“And when you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, for they try to look miserable and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting. I tell you the truth, that is the only reward they will ever get. But when you fast, comb your hair and wash your face. Then no one will notice that you are fasting, except your Father, who knows what you do in private. And your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.” Matthew 6:16-18 (New Living Translation)
Three times in one chapter.
When something is repeated that often, I tend to pay attention to it. Especially when Jesus is the one doing the talking.
And this is the third time He’s said, “I tell you the truth, that is the only reward they will ever get.”
The first time He was talking about blowing a trumpet when giving to the poor. The second time it was about standing on the street corner to pray. And this time He’s talking about looking like you haven’t bathed or eaten so everybody who sees you will know you’re fasting.
This chapter started off with a warning for us NOT to practice our righteousness (which apparently includes giving to the poor, praying, and fasting) in front of others in order to be seen by them. And if we do, we are told we will have no reward from our heavenly Father.
Jesus does not say we should never practice our righteousness in front of other people. That would be impossible.
What He’s focusing on here is our heart. He’s looking at our motives. Our “why.”
And He wants us to do the same.
We need to pay attention to the reasons we’re doing a good deed—no matter how ‘good’ the deed is.
- Are we doing it for the attention we’ll receive from people we think are important?
- Is it for the reputation we’re building in our community?
- Are we trying to make up for something we did that was wrong?
- Or are we doing it to earn God’s love and affection?
In God’s eyes, the “why” is apparently just as important as the “what.” Maybe even more so.
This passage says when you fast (notice it doesn’t say if you fast), you should not LOOK like you’re fasting. You should wash your hair, style it, put on make-up (ladies), and dress like you normally do. Also, your attitude and facial expressions shouldn’t give away the fact that you’re hungry (if it’s food you’re fasting).
Your goal should be that the only other people who know you’re fasting are (1) the people who live in your house and can’t help but see what you’re doing without and (2) any other people who are fasting with you. For example, a lot of couples fast together on a regular basis for their children, and a lot of churches fast corporately at the beginning of each year to seek God’s will.
Bottom line: If you discover your real motivation to fast is so you can look good in the eyes of your friends—and in your swimsuit—then don’t be expecting any heavenly reward.
God’s attention is focused on your heart and you can’t fool Him. He’s got X-ray vision.