The Sermon on the Mount
By E.H. “Jack” Sequeira

5 – The Fourth Beatitude: Hunger and Thirst

So far, the last three beatitudes dealt with not only a progression but the Christian’s attitude toward himself or herself.  This next beatitude, in Matthew 5:6, is dealing with our relationship to God.  Once we realize that we are spiritually bankrupt, and begin to mourn because of our sinfulness and our wretchedness, and in humility confess, “I can do nothing, for in me nothing good dwells,” — then we turn to God, the source of righteousness and this is where we come to the next beatitude.  Matthew 5:6:

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

The first thing I would like to do is to look at the word “righteousness.”  In the Bible it can involve four different meanings.  We need to look at the four, first of all, and then ask ourselves, “Which context did Christ have in mind, primarily?”

  1. The Bible speaks of righteousness in a legal sense. 
  2. The Bible speaks of righteousness in a moral sense. 
  3. The Bible speaks of righteousness in a social sense.
  4. The Bible speaks of righteousness in a total sense.

Let me take each one of them.  When the Bible speaks of righteousness in a legal sense, it has to do with our standing before God’s Law.  This legal righteousness is described in the New Testament as justification.  The word “justification” and the word “righteousness” come from the same root word.  Justification has to do with our title to Heaven.  We must have this clear.  Some Christians think justification only means forgiveness for past sins.  The Bible doesn’t teach that.  It means three things:

  1. It means that I am perfect in performance;
  2. It means that I am perfect in justice; and
  3. It means that I am perfect in nature.

And all of these three is ours only in Christ.  When a person realizes his spiritual poverty and mourns and he comes to Christ, in Christ Who has already justified the whole world, this justification, which comes to us by faith, becomes effective.  The moment that you believe, God looks at you as perfectly righteous in performance, and in justice, and in nature, because Christ redeemed us in all three aspects.

But the Bible also speaks of righteousness in a moral sense.  And that has to do with character.  It involves two things:  motive and conduct.  Both of these must be such as is pleasing to God.  Moral righteousness is pleasing to God, not only in terms of conduct, but also motive.  According to the context, this is the main thrust of verse 6.  Christ was speaking to believers, and believers are already righteous in terms of justification.  If you haven’t got that righteousness clear in your mind, you need to come to that before you look at the second.

Christ is talking to believers who already have been justified, but He is now concerned with them experiencing moral righteousness.  I want to show you (we’ll come to it in verse 20 later on) the distinction between the moral righteousness that is taught here by Christ and the moral righteousness that is taught by the Pharisees.  You will notice there was a difference.  The Pharisees were not concerned about motives.  They were concerned about outward conformity (appearance).  That is why in verse 20 of Matthew 5 Christ says,

For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

And He gave a couple of examples, and we’ll come to that.  They were boasting, “I have not committed any murder.”  What they meant is that they had not done the act.  But Jesus said that, if you hate somebody without a cause, you have killed.  So God looks at the heart.

The reason I am emphasizing this is because we human beings have a tendency to look at the outward act.  I’ve told this experience before, but will tell you again.  In England I was going home from a youth program (M.V.) on Friday night and a lady put her head out a high window and called “Excuse me, can you do me a favor?”  She wanted me to switch her light on.  I had visions that she was a cripple and couldn’t use her hands.  When I got to the door, she opened it and she had the use of all her limbs.  I was puzzled at the strange request.  And she saw that in my face and said, “I know this is a strange request.  But I am a Jew and it is sin for us to turn the light on, on Sabbath because it is kindling the fire” (which is technically correct).  She wanted me to do it.  She didn’t know who I was, and, being a rascal, I said to her, “But doesn’t the commandment say that even the stranger in your gates should not work on the Sabbath?”  And she was horrified that this Gentile knew the fourth commandment.  She kind of blushed and she answered, “Yes, but you are a Gentile.”  In other words, “You are lost in any case, so it doesn’t matter if you break the Sabbath.”

I turned her light on, but I asked if she had her Old Testament and had her turn to 1 Samuel 16:7 and she read it in the Hebrew text:

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him.  The Lord does not look at the things man looks at.  Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Man looks at the outward act, but God looks at the heart.  I said, “I was more than happy to turn the light on, but here is the problem.  I am not doing my will, I am doing your will.  So, as far as God is concerned, you have turned the light on.  You are only using me as a tool.  If that is sin to you, I am afraid you won’t make it to the Kingdom.”

