Blessed are Those Who Hunger and Thirst For Righteousness
4th of a Series of 10 messages on the “Beatitudes”. This sermon was delivered by Pastor Eric Chang on Apr 13, 1980.
Today we continue our study of the Beatitudes in the next verse in Mt. 5:6. We come then to the fourth of the Beatitudes: “Blessed - happy, that is - are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” What does this mean? Now the more I study the Lord’s teaching and meditate upon it, I never cease to marvel at the depth and the richness of the Lord’s words, how He is able to put so much into so few words. I trust that I have expounded in most parts of the Scriptures, but there is no one who speaks as the Lord Jesus speaks. There is no one who can put so much into so few words. There is nobody like Him. He is just incredible. The problem for the expositor is the problem of how to put it all across, simply and plainly, as he unfolds the riches of the Lord’s teaching.
Righteousness Compared to Food and Drink
Now what does this mean? We generally again regard anyone who hungers and thirsts as not very fortunate, but the Lord Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” Let us consider some of the meaning that is in these words. The Lord Jesus compares righteousness to food. After all, you hunger and thirst for food, and food of course is essential to life. You hunger and thirst for that which you perceive by truth to be essential to your life. It is not only desirable; it is essential. You do not hunger and thirst with that same intensity for something which does not stir your deepest desires. And one of the things that stir our deepest desires is that which is life. After all, without life you cannot desire anything else. If you are dead, everything is gone; there is nothing left to desire. So, life is the most fundamental thing that we could desire. We hunger and thirst for food and for drink because without these things we die. The body hungers and thirsts because the body is thereby expressing its desperate need for these things. The longer you wait, the longer you do not have something to eat, the more hungry the stomach gets. The more thirsty you get, the more the body cries out in what is described as thirst for drink because the body’s survival depends on it.
Now think carefully. The Lord Jesus is saying this: that righteousness is as vital to the spiritual life as food and drink is to the physical life. That is the first point that comes out to us very, very plainly, doesn’t it? Now think well on this. Righteousness, the Lord Jesus is saying, is something so vital to your spiritual life that your spirit, if it knew what it needed, would be crying out - hungering and thirsting for righteousness - because without it you cannot live. Without righteousness, you cannot live. So the comparison is between food and drink physically (on the physical level) to righteousness which is both food and drink on the spiritual level. Now that is quite easy to see. It takes no great depth of thinking to perceive that. But let us take it from there.
What happens when you take food? What happens when you take drink? When you get food, what do you do? In order to fill your stomach, you stuff your food in your pocket, right? You say, “That’s nonsense! You stuff it into your mouth, not in your pocket.” And so, when you are thirsty, what do you do? Well, you pour it over your hair. You say, “That’s ridiculous. When you are thirsty, you drink it, in your mouth. “ Well, why do I say this? Because there is an astonishing lack of understanding of how important righteousness is to eternal life in the sense and that it must be, notice carefully, internalized. I used this word ‘internalized.’ Food does not feed you if you stick it in your pocket; that is externalized. But if you want to feed upon it, you must internalize it, that is, you have to eat it. If you are thirsty, you do not pour the water over your hair. That is good for shampoo, but that does not quench your thirst. You have to drink it. You have to internalize it before that food is going to do anything to you. It is very simple to understand again, and yet it is amazing how few people understand the things which are simple when it comes to spiritual things. They are very clever when it comes to material things. They know a lot of things about the material life. When it comes to spiritual life, they understand nothing. What the Lord Jesus is saying is this: that you must not only desire this righteousness, but you must take this righteousness and internalize it. ‘Internalize’ means you must not only receive it. Because if I give you a piece of bread when you are hungry and you stick it in your pocket, have you received it? Of course you have received it, but has it satisfied your hunger? Of course it has not satisfied your hunger, because you have not yet internalized it. Today we hear a lot about receiving Christ but what good does receiving Christ do, unless you internalize Christ? That is what the whole of John, chapter 6 is about: “He that eats me, he who eats me, will live by me.” The Lord Jesus is saying exactly the same thing. It is no use receiving Christ, whatever that means, unless you receive Him into your innermost being, unless you internalize Him.
Now think of righteousness. What happens again of the food when you eat? How does it satisfy your hunger? Because if, say, you are very hungry, and so you decide that you are going to eat a mouthful of paper. Then you chew the paper - you have good strong teeth - and you gulp it down and your stomach is very full, right? Your hunger is gone because your stomach is now full of paper. What happens? You starve to death anyway. How come? Because, as it happens, paper does not nourish your body. It can fill your stomach but it does not nourish your body. It has to be absorbed before it is going to nourish your body. Just filling the stomach is not going to satisfy your needs. I heard of some queer fellow who makes it his business to eat everything, including cars and bicycles and glass. He eats a car entirely. That includes the glass, the rubber tires, everything. How this fellow does not manage to die of lead poisoning or some other poisoning, I do not understand. But he actually day by day eats a few screws, eats a few bolts in order to prove a point - that he can eat a whole car. Now I would much rather drive a car than eat it, because I do not see what the point of eating a car is, since a car does not happen to nourish my body, but much more likely going to poison my body. What will happen to this fellow in a few years’ time, I dare not think. So it is that the body must be able to absorb this righteousness.
