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Matthew 5:6  (King James Version)
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<< Matthew 5:5   Matthew 5:7 >>


Matthew 5:6

At first, the question "What is righteousness?" may seem like a "no-brainer" because we know it means "rectitude," or more simply, "right doing." By quoting Psalm 119:172, "All Your commandments are righteousness," we feel equipped with a direct biblical definition of this important biblical concept. None of these is wrong, but the Bible's use of "righteousness" is both specific and broad—so broad that in some places it is treated as a synonym of salvation itself (Isaiah 45:8; 46:12-13; 51:5; 56:1; 61:10).

Though the Bible uses "righteousness" so broadly, its comparison with "salvation" does not help us much in understanding it because "salvation" is one of the Bible's most comprehensive terms. Since none of us has fully experienced salvation, we look through a glass darkly trying to comprehend it.

Righteousness is used in a similar sense in the very familiar passage given in Matthew 6:33, where Jesus commanded, "But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you." Here it has the sense of seeking all of God's spiritual blessings, favor, image, and rewards. We see in this verse not only a broad New Testament application of the term but also, more importantly, its priority to life. This dovetails perfectly with the hunger-and-thirst metaphor. It is not enough to ambitiously yearn to accomplish. According to Jesus, God's Kingdom and His righteousness are the very top priorities in all of life. Seeking God's righteousness is that important.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Beatitudes, Part Four: Hungering and Thirsting After Righteousness



Matthew 5:6

One of the types of righteousness for which we are to hunger and thirst is the one that occupies the greater portion of our life after conversion. Notice how Jesus states this beatitude. He does not say, "Blessed are those who have hungered . . . ," but rather, "Blessed are those who hunger [do hunger, KJV]." This hungering and thirsting is a continuous state, and it must be this way for the second kind of righteousness, elsewhere called pursuing holiness, going on to perfection, or growing in the grace and the knowledge of Jesus Christ. Frequently the Bible calls it sanctification. None of these terms is specifically righteousness, but all are contained within its broad meaning. This righteousness is created in us, imparted to us by God's Holy Spirit following justification as we experience our relationship with God. It is seeking godly character to be prepared for living in His Kingdom.

God cannot create His holy and righteous character by fiat. It requires the willing and freely given cooperation of the called; by exercising their free moral agency, they submit to Him in the experiences of life. Submission is difficult, and thus Christianity is no cake-walk through a garden. Jesus often warns that it will require a devotion to Him of such degree that all else must be secondary to Him. We are to bear our crosses and count the cost (Luke 14:26-28). He also warns, "The way is difficult and narrow" (Matthew 7:14), and "He who endures to the end shall be saved" (Matthew 24:13). The trek of the ancient Israelites through the wilderness is a type of the Christian's pilgrimage to the Kingdom of God. Their wilderness experiences expose a number of pitfalls that can destroy a Christian's faith and enthusiasm for continuing to the end.

Through this beatitude, God presents us with a serious challenge. Because it is continuously needed, it establishes a demanding requirement. How much do we want goodness, the righteousness of God? Do we want it as much as a starving man desires food or a parched man wants water? Do we so lack vision that we will give up our faith as all the Israelites, save Joshua and Caleb, did in the wilderness? According to Hebrews 4:1, though they heard the good news, they did not believe it sufficiently. They, therefore, died in the wilderness, their pilgrimage finished before they reached their goal. Rather than submit, they resisted God until their deaths. Apparently, they did not hunger for it.

Most of us have a desire for God's Kingdom and His righteousness, but it is, to our detriment, frequently nebulous rather than sharp. When the time comes to make a choice, we are not prepared to make the required effort or sacrifice that the righteousness of God demands. It is situations like these that reveal that we do not desire righteousness more than anything else.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Beatitudes, Part Four: Hungering and Thirsting After Righteousness



Matthew 5:6

Desire is an inward longing for something we do not have but feel we need. Hunger and thirst are appetites God gave humans to make us aware of a need. Hunger for God's Word and His attributes are the spiritual appetite God gives Christians to make us aware of spiritual needs. Do pagans pray to their idols and ask them for love, joy, internal peace, kindness, gentleness, goodness, meekness, or self-control? They ask for other things—material things, material blessings.