She looked at me in horror and told me I was making it very hard.  But I took it one step further and told her it was impossible.  When you realize that the Law demands perfect righteousness in motive, you can never do it because our nature is egocentric and everything we do is polluted with self apart from the grace of God.  I gave her another text, Isaiah 64:6:

All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.

In this context, God told Israel that all their righteousness was like filthy rags — unclean.  She looked in horror again, and I told her that I had good news for her.  God gave “your people” the Messiah and, unfortunately, your nation rejected Him.  But it is not too late.  She said, “I was born a Jew, I will die one.”  I told her she didn’t have to become a Gentile — Christ was a Jew, too.  But she would have to become a believing Jew.

What I am saying here (fourth beatitude) is that the Pharisees were looking at the outward act.  We have a human tendency to judge people by outward acts.  I have learned the hard way that you shouldn’t do that.  When we faced the crisis in Uganda and Ethiopia, I discovered that the people I thought would be the first to leave the church were the first to stand up for Christ.  And the ones I thought would be number one to defend the church were the first to leave the church and be the enemies of the church.  So I said that from now on I would not judge people by their outward appearance.

You have no idea how some of our members are struggling inwardly but outwardly they look like sinners.  We must be clear that moral righteousness has to do with not only outward performance (conduct), but inward motives.

It is impossible for us to serve Christ — I repeat — it is impossible for us to serve Christ from an unselfish motive if we are insecure of our salvation.  If we do not understand justification, sanctification will only become outward conformity.  There are two extremes which we must be warned against.  Number one is external conformity, which is legalism.  We must also condemn cheap grace which says, “I am already justified, it doesn’t matter how I live.”  Christ is telling the believers that they must hunger and thirst after what kind of righteousness?  He is primarily concerned about moral righteousness.  If you go through the whole context in the sermon you will see that this is the clear emphasis of Christ.

There is an example of this in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians.  Turn to 1 Corinthians 6:9-13.  Paul’s letter to the Corinthians was a letter of rebuke and this is what he says:

Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God?  Do not be deceived:  Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.  And that is what some of you were.  But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.  “Everything is permissible for me” — but not everything is beneficial.  “Everything is permissible for me” — but I will not be mastered by anything.  “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food” — but God will destroy them both.  The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.

He gives a whole string of what he means by wicked, conduct that we are familiar with, which was their condition before their conversion, but, now that they are converted, in Christ they are already perfect in terms of justification, in terms of sanctification — in terms of performance.  They are washed nature-wise.  They are sanctified performance-wise and they are justified legally in Christ.

“Everything is permissible for me” — you are free — “but I will not be mastered by anything.”  You have a new lifestyle since you have been justified.  From now on, your hunger and thirsting is for moral righteousness — for revealing Christ.  This is what Christ is talking about in Matthew 5:6:

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

The first thing I would like to mention about this moral righteousness is that you cannot produce it yourself.  We are not justified by faith in Christ and sanctified by our own power.  There is a cooperation involved, but remember what Jesus said in John 15:4-5:

Remain in me, and I will remain in you.  No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine.  Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.  I am the vine; you are the branches.  If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.

“Apart from me you can do nothing”  Our part is to abide in Christ — His part is to produce the moral righteousness.  I will say more about this shortly.  But I want to go to Number 3.

We have looked at legal righteousness, which is justification.  We have looked at moral righteousness, which is sanctification.  And the Bible does talk of social righteousness.  What does that mean?  It has to do with the righteousness in our community, in our nation, in the world.  We are living in a world that is full of unrighteousness.  There is exploitation, there are injustices, and a Christian must be concerned about social righteousness in our society.  We must not ignore the injustices that are taking place.  You will notice the Bible does have a say about this.  But we must do it in the right way because there is a teaching today, which is not so strong in America because we don’t have the problems that we have in the Third World, but it is called liberation theology.

There is also a teaching in America called the social gospel.  These are counterfeits of the truth.  Liberation theology says that we must give to the guerrillas so they can defeat the apartheid government in South Africa.  We must liberate them politically.  Remember that Christ did not try to bring any political liberation for the Jews.  But He was concerned about the social needs of the people.  He fed the poor, He healed the sick, and He cleansed the temple because there was exploitation there.  He was concerned about social injustice and we should be concerned.  We should be concerned about mercy, economic problems of the people around us, integrity in business, etc.  Christ comes in the Sermon on the Mount to the taxing, etc.

