But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.
Matt. 6:33 (NRS)
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness for they shall be filled.
Matt. 5:6 (NRS)
In the movie the Pursuit of Happyness, Will Smith plays Chris Gardner, a desperate individual endeavoring to save his family from dire circumstances created by his lack of employment and subsequent homelessness. Chris is given the opportunity for a job on Wall Street by a benevolent mentor who sees in him, not only hidden talent, but a “hunger and thirst” for a better life. When Jesus spoke of hungering and thirsting for righteousness, He knew the impact “kingdom living” would have on individuals in search of a “better life”. Jesus saw individuals who were spiritually hungry, starved by the empty promises of this world. The result was emaciated spirits and dry souls. The world was desperately seeking.
To be righteous (dikaios), in a broad sense, describes man as God had originally created him to be—one whose way of thinking, feeling, and acting is wholly conformed to the will of God. The believer’s righteousness is not their own but is the imputed (credited) righteousness of Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:1) and the desire to continue living righteously before God is made possible by Jesus Christ’s presence within believers through the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit that gives the believer the ability to live right and to do right (Ez. 36:25-27; Phil. 2:13).
To “seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness” established the right priority and focus in the life of the believer. With the many enticements and distractions offered by the world, it is easy to understand the lukewarm commitment to the things of God—even within the church. But God demands our love and our loyalty as we seek to live for the furtherance of the kingdom of God. The Apostle Peter reminded persecuted believers of their “new priority” as a result of Christ’s sacrificial death.
He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. (1 Peter 2:24)
Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same thought, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer by human passions but by the will of God. (1 Peter 4:1-2)
Jesus’ invitation to righteousness was an invitation to a new way of living—kingdom living; no longer marked by hypocrisy and corruption as seen in the lives of the ruling religious leaders. Jesus invited those who sought God’s righteousness to simply “Come” (Matt. 11:28-30). This invitation would resonate with individuals in familiar terms they could easily understand—hunger and thirst.
To “hunger and thirst” for God’s righteousness indicates a strong craving that becomes the driving force in the life of the believer. The Psalmist captured this fervent yearning in Psalms 42:1-3:
As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God? My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me continually, “Where is your God?”
While hunger and thirst are terms typically used to express basic human needs, the hunger and thirst that Jesus describes in this beatitude depicts a “spiritual hunger and thirst” that finds no satisfaction in the physical realm. And what is the effect of this yearning? “It is filled!”
The world is at enmity with those seeking the righteousness of God. But in spite of the persecution we may encounter or the rejection we may face, it is imperative that we stand firm and give the world the reason for our hope—a living hope that is realized both now and in eternity future (1 Pet. 3:15). Our culture continues to seek answers to the moral and social problems of our day using man’s wisdom. Such efforts are “senseless striving” without first desperately seeking God’s righteousness.