Sunday, 14 June 2020
Ps Ben Hooman
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. (Matthew 5:6)
We saw last time that the mark of a true Christian is not that he feels righteous, but that he longs to be more righteous than he is. When it comes to righteousness, the blessed people are not those who think they have it, but those who feel their need of it.
The person who is blessed is one who has become poor in spirit. He mourns over his sins. He has become submissive to the will of God, and out of that comes a great hunger and thirst for God and for righteousness.
Aren’t you glad that Jesus did not say: “Blessed are the righteous, for they will be satisfied”? Where would that leave us? Nobody would be included, because none of us would be in that category.
Thank God he said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…” It is not the realization of the desire, but the desire itself that Christ pronounces blessed. If this desire is in you it is the realization that Christ is in you.
Righteousness and regulations
Just think about the professions in which so many of you serve; banking, law, teaching, finance, medicine, construction, manufacturing, the caring professions, insurance, and property development, etc. Every one of these worlds has its own world of complexity. Each one gives rise to a whole series of ethical questions.
Where are the boundaries between legitimate competition and destructive aggression? Where is the line between using the systems that are in place in your profession and manipulating them? Where is the line between appropriate reward and raw self-interest?
In any line of business there are some people who need to be restrained, lest they exploit others. That is why we have so many regulations. In every profession we have more and more regulations, endless documents, processes and procedures to be followed.
But every law that is passed has more loopholes than their authors ever imagined, and human ingenuity will always find them. “Men love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil” (John 3:19). We should never be surprised when sinners choose to sin, if we’ve understood and embraced what the Bible says.
What hope is there for righteousness in the business where you work? Only one, and that hope is that some people will hunger and thirst for it, that some people will actually choose it, not because of regulation, but because they actually want it.
Think of the impact if there were some people at every level of the business or profession where you serve who really hunger and thirst for righteousness. Imagine if instead of asking, “What’s in it for me?” people would begin to ask, “What would honour God and be good for others, as well as for me?” Ask God to make you that kind of person.
To these people who hunger and thirst for righteousness, Jesus says immediately after He gave the Beatitudes in the sermon on the Mount; “You are the salt of the earth…You are the light of the world”
“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall it’s saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.” (Matthew 5:13-14).
This hunger and thirst for righteousness is of huge importance in every area of life. Today we’re asking the question: “How can I cultivate this hunger and thirst for righteousness?”
Appetite can be cultivated
Someone once said: “Hunger is natural, appetite can be cultivated.” We saw last time that the new nature hungers and thirsts for righteousness. This hunger is natural to a person who has been born again by the Spirit of God.
Appetite can and should be cultivated. You can learn to like and enjoy things that at one time you had no taste for. Paul said to Timothy, “Train yourself for godliness” (1 Timothy 4:7). “Timothy, there are certain things you can do that can help you advance in godliness.”
If you know of someone who survived a major heart attack, who by God’s kindness and grace made a good recovery, and ask him about his experience.
He most probably would say it felt “like an elephant sitting on my chest.” Then ask him what he liked to eat before his heart attack: “Burgers, chips, pizza, and ice cream.” He will also tell you that after the illness doctors told him to completely change his diet: “Low fat, low sodium, vegetables, fish, chicken (grilled, not fried) and some rice.” That will ask for a challenging change of lifestyle.
If you ask the person how he copes with the change, he probably would say: “At first it all seemed bland and tasteless, but after a while I thought: ‘This is not so bad.’ I felt better, and I had more energy.” Ask him about the burgers; “I don’t miss them as much as I thought. When I do, I think about the elephant sitting on my chest. Burgers and chips still smell good, but when I tried a few chips, they gave me a stomach ache. I discovered that my whole appetite has changed.”
A change of diet led to a change of appetite. We are using food here as an analogy, because Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” The point we making is that appetite can be cultivated. Change your diet and you will change your appetite.
If you’re new or connect for the first time to this church, you may have noticed that this congregation has a great appetite for the Word of God. Where did that come from? The appetite came from the diet. A congregation that has been feeding on the Word of God for years has an appetite to know more of God.
Regular diet shapes appetite over time
This is true whatever the diet happens to be: Feed a congregation entertainment, and you will create an appetite for entertainment. Feed a congregation pop psychology, and the church will have a great hunger and thirst for pop psychology. Feed a congregation the Word of God, and over time there will be a church with a great hunger and thirst for God.
Diet shapes appetite over time. This is a fundamental principle. You will want more of whatever you feed yourself on. So, that means we want to choose our diet very carefully.
