Desire for Righteousness

Matthew 5:1 Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying: 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. 5 Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. 6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. 7 Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. 8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. 9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. 10 Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Last week we looked at verse 6 primarily from the Sermon on the Mount, just read for us this morning. Verse 6 is a pivotal verse in this section of the beatitudes. Jesus speaks to us about our desires. That is a big deal, desires. Jesus speaks to us about our longings. His words, if we take them to heart, are words that force us to answer the question, “What do I really want?”

What we really want may be things we spend our time dreaming about. We say things like, “If I had a million dollars I would…” and fill in the blank with a desire. Or “if I had more hours in my day I would…” Or, “If only I didn’t have to live under the authority of my parents I would…” Or, “If I just didn’t have to work or go to school, I would…” Or, “If only my spouse would understand me, or love me or even just like me I would…” Or, “If only my boss would see what he has in me…” Our responses to each of these statements may give a window into our hearts, into our desires.

We may think about questions such as these, and our minds, we can be so creative, our minds can wonder into what we would call dreaming. We can then begin to imagine all kinds of things like a world in which all is right to us, right in the sense that all of our desires are met, no matter what they may be. Our dream world becomes a world of met desires, not just any desires but my desires. Everything is ordered around me and what I want. Desires can take us to places, imagined places that don’t exist but places that we may try to create, to make a reality.

Desires can be good or they can lead to disaster. Desiring what is right in God’s eyes is a beautiful thing. Desiring what is not ours to have can lead to terrible consequences, depression, despair and, gone unchecked, to a life-long pursuit of chasing what cannot be had.

We are in a sense a walking, living being that is often desire driven. We want and we go after, or we want and we live in misery because we cannot have. God made us as we are, that we would have desire; we are made to desire things, to have the ability to desire but what we want. What we desire is of utmost importance because it will drive us to sin and shame or it will drive us to be satisfied in Christ.

What do you want more than anything else? I mean really, not just what you would be willing to stand and say in front of all of us this morning! In your heart, in the depth of who you are? Maybe something you would not even share with those around you, simply in your own mind just between you and you, no one else, what do you want? What drives you? These are desires.

Jesus knows about desire, he created us to be a people with an ability to desire and Jesus knows also what will satisfy.

Jesus is talking about desire when He said in verse 6:

Matthew 5:6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

As we discussed last week, hunger and thirst is about desire, strong, very strong desire. God is interested in satisfying our desire, the right desire.

We see strong desire in David the Psalmist in Psalm 42:2:

Psalm 42:2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.

We see strong desire discussed like this in another gospel, Jesus words from John 6:35, strong desire and strong desire met or satisfied, listen to this:

John 6:35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.

And from John 4 where Jesus is speaking to a Samaritan woman:

John 4:13b “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

Jesus promised satisfaction to those who were hungry and thirsty for the right things.

When we are hungry we want food, when we are thirsty we want drink. The hungrier and thirstier we are the greater satisfaction we will experience when given food or drink. For what do we hunger, for what do we thirst? What is it we really want?

Martyn Lloyd-Jones writes: “There are large numbers of people in the Christian church who seem to spend the whole of their life seeking something which they can never find, seeking for some kind of happiness and blessedness. They go around from meeting to meeting, and convention to convention, always hoping they are going to get this wonderful thing, this experience that is going to fill them with joy, and flood them with some ecstasy. They see that other people have it, but they themselves do not seem to get it…Now that is not surprising. We are not meant to hunger and thirst after experience; we are not meant to hunger and thirst after blessedness. If we want to be truly happy and blessed we must hunger and thirst after righteousness. We must not put our blessedness or happiness or experience in first place.” Do we put righteousness first or other things?

Last week we talked about a righteousness that we receive at the point of our justification as Christians. When faith is exercised, and when we believed in the finished work of Christ for us, having recognized our sin and repented from it, we are justified and a miraculous rebirth takes place; we are given the righteousness of Christ. That means we are covered by His good works, covered by His perfections, we become accepted by the Father because of the work of Christ. Righteousness is then imparted to us, given to us; it is a gift, it is not of works, it is a gift. We don’t deserve it. We did not earn it, it is a gift. We simply receive it.

