The Fasting of the Followers of Christ

'He's conscientious about most of his religious duties, but he's slow to fast.'Jesus said, “But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face” (Matt. 6:17). In the Greek, it is emphatic—“but you.” The hypocrites fast like that. “But you,” you members of the Kingdom of God, you followers of Christ—be different. When the hypocrites fast, they look gloomy and dirty, to show everyone that they are fasting. But you, when you fast, don’t look gloomy and dirty.

How do you not look gloomy and dirty when you fast? Jesus said, “Anoint your head and wash your face.” The verb, “anoint” (Gk. aleipho), refers to “external physical application of oil or perfumed ointment.” (Friberg)

One day, Jesus told Simon, a Pharisee, a story (Lk. 7:36-46).

  • A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty.
  • When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?”
  • Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.”
  • Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair.
  • You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet.
  • You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment.”

Palestinian Jews used oil to clean their head and skin. (Keener) They used oil as cosmetic. Today, we use Efficascent oil.

Jesus said, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face. What does that mean? Cleanliness. Good grooming. When the hypocrites fast, they look dirty. But you, when you fast, anoint your head, comb your hair, wash your face, put Ponds cream on it, spray Calvin Klein cologne on your body. Look good, look great, and look clean. When the hypocrites fast, they look gloomy. But you, look happy! In other words, take care never to look like you’re fasting. NEVER give a hint to others that you are fasting.

Why should they clean themselves when fasting? “That your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matt. 6:18). The reason is that only the Father should see them fasting, and not other people. Your fasting should be so secret that only your Father in heaven should know that you are fasting. True righteousness is to be secret—to be seen only by God.

How many of you watch, “Showtime.” In many churches today, it is a “Showtime” ministry. Many churches like to show off their ministry. They like to show off their good music, their nice building, and their acts of goodness to all the world. They receive their reward. Show-off ministries receive their reward from men, but not from God.

How do you judge a successful church or a successful ministry? Many people judge a successful church by attendance. “It’s the fastest growing church in Cebu—5,000 every Sunday.” Many people judge a successful ministry by baptism. “They baptized 100 people last year.” Many judge a successful church by the financial gifts. “They give a million pesos yearly; they built a big building.” Many judge a successful church by the worship music. “They have the most spiritual worship there.”

But if we think like that, we should think again. Jesus does not think like that. God does not reward us like that. God judges the success of a church by searching its peoples’ hearts. God judges you by evaluating its motives. God judges you by seeing their good works in secret. (Blomberg)

Jesus said, this kind of fasting, this kind of righteousness, receives the reward of the Father. Your Father, who sees all the secret things, shall reward you!

The Facebook Fasting of Hypocrites

'Hey! - Are you eating again ALREADY?'Jesus does not attack fasting. He attacks the hypocritical way of fasting—the Facebook way. What is the “Facebook” fasting of the hypocrites? Jesus said, “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward” (Matt. 6:16). The hypocrites love to look “gloomy” when fasting. The word, “gloomy” (Gk. skuthropos), means, “sad.” (Gingrich) Jesus said, Don’t be like the hypocrites when they fast. They want to look gloomy and grim, sad, and sorrowful.

Not only that, they “disfigure their faces” (v. 16). The word, “disfigure” (Gk. aphanizo), means, to “render invisible or unrecognizable.” (Gingrich) The NASB is more accurate: “for they neglect their appearance.” How do they neglect their appearance? Most likely, they follow the OT way of fasting. In the OT, people who fast would put ashes on their faces. In doing so, they become unrecognizable. These hypocrites want to appear dirty, untidy, and unkempt.

For what purpose do they do that? Jesus said, “That their fasting may be seen by others.” That is the Facebook Fasting, fasting to be seen by others. There’s a little bit of irony in Matthew’s words. They hide their faces, in order to be seen. (Hagner)

What do they receive in return? “They have received their reward” (Matt. 6:16). The verb, “receive” (Gk. aphecho), is interesting. It is a business term. It means, “to receive a sum in full and give a receipt for it.” (Gingrich) Just like when you pay food at Jollibee. You give P100.00 to the Jollibee girl. She says, “I receive P100.00.” Then she issues you a receipt for it. That’s aphecho, to receive in full.

It’s in the present tense—“they receive their reward.” The hypocrites receive their reward. They receive it in full and no more. They receive their reward here on earth, but no more in heaven. They receive their reward from people, but not from God.

Do you want to receive the praises of people today? I don’t want to receive the praises of people on earth. I want to receive the praises of God in heaven!

Sometimes, we do holy things on the outside, but out of unholy motives on the inside. We do good things externally, but we have a bad motive internally. But in the Kingdom of God, we must be careful that we do good things in secret, without showing off to get the glory.

That’s the second point of Jesus.

An Encouragement to Fast

FastingGod commanded the Jews to fast on the Day of Atonement. That is just once a year. But Jesus is talking about voluntary, private fasting here. Fasting is the act of abstaining from food as a form of self-denial. In the Bible, fasting and prayer go together. In prayer, you draw near to the things of heaven. In fasting, you draw away from the things of the earth. In prayer, you set up your spirit to God. In fasting, you set aside your body. It’s a spiritual combination. It is not a sign of spirituality. Rather, it is a sign of self-denial and spiritual commitment to God.

Most Christians today do not fast. We’d rather feast than fast. But Jesus and the first Christians fasted. Jesus fasted for forty days. Luke tells of Anna, a prophetess, an old widow aged 84 years old. She served God with prayer and fasting night and day (Lk. 2:37). In the church at Antioch, the prophets and teachers prayed and fasted, seeking God’s will about missionary work (Acts 13:1-3). Then they laid hands on the missionary team of Paul and Barnabas. In Lystra and Antioch, Paul and Barnabas prayed and fasted, consecrating the elders of every church to the Lord (Acts 14:23).

