.

As Christians, we should have a spiritual appetite and crave spiritual things. If we do not, maybe some spiritual diagnosis is in order. It is normal to have ups and downs in our spiritual life. Various Bible verses talk about the need to be revived, and we wouldn’t need revival if we were always on a spiritual high.

But if we realize that our “normal” spiritual appetite is minimal – or we are remaining in a state of spiritual anorexia – something is wrong.

If something is natural, it shouldn’t have to be forced. That might seem an obvious point, but how do we create a natural desire for spiritual things? Isn’t that a bit of a conundrum – to create a natural desire? What can we do to revive an insufficient spiritual appetite?  Ideas…

– Pray. Admit your lack of hunger and thirst. Ask God to give you a greater hunger and thirst for Him.

– Diagnose the underlying problem, which could be very different for different people. Have you ever been so pre-occupied with a project or activity that you forgot to eat a meal? We can become so preoccupied with the “cares of life” (as one parable calls it) that we fail to notice that we are forgetting to eat and are spiritually malnourished. Perhaps we need to thoughtfully evaluate our life and some new priorities are in order.

– Force feeding may be necessary. A sick person who lacks an appetite may be artificially fed intravenously or by a stomach tube, but this is hopefully a temporary measure until normal abilities return. We may need to force ourselves to consume spiritual food for a time, which will hopefully revive us.

⇒ A second thought… We can end up eating an imbalanced or unhealthy diet, such as too much junk food, or an extreme case would be alcoholism. Junk food may actually make us feel fed and full, but a consistent diet of such will eventually leave us in an unhealthy state.

What could be spiritual junk food?
What could a spiritually imbalanced diet look like?

– Our only spiritual nourishment is on Sunday. We gorge once a week, and starve the rest of the time.

– We mostly consume the spiritually light or fluffy, avoiding more in-depth or challenging content about our faith. Hebrews 5:12 contains another food analogy. It says that some of the believers were still consuming spiritual milk, when they should have progressed to solid food. They were spiritual infants rather than spiritual adults, drinking milk rather than eating steak.

But to move along with this beatitude, to hunger for righteousness is a good thing, but it can go wrong. We need to consider the Pharisees. We can unfairly malign the pharisees. There were good aspects about them as a group, and during a challenging time for Judaism, they really were trying to honor God. But their hunger for righteousness went off course.

Matthew 23 contains a long speech by Jesus against the Pharisees. There are 7 woes against the Pharisees. We will look at 2 of them.

Matthew 23: 23-24
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.”

What is the key criticism there?

–  “without neglecting the former” – Their “gnats” weren’t so much the problem, but that they missed the forest for the trees.

Matthew 23: 25-26
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.”

What is the key criticism here?

-They ended up focused on external actions, and neglected their internal spiritual state. (that is a focus of the entire Sermon on the Mount)

The Pharisees had good intentions to honor God through right living and right actions but they lost focus. They became self-centered and self-righteous. They forgot about their need for God, and became condemning toward others. That is the opposite of the beatitudes!

Remember our lesson on beatitude number one. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

The first beatitude is ground zero. It is the foundational principle. I think there is a reason Jesus made it the first one. Because the other beatitudes flow from it. You can’t hunger for righteousness, if you think you are already righteous. Remember how we defined being “poor in spirit”: humility, realizing our need and therefore looking to God, spiritually bankrupt.

While we should grow and mature spiritually, we never “arrive” – this side of eternity at least. We don’t drink water or eat food only one time in our life. We continue to need food and water. Likewise in our spiritual life, we continue to need God every day. We need Christ-righteousness, not self-righteousness. Philippians 3:8-9 is a passage I really appreciate:

“I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.” (NIV)

It doesn’t get clearer than that! It is not a righteousness of our own that comes from the law, but righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. This should give us perspective and help keep us humble. We can’t boast in our own actions, but only in what Christ has done for us!

So…how might you summarize the difference between a healthy hunger and thirst for righteousness that Jesus calls for in the beatitude –and– the pursuit of righteousness by the Pharisees that Jesus condemns?

Input welcome from those reading this post! I’m not always good at brief summations! But here are a couple thoughts…

– Where is your trust or focus? A healthy hunger and thirst is Jesus-centered. Jesus was on that mountain teaching, and the people were looking at Him. We must keep looking to Jesus, as our Savior from sin and example for living.
– Our hunger and thirst for righteousness must be anchored in the first beatitude. The pharisees had good intentions, but they drifted from the poverty of spirit that followers of Jesus should possess.

I ended the lesson with several questions for quiet personal reflection and prayer:
Is your appetite for righteousness sharp or dull? What changes may you need to make to revive your appetite? Do you need to progress from spiritual milk to steak?
Praise God that HE alone is perfectly righteous and holy. Pray that your life will increasingly reflect God’s righteousness as seen in the life of Jesus.

NEXT POST on beatitude 5 is HERE.

⇒ Thanks for following along in this series. Feel free to share any thoughts in the comments.