Feeding on Righteousness Saves Us
Now it happens, spiritually, when you eat righteousness, you do not just stuff it down your throat. Righteousness must be absorbed into the body. Now what happens when the food you eat is absorbed into the body? It becomes part of you. The nutrients go into the blood, and through the blood, it goes into your muscles, to your tissues, to your cells, and nourishes every part. In other words, the piece of food that you eat ceases to be a piece of food, but it is broken down into the components of its proteins, the component parts of its carbohydrates, the constituents of its fats, and all that is then absorbed into all parts [of your body]. It becomes part of you, in other words. Well, that is very easy to understand again. Now take righteousness. What the Lord Jesus is saying is this: if you want to be saved, you do not just swallow righteousness and stick it in your stomach because that is not going to do anything to you. But what has to happen is that it has to be internalized and absorbed so that it comes into every part of your being. It comes into every part of your life: into your fingertips, into your eyes and so on. The nutrition that you had for lunch is soon going to be feeding your hair roots, so that your hair can grow. It is going to feed the cells in your eyes. The cells in every part of your body is quickened and vitalized. So righteousness must now become vital to every part of your body, every part of your life.
Now I am stressing this point because that is the Lord’s teaching. But that, alas, is not the teaching that we find so often in the church today. Today we have a salvation that goes by some form of easy ‘believism’ - that all you do is “Believe and be saved”. This belief appears to be more or less intellectual in content: that you believe certain things happened at certain times in the past, and these things are historically true and you believe them with all your heart. What has been internalized? Exactly what has been internalized? How does that feed the hungry soul? How does it bring life to the perishing? Do historical facts save us? Jesus said you have to feed in righteousness. You have to eat the righteousness in. Do historical facts save us? It would save us about as much as if I took the Encyclopedia Britannica and chewed the pages off. It does not feed my brain. It does not do anything for me. Historical facts are not the things that save us. It is the righteousness of God in Christ that is going to save us. Today we have a teaching which says God imputes His righteousness to us, whatever that means. He imputes it to us. He clothes us with it. Here the Lord Jesus is talking about food and drink, i.e., that we are going to live by food and drink. I do not live simply by putting on a garment over me. So we speak of an externalizing of His righteousness. Strange!
Of course there must be an internalizing and an externalizing. There must be both inward and outward righteousness. There must be a righteousness which is first within, and then manifest itself outside for everyone to see, whereby this life becomes light. There must be an externalizing of one’s light. “You are the light of the world” - people can see it! But we do not put light on outside of us just like this. This light of Christ must come from within and shine outward if it is going be genuine - a light which goes through and through us, not just shining from our skin. The whole problem of the Old Covenant was that the light was temporary in shining on Moses’ face, on his skin. This light which is skin deep is not much good. It has to be a light which comes from the heart, from the innermost being. As the Lord Jesus says in John 7:38: “Out of your innermost being will flow rivers of living water.” This water comes out, but it starts from inside. We have today a teaching of righteousness which is all outside; nothing changes much inside, i.e., righteousness is imputed to you: you are clothed by righteousness. And we are told that when God looks at you, He cannot see what you really are. All He sees is the clothing of righteousness outside of you. What kind of God is this? He cannot see past an outward shell of righteousness? Even if that righteousness is the righteousness of Christ and forms only an outward shell around us, that is called salvation? Now you can see how different is the Lord’s teaching from this kind of teaching, this superficiality.
Today all Christianity is on the surface. Teaching is superficial, belief is superficial, and the whole Christian life is superficial. After all, it is all on the outside; it is imputed to us all outside. And when God looks at you, He cannot see you; He sees Christ because you are hiding behind Christ. So you are the same rotten sinner that you were before without change. You are still full of sin but all that happens is that Christ envelopes you round about like a cocoon. So, God cannot see past this amazing cocoon, so He cannot see all the sin that is hiding underneath it. What kind of teaching is this? Where in the Bible do you find this kind of teaching? I do not know. But you are very familiar with this, I am sure, if you have been a Christian for any number of years, you are very familiar with all what I am saying. That is not imputed righteousness in the Bible sense at all. This righteousness of God is given to us not that we may just look at it; not that we may smear it upon our face so that our face looks a bit better than it looked before; not that we may put it outside of us so that we look a little cleaner, when in fact underneath of it we look very dirty. What kind of a God is this that is being preached? He would be doing better off in the fashion shows. I mean you do not have to take a bath, just change your garments. Just see that your outside dress is clean, never mind how dirty the inside is. No, no! This is not the teaching of the Lord Jesus at all. Think again.
As a person hungers for food, so blessed is the man who hungers for righteousness; as a person thirsts for drink, so blessed is the man who thirsts for righteousness, because he wants to take it into himself. He wants to be nourished by it. He feeds upon it until his faint soul, his exhausted and weary spirit, is revived again and brought to life. So the Lord Jesus said, “’He who eats Me.’ Don’t just put Me on! Of course you can put Me on, too; but you must first and foremost eat Me. ‘He that eats Me will live by Me.’”
