Overcoming relative morality by hungering and thirsting for God’s righteousness

Core of the Bible podcast#17 – Overcoming relative morality by hungering and thirsting for God’s righteousness

In this episode we will be exploring the topic of integrity, and how the desire for righteousness should drive our every action, just like hunger or thirst.

Yeshua stated it this way:

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” – Matthew 5:6

In the Core of the Bible paraphrase, I’ve stated it as “Crave that which God approves; thirst for doing the right thing, and you will be blessed as you are satisfied.”

A craving is something that cannot be ignored, it must be pursued until it is satiated. Hunger and thirst are the body’s urgent indicators that nutrition and fluids necessary and vital for life need to be ingested as soon as possible.

While genuine poverty and hunger are present in our current American culture, the majority of the population doesn’t know what it means to really be hungry or thirsty. Most of us have access to clean water and basic food services and can afford to at least remain fed and hydrated.

However, in Yeshua’s day, this was not always the case. When we look at modern paintings of people following Yeshua as he traveled around from town to town, or taught by the Lake of Galilee; they are well-dressed and clean and the kids are playing nearby, like they are simply on a church family picnic. This image obscures the reality that living in Israel in the first century was a hard-scrape existence. It was an agrarian society that was dependent on local crops and the beneficence of an oppressive foreign military presence. Many people never knew where their next meal was coming from. This is evidenced by the large crowds that followed Messiah when he graciously and miraculously provided them bread and fish. And yet he recognized that the majority of them were only there for the food, not for his teaching.

John 6:26 Jesus answered them and said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled.

Real hunger will drive you to do things you might not normally do, perhaps even unlawful things like stealing:

Proverbs 6:30 People do not despise a thief if he steals to satisfy his hunger when he is starving.

Additionally, bread/food can be used to entice people to sin:

Proverbs 28:21 – To show partiality [is] not good, Because for a piece of bread a man will transgress.

Food is a compelling motivator for those who have none.

It’s that motivating factor that Yeshua seizes upon to drive home the urgency with which he encourages his listeners to seek righteousness. They should hunger and thirst for it.

So what is the righteous action in any given situation? In order to do what’s right, one must have some sort of “ideal of rightness” to reference.

THE MORALITY OPTIONS OF THE WORLD

In the case of the world at large, people tend to choose whatever seems good to them, or to ideals they have been brought up to believe, or what is culturally relevant or currently popular. While these are certainly significant considerations, one can readily see that these standards will not be the same in every instance and can obviously lead to differing ideas of what is right and wrong.

While ethical morality is a complex subject, it can be broken down into three major groupings or perspectives:

Relative morality: The idea that morality is relative to the culture in which it is expressed, and is not universal to all cultures everywhere.

Absolute morality: The idea that there are universal principles of morality that apply across all cultures.

Moral pluralism: The idea that there can be conflicting moral values that are both worthy of tolerance and respect.

Understanding these basic categories does not give us rigid boundaries, it is most likely that within these three major views, an individual may fall somewhere within the spectrum of all of them, and their spectrum location may vary depending on the topic at hand.

For example, someone may be an absolute moralist on the topic of murder, saying that outright killing someone else is wrong no matter what culture you’re in. But how does one’s absolute opinion translate on topics of accidental killing, or assisted suicide, or war? Then an individual needs to confront the issues of morality within the context of those situations. So whatever standard they are using for the basis of their absolute morality has to be evaluated in the light of these additional considerations. Hence, people’s opinions are all over the map when it comes to issues of ethical morality; there are innumerable ways of concluding what’s right in any given situation.

However, for the believer, the field of ethical options is narrowed down considerably because we are constrained to abide by how God defines righteousness, and what God’s word may say on any given topic. If we are truly hungering and thirsting to be righteous in his eyes, then we should know how he defines righteousness. After all, it is originally his concept anyway, and he can choose to define it any way that he desires.

BIBLE DEFINITION OF RIGHTEOUSNESS

In the Bible, the word righteousness comes from several layers of the the original Greek wording which means to show rightness (as something that is self-evident); it is action that is innocent or holy that is, set apart. In the Hebrew the word is associated with justice (of kings or judges), fairness, and ethical purity.

Psalm 89:14 Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne…

God’s throne, from where he rules his kingdom, is based on righteousness (ethical “rightness”) and justice (correct judgment). As believers, we believe God’s judgment is trustworthy and reliable, and we should be hungering and thirsting to understand righteousness from his perspective. Let’s look at some practical ways that we can learn to apply principles of righteousness from God’s word in our lives.

SPECIFIC, GENERAL, AND IMPLIED DIRECTIVES

If the Bible is to be our ideal of righteousness, then we should understand how to view and interpret this information so we can apply it correctly. Unfortunately, methods of interpretation vary greatly; hence the disagreements of even Bible believers over a standard approach to a rigid definition of morality.