If you are a Christian this righteousness is yours now, it is yours because of Christ. In Ephesians we are reminded there is no boasting, no boasting because we didn’t earn it.

We see this summarized in places like Philippians 3:9:

Philippians 3:9 …and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.

If you are unsure or struggle to understand this truth of Christ’s righteousness being imparted to us or given to us, then I would encourage you to listen to last week’s message. We are righteous positionally in Christ. But practically, you and I know that we still sin - or I should say I hope we all realize that! So here we are righteous before God because of Christ yet still sin daily before God. Our account is paid in Christ, we owe no debt and yet, we are keenly aware that we are not perfect.

Both of these descriptions can be understood with the word: Righteous. One has to do with position (who we are in Christ), the other with daily living (how we live each day).

When Jesus says in Matthew 5:6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied,” what kind of righteousness is He speaking of? I think both, in a sense – positional righteousness but also practical living righteousness. I don’t think he is speaking exclusively about our position in Christ but that he is also speaking of a desire that we are to have to live in obedience to our Lord.

If we have been born new, given the righteousness of Christ, then what impact do these transforming acts by God begin to have on the Christian’s life? Life as usual, like before salvation, life like all others on this earth, life following the status quo, or a life that reflects a change, life that reflects our Lord? Is this righteousness of which Jesus calls us to hunger and thirst after one that also includes how we live today? I think the answer to that is yes!

Christianity is a life to live not just a future in heaven, and the life we live is to be one of imaging our Lord, being like Him in this world, in our homes in our communities. In other words, it is not likely that Jesus was just talking about positional righteousness or justification when speaking of hungering and thirsting for it.

Let me give you some reasons why I say this: If we go on down to verse 10 in chapter 5 Jesus says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Righteousness in that case does not make sense if we think of it only as justification or positional righteousness. In verse 10 he is speaking of those who are living out their faith (and being persecuted), living differently than those around them, those who are going after righteousness, not because they have to in order to get to heaven, that is taken care of but because it is consistent with the new life given to them.

Also, just in Matthew’s gospel when we see the word righteousness, it almost always contextually refers to actual, personal righteousness. In this gospel God is moving His people toward living a certain way having become a part of His kingdom, having become a part of His family. For instance in Matthew 6:1:

Matthew 6:1 Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.

Here Matthew is not describing what a person has but what he does or what he practices. Jesus’ disciples long or should long literally and truly to live righteously, that is to live for the Lord, live out the Word of God. Christians are then to be those who are grateful that God has forgiven them, saved them, have been given new life; and though sin remains, so does a great desire to aspire to holy or righteous living.

In verse 6, hunger and thirst are present participles and imply a constant or perpetual longing that will not end until we are in full possession of the righteous character that God desires for us. The word satisfied or maybe “filled” in your translation is in passive voice. This means that the righteousness of which we should desire is not something that we achieve on our own. It is an act of God. God, and God alone, gives righteousness for which we are to hunger. In other words to whatever degree we live righteously it is a gift from God. He deserves credit for every act of righteousness on our part for anything good we do, it is to His glory. Just as our justification is to His credit so is our sanctification to his credit. He saves us, keeps us and grows us.

I want us to think very practically for a few minutes as we wrap up. First of all, some might say, maybe you would say, “You know, I believe I am a Christian but honestly, it’s not really righteous living that I hunger and thirst after. I mean, I have all kinds of desires, many seem ok, but really, I know some of them are not pleasing to God. I want things in life, I want certain feelings, and I want life to be a certain way. I do want but it’s not really righteousness that I am wanting or am going after.” We may say why is this? And if righteousness is a gift of God, then what can I do about it besides sit here and wait for God to give it?

I would say, first of all I understand. I know what it is like to not desire righteousness. I think we can all confess our desire for righteousness is not always a red hot desire. So what do we do if anything? Well, God never leaves us just to sit and do nothing. We have many commands to follow, much we are to do, that we get to do. We get to be involved with Him and even take initiative in the process of sanctification or becoming practically more like Christ. I’m glad for that.

