Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Matthew 6:16-18 Fasting for whom?

Hearing God say “Well done, good and faithful servant” should be the goal of all disciples of Jesus Christ. What we should not seek after, however, is the accolades of other people as we serve our God. The Pharisees wanted people to recognize their devotion to God in their giving, their praying, and in their fasting. Jesus, in this chapter, denounced their religious pretentiousness and explained what our true motivations should be as we worship and serve the Lord.

Matthew records what Jesus taught here about fasting. First of all, observe with me that Jesus appears to assume that His audience was in the habit of fasting regularly. The Lord doesn’t say “If you fast” but rather “Whenever you fast”. I must confess that I have no personal experience with fasting. The idea is to abstain from food so as to devote yourself to prayer and worship. In my country, we live in a culture that takes practically everything to excess so the idea of denying oneself food or anything is odd. However, I think the idea of disciplining ourselves and bringing our desires under control is healthy. Certainly, if someone decided to fast for a period of time they should do it as a personal choice without feeling compelled and they certainly should take precautions for their health.

The Lord then commands us how we should not fast. He tells us that we should not attempt to draw attention to ourselves so that people notice that we’re fasting by putting on “gloomy faces”. When I was a freshman in college I was a saxophone major. Branford Marsallis was playing a free concert in Auburn, Alabama and I wanted to go but I had to work the next day. Now, I shouldn’t have done this but I went to work at my part time job and pretended to be sick so I could call in the next day. I put on a “gloomy face” so that people would see how sick I was. In much the same way, these Pharisees wanted people to say “Look at ol’ Levi. Boy, that dude is fasting hardcore.” They wanted people to think of them as being religious and holy.

There are people in church today who do the same thing. Anything that we do can be a religious activity if we do it out of the wrong heart attitude. The question to ask ourselves is “Who do I want to impress here?” Do we want men to admire us or do we want to serve our Lord. Instead of making it obvious to people that we are fasting, we should “anoint [our] head and wash [our] face”. In other words, we should do whatever we would normally do in preparing for our day. Our goal is to not draw attention to ourselves but rather to make this act of devotion noticeable only to God.

We can overcome our prideful, self-centered desires to gain the acclaim of people by concentrating on what should be our true motivation—serving God from a humble heart. When we fast or worship the Lord in any other way, we should devote ourselves to the only thing that should truly matter to a disciple of Jesus—the glory of God. When we do that, our “Father who sees what is done in secret will reward” us.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Ramadan begins August 20. Why not fast then, in solidarity with Islam? I did it last year and found it to be a learning experience.

Joe Blackmon said...

For the same reason I don't pray to the Virgin Mary or work on my karma so I can be reincarnated in a higher form. I'm a Christian not a muslim (or catholic, or hindu).

Anonymous said...

I'm just saying, if you feel like you want to try fasting, there will be a time in about two months when lots of other people will be doing it, and you could find a good support network, and also maybe learn something by sharing iftar with others who have a different religious perspective.

Joe Blackmon said...

I think, based on this passage, if I were going to fast I wouldn't tell anyone. To me, that would be just like neglecting my appearance so that folks would know I was fasting.

toughlove said...

Fasting is an old Jewish tradition nowhere commanded by God, except possibly the Day of Atonement and time of national sin or emergency. Jews added extra fasting days (at least 2 per week) to "improve on" what God actually commanded. Jesus spoke on fasting to Jews who did it anyway as part of their religion. You'll find NO teaching on fasting in any of the NT epistles. Not even Peter James and John mention it in their writings to the churches. If you make it a LAW that never again will you eat on Sunday (or other day) you've come back under Law instead of grace and you're observing special days as a religious ritual, frowned on by Paul the apostle to the Gentiles (Gal.4:10). Christ said IT IS FINISHED and we can add NOTHING of our own works to earn and keep God's favor.
To read my free book, copy and paste into address bar:
http://www.scribd.com/doc/4617708/Fasting-Tithing-Blessing-Bringers-or-Burdens

toughlove said...

Fasting is an old Jewish tradition nowhere commanded by God, except possibly the Day of Atonement and time of national sin or emergency. Jews added extra fasting days (at least 2 per week) to "improve on" what God actually commanded. Jesus spoke on fasting to Jews who did it anyway as part of their religion. You'll find NO teaching on fasting in any of the NT epistles. Not even Peter James and John mention it in their writings to the churches. If you make it a LAW that never again will you eat on Sunday (or other day) you've come back under Law instead of grace and you're observing special days as a religious ritual, frowned on by Paul the apostle to the Gentiles (Gal.4:10). Christ said IT IS FINISHED and we can add NOTHING of our own works to earn and keep God's favor.
To read my free book, log onto:
http://www.scribd.com/doc/4617708/Fasting-Tithing-Blessing-Bringers-or-Burdens

Joe Blackmon said...

Hey toughlove,

Why the double post? Anyway, I think Jesus implied that His audience, which were His disciples, would fast because He said "when" not "if". However, I concur that if someone is fasting because they feel obligated or that it makes them more righteous then yes that would be a problem. Christ's death was sufficient to make us right with God positionally. Practically, we beoome more like Christ as we grow and mature in our faith.

Anonymous said...

I must have hit the button twice, slow machine. Actually the Greek word means "whenever you may fast", no compulsion is built in. And Jesus also said, whenever you give a dinner or a supper, invite the poor. He is not commanding us to throw a feast, just addressing attitude. John the Baptist did more fasting than Jesus, so why did John say Jesus was more righteous? Why didn't more miracles follow John's ministry?