A Problem of Appetite
Now this is very important. Notice further the Lord’s teaching: the problem with many people today is the problem of appetite. So there is righteousness, but do you have an appetite for righteousness? We now see that righteousness is as essential to our soul as food is to our body. I hope you understand this well. It is not ‘believing a creed’ that is rightful, although believing the right things is important. No one will deny that it is important to believe the right things, as it is important to eat the right kind of food. As we saw, eating paper is not going to fill you; it is not going to meet your physical needs. But it is important also that we recognize that it is righteousness which is the right food, and this food must be internalized.
Now you are in trouble, of course, if you are starving but you do not know it. You are not hungry. A sick person has no appetite. Lots of people are spiritually sick, so that they have no appetite for righteousness. Just like a sick person who is really quite, in body, very much in need of nourishment, but because he is sick he has no appetite; he cannot eat. I know that feeling very well. When I am sick, I have no appetite at all. You can put a beautiful juicy steak in front of me and it does not cause my stomach to secrete any gastric juices at all. That is absolutely nothing to me as to a person who is sick.
Also, there is, in terms of food, a kind of sickness in which you do not eat because you are also mentally sick. There is a kind of disease described as anorexia, which I am told, is especially suffered by young teenage girls who want to get slim. After a time, they discovered that they had completely lost their appetite. They cannot eat at all. In fact they get a kind of conditioned response that whenever they see food, they want to throw up. They feel sick. I saw the other day that a girl wrote to a newspaper columnist asking for help because she cannot eat at all and she is just wasting away, because she said she does not know how to overcome this apparently, by now, conditioned reflex that whenever she sees food she feels sick. This can become a very serious condition in which a person can literally starve to death.
There is the case of a person who also becomes mentally sick through being physically sick. I had just recently read a case of a doctor’s wife who, whenever she sees food, sees bugs crawling all over this food. Somehow every time she sees food, no matter how delicious is that food, she can only see - she visualizes - all kinds of bugs crawling around on it, and therefore she cannot eat it. So this doctor’s wife was wasting away, and her husband, a doctor, did not know how to treat her, did not know what to do with her. So he finally consulted another doctor who happened to specialize in psychiatric medicine. He prescribed for her high doses of niacin. Niacin is a B vitamin, B3 as it is called. He prescribed tremendously high doses of this B vitamin for this doctor’s wife; in fact to the level of 30,000 mg per day. So she was spending her whole time swallowing B vitamin tablets - 60 of them at 500mg each - popping pills into her mouth to get 30,000 mg of it. And when she took 30,000 mg of B3, she could look at food and not see any more bugs. She was able to eat normally. But the strange thing is that when the dose of the B vitamin was reduced to 26,000 mg, she saw the bugs again. But every time when the B vitamin was raised above 26,000 mg, the bugs disappeared.
So you can see that there is this disease, and I suspect there are a lot of Christians who need a lot of spiritual B vitamins. Whenever they see spiritual food, they must imagine bugs crawling around on them; or else they have a conditioned reflex that they feel pretty sick. Is it not very interesting that some Christians, as soon as they open their Bible to do their Bible study, feel astonishingly tired? Suddenly they feel so exhausted. Suddenly this blanket of exhaustion covers them the moment they open the Bible. But strangely enough, the moment that the Bible closes, they feel very good again. Very puzzling! So, either they see some sort of ‘mentalized’ sort of bugs crawling over this Scripture, or they suffer from some form of spiritual anorexia, or some kind of lack of spiritual appetite. Something is wrong and we need this healing from the Lord. So it is plain then that the person with good appetite, who hungers and thirsts for righteousness, is happy because he is a very healthy person. At least he does not suffer from some kind of vitamin B deficiency and other mental hallucinations and other problems with lack of appetite. He has a healthy appetite. That is very important.
Developing an Appetite through Fasting
So the third thing we need to ask is: exactly how do we come to have a good appetite? Well, we see three things. First of all, of course, we need to be healed. That is very plain to us. If you do not have appetite, something is wrong with you. It is time to ask: “Lord, what is wrong with me that I do not have a love for righteousness? I have all kinds of mental problems when I see righteousness.” Maybe like this doctor’s wife, whenever you think of righteousness, you see bugs crawling around all over it, and therefore immediately you lose your appetite for righteousness. You have a conditioned reflex; like so many non-Christians that righteousness frightens them. It puts them off. Sin has a strange attraction; but righteousness holds no attraction for them. You need to be healed. You need to be restored again to life and health.
Well, the next thing to this, of restoring your appetite and therefore your health, is in Scripture what is called fasting. Fasting is very good for working up an appetite. You do not believe it? Try it sometimes. It is amazing what fasting would do for your appetite. Even though I normally have a relatively poor appetite but when I fast, it becomes a battle. The first day or two you can think of nothing but food. Food, even in your dreams, you are dreaming that you are eating. And you wake up, you find that you did not eat anything. It was all a dream. Fasting will do something. The Lord Jesus, we are told in Mt. 4: 2, fasted forty days and He was very hungry. Now how do you fast spiritually? Well, of course you can fast literally also - it does good to the soul - but how do you fast spiritually?
