Craving Righteousness or Earthly Rewards (Matthew 5:6; Philippians 3:7-11)

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matthew 5:6; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).

“But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:7-11).

Matthew 5:6. Photo by Chris Light, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Jesus told His disciples that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be satisfied. Cravings must be fed. When our bodies are hungry, we look for something to eat. We can choose healthy meals, less-than-healthy (fatty or greasy) food, or junk food. A two-ounce serving of lean meat with a garden salad, a supersized combo meal with a greasy burger and fries from a fast-food restaurant, or a bag of potato chips will temporarily satisfy hunger. However, they have different long-term effects, and hunger will return eventually.

We can seek satisfaction in healthy, positive ways that will last or unhealthy ways. This is true both of our bodies and our souls. Photo by form PxHere.

Likewise, Christians can try to fulfill our spiritual and emotional cravings in different ways. We can seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33) or satisfaction in more earthly things. However, Jesus promises that the satisfaction He offers will last.

In Philippians 3, Paul shows us how to seek satisfaction in Christ. It requires a deliberate continuous decision to reject a hunger for the things of this world. Many seek to satisfy our own needs above everything else; we “look out for number one.” We try to obtain all of our satisfaction in this life by as many things as possible with no thought about eternity. We decide to be pragmatic instead of being obedient to God.

To pursue satisfaction in Christ, we must reject the temptation to seek recognition for our accomplishments. Early in Philippians 3, Paul rattled off a list of things that he could boast about. While this list might be meaningless to modern Americans, it was significant to first-century Jews living in a deeply religious society:

“If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless” (Philippians 3:4-6).

Elsewhere, he mentioned that his Pharisee credentials include training under Gamaliel (Acts 22:3), one of the most influential rabbis of his day. That was a big deal: It would be like a modern pastor who received first-hand, one-on-one training from Billy Graham and continued to have his phone number on speed dial until he died.

These things did not matter to Paul. He described them as “loss” or “rubbish” (more literally, “refuse”). They were meaningless garbage to him. Anything that stood between Paul and Christ was total junk (to put it politely) to him.

We may not have those temptations, but we may lay claim to other “bragging rights” that can keep us from seeking God’s will. Our job titles, academic degrees, income, status, and reputation can keep us from seeking God’s will above all else. Even our status in the church might hold us back. Whatever hinders us from doing God’s will—even good things—should be treated like junk. Anything else that gives us a sense of satisfaction may keep us from seeking to have our hunger for righteousness fulfilled.

One way to avoid that level of satisfaction is to decide to keep aiming higher. Paul said that he kept pressing on:

“Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14).

Philippians was written late in Paul’s life. He had accomplished much for the kingdom of God. Yet, he wrote, it was not enough. He could not rest on his accomplishments. He could not sit back and say, “Look what I did! I deserve a comfortable retirement or at least a relaxing sabbatical.” Instead, he sought more opportunities to preach Christ, greater spiritual growth in Him, and more of the Holy Spirit working in his life. To obtain those things, he sought less of the things of the world. He was pressing toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus, not for of earthly prestige, an impressive title, or a higher salary.

In its commentary on Philippians 3:9, The Disciple’s Study Bible (Nashville, TN: Cornerstone Bible Publishers, 1988) says, “We cannot be righteous in our own efforts apart from Christ. We cannot receive righteousness from Christ without faith. We cannot be counted as righteous in Christ without the desire to let the Spirit create a life of righteous acts in us.” We do not go to heaven because of how good we are. Salvation—including God’s righteousness—is a gift of God obtained through faith in Jesus Christ. However, the Holy Spirit within us gives us a new kind of life, one with a craving we did not have before. If we are truly in Christ, we should crave righteousness. That craving should drive us to pursue it. God promises to fulfill that desire when we seek it.

O God, of your goodness, give me yourself, for you are enough for me. I can ask for nothing less that is completely to your honor, and if I do ask anything less, I shall always be in want. Only in you I have all. Amen” (Julian of Norwich).

Where do you seek satisfaction in life? How can you adjust your priorities so that you can seek greater satisfaction in Christ? Feel free to share your thoughts in the space below.

Copyright © 2022 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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