However, there are some general principles we can learn that can help even out some of these variations. The instruction, insights, or commands that God provides within his word can be grouped into three major categories: they may be specific, general, or implied depending on the topic or situation.

For example, a specific command relates to stealing: You shall not steal.

It’s pretty obvious that God specifically intends for us not to take for ourselves anything that does not belong to us. While there may be some die-hards who quibble over definitions, it is reasonable to infer that God does not want us to steal from others.

A general insight might be represented by a command on how Israel was to treat immigrants and foreigners in the land:

Exodus 22:21 “You shall not wrong a foreigner, neither shall you oppress him, for you were foreigners in the land of Egypt.

There are no specific examples what types of wrongs should be avoided here, but just the general idea that foreigners should be treated fairly, and not be oppressed. Based on their unfair treatment while they were in Egypt, they should remember how that felt and not repeat it with those who would be foreigners in their newly established land.

Another general command might also be highlighted by the admonition to love our neighbor. While there are many specific examples throughout the Bible (like the parable of the good Samaritan), one general gauge of what loving our neighbor looks like would be the Golden Rule. Our love for others should be dependent on how we would want to be treated if we were in their place. The specifics would vary from situation to situation, but the general principle would still be valid.

An implied insight might be gained from reading a specific command to ancient Israel regarding real estate conflict.

Deuteronomy 19:14 Never move your neighbor’s original boundary marker on any property in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.

Apparently there was a huge potential for falsifying property boundaries before official surveying and plat recordings of real estate. While that is a specific command for a specific time, we can draw an implied principle from this command which would mean that we should deal fairly with our neighbors and not try to cheat anyone out of what is rightfully theirs.

Another implied insight might be gained from reading the book of Jonah. In the story, Jonah tries to run away from what God had instructed him to do, and yet God brings him back in a dramatic way to finish what he originally intended. From this, we can receive an implied lesson that we should not avoid what God would have us do in a given situation, or he may bring it back around in an unexpected way and we will still be expected to see it through to completion.

So these are just a few examples of how specific, general, and implied commands can be encountered and applied in our lives today.

Taking this information forward, we can then begin to formulate righteous actions to modern situations by applying these various directives in their intended ways.

To formulate a worldview that is consistent takes time and thought about many difficult topics and current events and dynamic relationships. This is where the hungering and thirsting comes in. If we are to be genuine, we must know what we believe and why, and this longing must consume us.

1 Peter 3:14-17 – But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them [those who would cause you evil], nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.

Peter mentions that we should be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks us about the hope that we have, and the reasons we take the actions and stances we do. To be prepared is to take the time to look at the specific, general, and implied directives within God’s word and make consistent choices based on this understanding.

Peter here also emphasizes “good behavior,” or manner of life and conduct, as being a defining factor of righteousness. What we believe about these things will be evident in our actions, and these actions will then speak to our righteousness.

This is important because others who may not agree with your reasoning should not be able to fault you for being inconsistent. Hypocrisy is a universal deterrent to trust and open dialogue. Consistency, on the other hand, garners trust because it is recognized as being thoughtful and intentional, and your righteous actions will many times simply speak for themselves. Even the most hardened cynic would agree that having a consistent worldview is the most honest thing that any person can do.

To that end, the best I can do is determine my views on my interpretation of Biblical values, and live as consistently as possible within that framework. And you should, too. Believers who hunger and thirst for righteousness are the types of followers Yeshua is seeking out for his Father, because these are the types of worshipers the Father seeks.

John 4:23-24 But the time is coming–indeed it’s here now–when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way. For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.”

Those who worship in spirit and truth do so because they are truly hungry and thirsty to do what’s right in God’s eyes, not just seeking to find a religious experience or to fit in with a specific crowd. Yeshua promises that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, who seek it at every turn in their lives, will be satisfied. They will have those longings fulfilled. Just as a long, cool drink on a hot day quenches our thirst, or a hearty meal after a hard day of work satisfies a deep hunger, the blessing of those who are seeking these ideals of righteousness is that they will receive what they long for. And because they are seeking righteousness, righteousness will be dealt to them.

Well, once again, I hope I’ve been able to provide you some ideas and concepts to meditate on further. We need to keep in mind that hungering and thirsting after righteousness is basically another way of saying that we should have a constant longing to do what’s right in God’s eyes in any situation. This requires us to be thoroughly familiar with God’s word and to be thoughtfully prepared within our cultural context. This preparation will then allow us to take actions that honor God and demonstrate a consistent worldview in our understanding of the Bible.

If you enjoy these daily blog posts, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive here. Questions or comments? Feel free to email me directly at coreofthebible@gmail.com.

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