July 18, 2020
And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you (Matthew 6:16-18).
Fasting is the abstaining from food and drink out of necessity or as a religious practice. In Scripture, fasting is primarily a religious activity that expresses grief or sorrow.
In a time of deep mourning, the human body is naturally disinclined to eating. A grieving spirit can be so overwhelmed that it interrupts the natural appetites of the body. Fasting, then, can be a natural expression of grief.
In Scripture, when a person was distressed or burdened by a deep sense of personal sin, suffering, some impending calamity, storm, pestilence, plague, or famine, his/her body would refuse food. Fasting, then, became a sign of godly sorrow or intense spiritual or mental pain.
Fasting was also practiced to bring a person to godly reflection - to turn the thoughts away from the things of the world to the things of God. As the person focused more and more upon the Lord, he/she became less and less aware of physical needs.
The hypocrisy of the Rabbis lay in the fact their fasting was for show. Do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Their purpose in fasting was to gain the applause of the people who praised them for their piety. Their ‘godly sorrow’ was anything but godly. Jesus said it was a sham.
Charles Stanley states, “The biblical practice of fasting is one way to help us focus on God and what matters to Him. It’s an opportunity to set aside other things so we can seek His face and hear His voice. It’s a time of preparation that leads us to fix our attention on God’s purposes and will.” Fasting, therefore, is not intended to prove one’s faith to others. It is intended as a practice of personal faith in drawing near to God in the midst of sorrow and grief over sin or disaster. It is to be practiced before God, and God alone.
Jesus began this entire section of the Sermon on the Mount by focusing on the disciple’s attention on the practice personal of faith as opposed to public religion. Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven (6:1). It’s a warning to us that God is more interested in who we are on the inside than what people think we are on the outside.
“Remind me daily, Lord, how easy it is to fall into the trap of making personal faith a public show in order to impress others. Guard me from such temptation. I pray my faith will always be genuine before You and others. I also ask Your Holy Spirit keep me sensitive to the presence of sin that it will be confessed immediately to You with true sorrow in my heart for having offended You. Amen.”