Now I want to go to Number 4 — total righteousness.  Sanctification is an ongoing process.  You will discover that the words “hunger” and “thirst” are both in the present, continuous sense.  It is not something where you hunger now and then stop being hungry.  This is a continuous hungering and thirsting all through your Christian life.  But you will never experience total righteousness until two events:

  1. The second coming of Christ, where you will experience total righteousness in terms of your nature.  1 Corinthians 15:54:

    When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true:  “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

    This perishable body will become imperishable, and you will be liberated from all the internal problems that are pulling you toward sin.

  2. A thousand years later, there will be a total righteousness in the sense that sin will be eradicated.  There will be no more pain, no more sorrow, no more suffering, no more crying.  Revelation 21:1-4:

    Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.  I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them.  They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.  He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

    Then we shall live in a universe that is totally righteous.  Everything from the minutest atom to the greatest creature in all the universe will confess that God is love — God is agape.  That is when we shall be totally filled.  But the happiness is now.  Happy is the person who is hungering and thirsting after righteousness.

This is in complete contradiction to the Pharisees.  They were never hungering and thirsting because they already had it (righteousness) in their own eyes — outward conformity.  But a true Christian doesn’t say, “I am righteous.  I have not sinned for the last two years.”  That is heresy.  A Christian says, when they see somebody doing something terrible, “There goes I, but for the grace of God.”  A Christian says, “God forgive me, a sinner.”  But he doesn’t stop there.  He doesn’t stop mourning and being meek; he hungers and thirsts for righteousness.

I’ve already mentioned that the hungering and thirsting is in the present, continuous tense.  I want to give you an example of what that means.  Christ is taking two things that human beings are very familiar with.  The trouble is that in America we have so much.  We really do not know what it means to hunger and thirst because we have a country that has a tremendous amount of food and we take water for granted.  In Africa, water is one of the biggest headaches.  The life there is a question of survival.  The girls have to collect water; the boys look after sheep and cows.  When the children get home from school, they can’t go and watch TV.  The girls have to take their pots and walk two, three, four, five miles to bring water.  The pots of the older girls can carry about four gallons of water.

Ladies, you try carrying those on your head — they sometimes even run.  The water remains stationary.  Normally, the water is from the river and since the rivers are at the bottom of the valleys they are carrying the water up.  Besides water, they have to carry firewood.  One day a few of us missionaries stopped a lady who was carrying firewood.  Different tribes carry firewood differently.  But this one tied the firewood with a leather strap made from cow hide and then a loop went over the head and the wood was carried on the back.  If you remove the strap from the forehead there is a ridge sunk in from carrying it.  We asked her if we could weigh the firewood and it weighed 60 pounds — carried by the head — and the lady must have been at least 45 or 50 years old.

I want to give you a text in Psalms.  What does it mean to “pant” and to hunger and thirst?  Listen to how David describes his experience.  Psalms 42:1:

As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God.

When Jean’s Mother came to visit us in Ethiopia, the cheapest flight we could get was into Kenya, because Kenya was a British Colony.  It was a package deal and we had to go pick her up.  It is about 3,000 miles from Kenya, Nairobi, to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.  We went and picked her up and were returning and in between the two countries is a lava desert — miles and miles of simply lava, no vegetation.  There was a family of Masai people — nomadic people — a father with probably four or five kids.  They hadn’t had any water for three days.  Their cows were dried and they waved us down and asked if we could give them a drop of water.  The kids were dehydrated.

Unfortunately, we had already given most of our water to some other people and the only water we had was in the radiator and I think a little other, but we gave them all the water we had.  But these people thirst and hunger.  They go sometimes days without water.  Terrible.  The pot of water (carried up by the girls) is for a whole family for a whole day.  They told me, back in the 1950s, that the average American uses 22 gallons of water a day.  I’m sure it has gone up.  It’s hard to believe — 22 gallons a day.  The African would be horrified.

But here is what David says:

As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God.

David wanted to reflect God’s love.  His hope was only in God.

Jesus says, “Happy are they who pant, who hunger and thirst after righteousness.”  What does that mean?

