The next three verses in our study are probably the most overlooked in our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount:
“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. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 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.” (Matthew 6:16-18)
Why is this so overlooked? Most Christians never fast because they do not know its spiritual benefit. And for those who may have attempted fasting, they’ve done so for all the wrong reasons. Most do so “to move God” as though my temporary starvation is going to put power to my petitions to God. Dr. Elmer L. Towns, in his seminal work Fasting for Spiritual Breakthrough: A Guide to Nine Biblical Fasts writes:
Even if we wanted to, we could not manipulate God. We fast and pray for results, but the results are in God’s hands. One of the greatest spiritual benefits of fasting is becoming more attentive to God—becoming more aware of our own inadequacies and His adequacy, our own contingencies and His self-sufficiency—and listening to what He wants us to be and do…The purpose of all worship, including fasting, is to change the worshipper in ways that have social and interpersonal impact. We worship not just to gratify ourselves, but also to become empowered to change the world!
Our Lord Jesus was teaching the multitude that once again the religious leaders of the day, the very men the crowd looked up to as the standard of righteousness, had missed the mark. Fasting was just another heavy burden the Pharisees put not only on themselves, but also the people. The Apostle Paul, no doubt a fastidious faster in his pharisaical days, reminded the Galatian church:
“Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.” (Galatians 5:1)
Paul is talking about our Christian liberty and Dr. Towns reminds us “The goal of any discipline is freedom. If the result is not greater freedom, something is wrong.”
The Pharisees had once again taken something from the Old Testament and turned it into overbearing task. Wiersbe writes:
The Pharisees fasted each Monday and Thursday (Luke 18:12) and did so in such a way that people knew they were fasting. Their purpose, of course, was to win the praise of men. As a result, the Pharisees lost God’s blessing.
What is it that I do to win the praise of men. Do I teach Sunday school and Wednesday night Bible study to win the praise of men? Knowing my wicked heart that is always a danger for me.
I know that when I am studying the scriptures and preparing my lesson, playing some Keith Green or classical music in the background, the level of worship I experience is overwhelming.
I know that when I get ready to pray and remind myself that I am Jesus’ representative and there needs to be all of Him and none of me, the worship I experience overcomes me.
And I also know that when I do anything for the Lord to win the praise of men the experience obstructs any true worship unto Jesus Christ.
“Lord, what is it in me that exists to win the praise of men? Illuminate that sin in my life Holy Spirit that I may repent of it and return to my first love of holy worship unto the King.”
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Copyright © 2011 David Jeffers