Monday, April 23, 2012: Fasting
April 23, 2012 § Leave a comment
And whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance in order to be seen fasting by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. ~ Matthew 6.16 ~
Christ has just taught his audience on prayer and almsgiving, things that faithful Jews would have done regularly. Now, he moves on to another aspect of the faithful religious life: fasting. The religious culture of the time saw these three things as the marks of a faithful Jew; one who observed the faith properly did all of these things.
We remember that Christ takes issue with the intent of the heart behind the practice, not the practice itself. Christ still intends for his disciples to pray, to be generous to those less fortunate, and to fast. He states in Matthew 6.1 the reason why he addresses these practices: “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.” Prayer, almsgiving, and fasting were all seen as the hallmarks of a righteous person.
Apparently, in Christ’s day, some people got carried away with desiring the reputation of a righteous person; so much so that they would pursue the reputation instead of the righteousness itself. In all of Matthew 6 so far, we have seen Christ use the word “hypocrite.” The Greek word for this meant “an actor.” That’s what Christ thinks of people who pursue the reputation of righteousness; they’re people simply playing a part.
Fasting need not be done in public; indeed, during Lent, many fasts took place that no one knew about. However, we all probably ran across some people who constantly brought up their fast, sharing with you incessantly about how they were suffering during the Lenten season of repentance and denial. Well, those people existed during Christ’s time too. They paraded themselves around in public, grimacing constantly and abstaining from basic hygiene – all to grab the attention of others.
Christ says, “They have their reward in full.” He’s saying, “If all you want is the attention of others, then that’s what you’ll get.” Christ would have us know that true righteousness does not look like this. True righteousness does not get bogged down in what other people think – instead, true righteousness lies in seeking relationship with God.
What about us? The things we do as Christians, our spiritual disciplines, our acts of service, even our church involvement – why do we do them? Do we volunteer because God has given us a heart to serve, or because we like the feeling that comes with people seeing us being involved? Do we lift our hands in worship because we express what is in our hearts or because we don’t want to be seen as the one with our hands in our pockets? Yes, Christ desires your actions – but even moreso, he desires your heart.
Lord Christ, I repent of my wrong motivations. I struggle with wanting the approval of others so much. Please help me to pursue you and you alone. Amen.
In what ways does this verse challenge you? What implications does this have for Christian living?