God has given us faith to make us aware of spiritual needs. We are aware of our physical needs by nature, but we would never be aware of these spiritual needs unless God, by His Spirit, makes us aware. It is a loving gift from Him. He expects us to think about these needs and ask Him for them. Our very awareness of the need is a proof that God is working with us.

This adds another step to the process of answered prayer: There has to be an awareness of need followed by the desire to have what we need. The desire moves us to make it known to God, and if it is really earnest and fervent, it fixes our minds on the object of our longing, motivating our pursuit of it. In other words, desire sets the will into action.

What God really wants us to seek after, to desire, is Him, what He is.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Prayer and Fervency



Matthew 5:3-12

During His earthly lifetime, Jesus demonstrated these qualities in His own person, and He expects us to do likewise. It is interesting and noteworthy that God places the Sermon on the Mount near the beginning of the very first book in the New Testament, immediately after Jesus begins to preach the gospel of the Kingdom of God. Also of note is that it follows His call for repentance - for deep, heartfelt, sincere, and radical change in a person's thinking and way of life. This change is what causes conversion to God's way. Then the Beatitudes appear as the preamble to the best-known sermon ever preached, teaching intended for those who have repented and are being converted.

We must not be deceived into thinking Jesus intended the Beatitudes for eight separate groups of disciples, some of whom are meek, while others seek righteousness, and yet others endure persecution. Far from it! These are eight distinct qualities of the same group, all of whom are to be poor in spirit, merciful, mourning, making peace, etc. Nor should we pass them off as intended only for an elitist group singled out from among the disciples, thus forming a kind of spiritual aristocracy. They are Christ's specifications of what every disciple ought to be. All of these qualities should characterize each of His followers.

Just as surely as every Christian character should produce all nine segments of the fruit of the Spirit, so Christ's eight Beatitudes describe His ideal for every citizen of God's Kingdom. Unlike the gifts of the Spirit, which He distributes as He wills to different members of His body to equip them for different kinds of service, the Beatitudes are qualities each Christian needs. We cannot escape our responsibility to seek them all.

Each beatitude pronounces the person who possesses that quality as "blessed." We need to understand this word because, as some have rightly noted, the Greek word used by Matthew, makarios, can also be translated as "happy." Happy, however, is not the correct translation in this context. Happiness is subjective; the same things do not always make everybody happy. And we can certainly rule out mourning as a producer of happiness. Instead, Jesus makes objective judgments about the state of the citizens of God's Kingdom. He declares, not what they feel like, but what God thinks of them. People with these qualities gain His approval. Because God thinks well of them, they are "blessed." God's blessing is far broader and exceedingly more important than merely being "happy."

The second half of each beatitude reveals what the blessing is. Just as surely as all eight of the qualities should be part of each Christian, so each should share in the eight blessings. As the eight qualities provide broad overviews of our responsibilities, the eight blessings give us insight into the broad privileges that come to us because we are meeting our responsibilities and God is pleased.

Are the promised blessings intended for the future or now? The answer is both. God does not expect a Christian to have to wait until the future becomes the present to be blessed. Although we must endure heavy trials and pressures from time to time, is it not possible to be blessed with contentment and a sense of well-being - rather than a troubled spirit and debilitating anxiety - while patiently going through them?

Is not the Kingdom of God a present reality that we can, as Paul says in Colossians 1:13, be "translated into" in the here and now? Can we not obtain mercy and be comforted now? Can we not become children of God now, and in this life have our hunger satisfied and thirst quenched? The reality is that all eight blessings have both a present and future fulfillment. We enjoy the firstfruits now, yet the full harvest is yet to come. As R.G.V. Tasker, professor of New Testament exegesis at the University of London, writes, "The future tense . . . emphasizes their certainty and not merely their futurity. The mourners will indeed be comforted, etc." (The Gospel According to St. Matthew, p. 61). We receive some of the blessing now but much more later.

John Donne, author of the poem used in the song, "No Man Is an Island," says of the Sermon on the Mount: "All the articles of our religion, all the canons of our church, all the injunctions of our princes, all the homilies of our fathers, all the body of divinity, is in these three chapters, in this one Sermon on the Mount." No doubt he employs a measure of hyperbole here, but it indicates the esteem that those who search deeply into this message hold for it. The Beatitudes are this profound message's introduction, paving the way for us to receive the rest. They are like a verbal bomb blast that forcefully gathers our attention by establishing standards of responsibilities of great height and depth.