Spiritually Fasting - a Look at Isa. 58:6 -7
Well, let us look at Isa. 58:6-7. Earlier on in this chapter, Isaiah compares the Jewish ceremonial fast (notice the externalized fast and we are talking about internalizing it), and here, he is dealing with this very contrast of externalized fasting and internalized fasting. And so the Jews have fasted. Let us look first at of Isa. 58:3: “Why have we fasted, and thou seest it not? Why have we humbled ourselves...”? The Jews are complaining to God of course; the Jews are very good at complaining to God. Like many Christians, they are experts at complaining. “We have been fasting and You did not see it. Where have You been looking? You have been looking in the wrong direction. Do you not see us standing here fasting? Why have we “humbled ourselves, and thou takest no knowledge of it?” “Behold, in the day of your fast,” and here is God’s reply, “in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers.” Behold you fast only to quarrel and to fight. They got very bad-tempered because they had low blood sugar. When your blood sugar is low because you do not have enough food, you get irritable and bad-tempered. And so such was the superficiality of their fasting. That because they were fasting, they got ill-tempered, irritable, and had low blood sugar. “You fast only to quarrel and fight, and to hit with wicked fist.” They were punching each other. What kind of a fast is this? “Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice be heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a man to humble himself? Is it to bow down his head like a rush...”? A rush, of course, is a plant here. It is not rushing around. It has to do with a plant which is bowed down. “And to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the Lord?
The Jews have externalized all their religion. It is normal for human nature always to externalize everything, like the Pharisees. And today we have a Christianity, as we saw, which is externalized. It externalizes even grace. It is amazing! Man is so superficial that this wonderful truth of God’s grace can be externalized so that it is imputed to you in a purely external application of grace. It is an insult to God’s grace. And this is called the doctrine of salvation by grace. Well, that is not a biblical doctrine of salvation by grace, whereby grace is sort of painted to you externally, whereby it is all on the outside and very little, if any, on the inside, because it does not matter whether it is inside or not, you are saved by an externalized grace which is imputed to you. Incredible! Notice this: an external religion does nothing for you, even though it is a profession of grace.
Isa. 58:6 says: “Is this not the fast that I choose?” What is this fast that God chooses? “To loose the bonds of wickedness”, that is, get wickedness away which has kept you and others under bondage. “To undo the thongs of the yoke”, that is, the yoke of oppression. (This yoke of oppression we see again in v9.) “To undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry?” Well, that is a ‘fast’, because you share your bread, you have less to eat. “And bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?” That is, when he is in need. “Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily”. We were talking about healing. Well, let the healing start with fasting, which is a very good way to get healed. In fact many experts tell us that if you do not feel well, if you feel sick, if you have some kind of organic problem, one of the best ways to start the healing process is to fast. It is a very good way to start. I read a book called The Miracle of Fasting. It is a very interesting book to read. The author described how he was extremely ill and how through the process of fasting he was healed. “And your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry and he will say, “Here I am.” Oh, that is a beautiful passage! When you internalize righteousness, then when you call, God answers. Your righteousness will spring up. Your righteousness shall go before you. Your light shall shine. This passage is very important because it is very close to the Lord’s teaching in the Sermon on the Mount: “Let your light so shine before men.” He is telling us here how that light will come about at all. It is through this hungering and thirsting for righteousness. How do you hunger and thirst for righteousness? Well, start with fasting.
What is fasting? Fasting here is repentance from sin. It is turning away, breaking the bonds of unrighteousness, of wickedness. Now once you start doing that, you are well on the way to getting a spiritual appetite. But, so long as you keep sin and unrighteousness in your heart, you are not going to have any appetite for righteousness. The second thing is, once you begin, through your fasting, to get righteousness - to break with sin and to hunger and thirst for righteousness - then you are going to start feeding upon righteousness. Once you feed upon righteousness, this righteousness goes to every part of your being and you are well satisfied. Now, should you sit back and be satisfied? No! You are fed with righteousness, what for? So that you can parade your righteousness in front of men? Most certainly not! It is in order that you may serve Him, that you may live for Him. And here is something very interesting: how do you work up an appetite? Well, by working, by activity, by exercise. So having fasted, having turned away from sin, having broken the yoke of sin, do not stop there.
The Food of Righteousness Gives Energy
Now being fed with righteousness, you go forth to serve, to serve the Lord. Because now this food nourishes you, you feel energetic. You feel energetic; you are ready to do something. That is wonderful! You go forth and do something for the Lord! What happens is this: the more you do for the Lord, you start feeling hungry again. You had a wonderful lunch, and then you got out and did some really active work, or you did some exercise, and what happens? You feel your hunger coming back again. That is healthy hunger! Your appetite is working now. And then you are going to feed on some more righteousness and then you are going to do some more work. You are going to feel more energetic again. Righteousness, once you feed upon it, like food, gives you spiritual vitality, spiritual drive, spiritual energy.
