“Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. “But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face so that your fasting will not be noticed by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:16-18)

We are now concluding are discussion in the three practices to our piety. We defined piety as the way in that we practice our faith in Jesus Christ. We have discussed giving, prayer, and not we look at the third practice, fasting.

Jesus began His discussion in verses one of this chapter. “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.” Our Lord is making an important point to us as He gives three examples giving, prayer, and fasting to illustrate this truth. Jesus warns His listeners to not be as the hypocrites who practice their piety in such a way that they would been seen by men. Jesus teaches that we are to do so in a way that only our Father in Heaven would see what we are doing. We are told that the Father is the One who sees in secret and that it is the Father who will reward us. The repetition of these three illustrations is a method that good teachers use to drive the meaning of an important point to their listeners.

Jesus is making two important points to us in His teaching about the way we practice our righteousness. First it is foolish for us to try to receive the affirmation of our identity from others. We each have been uniquely made in the image of our Father in Heaven. Secondly Jesus wants us to learn the character of our Heavenly Father that He loves us and gives His full attention to what we are doing that we would draw near to Him to receive our reward.

When we give to the poor, pray, and fast, these are actions of expression of our piety and are important because they all show our relationship with God. We share with the poor who are in need because God by His grace towards us gives us His blessings that we may share with others. We give because we have received from Him. If we are faithful with what He has given unto us, then He will give us more for the work of His Kingdom. “He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much.” (Luke 16:10)

It is easier for us to see our connection with God through our prayer life with Him. Praying is how we communicate with Him and how He communicates with us. In the Scriptures there are several purposes revealed for fasting. Fasting is a way to discipline ourselves to better gain self-control over our flesh. Fasting is a way that we show our dependence upon God for our strength and resources. Fasting is also a way that we can focus completely upon God when seeking His guidance and help and that we are earnest in our quest. Fasting is an expression of our sorrow and our deep need for repentance and to acknowledge our failure before God and seek His mercy.

We think of fasting as going without food for our bodies. But fasting is denying the flesh of its worldly desires. It is giving up something that is taking our focus off God. We may give up going to an event, our favorite television show, or hanging out with our friends in order to spend time with our God and best friend. Fasting is setting aside what the flesh wants to spend spiritual time with our Heavenly Father who is a Spirit.

In the Jewish calendar there are seven days that the Jewish people are too fast. Fasting today has become more associated with special times that the Church wants to focus completely with God.

Fasting, as giving and prayer, over time had become done in such a way that the participants were noticed by others. These were the ones that Jesus called hypocrites as they made sure that others knew of the way that practiced their piety. They announced their giving, they prayed loudly in public, and fasted in such a way that it would be obvious to others. This is what Jesus was warning His listeners not to do. They were practicing their piety in such a way that it brought glory unto themselves. Earlier in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus told is that we are to let our light shine in such a way to bring glory to the Father. “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)

When we practice our piety in such a way that it brings glory unto ourselves that is the reward they we will get, the recognition of men. What is the lasting value of the recognition of others? Others are not able to tell us who we really are. They may give us a moment in time where we feel valuable and give us a sense of importance but it will only leave us looking for more. Others can never really know us, as we cannot really see ourselves clearly most of the time. Does that kind of recognition have any eternal value to us?

This is all we would receive from men and we would receive nothing from God in our efforts. As Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.” It is not an evil thing to want to belong in the society that we live in. We were created to live in community and thus have a need to belong. We desire to be loved and cherished by others, as we desire to love and cherish them. That longing placed in us to belong has a proper direction. It is to draw us to God who is the only One who can satisfy that longing completely. C. S. Lewis described this longing that we have for our God in this way. “Our lifelong nostalgia, our longing to be reunited with something in the universe from which we now feel cut off, to be on the inside of some door which we have always seen from the outside, is no mere neurotic fancy, but the truest index of our real situation.” (“The Weight of Glory”)

The last point of Jesus in these three practices of our piety is that God is the rewarder. It is the character of God to reward those who come to Him. The only audience that we have in this world that is waiting for us in the next is God. The Westminster Confession states that the chief end of man is to glorify God. This is truly the only eternally profitable thing that we can do here in this world. Our Heavenly Father has a waiting heart to see us and to hear from us and is wanting to reward us. He is the answer to that longing that He has created us with to come home to Him. “To obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you.” (1 Peter 1:4)

There is a trap that many Christians fall into. We have a tendency to get so fired up in our faith that we burn out. In Church there are many ways that we may serve. There is never enough people willing to serve in the Church and many find that they are involved in multiple tasks. They may be on several committees, teach Sunday school, visiting neighbors, involved in grounds maintenance, sing in the choir, become ushers, or work in the nursery. This is all needful and good stuff. The ministry of the Church must be done, as “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.” (Matthew 9:37) Sometimes all this service becomes the essence of the Christian life. What we do becomes our identity in the Church family and it becomes based upon our performance. We miss the point that our identity is found in our God and not in the people who are around us. We lose touch with our sense of a living God and our personal relationship with Him. We come to a place of feeling burned out and discouraged. This was the exact problem that Jesus addressed with the Church of Ephesus in Revelation. “But I have this against you, that you have left your first love.” (Revelation 2:4)

Perhaps we have stopped coming near to God in our secret place where only He sees us. Maybe we need to return there and bathe in His presence and receive His delight in us. To be there in His rest and gain His directions. Our time in His presence is far more important than the service that we perform. It is a personal relationship that God desires most from us not our works of service. It is in His presence that we receive His loving word, His guidance and direction, and it is in His presence that we experience His unconditional love. It is God our Father that knows not only who we are but who we can be in Him. It is important to have the knowledge of God and it is important o serve Him but it is not a substitute for feeding on Him every day. Our God wants us to meet with Him, talk and listen to Him, sees us and wants us to see Him, and our God wants to reward us His Children. Let us not live with anything less than being in the presence of our Heavenly Father. “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” (James 4:8)

Thomas N Kirkpatrick

First Baptist Church of Durant, June 9, 2016

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