Sermon: Guaranteed Satisfaction
Scripture: Matthew 5:6
In this week’s lessons, we learn of our need to hunger and thirst after righteousness, which only God through Christ can fully satisfy.
Theme: A Perfect Righteousness
The second point of the fourth beatitude is that the one who would know true happiness must desire, not merely righteousness, but perfect righteousness. This means desiring the righteousness of God. It is necessary that we see this and see it clearly, for you and I are always ready to settle for something less than God requires. We are like children who refuse to eat the nourishing dinner set before us. And if it were possible, we would always rush to substitute some of our own goodness for God’s.
In order for me to show you how this point emerges from the text, it is necessary to point out a fact of Greek grammar. In the Greek language, it is a rule of good grammar that verbs of hungering and thirsting are followed by nouns in the genitive case. This is the case expressed by the preposition “of” in English. An example of a genitive would be the last two words in the phrases “peace of mind,” “love of God,” “object of faith,” and so on. The Greek would express a feeling of hunger by saying something like this: “I am hungry of (for) food” or “I am thirsty of (for) water.”
This particular use of the genitive case has an unusual characteristic on the basis of which it is called a partitive genitive. This means that it has reference only to a part of the object that occurs in the sentence. Thus, when the Greek would say, “I am hungry of (for) food,” he would be saying that he was only hungry for part of the food in the world, not all of it. Similarly, when he would say that he would like some water, the genitive would indicate that he did not want all of the water that the world has to offer, but only some of it. In more modern times, the same grammatical structure appears in French in which you never say when seated at the table, “Passez le pain, s’il vous plait”— that would mean pass all of the bread there is. Instead you say, “Passez du pain,” for that means only some of the bread.
The significance of this point for interpreting the fourth beatitude lies in the fact that the normal Greek usage is entirely abandoned in this verse. For instead of the word “righteousness” occurring in the genitive, as it should, it occurs in the accusative. The meaning is that the one who hungers and thirsts as Christ intends him to hunger and thirst must hunger, not after a partial or imperfect righteousness, but after the whole thing. He must long for a perfect righteousness, and this means, therefore, a righteousness equal to and identical with God’s.
Of course, this is exactly what most people will not do. Most men and women have a desire for some degree of righteousness. Their self-esteem demands at least that. Thieves will have some code of honor among themselves, however debased. A murderer will strive for some small spark of nobility. A good man will take great pride in his philanthropy or good deeds. But the problem comes from the fact that few—and really none, unless God had prodded them—seek for the perfect goodness which comes only from God. If I were to rephrase the verse in order to recapture this flavor of the language, I would say, “O how happy is the man who knows enough not to be satisfied with any partial goodness on the ground of which to please God and who is not satisfied with any human goodness. He alone is happy who seeks for divine righteousness, because God will certainly provide it.”
Because people naturally do not want the righteousness that comes from God, what other forms of righteousness do they prefer instead, and why?
What is important about the change in Greek grammar from the word “righteousness” being in the genitive, as we would expect, to instead being in the accusative?
Prayer: Do you pray daily that you will reflect, as much as possible in this life, the righteousness of God?
For Further Study: Download and listen for free to Donald Barnhouse’s message, “Christ, Our Righteousness.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)