Look at the weak Christians today. Oh dear, a church full of lethargic, weak people who cannot do anything. They have no energy. They are spiritually tired all the time. They are spiritually exhausted. They have no spiritual B vitamins. It is pitiful. Why? It is the whole vicious chain. There is no hunger, so there is no energy. There is no energy; there is no movement. There is no movement, so there is no hunger. So it goes on and on and you are caught in this vicious circle. What we need today are people who have this dynamic power because righteousness inspires you. You see the beauty of the Lord’s teaching? Righteousness is that which gives you the energy, the righteousness which comes from God, which He gives to us. Notice this is not the righteousness that you earned. It is given to you and you internalized it, and then it inspires you. Now, you understand Phil. 2:12 very well. It is God who inspires you who is at will, who is at work within you, to will and to do that righteousness of God that completely vitalizes your whole being. Ah, this is Christianity! This is NT Christianity indeed! None of your sickly stuff that you have in the churches today too often. This is beautiful! Did I not say the Lord is so deep? Is it not? Amazing! He only said one sentence and look at the riches that is coming out of it. It is so vital to every part. Now, notice the stages. This hunger is the result of a healing, a healing which results in and also leads to further repentance. And then, as a result, there is growth, and growth leads to maturity. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for they shall be satisfied.” Fully satisfied! That is wonderful! Now let us press on.
Hunger and Thirst Expresses Intensity
Notice now what happens is this: hunger and thirst expresses what? Intensity! There is a great problem with Christians today, as I have said, in that they are lethargic; there is no enthusiasm; there is no intensity; there is no fire; and there is no dynamism. They do not understand what Paul says in Rom. 12:11: “Be on fire with the Spirit! Let your zeal never flag.” Your zeal must never flag. Zeal is that inner fire which never grows dim, but “aglow with the Spirit.” You cannot glow unless there is fire. The Spirit is within you, causing you to glow. This is Christianity is indeed! Without enthusiasm, or zeal, that deep spiritual zeal - not the external running around of activity (again, ‘externalizing zeal’, we are good at externalizing everything) - but the deep inner zeal, the fire of God that consumes within, which is expressed in this hungering and thirsting. Such a person is always zealous. When a person is hungry and thirsty, he will go to great lengths to get what he needs. He will march over deserts. He will walk everywhere, looking for food and drink. He must get it! Once he gets it, he is again vitalized. He is energized. But what kind of Christian are you? Think well. Do you find the fire glowing within? Do you sense intensity, zeal? Is that the kind of Christianity that you know?
A Continual Hungering and Thirsting
Now notice the fourth thing: to continue. Continue eating. Notice this: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst.” Unfortunately, as always the English translation completely fails to express the tenses. The tense is lost. Hunger and thirst can be present tense, in English, it is true; but the Greek is very specific: ‘present continuous tense’, thus, “a continual hungering and thirsting”. This hungering and thirsting is not once and for all. It is a continual, ongoing hungering and thirsting. Is it ever satisfied? Yes, it is satisfied but it comes back again, that is, with a new hunger and a new thirst. Wow! You tasted it and saw that God is good. And because you tasted it and saw that He is good, your appetite is coming on again. It is satisfied and yet it wants more. A healthy person - ah, his appetite is good. But as your health declines, your appetite becomes poor. This hungering and thirsting becomes a permanent feature of the Christian, because in a sense he is satisfied, in a sense because he has tasted and seen that God is so good, so, he wants more. He wants more. So he presses on.
Just like Paul who is never satisfied: “Forgetting those things which are behind,” Paul says in Phil. 3:13&14 [KJV], “I press toward the mark.” I forget the things which are behind: my past attainments, my spiritual achievements. Forget about it. It is “Go on! On!” (He is never satisfied) that he may gain Christ. “Not as though I am already perfect, but I press toward the mark to gain Christ.” Continuing hunger! So again the tense is amazing that the Lord Jesus used. “Blessed are those who constantly hunger and constantly thirst for righteousness.” A person who is satisfied becomes complacent in his time. In this age, in this generation, never be satisfied! We cannot, in the nature of the case, be satisfied, until that day that we fully gain Christ.
Let us examine exactly what the Lord Jesus said in Jn. 6:56&58 where He said, “He who eats Me (i.e., he who keeps on eating me, there again the same tense, the present continuous tense) will live by Me.” “He who keeps on eating me, will live by me. Again, we have a Christianity today which teaches a once-for-all thing. Once you have Christ, you will always have Christ. Once you are saved, you are always saved. Once you eat, you are always full. There is no such thing in the Lord’s teaching. It is a continuing process. You do not just eat Jesus once and that is it. “I ate Jesus back in 1953 and I have been full ever since.” That is the kind of Christianity we have today. The Lord Jesus said, “You eat Me; you keep on eating me. Not only back in 1953 or in 1973, but you keep on eating and eating and eating. And he who keeps on eating Me will live by Me.” That is biblical teaching. You keep on internalizing Christ - a continuing process because of a continuing appetite.
Where We Find This Righteousness
Let us move to the fifth and final point. Where to find this righteousness of God? Where to find it? Well, where can you find it, but in God Himself? This righteousness cannot be obtained anywhere else. Can you tell me where you can get this righteousness if it is not in God? This righteousness cannot be found anywhere else. It is the Lord who is our righteousness. It is there in the OT, e.g., Jer. 23:6 and Jer. 33:16. Jer. 33:16 tells us: “THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.” That is not a new teaching in the NT. It is not the NT that discovered that we do not earn our righteousness, that righteousness is from God. It is back in the OT: “The Lord is our righteousness.” It is throughout the Scriptures. In the OT, they knew that, too. Righteousness is from the Lord! He who hungers and thirsts, where can he find it, but it is in the Lord. There is nowhere else you can find it.
