The Beatitudes: Blessed are the Hungry
'Blessed are those that hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled' Matt 5:6
Have you ever wondered what causes us to hunger and thirst? Obviously, it has to do with the bodies need for food and drink, but what is it that makes us aware we need to eat and drink?
Research indicates it has much to do with a small part of the brain called the hypothalamus. Those with a severely dis-functioning hypothalamus can even starve to death without feeling a single hunger pang.
Ironically, such hypothalamic damage is often the result of malnutrition. So people are starving to death physically because of failing to eat nutritious enough food for their hypothalamus to function, so as to tell them they needed to eat!
I wonder what the spiritual equivalent of that is?
Starving to death spiritually without having an inkling, yet having arrived at that point because we've failed to nourish our spiritual Hypothalamus.
In the beatitudes, Jesus presents blessings that are available to the one that would accept that their own blessedness, their transition from injury, pain and emptiness to healing, comfort and fullness, requires that they first pursue and take on-board some healing attitudes of faith.
We all struggle
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This fourth Beatitude is then a pivotal step in our healing. Recognising we need something we can't supply in our own strength. And a promise, of God filling us with that which we cannot fill ourselves.
Christ uses strong imagery. In the Greek, the word Limos, translated here as hunger, is translated elsewhere as famine. So we're not dealing with a case of the tummy rumbles. The idea is of overwhelming need or desire, the same felt by the prodigal son when he 'at last came to his senses' and said,
“... 'How many of my father's hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!'
It is a word associated with death. Therefore, when I read the words hunger and thirst, it brings to mind images of starving children; it paints a picture of desperateness. For of all man’s physical needs, there is perhaps none stronger in it's impact upon us than hunger and thirst. Needs that can become so strong they drive a person to distraction, to desperate acts, moral insanity and even to illness and death.
Jesus uses these words in reference to righteousness, indicating that just as the we might crave food and water for the body, so too, to the extent we desire healing & comfort, we need to crave righteousness.
As with the prodigal, it is a choice we make when we, like him, come to our senses.
But what is the righteousness referred to here, and how may it fill us?
Simply put, righteousness means being right with God, in particular, his will.
The audience to which Jesus spoke were Jewish. They were a people unique in the world in that God had committed to them his will, as Romans 3:1 says.. 'to them were committed the oracles of God.'
In the same vein they were made a covenant people and were placed under an agreement; the Law. This law stipulated that as long as they followed the will of God as revealed in his Law, he would bless them and keep them as his people.
Yet, as scriptures teach and history shows, this covenant served ultimately to instruct a far wider audience than just the Jews. It served to reveal to all men their need for a better covenant than the one God had with the Jews.
The reason for this is given in Galatians 3:10;
For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.”
For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second.
For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law. But the Scripture has confined all under sin...
God has proven via the Jewish nation, through His covenant of Law with them over many centuries, that man, you and I, are incapable of establishing our own righteousness through perfect obedience to God's will. As Romans 3:10 says:
“There is none righteous, no, not one;...”
So, Jesus was preaching something different to the Jewish audience listening to his beatitude sermon. Not something new, for it had been promised centuries before throughout the old testament scriptures; that a covenant would be established that achieved man’s righteousness while still satisfying God's will.
In fact, the righteousness Jesus says we are to hunger and thirst for is not ours at all, it's Gods. A righteousness that becomes ours due to his. His righteousness brings about our own.
Coming to a deep assurance and appreciation of this truth is truly healing, able to fill us with a sense of acceptance and joy.
You see, Jesus could preach a promise of fulfilling our hunger for righteousness, because he was to become the means of that being possible.
As Galatians 3:13 says, "Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us...”
Therefore, in this beatitude, Jesus is not calling for his audience to hunger and thirst for greater holiness in their actions, a greater self-control when tempted, or a greater handle on doctrine.
Rather, Jesus is speaking of those who would become Christians; possibly some from that very audience. Those whom in the months and years to come would come to hear the gospel and accept Jesus as their saviour and their righteousness.
2 Corinthians 5:21
For He [God] made Him [Christ] who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
...that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith;
Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.
But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed,... even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
But when the kindness and the love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
Now, having said all that, how does that impact we who have accepted Jesus and been made righteous by his gracious gift through our faith?
Maybe the answer is obvious to you? But I have questions.
Because, to be honest, much of our lives are spent in quite the opposite state of feeling full and satisfied, and I speak personally here, but I know I am not alone. In fact there are many Christians who regularly feel drained and empty.
