“And when you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you (Matthew 6:16-18 NIV).”
Let me say this a little different:
"When you don’t eat food for a period of time because of your devotion to God, don’t flaunt your hunger to everyone so they will think you’re really spiritual. If you do, the praise they give you will be your reward. Instead, when you choose to abstain from food because you want to show God your devotion, don't let your hunger be what people see about you. Then when God the Father, who is in heaven, sees you devoting yourself to him (not in the open for men but inside just for God), he will reward you!"
In Jesus’ day, fasting lost its meaning. It was about showing people perfection in religion and devotion. Many people fasted twice a week to show others their devotion to God, but Jesus saw through them. He knew their practice was driven by pride and a desire to "appear" perfect before men. Jesus called them out as hypocrites to correct their thinking and challenge their attitude towards devotion.
How does this apply to us? Well if you fast all the time and brag about in the workplace, at school, or with your friends and family, then you should consider deeply the words that Jesus says and stop. However, I’m guessing that (like me) fasting is not a practice that you partake in on a regular basis. If that is the case, there is something else to consider.
The practice of fasting didn’t start in Jesus’ day. Before Jesus came, the Jews were to fast once a year on the Day of Atonement. This was the annual event where God forgave the sins of his people for that year. On that day, the people were to fast from food as a way of devoting themselves wholly to God and to cleanse themselves. Gentile Christians don’t celebrate the Jewish Day of Atonement, but we do celebrate the day where God forgave our sins--Easter. As we move towards that day, let's make a commitment together. Let's each pick a short period of time when we will abstain from food/drink as an act of devotion to God so that we can prepare our hearts for celebrating the greatest event in all of history--the day Christ died to pay for our sins!
I'll be the first to admit that fasting is hard. It will stretch us in ways that we're not ready to expect. However, if you decide that you want to devote yourself to God by abstaining from food for a day, think of it as an act of devotion that's just between you and God. As it becomes difficult, consider Jesus and the loss he endured to give us a great gift--everlasting life! Remember not to overlook the end of the passage; you will be rewarded. I don’t know how, but I imagine it’s really good like all the stuff God gives us!
Do you think fasting is beneficial? Why or why not?
What kind of reward do you think Jesus is talking about?
~ Paul Boelhke