  1. You do not pant after righteousness if you already have it in experience.  Have you ever offered food to someone who has just come from a banquet?  He says, “Thank you, I am full, I don’t need your food.”  The only ones who pant after righteousness are those who realize they are poor in spirit and they are bankrupt in terms of righteousness.  So a Christian is not satisfied merely being declared righteous.  He wants more than that.  He wants to reflect the righteousness of Christ.

  2. It means we want liberation from sin.  You cannot hunger after righteousness and not want freedom from sin.  Why should I want liberation from sin?  Not because I want assurance.  I already have that in justification.  I want freedom from sin for two reasons:

    1. Every sin I have committed or will commit was implicated on the cross of Christ.  It brought suffering to Him and, if I pant after God, I don’t want Him to be part of that suffering He went through.
    2. I want liberation from sin because I want to be a witness for Christ.

Look at Matthew 5:16.  In verse 14, Jesus says to the believers that they are the light of the world.  But verse 16:

In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

Let your light so shine before people that they see your good works and glorify not you, not your denomination, but your Father in heaven.  We are hungering and thirsting after righteousness because we want to witness Jesus Christ to this dark world.

Along with the above, we also want deliverance from this body of sin.  A Christian who is hungering and thirsting after righteousness realizes that there is something that is a hindrance.  We call that the sinful nature.  Paul calls it the “law of sin in my members.”  Paul will cry in Romans 7:24:

What a wretched man I am!  Who will rescue me from this body of death?

He means the body of sin.  In Romans 8:23, he says that the believers, like nature, are groaning, waiting for the redemption of the body:

Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

So there is a hungering and thirsting after this kind of righteousness.

In this context, I want to look at all the statements that Paul makes concerning the Second Coming of Christ.  If you were to ask the average Adventist, “What does the Second Coming of Christ mean to you?” They will say, “Golden streets, mansions.”  My kids used to say, “Riding on a saber-toothed tiger.”  Paul didn’t care about golden streets or mansions.  To him the Second Coming meant liberation from this vile body.  Why?  Because he was hungering and thirsting after righteousness.  I want to give you a text because I want to show you something else:  Philippians 3:20-21.  He’s looking forward to the second coming of Christ.

But our citizenship is in heaven.  And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

He has not only justified you, He is not only sanctifying you today, but one day He is going to glorify you.  He will put all enemies under the footstool.  But that is the conclusion.  Now look at verses 9-14.  Paul makes the statement that he wants to be found where?

...And be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ — the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.  I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.  Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it.  But one thing I do:  Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

He is hungering and thirsting, not after his righteousness, but God’s.  “I have not reached that total righteousness.  In Christ I am perfect, totally righteous, but in myself, I have not yet attained it.  But I’m looking forward, I am aiming for that.”  Here is a person who is hungering and thirsting for that ultimate righteousness.

Ellen G. White puts it this way:

“Higher than the highest human thought is God’s ideal for you.”

Now verse 15:

All of us who are mature should take such a view of things.  And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you.

So here is Paul, the great apostle, hungering and thirsting after righteousness.  May I make it clear that this righteousness that we hunger and thirst for, as I mentioned, is in the present, continuous tense.  Sanctification is always an ongoing process.  There will never come a time on this earth that we will say, “Now I have graduated.”  Have you ever gone through an academy [high school] graduation?  To them they have arrived.  There is never a time when you can say, “I have arrived.”

It is in this context that Sister White says that we must never say, “I am saved.”  In terms of moral perfection, there is always a battle to win.  There will never come a time in this life, even after probation closes, when you will not have to wrestle such, until glorification.  But there has to be progress, as you hunger and thirst.  Let me remind you that this righteousness is not attained by conformity to rules.  How do we attain to this righteousness for which we are hungering and thirsting?  Look at 2 Corinthians 3:17-18.  First, verse 17:

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

What does Paul mean?  Freedom from what?  Does he mean economic freedom, political freedom?  No.  I want to remind you of Romans 8.  Inside of every human being there is a law of sin.  The word law means a constant force.  Christ, through His Spirit, gives you another force which Paul calls the “law of the Spirit.”  Here in Corinthians, he calls it the law of the Spirit of freedom.