Why is that?
Well, let me first state that feelings don't necessarily have a direct relationship with our spiritual state. If we look at many of the spiritual giants of faith in scripture, they frequently experienced periods of dejectedness and downheartedness.
However, we also can contribute to a spiritual lack of well-being in our lives, to briefly name a few.
- We can become forgetful & ungrateful of what Christ has done for us (2 Peter 1:9), and that can show itself as a lack of spiritual growth in our lives.
We can fail to trust God, becoming anxious, and rob ourselves of any sense of fullness that God offers. (Phil 4:6-7)
We can become carnally minded, replacing the things of the spirit with sinful patterns of behaviour that become habits in our life. (Galatians 5:17)
But we can also be guilty of putting more merit on our performance – or lack of at times – than God's righteous justification of us (Gal 3:3; Phil 3:3-6)
Speaking personally, I'm guilty of all those just mentioned, but it is on the last one I want to briefly focus.
Are you performance oriented
Sometimes I think we can expect more of ourselves than God does. Not happy with anything less than perfect obedience (as we understand obedience). We feel spiritually confident and full when we've been obedient, but become despairing when we sin, and nervous when we're unsure of how we're doing (which seems to be most of rest of the time).
I would suggest that we need to move well away from that mindset. To regularly remind ourselves of righteousness, but not in a nerve riddled anxiety of whether our righteousness measures up to the required amount, but confidently resting in the knowledge that we are righteous already.
When we interpret our relationship with God –or his desire for our best– through the lens of how obedient we've been, then we will lose any sense of fullness, as the measure of our perceived righteousness will drop only to that level to which we have obeyed; and our efforts at righteousness will always be well below the fullness of God's grace given righteousness.
- Learn to Escape From the Performance Trap
Many Christians never mature spiritually because they define themselves by what they do instead of who they are.The constant propensity of the born anew is to fall back to striving by human effort.
Though we are called to be penitent, obedient and diligent, we are not expected to replace God's works with our own. Our efforts can only ever be brought in alongside Gods, they can never replace them, and we rob ourselves –and God – when we develop a mindset that does so.
My son, though he frequently and, at times, wilfully misbehaves and requires discipline, never doubts my love for him, nor questions my desire for his best.
He doesn't measure the depth of our relationship upon his faults and weaknesses or the number of times he's messed up – though he does get disappointed with himself when he invokes my anger, he still knows it will not result in my rejection of him. He knows I'm always there for him, even when he's not there for me. He knows I'll never turn away from him. And though I get angry and discipline him, its only momentary – but he has my favour for life. Our heavenly father is the same
Sing praise to the Lord, you saints of His, and give thanks at the remembrance of His holy name. For His anger is but for a moment, His favour is for life; Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning. Psalm 30:4-5
Christians need to remind themselves daily of their gospel righteousness, every day of Christ’s finished work on behalf of sinners, so we may stay convinced that the gospel is relevant.
I find I especially need a gospel refocus to help steer me away from a constant tendency to drift into a performance-driven relationship with God. I’m not alone in that tendency; how pervasive it is among us. One Christian writer said, “My observation of Christendom is that most of us tend to base our personal relationship with God on our performance instead of on His grace. If we’ve performed well-whatever “well” is in our opinion-then we expect God to bless us. If we haven’t done so well, our expectations are reduced accordingly. In this sense, we live by works rather than by grace. We are saved by grace, but we are living by the “sweat” of our own performance. Moreover, we are always challenging ourselves and one another to “try harder.” We seem to believe success in the Christian life (however we define success) is basically up to us: our commitment, our discipline, and our zeal, with some help from God along the way. We give lip service to the attitude of the apostle Paul, “But by the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Corinthians 15:10), but our unspoken motto is, “God helps those who help themselves”. The realisation that my daily relationship with God is based on the infinite merit of Christ instead of on my own performance is a very freeing and joyous experience.”
To end, righteousness is primarily a gift of God in Christ. However, it is also a work of grace in the makeup of those who hunger to go beyond coping with life, to building Christlike character and uprightness.
Until the Lord completes His refining process, the offerings we make are not made in righteousness and cannot be acceptable. Thank God that Jesus is our righteousness and that there is no righteousness apart from Him. Still, the Lord continues to purge all that is not of His righteousness out of our lives. This comes through trials that bring each of us to the end of ourselves in order that He may only reflect that which is Himself.
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