Remember the battle is often in the mind. I would ask: What are you setting your thoughts on? What do you spend your time dreaming about? What are you feeding your mind with? How are you spending your mental energy? What are you investing in with your thoughts, with your brain? Whatever those things are, they are probably beginning to shape and strengthen, even, your desires.

Jesus said in Matthew 6:33 after a lengthy discussion of what is a common mental battle that people have of worry and fear, he said this:

Matthew 6:33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

“Seek first.” Jesus said, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” There is something we can do if we are going after what is not pleasing to God – that is, not seeking first God and His kingdom. If we are spending much of our mental energy dreaming about sinful things or dreaming about what is not promised by God or dreaming about a world where all our selfish desires are met and everyone cooperates with us, then we are not seeking first God’s kingdom and righteousness.

Can we add to our righteousness? Can we grow ourselves in Christ likeness? I don’t think so, it is a gift, but we can seek after God and trust that He will do the growing in us. Seek is to strive after, to search for and to find. Is that what we are spending our time and energy doing, seeking God in His word, meditating on His perfections and grace and mercy and goodness? Are we striving for Him? If not, why would we expect to be righteous or even to have an increased desire for it?

Another thing I want to mention by way of answering the questions, “Why are my desires not for righteousness, why are my desires for a million other things but not really righteousness of God?” Well we can ask on what are we setting our minds? Again, it is this idea of mental energy, how are we using it? We are to seek the kingdom and righteousness, but what else?

Philippians 4:8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

We could sum up Paul’s words here by saying, set your mind on righteousness; set your mind on what is righteous, what is pleasing to God, what is holy.

I wonder, if this is where our efforts were in our minds, I wonder if we would lean more towards righteous living or to sinful desires. Some might argue, well, I am faithful to daily read my Bible and have prayer time, I have a Bible memory program and I listen to praise music. I’m doing all these things and I still am not having a significant desire, hunger for righteousness. It’s just not working for me.

But you know you can do all of that every day and it might take 5% of your day. What about the rest of the time? Where is our focus the rest of the time like when the boss calls to rant or the kids are out of control or when our minds are free to take us to sinful thoughts of lust or greed or sinful anger or something else? How about when we are tempted to think badly of others and focus on their negative traits? Are we living Philippians 4:8-9 and Matthew 6:33 during all of those times? Where is our thought life throughout the day? Our thoughts can really drive and feed our desires.

A while back I really wanted to get a bow for hunting. I even had a way that I could get one at no cost. I began researching bows, looking at reviews. I would think about where I would use it and how I would practice with it. I’d look online. If we got a Cabela’s flyer or a Bass Pro Shops flyer in the mail I’d go directly to the page that would advertise bow hunting equipment. I’d never had a bow, never been bow hunting; but I now had a growing desire, what was becoming a very strong desire to get a bow. In my research and looking and considering I concluded, sort of reluctantly that now was not the time to get into a new hobby like bow hunting. And you know what happened? As soon as I quit looking at those ads, stopped the online research and moved on to other things, the desire all but disappeared. I began focusing on other things, I moved on.

These minds that God gave us are very powerful, how we use them is really important.

All I am saying is that Jesus said in Matthew 5:6 “Blessed (happy) are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”

If our hunger and thirsting, our desires, are out of control and are not for righteousness then practically, we need to ask, “What is going on in the inner part of our minds?” Because to live out Philippians 4:8-9 is to focus on what is true about God and what He has done and is doing for us. If we are not there, then sure, our desires will follow those other things on which we meditate.

God is good to see to it that we will not be satisfied with what is displeasing to Him. He is good I think at times to give us what things we want most to demonstrate to us practically that it won’t give us lasting satisfaction. Satisfaction comes to those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Don’t be deceived, there is no other way.

This week, what will you choose to think on? How will you direct your desires through your thought life? Will our focus be on our Lord, and all that He says is good?

Matthew 5:6 Blessed (happy) are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.