16 “Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.
17 “But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.”
Why all this secrecy in these words from Jesus? Because it’s not about us. People just don’t seem to get it: faith in God, serving His kingdom, being obedient to Him, is not about us. It’s about Him. And yet people still go about flaunting their good deeds as if the opinions of men would be enough to earn them a place in heaven or make their lives better here on earth.
That really is Jesus’ point about the hypocrites here in Matthew chapter 6, that even if their good deeds and loud prayers and very public fasting earn them the respect of men, then they have gotten all they will ever get. All their work is just that: works done for men and not for God. How can God reward someone if they never bring Him anything? If people’s sole focus is other people, then no amount of giving, praying, or fasting will ever reach God.
2 Chronicles 7:13-14
13 “When I shut up heaven and there is no rain, or command the locusts to devour the land, or send pestilence among My people, 14 if My people who are called by my name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”
God asks us to humble ourselves, not pump ourselves up in anyone’s eyes. He asks us to pray to HIM and seek HIS face and no other. He asks us to turn from our sin and wickedness, to leave behind the pride that has kept us from seeking Him all along. He asks us to quit wallowing in the discipline He sent to us when we betrayed Him for other idols in our lives, and to realize that HE is the source of light and life and peace.
How can we be humble if we seek the approval of others? How can we turn to Him if we always have one eye watching to see if our neighbors like what we’re doing? How can we lay aside all pride and idolatry if we are our own idol, or we seek the admiration of other men?
Fasting is not a contest. Fasting is a way of leaving ourselves totally dependent upon God. Fasting takes more humility than strength, more faith than will-power, more Him than us.
“Look, this was the iniquity of your sister Sodom: She and her daughter had pride, fullness of food, and abundance of idleness; neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy.”
Sodom was full of herself. Too proud of what she saw as her own achievements to humble herself before God. The people of Sodom did not give nor pray nor fast. As the Lord goes on to say, Sodom and Gomorrah were “haughty and committed abomination,” and that was why they were destroyed. It is pride that Solomon warns us about so often in Proverbs, and it is pride that we see time and again in Scripture going before the fall–even the fall of God’s servants. Samson, David, Solomon, and so many others brought low by their own pride. And yet then what happened?
After David’s affair with Bathsheba, the resulting baby fell ill. During the child’s week-long illness, David was distraught and broken, and he refused to eat. But then when the child died, when others thought David should be at his worst, the King did this:
2 Samuel 12:20
So David arose from the ground, washed and anointed himself, and changed his clothes; and he went into the house of the LORD and worshiped. Then he went to his own house; and when he requested, they set food before him, and he ate.
As David himself later told the servants, he had indeed fasted during the child’s illness in order to try to sway God from His righteous judgment, but when the child died, he knew it was time to leave off fasting and worship the Lord. He presented himself clean and renewed, and as Psalm 51 tells us, he sought God’s mercy and a renewal of His Spirit. Only AFTER coming before the Lord that way did David break his fast. David could care less what others thought of his fasting, because it wasn’t about them, it was about his relationship with God.
In Matthew chapter 6, Jesus has given us a beautiful prescription for Christian living, but it is not the Christian life we often imagine or see today. In our time, we see people making much of their church’s works, making much of themselves, making much of their prosperity from praying to God. But Jesus tells us to give in secret, to pray in secret, and to fast in secret. That is not to say we shouldn’t do great works in Jesus’ name, but we are not to let our own pride get in the way of our personal relationship with God.
But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
Brothers and sisters, let this heart be in you that was also in Christ Jesus our Lord, to give and to pray and to fast in all humility and giving all glory and honor to our Father in heaven.
Praise be to God, our Rock and Redeemer!