When I look at the NT, I find something very interesting. In the NT, too, the Lord God is righteousness. For example, the Lord Jesus said that the Lord is righteous, in Jn. 17:25 as He prays to the Father, “O righteous Father”. Where is the righteousness? It is in the righteous Father. He is our righteousness. We find that a person who therefore hungers and thirsts for righteousness is a person who hungers and thirsts for God because he knows that his righteousness can only be found in God. And so he hungers and thirsts for God. In that beautiful passage that our brother read just now, in Ps. 63:1 onwards, we saw that very thing - that hunger and thirst for God. In Ps. 42:1, one of the very beautiful passages in Scripture, we find the same thing. “As a hart”, the hart is a kind of deer, of course, “As a hart longs for flowing streams, so longs my soul for thee, O God! My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God?” Thus, the person who hungers and thirsts for righteousness is a person who hungers and thirsts for God.
Secondly, we find in the NT that Jesus is the Righteous One: “Jesus Christ the righteous.” For if we hunger for God, how do we find God? Well, the Lord Jesus tells us, “No man comes to the Father, but by me.” [Jn. 14:6] The psalmist hungered and thirsted for God, “When shall I come before thy face? When shall I see your face, O God? My soul hungers and thirsts for you.” But how would you find God? Through Christ! “No man comes to the Father, but by me.” And Jesus is the Righteous One. So it is this. Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are those who hunger and thirst for Christ. 1 Jn. 2:1&29 tells us Jesus Christ is the Righteous One. But there is more.
In the NT, too, we find that he who hungers and thirsts for God, hungers and thirsts for His kingdom. That is the third thing we can see in the NT. First he hungers for God, then he finds he hungers for Christ because God is in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, as Paul tells us. So, he finds he hungers and thirsts for God’s kingdom because Christ’s kingdom has to be in our lives. That is how Christ is going to be internalized: through His kingdom, that is, through His reign, through His government in our lives. The word ‘kingdom of God’ can be easily translated as the government of God. “The kingdom of God is... righteousness”, Paul tells us in Rom. 14: 17. So the person who hungers and thirsts for righteousness, hungers and thirsts for God’s kingdom. “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, On earth as it in heaven.” [Mt. 6:10] Now nobody prays that prayer unless he hungers and thirsts for God’s kingdom. You do not hunger and thirst for God’s kingdom unless you hunger and thirst for righteousness, because His kingdom is righteousness, as we see in Romans.
The fourth thing we see is that he who hungers and thirsts for righteousness will also hunger and thirst for the righteous. The righteous in the NT, as in the OT, refers also to the saints of God. When somebody says to me, “I believe in Christ, why should I go to church?” I know this fellow is in trouble. This man is in big trouble. Why should you go to church? Because you hunger and thirst for God’s people! The OT already knew this, where the psalmist said he delights in God’s saints. He delights in Jerusalem, in Zion. “Zion is my glory and my delight.” Why? If you hunger and thirst for righteousness, you will find that you hunger and thirst to be with God’s people. You love His people. With all their faults, you still love them. Why? Because Christ is in them and they are in Christ. How can you love Christ without loving His people? It does not work!
That is what John said in his first letter. He said, “If you say you love God but you hate your brother, you are a liar and the truth is not in you.” [1 Jn. 4:20] There is no truth in you at all. The man who says he loves Jesus will love those who love Jesus. It is inevitable. He who loves the Father also loves the Son, in the scriptural teaching, because the Son is like the Father and belongs to the Father. That the disciples are called righteous are found everywhere in the OT and the NT. In the NT in the Lord’s teaching in Mt. 25:46, for example, just to quote one example. Or 1 Pet. 3:12. There again the saints or Christians are called the righteous.
But the fifth point in this is he who hungers and thirsts for righteousness hungers and thirsts for God’s Word, because God’s Word is called ‘the word of righteousness’. When you say you hunger and thirst for righteousness, what are you hungering and thirsting for? Something in the abstract? Where is the righteousness you can hunger and thirst for? How do you feed on it, when you do not even know what it is? Now we find that righteousness in the Bible is concretely (a) God Himself, (b) the Lord Jesus, (c) the kingdom of God, (d) the disciples of Christ, and (e) His Word, the Word of God, the word of righteousness. Heb. 5:13 tells us that the Bible, the Word of God is the word of righteousness. If you want to feed on righteousness, where are you going to find it? Right here in His Word. Have you ever noticed how Christians who are healthy have an enormous appetite for the Word of God? They are never satisfied. Feed and feed. I am one of these gluttons. I am a glutton. I am never satisfied with feeding on the Word of God. I feed and feed and I am satisfied, yet I am always hungry, and I keep eating and I still have a good appetite, and I keep feeding and it goes on like this. It is incredible!
