Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness for they shall be filled
Genesis 15:1-6; Matthew 5:6
From the Bible we can think of “righteousness” in these terms:
- the goodness of God.
- the blessed life in action.
- setting the world to rights.
When seen in its true light, righteousness is incredibly attractive. And incredibly elusive.
From its first mention in the Bible, “righteousness” is a consuming passion. In Genesis 15, Abraham is taken outside for some star-gazing by the Word of the LORD. Abraham is reassured of the promise of seed and he trusts this appearing LORD:
“he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.” (Genesis 15:6)
Abraham is declared righteous for trusting in the LORD Christ. This is the foundation of everything the Bible teaches on “righteousness.” It’s what makes Abraham our father in the faith (Galatians 3:6ff).
And in Matthew 5 Jesus reiterates the teaching using an analogy drawn from eating: those who “hunger and thirst after righteousness” will be “filled.”
It does not speak of “Those who have righteousness…” or “Those who act righteously…” Christ’s illustration speaks of a lack of righteousness – a lack that’s felt very keenly. The person poor in spirit, who mourns over their sin, who understands that they are not strong but meek – such a person knows their need for righteousness. And precisely because of their hunger and thirst, they are filled.
This filling is not an earning, not a payment, not a reward. The blessed person is a beggar through and through. This filling does not come because we have something to offer. It comes because we have nothing.
When does the filling happen? Well there is a present and a future dimension. We must take this beatitude in parallel with the others. For all the beatitudes the blessing is present, but only because of a future state of affairs – a time when we “inherit the earth”, when we “see God”, etc, etc. And so the “filling” most properly happens when Christ returns. On that day we will no longer simply hunger and thirst for righteousness. At that time Christ will establish His righteous reign on the earth and raise us to righteous, resurrection living. But in the meantime we live with the certain promise of that future. And we know the present blessing of our Father, brought as we are into Christ’s Kingdom.
Notice how this righteousness comes to us from outside ourselves. Jesus does not speak of a “seed of righteousness” growing from within us or a “spark of righteousness” that needs fanning into flame. When it comes to “our righteousness”, the only appropriate analogies are ones of desperate need. But the famished are filled by Christ.
It’s a wonderful truth. But all this teaching about righteousness “imputed/filled/credited/counted” to the believer has recently fallen on hard times. It seems so impersonal. Is righteousness really like internet banking? Can it really be “credited” into my spiritual account? Is it really like food and drink? Can I just “fill up” on a meal of righteousness? What sense does that make?
Well Jesus is not teaching us about some spiritual stuff called righteousness here. He’s speaking about a reality that is incredibly personal. How personal? Just read on a few verses to the last two beatitudes and notice the reasons why Christ’s people might be persecuted:
“Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake…
Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you… for my sake.” (Matthew 5:10-11)
Do you see the parallel? Righteousness is equivalent to Jesus Himself. Jesus is Righteousness.
“Righteousness” might be likened to a money transfer or to food and drink. But that’s only because, in those illustrations, our own spiritual bankruptcy or hunger is being highlighted. Most fundamentally, righteousness is Jesus. He is the Goodness of God. He is the Blessed Life in Action. He is the Setting to Rights of the Whole World. Righteousness is not fundamentally a state of affairs, He’s a Person. To enter into righteousness (and for righteousness to enter into us) is not about possessing a moral quality but about possessing (and being possessed by) the LORD our Righteousness.
The Christian is simply the person who comes to the end of themselves. They say “There is no goodness, blessedness or justice in me.” Instead we crave Christ. And we are filled.