Lord, show me the true inner purpose of fasting.
Read MATTHEW 6:16–24
16 “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to others 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.
Treasures in Heaven
19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!
24 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.
New International Version (NIV)
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“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?” (Isa. 58:6).
I live in a Muslim-majority country, where the strict observance of fasting in public during the month of Ramadan is evident. During this month, religious law enforcement is heightened, and any Muslim caught consuming food or drink in public during the period of mandatory fasting may be prosecuted. Public display of fasting was common in the days of Jesus as well. It was a discipline regularly practiced by the Jews. The Pharisees fasted twice a week, on Mondays and Thursdays. The disciples of John the Baptist also fasted regularly. Our Lord himself fasted forty days and nights in the wilderness. Since fasting is a common discipline, why did Jesus address this issue?
The purpose of fasting is to discipline ourselves, to humble ourselves before God, and to be aware of the needs of others. It is never an exercise to exhibit piety. The problem with those who publicly showed their fasting was that they presented themselves as spiritually superior to others and judged others for failing to fast. When John’s disciples come to Jesus and question him about why his disciples do not fast (Matt. 9:14), he rightfully declares that the religious leaders have misplaced the true purpose of fasting.
Jesus addresses the spiritual disciplines of giving, praying and fasting in verses 1–18 of this chapter. They are authentic religious acts in their own right, but if we use these activities to elevate ourselves as spiritually superior to others, we defeat their purpose. Jesus reminds us that to give is to serve others, to pray is to seek God, and to fast is to discipline ourselves. Anything short of this is hypocrisy.
How can our fasting and other religious observances be pleasing to the Lord?
Lord, keep us always from inflating our sense of importance in Your kingdom. Teach us that spiritual showboating has no place in Your kingdom.