Last year, I announced a time of prayer and fasting during Holy Week. I don’t know who prayed and fasted with me. There’s no need to know because we don’t need to know. While fasting on the first day, I didn’t eat any food. I just drank water. On the second day, things were getting difficult. On the third day, I became very hungry. At lunch time, the food on the table was very delicious. Fasting can be total or partial. Total fasting means no food, but only water. Partial fasting means a little food and water. So I told the Lord, “Lord, maybe You won’t mind if I shif to a partial fast.” I did. Then I ate a little of the delicious food.

I encourage you to go on prayer and fasting. I don’t force you to fast. You must be willing to fast. Yesterday, we had our monthly Prayer Breakfast. We studied God’s Word at early morning, prayed, and ate hotdog, eggs, and corned beef afterward. Maybe next November, we will no longer have a Prayer Breakfast. Instead, let’s have Prayer and Fasting every second Saturday.

Kingdom Living 9: Fasting in Secret

We are now in Part 9 of our Kingdom Living sermon series. In Matt. 6, Jesus warns against doing righteous acts “before other people” (v. 1). He censures against doing righteous acts in order “to be seen by them” (v. 1). Matthew 6:1 is the controlling verse for Jesus’ discourse in vv. 1-18. It is the key verse for the whole discussion. Kingdom living is righteous living in secret, seeking God’s praise, and not of men.

Jesus then used three religious duties of the Jews as illustrations—giving to the poor, praying, and fasting. It’s a good combination—GPF—Give to the Poor, Pray, Fast. We tend to forget the poor; hence, we should give to the poor every day. We tend to forget to pray; hence, we should pray every day. We love to feast on food; hence, we should fast regularly.

Don’t show off, Jesus said, when you give to the poor in secret (vv. 2-4). Don’t show off when you pray (vv. 5-6). Don’t show off, when you fast (vv. 16-18). The whole point is that in the Kingdom of God, righteous acts are a matter between you and God; nobody should know. Seek the praise of God, and not the praise of men. Seek God’s glory, and not your own glory.

We are now in the third illustration—fasting in secret.

God Sees the Secret Motives of Our Hearts

thought-27“But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matt. 6:6).

God sees everything done in secret. Therefore, our prayers should come from a pure heart, for God sees the motives of our heart. Sometimes, our prayer is out of impure motives. We pray seeking to impress others. Have you prayed like that?

Our prayers should be directed to God, and not to people. Sometimes, we pray calling the attention of people. “Lord, thank you that I am not like some people who are gossipers and who do not serve You.” Actually, you are hitting people who gossip and do not serve God. But are you really praying to God? Remember that prayer is talking to God, not talking to people.

We should not pray to summarize a sermon. “Lord, I pray that we will pray not in the hypocritical way, but in the God-honoring way.” Actually, I am summarizing my sermon in my prayer. But in doing so, am I focusing on God or on my sermon?

We should not pray to inform the listeners about something. “Lord, we pray for Pastor Pon. He has a heart problem, needing angioplasty. Lord, use people to give for his operation.” Actually, I am informing people and asking money at the same time. Are we praying to inform people or raise funds? Or are we really talking with God?

We should pray to God directly, not to people indirectly. We should pray out of pure motives that glorify God, not out of selfish motives to suit our agenda.

Don’t follow what the hypocrites do. They pray before people to get their praises. But you, pray in secret before God who sees you in secret.

True prayer then, is prayer that is out of a pure heart before God. True prayer is prayer that does not seek the admiration of people. True prayer is not to get the attention of people, but the attention of God.

Pray in secret before the Father who sees you in secret and the Father who sees you in secret shall reward you. Pray from a pure heart, an undivided heart, a devoted heart. God acknowledges this kind of prayer. God shall reward you for it.

God Sees You

God the Father sees you in the inner room, in the hidden room. He sees you praying in secret. David prayed in Psalm 139:7-12,

7Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?

8If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!

9If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,

10 even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.

11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,”

12 even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you.

These words bless me and caution me at the same time. I am blessed that God knows me. But I feel naked that God sees me. It makes me realize that I have nothing to hide before God. God sees the depths of my being, the most secret thoughts of my mind. Before the eyes of God, we have no excuse.

Nothing is hidden in the eyes of the Father. Everything is wide open before His eyes. It’s okay if nobody knows you while you’re serving the Lord. Though you do not stand up on this stage, but you serve the Lord in your own unrecognized situation, the Father sees you. He’s looking at you. He smiles at you. He will reward you.

The God-Honoring Way to Pray

download“But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matt. 6:6). In the Greek, it actually reads, “But you when you pray.” Jesus is emphatic, “But you.” There’s a strong “but” there, “but you”—a strong contradictory word.

Jesus said, “Go into your room and shut the door.” The “room” refers to an inner room in the house. (Hagner) Back then, Palestinian houses had inner rooms. Some of these inner rooms are secret rooms or hidden rooms. The inner room is the private room of the house.

Go into your private room, Jesus commands. Don’t just go inside your inner room; shut the door.

What is the point of Jesus here? The point of Jesus is that his disciples are to pray in secret. We are to pray without seeking the attention of others. We are to pray without seeking the praise of others. It’s better for people to NOT know that you are praying, than for people to know that you are.

“But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matt. 6:6). The word, “secret” (kruptos), means, “hidden.” I translated the Greek literally, “You pray to the Father in the secret and your Father seeing in the secret shall reward you.” The main point of Jesus is this. “Pray in secret to the Father who sees in secret.” Jesus is not against praying in public. But He is for praying in secret.