Attempts to classify them into groups have met with some success, but John Chrysostom (AD 347-407) described them simply, "as a sort of golden chain." Like the Ten Commandments, each stands alone, but at the same time it is firmly linked to all the others, making a complete set of qualities each child of God must have to be in His Kingdom. One commentator sees the first three beatitudes as having overlapping qualities and combines them in one link, the following four in a second link, and the eighth as a final link in a three-link chain. The simplest grouping is probably the best, however. The first four, dealing specifically with one's relationship with God, sets the stage for the final four, which have more to do with one's relations to man.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Beatitudes, Part Two: Poor in Spirit



Matthew 5:6

Some have argued that the righteousness Jesus refers to in Matthew 5:6 is what comes to all through Christ upon repentance. The Bible, though, shows three kinds of righteousness, and each is important in its own right. The first is the righteousness of faith that comes when God justifies a sinner by grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. This results when Christ's obedience is imputed to him, thus giving him legal righteousness before God. David writes in Psalm 14:1, "There is none who does good, no, not one"; Paul changes the wording in Romans 3:10, "There is none righteous, no, not one."

God makes these powerful indictments against a world in which most people undoubtedly consider themselves as "good." But it is a goodness perceived through their own standards - in a mind not awakened to God's righteousness, filled with the pride of self-righteousness, deceived and blinded by the god of this world (Revelation 12:9; II Corinthians 4:3-4). Such a mind can be, like the unconverted Paul, an accomplice in killing and persecuting God's true children and think all the while it is righteously doing God service (John 16:2). They are like those described in Titus 1:16: "They profess to know God, but in works they deny Him, being abominable, disobedient, and disqualified for every good work."

According to God, all of us have been somewhere in this picture. As sinners we frequently broke God's law in word, thought, and deed, and in many cases, were ignorant of doing so because of the deception and blindness Satan has wrought. But God in His calling removed the veil that was over our minds and revealed Himself, His purpose, and His standards. We convicted ourselves of spiritual bankruptcy. Where we formerly thought of ourselves as perhaps involving ourselves in a "little" sin - but basically okay as measured against our neighbor and the evil people in society - we now begin to see ourselves in a far different light. We do not have a leg to stand on before God.

Romans 2:4 makes it clear that only by God's mercy are we led to see ourselves to some degree as He sees us: "Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?" God enables us to measure our goodness, our righteousness - which He describes as "like filthy rags" (Isaiah 64:6) - against Him rather than our neighbor. We realize that certain death for sin is staring us right in the face, yet He has graciously provided us with a perfect righteousness in Christ. This offer is not free, though, because we must totally surrender our lives to His rule. Even as it cost Jesus His life to provide this deliverance, it also costs us our lives, as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1), to take advantage of God's offer. Nonetheless, it is amazing how hungry and thirsty we become for God's offer of justification leading to salvation.

However, we cannot stop here. Hunger and thirst have brought us this far, but it is only a beginning. If it is a true, godly hunger and thirst, it remains, even though we are justified, because the justified person realizes God has only begun a good work in us (Philippians 1:6). The hungry person will recall Romans 5:1-2:

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.

Justification brings reconciliation and therefore peace with God and access to Him. But it also brings with it the hungering and thirsting for the very glory of God! What an awesome thing to consider that, once we have an imputed righteousness, having God's very image created in us, imparted to us by His Spirit, is the goal of the process we began through God's calling. It can be ours!

It is a profound but nonetheless true purpose that everyone who catches this vision must surely desire with all his being! Have we ever been offered anything greater? Can any other goal in life even begin to compare? We must not "neglect so great a salvation" (Hebrews 2:3)! We must not let this great potential slip from our grasp! No wonder Jesus used such strong language to describe the driving desire for God's righteousness that pleases Him. And when He sees it in us, He will also satisfy it.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Beatitudes, Part Four: Hungering and Thirsting After Righteousness



Matthew 5:6

Like all the other beatitudes, this one also has a promise. Remember, this is a God-created hunger that begins when He calls us into His Family. When God creates a hunger and thirst in us, it is so that He may fill it. When God creates a need in us to know Him, to understand His will and be like Him, it is for the express purpose of drawing us to Him to embrace all these things as part of ourselves.