Think about a young person who is really into computer games. Let’s call him Jake. Jake loves these games. He buys them, he plays them, he talks about them, he thinks about them, dreams about them. In the course of a week, he will spend twenty or more hours on the games, and still he has an appetite for more.
If someone asks him, “Jake, what are you doing with your life?” Jake doesn’t really know: He goes to class, does his job, hangs out with his friends, and does his thing with the games. His days are in large measure defined by his appetite, and his appetite is fed by his diet.
Most people have moments when we ask, “Is this really the best that I can do with my life? Could I not make better use of it?” But then these moments of insight fade away, and we settle back into the routine and the diet that we knew before.
What appetites are shaping your life? What is the diet that shaped them?
You like to work out? You like to sleep? You like to watch sports? Read? Watch lots of movies? There’s nothing wrong with any of these.
But here’s the question: Are the legitimate pleasures of my life holding me back from becoming all that Christ calls me to be? Is my appetite for God being diminished by my hunger and thirst for other things?
The best way to subdue any appetite is to cultivate a stronger appetite that will take its place. So how can I cultivate a desire for holiness? How can I have a greater appetite for God and for righteousness?
Five Strategies for Cultivating a Godly Appetite
Gain momentum from the first three Beatitudes
By this stage in the series, you might have guessed that this would be the first point, so we will deal with it briefly. And it is too important to miss!
The Beatitudes are progressive. Each Beatitude assumes the ones that have gone before. You can’t just hunger and thirst for righteousness, you have to start from the beginning. We’ve pictured them like rings that are reached by the momentum you gain from swinging on the previous ones.
This doesn’t mean you have to spend a week being poor in spirit and a month mourning over sins before you can move on. The momentum of realizing your poverty before God, seeing your own sins, and submitting yourself unconditionally to the will of God may happen all at once.
God may birth all of this in your heart with great power today. The point is simply that if progress is to be made, none of these elements, which we have pictured as rings, can be missing.
So, you can’t start at the fourth Beatitude and decide that you want to have a great hunger for holiness. But here’s the encouragement: If you become poor in spirit, mourn your sins, and submit your life to the will of God, you will find that a true hunger for righteousness springs from these roots.
Practice fasting from legitimate pleasures
“And calling the crowd to Him with His disciples, He said to them, ‘If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.” (Mark 8:34)
One sure way to spoil your appetite is to snack between meals. If you snack on chips throughout the afternoon, you won’t have much appetite for dinner in the evening. The principle here is a very simple one: Restrict what spoils your appetite. Don’t snack between meals.
The point here is not that there is something wicked or sinful about a bag of chips, Doritos, Lays or popcorn, or what about biltong, all are good gifts from God. We’re talking about legitimate things here and not all will agree with me, but eating them at the wrong time and in the wrong amount will spoil your appetite.
Let’s apply that obvious principle from the world of the body to the world of the soul: Legitimate pleasures at the wrong time and in the wrong amount will spoil your appetite for holiness.
Legitimate pleasures can make you dull and sluggish in following after Christ. They can spoil your hunger and thirst to be all that you can be for God. Some of you can look back to a time in your life when you had a great passion to live all out for Jesus Christ. What happened? The appetite was spoiled by legitimate comforts and pleasures.
How do we keep the legitimate pleasures of life like sports, and travel, and hobbies, in their proper place? One answer is: By periodically fasting from legitimate pleasures. Fasting is a means of heightening self-control. It is a special gift that can be used to help you master something that otherwise might master you.
Suppose your diet has created an appetite for television or video games, and now you see that it’s your default pattern, holding you back from a more useful life. Take a month without television or computer games, or without golf, or six months without buying new clothes, or without leisure travel. Drop a sport for a semester. You’ll be surprised at the freedom it brings to you.
Fasting has the effect of cleansing out the body, and the same thing can happen in your soul by choosing to deny yourself a legitimate pleasure for a season. This is a great way to bring appetites that have become inordinate back under control.
Some Christians do this in the period at the beginning of the year. But why wait for the beginning of a year? Wean yourself off of the unhealthy appetites that are shaping your life.
Make yourself vulnerable to the needs of others
“Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness, for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” (1 Timothy 4:7-8)
How do you work up a good appetite? By getting some good exercise. Go for a brisk walk or a run, and when you come back, you find yourself ready for a good meal.
This is true when it comes to nourishing your soul. Extend yourself in serving others, stretch yourself out in meeting the needs of others, especially when you are serving others in great need, you will find that your hunger and thirst for righteousness will increase. Moving out of the comfort zone, to see to the needs of others. This will work up an appetite of thirst and hunger to do more in serving others, creating a willingness to do more. The less you do, the less you want to do!
