We must begin by noting that the Beatitude we are considering here does not say, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after blessedness . . . “ We all want to be happy, blessed, and we are tempted to make that state of blessing our goal. But the spiritual irony is that such blessings are reserved for those who want something else more. And as Jesus puts it here, that something else is righteousness.
We are required by God to hunger and thirst. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled“ (Matt. 5:6). Whenever we are hungry, or when we thirst, we find that they are not passing whims. When hunger sets in, it does not go away. It is the same way with spiritual hunger and thirst. When we hungry in this way, we know what the center of our waking thoughts will be.
But what is the true bread and wine? The thing we are to hunger for is righteousness. Two aspects of righteousness should be considered. The first is that we must desire the righteousness that is by imputation. This is the righteousness of our justification, an alien righteousness. Through the wonderful gift of an imputed righteousness we may claim the Lord Himself as our Righteousness (Jer. 23:6). In Christ, we are complete (Col. 2:10), and because we are completed, we are not permitted to attempt additions or improvements upon what God has done.
The second is a righteousness of implantation. This is the righteousness of our progressive and ongoing sanctification — the kind of righteousness seen (or not seen) by our family, friends, or neighbors.
In both senses, this righteousness must be defined by the Word of God, and only by the Word of God. We may not substitute an alternate form of justification (Gal. 1:9), or an alternative standard for sanctification (Mark 7:9). The one who hungers and thirsts for both imputation and implantation (for though they are rightly distinguished, they are never separated) shall be filled.
Those who do not hunger and thirst in this way settle for husks. Certain characteristics are common among those who do not hunger and thirst in the way described here.
First, they are content with the food of their own righteousness. Christ offers true bread, and we want the cotton candy of self-effort. This was the sin of Laodecia (Rev. 3:17) Ultimately, it is this sin which underlies all other sin.
Secondly, they are content with the food of this world. Esau sold his birthright for no other reason than his physical hunger. To the author of Hebrews, this is described as an act of profanation (Heb. 12:16).
Third, they think a well-decorated table will make up for poor food. But to a hungry man, plain food is beautiful, and he doesn’t care about the paper plate. Consider Ezekiel 33:32.
The promise is that such a one as described by Christ shall be filled. We see here the glory of grace. The one who hungers and thirsts shall be filled. This is a promise of God, and it is God who will fulfill His Word. We cannot fulfill it, and then come to Him afterwards. We do not have the food, and we cannot maneuver to get it. But God is gracious, and He promises to feed the hungry. And from the very beginning, He has always kept His Word.