Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. [Deuteronomy 6:4-9 ESV]
When God gave Moses and all who are Israel the written moral law, with a foundation of the ten commandments, it was to hold them accountable by showing them their rebellion. In Deuteronomy 5, after 40 years of wandering in the desert because of disobedience, God inspired Moses to repeat the ten statements He gave at the beginning of Israel’s exodus from Egyptian slavery. At the beginning of their sojourn in the desert, while God was inscribing the stone tablets with His law, His people were actively sinning. They never stopped sinning. He knew having a written law without a changed heart, a heart which hungers and thirsts for righteousness, is futile.
He also gave instructions about the law and how to study it. They were to hunger and thirst after Him by intimately knowing His law. Jesus builds on the characteristics needed to obey God’s moral law found in His eternal character given to us in His image. These characteristics follow what has been discussed within the Sermon on the Mount in the previous three elements which define and describe the citizen of the kingdom of heaven. It is too easy to study once and forget what was learned. Jesus does not give the option to hear Him and then forget. We are never done with the qualities He has stated. At the risk of boring or losing some readers, I will continue to go over them throughout the study. Here, the characteristics studied are relevant to hungering and thirsting after righteousness. When fully applied these characteristics are integral to sanctification.
Those who are poor in spirit become those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. If the chief quality of those who are poor in spirit is the demand for truth, and a love for truth, and conversely a hatred for anything which is not true, then they will confront the lie and promote the truth forcefully. Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness know the truth and why it is true. They are not content with simply knowing something is true but want to know what makes it true and how this truth works in the larger scheme of God’s plan. The former first draws conclusions then promotes the truth. The latter contemplates and applies truth to the theological circumstances of life. Since God works through the whole person once truth is recognized it is understood. One of the basic tools of sanctification is truth.
God is true and in Him is no lie. It is the work of the citizen in sanctification to seek Him out, to understand who He is and why He works as He does. It is not the work of the citizen to try to predict how God will work but to study Him and patiently listen for His words and watch for His actions. Here, poverty of spirit will help the citizen to immediately discern truth from fiction. It is those who hunger and thirst for righteousness who will delve deeply into the mechanics of the truth and how one point affects another.
Truth is fundamental to the person of God. His moral law, which is truth, is also essential to Him. He has given us both truth and His moral law in the word of God, which is His Son and the written declarations found in Scripture.
God uses the verbal law to train us in His spiritual, eternal moral law. But the necessary attitude to learn, through the prompting and council of the Holy Spirit, is the attitude of mourning over sin. We must not only realize the fact of sin but recognize its consequences. Knowing, even in a cursory manner, the moral law of God will cause mourning. Only in repentance, not remorse but a complete turning away from sin and trusting God, will the soil of our souls and spirits become fertile so His moral law can grow in us.
Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness do so because the moral law of God is growing in them. They require spiritual nourishment given only by the Holy Spirit so the fruit of righteousness might grow and ripen. It is righteousness, being right as measured by God, which produces this good fruit. Jesus says “you will know them by their fruit” (Matthew 7:15-20), by the evidence of their lives. It is the evidence of life God uses to judge (see Matthew 16:27) those created in His image.
Six times in Matthew 5:21-48 Jesus points out to His hearers the difference between intellectually knowing and simply observing the law or only doing what is required and the spirit of the law, intimately knowing the law, the Lawgiver, and going beyond what is required.
You have heard that it was said to those of old [Matthew 5:21 ESV; see also verses 27, 31, 33, 38, and 43]
But I say to you [Matthew 5:22 ESV; see also verses 28, 32, 34, 39 and 44].
He is telling those who listen the central quality of a citizen of the kingdom is who they are which dictates what they do. God is making citizen who are His not just people who say they are His. Observing the law, the Mosaic Law of the Hebrew Scriptures, or any law attributed to God, will not make anyone righteous. A life which has grasped the spirit of the Law is shown by a going beyond the simple requirements of what is written and expected to living the Law without a thought.
Murder is against the law. Being unjustifiably angry is against God’s moral law. Adultery is against the written law. Looking on another to sexually lust after them is against God’s moral law. Violating the written law brings physical punishment. Violating the spiritual moral law of God brings separation from God. Those who must be restrained by physical, verbal laws are incapable of fulfilling a moral law. There must be a fundamental change to their deepest being. This fundamental change is the indwelling of the Spirit.
None of the previous discussion means anything without the attitude of servant-hood. Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness by pursuing the truth do so because they want to please God and not themselves. Service is another measurable tool of sanctification. Those who recognize truth and seek it with all their being are cut to the core, divided by its edge, separating the dying physical from the living spiritual. This is the true work of sanctification, the separation of anything which distracts them from seeking God and His righteousness. Service to God is more than simply accomplishing a duty. It is throwing oneself into the work given by God.
“Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’” [Luke 17:7-10 ESV]
Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will look for ways to serve God, and promote Him, without putting self before Him. Abandoning self to God while living in the world demands a relentless pursuit of His will and a complete subservience to His moral law. This means there is a pursuit of intimacy with God and a relinquishing of control of self to God.
God gives all those who are His a tool, the word of God, and the training needed to live as a citizen of His while in hostile territory. His tool is at once spiritual, intellectual, emotional and willful. It is not physical, though we must use this tool within the physical realm. God’s word involves the whole person in the battle because the whole person is created by Him in His image and the whole person is redeemed by Him.
All of these personalities, all of these characteristics, are needed to use the truth as a tool. This tool is a sword, double-edged, and cutting both ways, outward and inward. Before the tool of truth can effectively be used to confront the surrounding lie it must first be used on the inner person. God’s truth demands compliance, not simply assent. Sanctification, the seeking of truth makes the citizen fearless in its pursuit. Wherever the truth leads, whatever lie it exposes, however it unfolds life, those who seek truth will find God.
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. [Hebrews 4:12-13 ESV]