When it comes to spiritual things, it is quite different from physical things. When you have a nice steak dinner, or you have a nice dinner in Chinatown, you are satisfied for the next few hours. Your appetite is limited by the volume of your stomach. Your stomach stretches and stretches and you stop eating the last piece of nice chicken and it just cannot go in anymore. Your appetite is still there, and sometimes we say, in Chinese, “Your eye is bigger than your stomach.” The eye is bigger than the stomach. Why? Because your eye is still looking at the food but the stomach cannot take it anymore. It is too stuffed. You are still trying to get it in, but it is stuffed there. There is a limit. The beautiful thing about spiritual appetite is that there is no stomach to limit the size of your intake. You eat and eat and there are no stomach walls to confine your appetite. That is wonderful!
I used to get up early in the morning and I would study the Word of God, and I would study and I would study and I would study until late at night and I was still studying and still studying, reluctant to get to bed. I just felt, “What a pity that we have to sleep for 6, 7 or 8 hours! What a waste of time! I could study all through the night.” And so, reluctantly and late, I have to close the Bible, or leave it open. Usually I leave my Bible open all the time, so that I do not have to look for the page again the next day. And then I go to sleep, and the next morning, I cannot wait to get up and study again. Helen, my wife, knows how in those days from morning to night, I never stopped studying the Word of God because my appetite was always good day after day, week after week, month after month feeding, feeding, feeding on the Word of God. Ah, it was wonderful! Delicious! At times I got so excited by the taste that I rushed out to tell Helen and said, “Oh! This is wonderful! Wonderful!” She would say, “What? What? What is wonderful?” So delicious is the Word of God! Hunger and thirst for the word of righteousness!
Hungering for Righteousness is to Love the Truth
The result of hungering and thirsting for the word of righteousness is that you love the truth - a person who hungers and thirsts for righteousness, he loves the truth. I am very grieved by one thing today, among the churches particularly, and I pray to God that none of you, and especially those in training, none of you will become like this. That is to say, they have come to love certain types of doctrine, certain forms of theology, certain denominational teachings, more than the Word of God itself. Let me say this must never become our disease. Do you know you can become so fixed and rigid in a certain dogmatic opinion that no amount of the Word of God will change your view again, because you have stopped loving the truth? You have come to love your dogmatic opinion. You have come to love your denomination, and it is quite sickening. Let me tell you that we, as a church, are officially Baptists. We are registered as Baptists. We belong to the Fellowship of Evangelical Baptist Churches of Canada; this church does. But there is much, and let me say it, that sickens me about the Baptists, and I am very frank. You see, as a Pastor I get endless leaflets and papers from various seminaries and various Baptist colleges and various Baptist organizations, and other kinds of organizations, too. And I leafed through one of those magazines the other day and it just sickened me. The whole thing was about Baptist this and Baptist that and the wonders of Baptist doctrine and that even Baptists were there in the days of the NT; even John the Baptist was a Baptist, of course! Ridiculous! It just makes me sick. We have become more devoted to a denomination than to the Word of God itself, so that the Word of God is there to prove that ‘we are the best’. As for Roman Catholics and as far as Presbyterians and all these other inferior denominations, but the Baptists - and it said in this magazine, “Which denomination can trace its origin back to the NT? Only the Baptists!” I was so ashamed that I felt like writing a letter in to say, “We resign from the whole Baptist Union.” Forget it! I am so sick of this!
We have not a loyalty to a denomination or to a particular church, but to Christ and to His Word. But minds have become very narrow. There is not a love for truth. And Christians can behave worse than non-Christians, insulting one another, slandering one another, heresy hunting, and so on. It is sickening! Why? Because there is not a love for the truth. We must be people who are willing to go wherever the truth takes us, to face whatever consequences come from obeying the truth. If there is anything in the Word of God that shows me that I am wrong, or that my denomination is wrong, or that my church is wrong, I submit to it without question. If anybody, anywhere in this world, in any denomination, can prove to me that anything that I say is not true according to the Word of God, I shall publicly withdraw it. I shall publicly confess it, anywhere, because I love the truth, not my reputation. My reputation counts for nothing. My name counts for nothing, but the truth counts for everything. No man can be a person who hungers and thirsts after righteousness [who also does not pursue truth]. What is righteousness if it is not truth? Can there be a righteousness which is a lie? By definition, righteousness is truth. I hunger and thirst for the truth, no matter where that truth comes from. If a Roman Catholic has something to say which is more correct than what I am saying, I will acknowledge that that Roman Catholic brother or sister is right. He is right. I cannot say I am a Protestant, he is a Roman Catholic, that everything the Roman Catholic says is false. That is rubbish! There are Roman Catholics who say more truth than I speak. If he can show me anything, more than I understand in the truth, then I will learn from him. Let him show me from the Word of God and I will accept it anytime. We must not be dogmatic and narrow: “I believe this and I do not care what you say.” This is revolting! This is revolting! We must never have this kind of attitude. We must be people who love the truth unconditionally.
