…for they shall be filled.
DMLJ: In this verse we have one of the most notable statements of the Christian gospel and everything that it has to give us. Let me describe it as the great charter for every seeking soul, the outstanding declaration of the Christian gospel…
MHA: Righteousness is the quality that, according to the Sermon on the Mount, is to be the distinguishing mark of Jesus’ disciples, who constitute the Church.
DMLJ: I do not know of a better test that anyone can apply to himself or herself in this whole matter of the Christian profession than a verse like this.
Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, by D. Martin Lloyd-Jones
Jesus Christ: His Life and Teaching, Vol.2 - The Sermon on the Mount, Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev
Jesus speaks of righteousness five times in this Sermon. He speaks of it in other gospel accounts as well, for example at the Last Supper in John’s account. It is a key Biblical concept: in the Old Testament it referred primarily to following God’s commandments; to be righteous and just was a necessary condition for taking possession of the promised land.
What does it mean to hunger and thirst? Metropolitan Alfeyev offers:
In the Old Testament, particularly in the book of Psalms, the image of thirst is used to describe a person’s strong and burning desire for God, to fulfill his law and commandments.
“My soul thirsteth for God…”; “My soul has thirsted for thee”; “…my soul thirsteth after thee.”
It is to be aware of a very deep need; in physical terms, as offered by Jesus, it is the most fundamental need we have in order to sustain life. These are not passing feelings – hunger and thirst do not go away until they are satisfied. In fact, these increase without intervention. To increasingly hunger and thirst is to cause pain, even agony. It puts us in the state of desperately wanting to resolve our condition.
Lloyd-Jones points out: we are to hunger and thirst after righteousness. Jesus did not say we are to hunger and thirst for righteousness. This would suggest that the righteousness is something we can strive for on our own. No, we are to hunger and thirst after righteousness. It is something outside of us, beyond our ability.
DMLJ: …whenever you put happiness before righteousness, you will be doomed to misery. …They alone are truly happy who are seeking to be righteous.
In other words, our highest purpose isn’t to search out happiness (blessedness) – even in the proper understand of Beatitudo: other-regarding action. If we are after happiness as the highest value, we will fall short, always. It is only by holding righteousness – to be Christ-like – as the highest value that we will find true happiness.
What does righteousness mean? It is certainly something more than honoring contracts; it is more than general respectability or general morality. In a concordance, one will find it sometimes will mean justification, but often it means even more than this – to include sanctification. In other words, it is the desire to be free from sin in all its forms; it is a desire to be right with God.
DMLJ: The man who hungers and thirsts after righteousness is the man who sees that sin and rebellion have separated him from the face of God… Our first parents were made righteous in the presence of God. They dwelt and walked with Him. That is the relationship such a man desires.
Further, it is a desire to be free from the power of sin – call it free from the desire to desire sinful things. It is more than hungering to be free of the acts of sin on the outside; it is a hunger to be free on the inside as well. This, of course, offers a preview regarding Jesus’s later teaching in this Sermon.
Further still, it is a desire to be holy. The man who hungers and thirsts after righteousness wants to show the fruits of the Spirit in his everyday life – every day. He wants to know God and be in fellowship with Him. in other words, once again, to be Christ-like.
Finally, if we truly hunger and thirst after righteousness, this leads to the issue of how we spend our time. Jesus was often in prayer – and praying even all night. Many of the saints likewise.
MHA: In this context, those who “hunger and thirst after righteousness” are those who fervently seek to fulfill the commandments of God. … [they are] the ones who seek God with all their heart, since God is the source of all righteousness.
What is the blessing for those who hunger and thirst after righteousness? They will be filled. What does this mean? First note: while hungering and thirsting is an active state, to be filled is a passive state on the part of the one being filled. The one who actively hungers and thirsts will not be able to fill himself; he will be filled by another – God.
To be filled is immediate; we know we have been forgiven. Yet we continue to hunger and thirst after righteousness. The more we are filled, the more we hunger and thirst; we never reach a point of satisfaction. Lloyd-Jones describes this in terms of the process of sanctification; I have been filled, I am being filled, I will be filled.
DMLJ: If we only knew something of the glory and the wonder of this new life of righteousness, we should desire nothing else.
Is there any life that is in any way comparable to it…? What a life, what a character. That is a man worthy of the name of a man; that is life as it should be.
Righteousness was clearly one of the qualities of God Himself. Human righteousness is a direct reflection of God’s righteousness. Demonstrating, once again, why only a God-man would suffice, Metropolitan Alfeyev offers:
Being simultaneously God and man, Jesus manifests in his life both the righteousness of God and the righteousness of man. In the experience of his life, these two concepts become inseparable.
Metropolitan Alfeyev concludes by citing Gregory of Nyssa:
“The true virtue, the good that is unmixed with evil…is God the Word Himself. …and rightly have those who hunger for this justice of God been called blessed. For, if as the Psalmist says, a man has truly tasted the Lord; that is, if he has received God into himself, he is filled with Him for whom he has thirsted and hungered.”
DMLJ: If every man and woman in this world knew what it was to ‘hunger and thirst after righteousness,’ there would be no danger of war.
Here we see the first concrete foundation underlying the later verse of the peacemaker. It demonstrates, as an anonymous commenter earlier pointed out: there is no such thing as an effective peacemaker, per verse 9, absent one who first walks through the earlier Beatitudes.
This also demonstrates the shallowness and even falsity of the faith of many “Christians.” If they would hunger and thirst after righteousness, they would not cheer on every war, cheer on the troops, cheer on the war crimes of their own and other governments. If they were to hunger and thirst after righteousness, they would be working for peace. (Imagine what this would do to the republican party if all of the evangelical Christians started acting as Christians!)