Think about this in relation to our Lord: How did Christ practice this fourth Beatitude? He is the Righteous One. He has all righteousness in Himself. How could Jesus hunger and thirst for what He already had?
The answer lies in the incarnation. Jesus left the comforts of heaven and came into our world where righteousness had been lost. He humbled Himself and became a servant. He saw that the people were like sheep without a shepherd and His own heart was moved with compassion.
Make yourself vulnerable to the needs of others and your hunger and thirst for righteousness will increase. Simply seeing yourself as a Christian who needs to receive all the time will make you spiritually dull. But serving God and serving others will stimulate your spiritual appetite.
Let’s put these things together: Fast from some legitimate pleasure, at least for a time, and use the time, the energy, and the resources you gain from that to make yourself vulnerable to the needs of others.
Use your blessings and troubles as incentives to feed on Christ
“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.” (John 6:47-51)
By faith we not only believe in the Lord Jesus Christ but we also feed on the Lord Jesus Christ, a nourishment to us. As you move through life, use these experiences as incentives to feed on the Lord Jesus Christ.
Thomas Watson asks the question: How can we stimulate a spiritual appetite? Then, he says, think about what makes you eager to eat a meal. He offers two answers: 1. Exercise (that’s obvious). But his second answer caught you by surprise: “There are two things that provoke appetite. 1. Exercise 2. Sauce!”
What makes food more attractive? Sauce! This is the tomato sauce or tobacco moment. Let us now apply it in this way: God increases our hunger and thirst for righteousness by: The sweet sauce of our blessings, the sharp sauce of our troubles, and the hot sauce of our persecutions.
When blessing come learn to say, “God is so good, I want to know more of Him.” When troubles, difficulty or persecution come, learn to say,
“My flesh and my heart may fail but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:26).
Use your blessings, use your troubles, whether it be sweet sauce or whether it be hot sauce, as incentives to feed on Jesus Christ!
Trust Christ especially for your sanctification
“Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it.” (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24)
Some Christians feel they can trust Christ to forgive their sins, and they can trust Him to get them into heaven, but when it comes to becoming a better Christian, a more effective Christian, a more loving Christian, a Christian who is more like Jesus Christ, they feel completely hopeless.
They trust Christ for their justification and their glorification, but they do not trust Christ for their sanctification. Here’s my challenge to you: Think about Christ. He came to save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21).
Christ didn’t come just for the guilt of your sins or the consequence of your sins. He came to save you from your sins, and to deliver you from all that holds you back from a better life. What has He done?
He has triumphed over death and hell. He is seated at the right hand of the Father with all authority and power, and his Spirit lives in you. Christ is your righteousness, sanctification, and redemption.
“And because of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” (1 Corinthians 1:30).
If you can trust Jesus Christ for forgiveness and if you can trust Him for entrance into heaven, why is it so difficult for you to trust Him to help you change by cultivating a new hunger and thirst for righteousness?
Hope is the key to all change
As long as you believe that change is beyond you, you will never change, because you won’t attempt to change. You won’t try to change, because you believe in the depth of your soul that any attempt will end in failure.
Somewhere deep inside, you believe that you will always be the same, that you can never be different, and without hope change never happens.
Let’s take a moment to shine the light of hope into the hearts of discouraged believers. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness”. Why? Because “they will be satisfied”!
When you see Christ, you will be like Him (1 John 3:2). You’ve trusted Christ for this. Think what it will mean for you to be like Christ. Think of His wisdom, His compassion, His patience, His kindness, His righteousness, and His strength.
If you can trust Christ to complete His redeeming work in you then, why should you not trust Him to advance His redeeming work in you now? If you can trust Him to make you completely like Christ on the last day, why should you not trust Him to make you more like Christ on earth?
I’m inviting you today to trust Christ for your sanctification. This is where change begins, when you say, “There is hope for me to be a better person, to live a better life in Jesus Christ.” The person who knows that one day he will be fully like Jesus Christ purifies himself, even as Christ is pure.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for God and for righteousness. They will not be disappointed.
Let us pray:
Father help us to go after a godlier life here and now on earth with everything that is within us, using every strategy and every opportunity. Shake us O Lord from this poor and half-hearted Christian life as if eternity is not looming. Grant us Father that hunger and thirst for You increases and Holy Spirit grow us to become more like our Lord Jesus Christ. Father, hasten the day when that hunger will be fully and finally satisfied in the presence of Jesus. And when we see Him, we will be fully like Him. Yes Lord, all through the grace of Jesus Christ the Righteous One in whose Name we pray, Amen.