Righteousness, like holiness, doesn’t easily resonate with even the best of us. When discussing spiritual matters we tend to talk about growing spiritually or about spiritual experiences. We avoid speaking of righteousness per se. Yet into our lives Jesus says: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be filled” (Matthew 5:6).
LEGAL, MORAL, AND SOCIAL RIGHTEOUSNESS
In his Christian Counter-Culture, John Stott identifies at least three aspects of righteousness in the Bible – legal, moral and social (p.45). Legal righteousness speaks of our relationship with God. The Jewish people sought to achieve this through obedience to the law. Failing to realize their inability to achieve this through their own efforts, they also failed to benefit from the gift of God’s righteousness made available through Jesus Christ (Galatians 2:21).
Moral righteousness speaks of a quality of life that imitates the character and life-style we find in Jesus Christ – qualities of life that honor God.
Progression of ideas. Matthew has introduced Jesus’ Beatitudes by telling us that while there were crowds present, the disciples were Jesus’ primary audience (5:1). Furthermore, we observe a progression of ideas from one beatitude to the next. Jesus is saying that anyone who is poor in spirit, who understands their spiritual impoverishment before a holy God (5:3), who grieves over personal sin and the sins of the city (5:4), who approaches God and their neighbors with meekness (5:5), will also hunger and thirst for righteousness (5:6).
Hunger and thirst for righteousness (Matthew 5:6) is not here a reference to legal righteousness. Rather, it is a reference to moral righteousness – the quality and integrity of our life as God’s people. It is to delight in the truth of God revealed in his Word. As DA Carson points out, we hunger and thirst ‘not simply for knowledge, but growing up and living life to the full with God. It is to hunger and thirst for a life that is the best kind of life in the world to live.’ It is knowing God, loving him, and delighting in being loyal in serving him and those around us.
Social righteousness. Furthermore, a moral righteousness at the personal level will also hunger and thirst for a social righteousness – the welfare of the city (Jeremiah 29:7). We will want to find ways to play our part as citizens of our country in giving voice to concerns about the sex trade and slavery, and to the conversation about marriage – that love only has meaning when it has much more than emotional desires to frame it. We will also want to play our part in helping the materially poor – the hungry and homeless – as well as the asylum seekers.
RESPECT FOR ALL MANKIND
However, given the anti-Christian voices in the wider community, we need to find ways to recapture the respect of others. We so often forget that the Bible speaks about men and women as a unity of body, mind and spirit. Jesus showed compassion for the physical needs of men and women as well as their deeper spiritual needs.
In the same way that Wesley and Whitefield cared for people in need alongside their gospel preaching, we today need to explore effective ways of serving people in need alongside our preaching. I suggest we need more than God’s people simply sending off checks to aid agencies, necessary though this is. We also need personal action.
The twinning of effective gospel, disciple-making ministries together with practical action for people in need, is the major theme at the Anglican Connection conference at the end of next month. If your minister has not yet registered please urge him to do so. The conference is not just for Anglicans. If you are a church member you are also welcome.
Anyone of us who truly hungers and thirsts for righteousness will not be content to drift through life content to satisfy self-serving material interests and desires. Rather, we will have an appetite to see God’s people living more and more God’s way, serving the city.