You have two constant forces (that is why it is called a law) in opposition to each other.  Which of the two forces is greater?  The law of sin or the law of the Spirit?  The law of the Spirit.  That is why it is called the Spirit of freedom or liberty.  The only thing that can liberate you from the law of sin is the law of the Spirit.  You cannot liberate yourself by willpower.  You may defy the law of sin by willpower, but you can never overcome it.  Eventually, it will get you — when you are tired and when you are low.  Now look at verse 18:

And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

So when you see yourself in the mirror, you will see two things:  you will see yourself as a sinner, but you must remind yourself that you are in Christ.  And you must say to yourself, “I am a child of God.  And as I look at Christ as my righteousness, I am changed.”  Please, you don’t look at rules, you don’t look at other people, you look at Christ and be “transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory [can you see the progress?], which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”

I can give you many more texts, but here is what the Bible clearly teaches us.

In concluding, I would like to say that there is a tendency, when you realize that this righteousness is only from God, for people to become passive, to sit down and say, “Well, let me wait for God to produce that righteousness” and that is not true.  You cannot hunger and thirst and sit down and be passive.  If you are sitting on your sofa and your stomach is rumbling and you are hungry (Now, if you have a good wife, you can say, “Please, bring me a peanut butter sandwich.”), but if there is no one else to do it, what do you do?  You get up and make yourself one.  In other words, there must be an evidence that you are hungering and thirsting.  A person who is hungering and thirsting will not simply sit down and wait for it.  He gives evidence.  How?

  1. He will attend places where that hunger can be satisfied.  A good place is at prayer meeting.  A lot of people come to church on Sabbath because they have been raised that that is one of the requirements.  You have to keep the Sabbath and one of the requirements is to go to church.  In Africa, we called the Sabbath School and the Worship Service “Service One” and “Service Two.”  And if you can do one of them, that is enough.  Some will come to Sabbath School and go home because they “have done their duty” to God.  And some will come to Second Service but not First Service, and you will notice that to some degree here, too.  But a person who is hungering and thirsting will be there for Sabbath School, for Church, for Prayer Meeting — every opportunity that he has for feeding that hunger, he will go there.  It is one of the evidences.

  2. Another evidence is that he will spend time with Bible study.  He will spend time with the Word of God because that is what will satisfy his hunger.

  3. He will keep himself from the things that rob him of that hunger, that distract him.  And there is a lot of distraction in this part of the world.  We are living in a materialistic country where it is so easy to get distracted.  They tell me that the average American spends six hours a day watching television.  And it is so easy to do because it is so convenient.  You should see the TV in the third world.  One channel, that’s all.  And 90% of the programming is propaganda — political propaganda about that country — something that you are tired of watching.  But here there are all kinds of channels and you have Cable TV.  But if a person is hungering and thirsting he will find more pleasure in doing things of God.

Remember, persons who are hungering and thirsting will not simply sit down.  They will study their Bibles, they will spend time in prayer, and they will go to areas where they can satisfy that hunger.  It is just like human hunger.  If a person is thirsty, he will try anything to get a drink.  The other day I came home and my dog was over-excited.  I said, “What on earth is wrong with you?”  When I opened the door, he ran straight into the bathroom and began drinking water from the toilet bowl and I knew immediately that he had no water — I had forgotten to put water out.  I ran and got a bowl of water and he drank the whole thing.  He was thirsting for water.  He had no peace.  He couldn’t speak but he was trying to tell me, “You forgot to put out water.”

But God hasn’t forgotten to feed you.  He is ever ready to satisfy your hunger.  And Jesus said, “If you eat me and if you drink me,” that will produce springs of water and you will never thirst again.  Only Christ satisfies.  Our righteousness never satisfies us.

It is my prayer that we here will hunger and thirst after righteousness and the promise is, “We shall be filled.”  It is guaranteed.  Christ said that if we know how to give good gifts to our children, how much more will your Father give the Holy Spirit to those who are hungering and thirsting after Him?

So that is our Fourth Beatitude.  “Happy is the person who is hungering and thirsting after righteousness.”  He will not go home hungry.  He will have righteousness first, he will be justified so he has peace with God.  God will begin to work in him to will and do His good pleasure, and God will put in you a tremendous burden for your society — your neighbors, community.  And we will not need welfare, because the Christian church is supposed to do that.

Finally, we look forward to the Second Coming of Christ when we will experience perfect liberation and ultimate righteousness.  Then we shall be totally filled and we shall live happily ever after.

A legalist is looking for happiness.  A true Christian doesn’t look for happiness.  He’s already got it.  He may hunger for righteousness but, as for happiness, he’s already got it, even though he is poor in spirit and he is mourning.

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