What Does it Mean to Hunger AND Thirst for Righteousness?

You know how you can hear or read a piece of Scripture for years and then, all of the sudden, after the umpteenth time, something new jumps out in the text? 

I’ve heard many sermons about the Sermon on the Mount. I’ve seen theatrical portrayals of it in movies, television series and even stage dramas. So it surprised me recently when I read through it again and something jumped out. 

In Matthew 5:6, Jesus says, 
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (NIV). 

Why does Jesus call out hunger and thirst separately? He could have simply said, “Blessed are those who hunger for righteousness,” and we would have understood what he meant. 

Or would we? 

Jesus was a masterful communicator. I think every word he uttered meant something. So, when he tells me I should do A and B, I want to fully understand what he means by that. 

I’m no biblical language scholar, but I did some searching for the origins of key words in this text. I found that the Greek word for hunger used in this verse is peinōntes, which literally means “hungering.” So, the original text may read more like, “Blessed are those who are hungering and thirsting ...” Both are very active verbs. I believe that’s important. Our path toward righteousness must be an active one. 

In this context, the word peinōntes means, “to crave,” “to be famished or desire earnestly.” Jesus is telling us that we should crave righteousness. We should be starving for it. 

I desire to be a godly man. I want to do what is right and just. I desire to be a godly father, husband, friend, brother, co-worker. I do desire righteousness. But do I crave it? Am I famished for it? It seems like a big ask, to be honest. And perhaps what’s even more overwhelming is that Jesus says that’s only the half of it. I should hunger AND thirst for righteousness. 

I continued my search for the historical text and found that the Greek word for thirst here is dipsōntes. It also means to desire earnestly, but in this instance, it means to eagerly long for those things by which the soul is refreshed, supported and strengthened. 

From what I gather, Jesus is trying to say I should crave to be righteous. And I should also long to have my soul refreshed by righteousness. But here’s the beautiful part of the verse: the promise. Jesus says if we do these two things, if we crave righteousness and eagerly long to be refreshed, we will be filled. 

Which, of course, leads me to wonder: what is righteousness? Again, turning to the Greek word, which is dikaiosunēn in this case, it means to be approved by God, or to put it another way, being given God’s approval. I like the sound of that! 

The British theologian James Dunn wrote a wonderful piece distinguishing the righteousness of God and the righteousness of man. He says righteousness is all about relationship (surprise!). God’s dikaiosunēn , or righteousness, Dunn points out, is in his keeping of his covenant with his people. Not in a single act or state, but “his accepting, sustaining, and finally vindicating grace.” It’s fulfilled in his relationship and promises kept with us. Man’s righteousness, Dunn argues, “is always to be understood as faith which explains why man’s righteousness is nothing other than God’s righteousness.” We can be righteous because he is righteous. 

It gets even better. I dug a little deeper and found that the Greek word used for “filled” here is chortasthēsontai. That’s a lot of letters. But what does that mean? It means more than filled, it means to fatten or to be gorged. Yes! Stuffed with righteousness! And keep in mind Jesus makes a definitive statement here. We WILL be filled. Not maybe. Not sometimes. But an absolute and decisive response. We will be gorged. We will be stuffed. Fattened with righteousness. 

Take a moment and think about that. What is it like to not just meet God’s standard of rightness, but to be stuffed with it? Doesn’t that just sound like our God? He gives in abundance when we earnestly seek it! 

Being completely transparent, I can’t think of too many times in my life where I felt gorged in righteousness. And I wonder if that’s because, although I have desired it, I have not been famished and parched for it. I want to be starving for it. I want my spiritual stomach to be rumbling. I want my spiritual mouth to be so dry I’m begging for a drop of it. Because only then will I be filled. 

What about you? Are you craving righteousness? Is your soul parched for it? 

Lord, help me to be peinontes and dipsōntes (hungering and thirsting) for dikaiosunēn (righteousness). For when I am doing both, I know you will keep your promise and I will be filled.

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