Like hungering and thirsting, there is first an initial and then a continuous filling. He fills us with what He is and what we need to negotiate our pilgrimage to His Kingdom safely and securely. He fills us with understanding that we might have His perspective on the affairs of this life and a clear vision of our future life in His Kingdom. He fills us with wisdom that we might apply the understanding He makes available to us. He fills us with a peace that passes all understanding in the midst of an insane world. He fills us with thanksgiving and knowledge of Him that we might praise Him. He fills us with faith, hope, and love that we might be like Him (I John 3:2).

He does all this and much more that we might be done with sin forever. Then, according to Revelation 7:16-17,

They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; . . . for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Beatitudes, Part Four: Hungering and Thirsting After Righteousness



Matthew 5:6

It is not at all uncommon these days to hear of an ambitious person as being "hungry" to accomplish significant things. Writers apply this term to athletes who want to make it to the professional leagues, to actors who want to attain stardom, and to businesspersons who seek to become CEO or president of a major corporation. These people drive themselves to work harder than their competition. They push themselves in studying every facet of their discipline, and they practice longer and harder than others. Their ambition knows no limits. They seem to play every angle to bring themselves to the attention of their superiors. They seize every opportunity to "sell" themselves to those who might be useful in promoting them.

Some but not all of these nuances are present in Jesus' use of "hunger" and "thirst" in Matthew 5:6. He describes a person who from the very depths of his innermost being has a driving need to satisfy a desire. William Barclay, in his Daily Study Bible commentary on Matthew, provides a colorful description:

Words do not exist in isolation; they exist against a background of experience and thought; and the meaning of any word is conditioned by the background of the person who speaks it. That is particularly true of this beatitude. It would convey to those who heard it for the first time an impression quite different from the impression which it conveys to us.

The fact is that very few of us in modern conditions of life know what it is to be really hungry or really thirsty. In the ancient world it was very different. A working man's wage was the equivalent of three pence a day, and, even making every allowance for the difference in the purchasing power of money, no man ever got fat on that wage. A working man in Palestine ate meat only once a week, and in Palestine the working man and the day laborer were never very far from the border-line of real hunger and actual starvation.

It was still more so in the case of thirst. It was not possible for the vast majority of people to turn a tap and find the clear, cold water pouring into their house. A man might be on a journey, and in the midst of it the hot wind which brought the sand-storm might begin to blow. There was nothing for him to do but to wrap his head in his burnous and turn his back to the wind, and wait, while the swirling sand filled his nostrils and his throat until he was likely to suffocate, and until he was parched with an imperious thirst. In the conditions of modern western life there is no parallel at all to that. (vol. 1, p. 99)

We see, then, that Jesus is not using "hunger" or "thirst" as we would describe the emptiness or dryness we feel between meals, but a hunger or thirst that seemingly can never be satisfied. With physical appetite, this would be a hunger and thirst that, even after a full meal with plenty of drink, we would still feel as though we could eat and drink much more! Again, as Barclay describes it, "It is the hunger of the man who is starving for food, and the thirst of the man who will die unless he drinks" (pp. 99-100).

Nothing can better express the kind of desire we should have to obtain righteousness. The Bible's writers frequently employ the imagery of hunger and especially thirst to illustrate an ardent desire, particularly for the things of God:

  • Psalm 42:1-2: As the deer pants for the water brooks, so pants my soul for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?

  • Psalm 63:1: O God, You are my God; early will I seek You; my soul thirsts for You; my flesh longs for You in a dry and thirsty land where there is no water.

Even limiting hunger and thirst to our normal, daily need for nourishment illustrates a continuous cycle of consuming a most vital necessity for spiritual life and strength.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Beatitudes, Part Four: Hungering and Thirsting After Righteousness




Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Matthew 5:6:

Psalms :
Psalms :
Psalms :
Psalms :
Psalms :
Psalms :
Matthew 5:6
Matthew 5:6
Matthew 6:33
John 7:37-39
Revelation 1:3

 

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