Full Stomachs and Empty Hearts
January 28, 1996
“You are what you eat.” This is not good news for most of us, especially on Super Bowl Sunday. But it is true.
Nutritionists tell us your appetite determines your diet, your diet determines your intake, and your intake determines your health. We know, for example, that too much caffeine harms your body. We also know that alcohol is first a narcotic and ultimately a poison that will kill you if you drink too much of it. Scientists tell us that certain foods raise your cholesterol and may lead to heart disease and premature death.
By the same token, certain foods are good for you, especially fruit, lean meat and complex carbohydrates. Many who read these words are under doctor’s orders to follow a special diet. For some, the purpose may be simply to lose weight. For others, life itself may be at stake.
Our hunger determines our spiritual health.
“You are what you eat.” This principle applies in the spiritual realm as well. Whatever you seek in life, you tend to find. It may be sexual pleasure or financial gain or personal happiness. Or it may be something higher and better. Jesus challenges us to look at our spiritual appetite with the penetrating words of the Fourth Beatitude: “”Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they will be filled” (Matthew 5:5).
In this simple sentence, Jesus tells us that our hunger determines our spiritual health. In order to grasp its meaning for us, we need to explore three key principles.
I. The Possibility of Righteousness
If we want to understand the Fourth Beatitude, we need to know what Jesus means by the term “righteousness.” It’s a mystery to us. We know it has something to do with being right and doing right, but that’s about it.
Whenever you come upon a term in the Bible you don’t understand, it’s always helpful to look at other passages of Scripture that may shed light on it. With that in mind, let’s look at four other uses of this word in the Sermon on the Mount.
In Matthew 5:10 Jesus said, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness.” That’s the eighth and final beatitude. When you take the fourth and eighth beatitudes together, you get something like this:
We are to hunger and thirst after a kind of life that will cause some people to persecute us for our faith.
So righteousness is a lifestyle that distinguishes us as true Christians and invites opposition from the world.
The second use comes from Matthew 5:20, “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpass that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” The Pharisees had concocted a religious system built around attendance at the temple. It involved intricate rules and regulations and meant following precepts and traditions. It was very professional and very routine. It was like wearing cheap perfume that you splash on to make yourself smell good. It’s not really a part of you and it can’t cover the odor underneath.
True righteousness starts in the heart and changes a person from the inside out.
Matthew 6:1 gives us the third use of this word: “Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.” The Pharisees loved to pray in public–loudly! They loved to dress up in their religious garb and throw their offering in the metal container so people could hear the coins rattle. They would sacrifice anything to win the praise of others. Their religion was built around the praise of men. And they still thought God would reward them. But it was cotton-candy religion. It looked good but there wasn’t any substance there. Like Old Mother Hubbard’s cupboard, there was nothing there. By contrast, true disciples seek a righteousness that doesn’t need to be seen by others, but only by God.
Most of us already know the last verse by heart: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33). This touches the priorities of life. What is it that you are seeking in life? Fame? Fortune? Career advancement? A good salary? A secure future? A happy retirement? A marriage partner? The fulfillment of your dreams? As good as those things may be, they aren’t the most important things in life. Put God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness first. When you do, everything else you need will be given to you. Seeking “his righteousness” means letting his Word set the standard for your life. It means seeking to do that which is pleasing to him.
Put these four passages together and what do you have? We are to hunger and thirst after …
A truly Christian lifestyle that changes us from the inside out so that we no longer seek the praise of men but causes us to seek God’s approval above everything else.
This kind of life is possible for all of us. In fact, Jesus plainly says that anyone who lives this way is blessed by God.
Sounds good, doesn’t it? So why don’t we all live this way?
That question leads us directly to the second important principle.
II. The Power of Hunger
Have you ever known true hunger? Most of us haven’t. To us, hunger means waiting ten extra minutes for the rolls to come out of the oven. Hunger for most of us is that sensation in your stomach that makes you stop at MacDonald’s for fries and a Coke even though you just ate two hours ago.
Few of us have ever known starvation. We’ve seen pictures and heard stories on television but the truth is, most of us will have plenty to eat during the Super Bowl this afternoon.
We are the best fed people on the face of the earth. I heard that during the Super Bowl Americans will consume eight million pounds of guacamole dip. We’ll eat pizza by the acre and drink an ocean of pop.
Most of us gained weight over the holidays. That’s why there are so many informercials for the E-Z Krunch, the Ab Flex, and that gizmo that looks like a stealth bomber. Our problem isn’t finding something to eat; it’s losing the fat that comes from eating too much.
That’s our major problem with this beatitude. Because we rarely hunger and thirst after anything, we miss the urgency of these words. But consider the words of Proverbs 16:26, “The labor’s appetite works for him; his hunger drives him on.” Hunger does have its benefits. It keeps a man going when he’d rather quit.
Money, Sex and Power
I think the real problem is that many of us suffer from a kind of spiritual malnutrition. If you eat junk food, you’ll grow fat and lethargic. Ladies, have you ever spent several hours preparing a nice meal only to discover that no one is hungry. What happened? Someone found the cookies and ate them before supper, ruining their appetite.
Nothing in this life satisfies forever.
The tragedy of our time is that so many people are wasting their lives chasing after three things that can never satisfy–Money, sex and power. We want money, so we sacrifice our families to get it. We want sex so we sacrifice our morals to get it. We want power so we sacrifice our friends to get it.
And when we finally get it, it doesn’t satisfy.
