Topical Scripture: Matthew 5:6
I saw some interesting signs recently:
- On a plumber’s truck: “We repair what your husband fixed.”
- At an optometrist’s office: “If you don’t see what you’re looking for, you’ve come to the right place.”
- Outside a muffler shop: “No appointment necessary. We heard you coming.”
- Seen at a café: “If our food, drinks, and service aren’t up to your standards, please lower your standards.”
We’re talking about success today. What drives you? What defines success for you? If you could be anything in the world, what would you be? What should you be?
Let’s ask Jesus.
What do you want?
“Blessed are the ones hungering and thirsting,” Jesus begins in the literal Greek. Our Lord assumes that we all hunger and thirst for something. He doesn’t say, “Blessed are you if you hunger and thirst . . .” He knows that we do. And of course, he’s right.
In his day people knew physical hunger and thirst every day. People died without food or water. Droughts weren’t a nuisance for the lawn, but a threat to life itself. Crop failures didn’t mean debt, but death. While our society has passed that place, we’re no less hungry and thirsty for the things that matter to us. We’re all driven by something.
Theologian Paul Tillich was right: we each have an “ultimate concern.” Something or someone which matters more than anything else to us. There’s something in your life which means success and significance to you: Raising successful children; becoming president of your company; retiring at fifty-five; publishing bestselling books; getting into the right school, making the right grades, having the right friends; becoming a famous artist or doctor or lawyer or scientist or singer or teacher; being “happy.”
What drives you? What should? How can you be sure that when you climb to the top of the ladder, it’s not leaning against the wrong wall? What constitutes success with God? What makes us “blessed” by God? For what should we “hunger and thirst” this morning?
What should you want?
“Hunger and thirst after righteousness,” Jesus continues. The Greek word here reduces to the idea of uprightness, of doing what is right. But there’s more to the word than that. Unpack it with me for a moment.
First, there’s an internal sense here—personal character and morality. Not just what you do, but who you are. Dwight Moody said that your character is what you do in the dark. It’s been said that what you are when no one is looking, is what you are.
“Righteousness” here requires personal, intimate holiness. A person whose attitudes and motives are just. The word means to be the same thing in private that you are in public, to be godly in character both places, every day.
One reason to value such righteousness is that what we are in the dark is usually exposed to the light. We read daily of business leaders who lied about the bottom line, fabricated profits, misrepresented in shareholder reports, and have to “take the fifth.” But there’s no fifth amendment with God.
A friend once said to me, “Happiness depends on circumstances; blessedness depends on character.”
“Righteousness” is first internal, and second horizontal. It points to our actions with others. The word means to practice uprightness and justice with all we know. Abigail Adams, wife of our second president, once wrote to her sister Elizabeth, “To be good, and do good, is the whole duty of man.”
Such horizontal righteousness is vital to our society. President George W. Bush made this eloquent and perceptive statement about corporate dishonesty: “All investment is an act of faith, and faith is earned by integrity. In the long run, there’s no capitalism without conscience; there is no wealth without character.”
“Righteousness” is internal, then horizontal. And it is vertical as well: being right with God. Righteous in the sense of keeping God’s commandments; living by his word; fulfilling his will; confessing our sins when we commit them; being sure nothing is wrong between us and our Father; walking close to him.
Jesus makes this the key to character, the attribute for which we must “hunger and thirst” each day, the pathway to “blessing.” If you can be only one thing, be righteous.
Niccolò Paganini was in concert with a full orchestra when a string snapped. He continued, improvising his solo. But then a second string snapped, then a third. Three limp strings hanging from Paganini’s violin. He continued and finished the difficult piece with one string. Then he played an encore piece on that one string. And then he held up the violin and said to the crowd, “Paganini and one string!”
What should your “one string” be? Jesus makes the answer clear today.
How do we achieve it?
So, here’s the practical question: How do we achieve “righteousness” with ourselves, others, and God? How do we play our lives on this string?
Here’s the first step: want to be righteous.
Decide that you will be godly in character, actions, and faith if you are nothing else. Choose holiness above everything. Hunger and thirst for it.
C. S. Lewis: “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition, when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
Settle for nothing less than righteousness as the central attribute of your character. Seek it with desperation and passion. Then you can receive it from God: “they will be filled,” satisfied completely. If you hunger to be righteous, your hunger will be satisfied. But you must hunger first. You must want this food before you can have it.
Second, admit that you are not righteous without God.
Here’s what God says of us: “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God” (Romans 3:10–11). This is the biblical doctrine called “total depravity.” It means that every part of our lives is affected by sin.
The cancer has metastasized throughout the body of the patient. The patient can still read the paper, drink coffee, even go to work perhaps; but the disease is everywhere, and death is inevitable.
In the eyes of a holy God, “there is no one righteous.” Let’s see. Think about your last sin. That one sin alone is enough to keep you out of God’s perfect heaven. So admit that you cannot be righteous without the help of God.
Third, seek the righteousness of God by faith.
You cannot make yourself righteous. That’s why Jesus’ Beatitude is in the passive tense: “they will be filled.” Not “they will fill themselves,” for we cannot. This is not a call to try harder to be better. Not works righteousness. We can do better for a while, but ultimately, we’ll fall and fail again. I’ve tried. So have you.
Instead, accept this fact: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Christ is our righteousness. He will impart to us his Spirit, his holiness, his character. This is the exchanged life. Believe that Christ lives in your heart, by faith. Ask him to make himself real through your character, your personality. Ask him to help you exhibit the righteousness of God.
Give him time to do so. Meet him in Scripture, so he can transform your mind. Meet him in prayer, so he can transform your spirit. Meet him in worship, so he can transform your soul. Let the carpenter work with the wood, molding and shaping it into his own image. And believe that he is.
So, where do you need to be righteous this morning? Where are you grappling with sin or temptation—with yourself, with others, with God? Identify that issue right now. Hunger and thirst for the righteousness of God. Admit to him that you cannot make yourself righteous. Be sure that you’ve made Christ your Savior and Lord. Ask him for his character, his holiness, his power, his righteousness. Spend time with him, allowing him to transform you into his image. And you will be “blessed” indeed.
Our culture says good enough is good enough. So long as you’re as moral as the rest of us, you’re as moral as you need to be. Don’t stand out—don’t be different. Go along to get along.
Jesus says that if you want to live your best life, you must hunger and thirst for the righteousness only God can give. You must settle for nothing less than his character, his integrity, his Spirit powerfully working in and through your life. You must seek to be so much like Jesus that others see Jesus in you.
Can God do this?
A group of American ministers once visited England to hear some of her famous preachers. On a Sunday morning they attended the renowned City Temple. Some two thousand people filled the building, and the pastor’s forceful personality dominated the service. His voice was powerful, his message biblical, and the Americans left saying, “What a wonderful preacher is [name]!”
That night they heard Charles Spurgeon at the Metropolitan Tabernacle. The building was much larger and the congregation more than twice the size. Spurgeon’s voice and oratory were the finest they had ever heard.
But the Americans soon forgot all about the building, the congregation, and the voice. They even overlooked their intention to compare the two preachers. When the service was over, they found themselves saying only, “What a wonderful Savior is Jesus Christ!”
What will people say about you this week?