And I am disappointed with Martin Luther, even though he is a Reformer, a great Reformer. But I am disappointed with him because he failed very importantly in one such point, as I have mentioned once before, and I will mention it again. I am not loyal to a Reformation doctrine. I am loyal to the Word of God and where a Reformer is wrong, I will say he is wrong, whether it is Calvin or Luther or anybody else. Because if I can show from the Word of God he is wrong, he is wrong. I do not care whether he is Calvin, Luther or anyone else. Luther made an extremely serious error when he insisted on a doctrine of ‘justification by faith alone’ regardless of anything else. I have said before and I say it again, we are justified by faith, yes, but not by faith alone. It has to be faith, and then works - a faith that results in works. It is not the ‘works’ that saves us; it is not ‘faith’ that saves us; it is God who saves us, through faith, but not without works. That is most important to understand. And then when Luther looked at James, he found that James contradicted him, of course flatly, because James 2 said flatly, “Therefore is a man justified not by faith alone, but by works.” Luther was so offended that he wanted to take his Bible and tear James out of the book, because it flatly contradicted Luther.
As I also said before, he started in Germany the trend which has become what is Modern Day Liberalism. He started with this what is so-called ‘literary criticism’. Once you start criticizing the Word of God, as Luther did, saying that “James was just a strawy epistle fit only for the fire or to be fed to the swine” (for what else do you do with straw?), then you have done something very wrong. Alas, Luther! We must love the truth above our most cherished doctrines. And if the Word of God contradicts what I say, then so much the worse for my doctrines. We cannot say, well, I do not like James or I do not like any other book in the Bible. James spoke the truth, as any open-minded person understands that he did. So, we must have this attitude, I beg of you, to be lovers of the truth, to accept the truth whether it comes from Roman Catholics, or from the Presbyterians, or from whoever they may be. I do not care what their denomination is, so long as they are speaking truth from the Word of God. I do not care who they are. That is vital!
Another thing is this: a person who loves the truth checks and re-checks his doctrines in the light of God’s Word. He does not assume that they must be infallible. I have been reading a book lately on discipleship written by a very well-known church leader in North America whose name I shall not mention, because I am not attacking a person, but his teaching on discipleship is in complete error; it is completely wrong. Why? Because he started out with all kinds of pre-conceived ideas. Whenever we teach a doctrine, whenever we make a statement even, let us have the habit of mind to check and re-check the statement in the light of God’s Word. What is the error of this brother? Well, he teaches this: he says first of all, when you become a Christian, you become a convert. Now from being a convert, you graduate or train into becoming a disciple. And then when you become a disciple, you will be trained to become a worker, which is the next stage. So you start with being a convert, you graduate to becoming a disciple and then you graduate to becoming what is described as a worker. Now this is absolute nonsense as far as the Word of God is concerned. I mean, if he had even had the elementary knowledge of opening a concordance and looked under the word “convert”, he would have looked in vain. There is no such thing as, first, something being called a ‘convert’, and then a middle category that is called ‘disciple’ and then you graduate to something called ‘worker’. It is absolute nonsense. And yet his whole book is based on this particular distinction (even illustrated with diagrams) so that through evangelism, you have got converts; and then through teaching, you have got disciples. And he does not tell us what is the next step that makes workers, at least not in the diagrams. Now you see, these are the kind of errors which then result in people saying, “Well, is it not then a disciple a sort of second stage in the Christian life?” This error is very common among Chinese churches. It is entirely unscriptural. Here you find a prominent church leader making this kind of elementary mistakes because he did not check his teaching in the light of God’s Word, and then misleading all those people who read this kind of books and follow his teaching. This happens again and again, time and again, with the best intention in the world, because there is a failure to check the statement in the light of God’s Word.
So, let us then conclude by observing these points. The person who hungers and thirsts for righteousness must hunger and thirst for the truth above all things, not for his denomination, not for his church organization, not even for this church or any other church, but just for truth, for Christ. Only in this way, like Paul, we will consider all things lost in our pursuit of the truth. You will find that there is nowhere else you can find the truth except in Christ. If you can find the truth anywhere else than in Christ, come and tell me about it. I will go anywhere where the truth is, for there is no way you are going to find the truth [anywhere else]. “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.” Test it and you will find that it is true. You cannot find truth, spiritual truth, in this world anywhere outside of Christ. So, the end result of it is this: whether you study the Word of God; whether you hunger and thirst for the kingdom God; whether you love the church, that is, not this church or that church but whoever loves the Lord Jesus; whether he is a Roman Catholic, whether he is a Jewish disciple, whether he is a Presbyterian, or whether he is a Baptist, or whatever he may be, he who loves Christ, that is my brother and that is my sister, whatever his denomination. But no matter whether you love these, you will find that all that is summed up in Christ, who is the truth, who is the sum of all righteousness.
So then let us conclude and bear this in mind: “Blessed is the man who hungers and thirsts (who keeps on hungering and thirsting) for righteousness, for he shall be satisfied.” That is a promise. I am well satisfied in Christ. Yet I continue to hunger and thirst for more, until that day I gain Christ; not having a righteousness of my own, but a righteousness in Him. That is what feeds my soul now, that righteousness from Him. Until I become completely like Him, until through this feeding on this righteousness, I grow up into the full stature of Christ, with the righteousness in every part of my being. I am still growing in that direction. “Not as though I have already attained,” as Paul said, “but I press forward.” So you can see, as we ponder these marvelous words of the Lord Jesus, that it sums up everything. The whole course of spiritual life is in it, beginning from repentance, all the way to spiritual maturity. It all has to do with feeding on righteousness until it is fully internalized and vitalizes every part of our being.
(c) 2012 Christian Disciples Church