Duane Thomas, star running back for the Dallas Cowboys in the 1970s, had it right. He kept hearing writers refer to the Super Bowl as the Ultimate Game, so he asked the obvious question. “If this is Ultimate Game, why do they play it again next year?”
That’s the way things are in the world. You climb to the top of the heap only to discover that next year you’ve got to start all over again. Nothing in this life satisfies forever.
Which leads to the third and final principle.
III. The Promise of Fulfillment
The final part of the verse is a promise from God: “They will be filled.” With what?
Long life? No.
A perfect family? No.
A trouble-free life? No.
What then? You will be filled with righteousness!
If You Want It, You Can Have It
If you want righteousness, you can have it. Let me go out on a limb and make a bold statement. Whatever you want in the spiritual realm, you can have if you want it badly enough. I don’t think we appreciate the importance of that truth. Most of us are about as close to God to now as we want to be. We have about as much joy as we want, about as much peace as we want. For the most part, you are where you are right now because that’s where you want to be. If you were hungry for something better from God, you could have it.
If you want it, you can have a close walk with God.
If you want it, you can have a better marriage.
If you want to, you can do God’s will.
If you want to, you can grow spiritually.
If you want to, you can become a man of God or a woman of God.
If you want to, you can change deeply-ingrained habits.
If you want to, you can break destructive patterns of behavior.
Len’s Funeral Service
Let me share a story that will illustrate the point. If you attended Len Hoppe’s funeral a week ago Friday, you know that the gospel was presented very boldly by many different people. At the end of the service, I said, “If anyone wants to say something that will make Roberta happy, come by and tell her that you have accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.” Afterward, two people came by and told her that. Two other people said they were rededicating their marriages to Jesus Christ. That night God laid a heavy burden on Roberta’s heart to ask each one of her relatives where they stood with the Lord. So on Saturday she went to each one of them individually and asked where they stood with Jesus. Then during the middle service last Sunday I looked out and saw the first four rows filled with members of Len and Roberta’s family. When I gave the invitation, four or five of them raised their hands to accept Christ. Others told her later they had also made decisions for Christ.
Encounter In Atlanta
But that’s not the end of the story. On Tuesday morning Marlene and I flew to Memphis for the memorial service at Central Church. Our flight plan took us to Atlanta where we changed planes. As we walked from one gate to another, some people waved to us. They had flown from the Midwest and would be joining us on the flight to Memphis.
Although I did not know it, one of the couples had been separated for several months. The husband pulled me aside and said, “Pastor Ray, I need to talk to you.” So while the others were boarding the plane for Memphis, we sat down together. He told me how deeply Len’s sudden death had affected him. God had been speaking to him about his own life and he knew he needed to do something about it. Last Monday night he met with his pastor, confessed his sin and came back to the Lord. On Tuesday before getting on the plane, he did the same with his counselor. Then he went home and asked his wife for forgiveness and told her he wanted the marriage to work. He said he wanted to confess to me and asked if I would pray for him. So right there in the airport I put my arm around his shoulder and we prayed together, recommitting his life and his marriage to God.
That night almost 500 people attended the service in Memphis. During the service one of the pastors told how Len had started a prayer movement in their church. On his last Sunday there–just three weeks ago–he met in the sanctuary with about 40 men and they prayed in front of the pulpit, lifted their hands together and sang, “We exalt Thee.” When the memorial service was over and people were coming by to greet Roberta, I noticed a group of men kneeling in a circle on the steps in front of the pulpit. They were holding hands and praying. They had gone to the very spot where Len Hoppe had prayed and the men were praying for the couple that had been separated.
I tell you, that is a prayer God will answer. When you hunger and thirst after righteousness, when you want what God wants more than anything in the world, you will have it.
“Come Unto Me”
I close with this final thought. Jesus’ appeal is always personal. He never says, “Come and join the church” or “Come and be baptized” or “Come and give money.” He simply says, “Come unto me.” When Jesus says, “You will be filled,” he means “You will be filled with Jesus himself!”
If you are hungry, come and eat of the Bread of Life.
If you are thirsty, come and drink of the Water of Life.
If are weary heavy laden, come and find rest.
If you are guilty, come and be forgiven.
If you are far from God, come back home again.
The French philosopher Pascal said that there is a “God-shaped vacuum” inside every human heart. Since nature abhors a vacuum, if we don’t fill it with God, we will fill it with something else. So many of us have filled our hearts with the junk food of the world. No wonder we are so unhappy. No wonder we jump from one job to another and from relationship to another.
We have full stomachs and empty hearts!
We’re like little children who won’t let go of the marble in order to receive a diamond. “No, I won’t give up my weekend affair for eternal joy” … “Trade a broken marriage and a failed career for peace and forgiveness. Forget it?” … “Give up my drug addiction and be forgiven for all my sins? No way, man.” … “You say I can replace my anger and bitterness with peace and contentment? I can’t take the chance. Sorry.”
No wonder we stay the way we are. We’re trapped in the pit of a thousand excuses. We’d rather have misery and pain than risk it all on Jesus.
Where Salvation Begins
Fifteen years ago Saint Augustine explained both the problem and the solution: “O God, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find rest in you.” You will never be happy until you put God first in your life. And you can never do that until you surrender your life to Jesus Christ once and for all.
Let me give you some good news. In the kingdom of God, everything begins with a seeking heart! Salvation begins with a hungry heart. If you are tired of the life you’ve been living, you can make a new start.
Whatever you want in the spiritual realm, you can have if you want it badly enough.
Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”
Are you hungry? Are you thirsty?
If you are, you can be filled. This is the promise of God to hungry hearts and thirsty souls.