You’ve Got Questions: What Does “Blessed Are Those Who Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness” Mean (Matt. 5:6)?
In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, the beginning section is what is known as the Beatitudes (Matt. 5:1-12) and they are a description of true Christian characteristics. In the fourth Beatitude, Jesus says “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they shall be satisfied” (Matt. 5:6).
Jesus is talking in a way that we can relate. “Hunger” and “thirst” represent the necessities of physical life. In the physical realm, we hunger because we lack nutrients and food that our bodies know they need to survive. Food contains the vitamins and minerals necessary for our survival and functioning. So our stomach aches with hunger pains to notify us that we need food. It’s a natural desire. We hunger because we desire; we desire because we lack; we lack because we have not that which we need. It works the same way with thirst. But does Jesus say, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for food and water”? No, He says “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” So Jesus’ analogy demonstrates that just as a hunger for food and water are necessary for physical life, so hungering for righteousness is necessary for true spiritual life. Without the righteousness of Christ, you cannot be saved (2 Cor. 5:21). It’s a strong desire, a passionate force inside the soul. It’s not something that just comes and goes—it means a hungering that keeps on until it is satisfied. Unlike Israel’s love for God in Hosea that was just coming and going: “What shall I do with you, O Ephraim? What shall I do with you, O Judah? Your love is like a morning cloud, like the dew that goes early away” (Hosea 6:4). What do morning clouds do? They go away. What happens to dew? It goes away. It doesn’t remain. Our hungering and thirsting for righteousness will not just come and go, and the way to true happiness, the way to being truly “blessed,” is the way of spiritual hunger and thirst.
Jesus says that we are to hunger and thirst “for righteousness,” and righteousness is twofold here. The goal of hungering and thirsting for righteousness is both hungering and thirsting for salvation, and for sanctification.
For Salvation. First of all, without a hunger/desire for salvation, you cannot be saved. The Scriptures say, “No one understands; no one seeks for God” (Rom. 3:11). Without Christ, we are in a state of spiritual depravity and dead-ness (Eph. 2:1-3). And as sinners, we are naturally bent towards sin and evil. We will always choose evil over good; sin over obedience. It’s not that we are as sinful as we could be, but every faculty of our being is corrupted by sin. So when it comes to the choices we make, we are always going to choose evil. It’s not that sinful man doesn’t do some good, but even that good he does is with wrongful intentions. In any moment of decision, your greatest desire (in that moment) will determine the decision you make.
Let’s imagine that you walk in to McDonald’s for lunch. You realize that you haven’t been eating very healthy lately, so when you look at the menu, you have a desire to get a salad. But you also notice how delicious looking that McDouble is. Your desire to eat that McDouble is now greater than your desire to eat salad, so you order a McDouble. Even if you choose not to eat at all, still your strongest desire in that given moment determines the choice you make (your desire to not eat at all is stronger than choosing a McDouble or a salad). Everything that sinful, unregenerate man does in his rebellion against God, is sin. “For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23). Since we are so depraved, God in His grace must give us a spiritual appetite for Jesus Christ, the bread of life. No one has ever got up one morning out of bed and said, “Today, I think I am going to become a Christian!” Since man is prone to sin, God must give man spiritual hunger for the salvation that comes from the Lord. That hunger will lead to an acting on that hunger: repentance and faith, which is also by the grace of God. If you have a sincere desire to know God, you need to act on that desire; God gave it to you.
For Sanctification. Not only should we hunger for salvation, but also sanctification. Sanctification is the process by which we become more and more like Jesus Christ. It’s the goal of our Christian lives. We should desire to know God more, to love God more, to be more for God. Peter writes, “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity” (2 Peter 3:18). Similarly, Paul says “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Eph. 4:15). Do you hunger to be more for Christ?
For further reading, please consult: Sermon on the Mount: Those Who Hunger and Thirst