(Matthew Chapter 6, Verses 16-34)
Jesus continues his teachings about not doing things to be seen by men in verses 16-17 saying when you fast you should not look dismal, but rather go about your business as if all were normal.
Let us look for a moment at the scriptural significance of fasting as it matters to the Christian under the New Covenant.
In Jewish laws and customs fasting had several purposes and breadth of application. There were four appointed public fasts mentioned in the Old Testament, and a fifth that was less stringently applied. There were also appointed fasts set up by rabbis. In addition people often held personal and private fasts for various reasons.
One of the customs that arose from private practice but with no specific scriptural basis was fasting twice a week, specifically on Mondays and Thursdays.
Fasting is seen as the abstinence from food and/or drink, but the Hebrew words that it is translated from also have a broader application. They can include all forms of abstinence such as washing, comfort, anointing, wearing of shoes as well as abstaining from the desires of the flesh and passion that leads to sin.
Some more information on the Purpose and Conception of fasting includes:
In the ancient Near East (ie. not in the scripture), prayer and fasting were advocated as a means to have one’s requests fulfilled by the gods. The Bible emphasizes that the fast is not an end in itself but only a means through which man can humble his heart and repent for his sins; his repentance must manifest itself in his deeds (Joel 2:13; Jonah 3:8). The idea is especially stressed in Isaiah (58:3ff.) where the contrast is made between a fast which is not accompanied by any real repentance, and which is therefore unacceptable to God, and the true fast which leads to God’s merciful forgiveness: “Is not this the fast that I have chosen? To loose the fetters of wickedness, To undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free… Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? When thou seest the naked, that thou cover him… Then shalt thou call, and the Lord will answer.”
Other scriptures also stressed that a fast without sincere repentance is valueless and senseless (Jer 14:10-12, Isaiah 58:1-9). Jesus upbraided the Pharisees example of fasting for the did it to just look and appear religious but failed in the requirement of a penitent heart or a desire to come close to God. To them the fast was a bit like the prayers of empty words discussed in the last post and became a meaningless and futile exercise as they were seeking the approval of men rather than God.
Verses 19-21 talk about the seeking of money and wealth. The issue here is not the money or wealth in themselves for in reality they are neutral. Rather it is the condition of the heart of the person. If a person puts their trust and hopes on money and wealth they are behaving foolishly for all things of this earth are temporary and will ultimately disintegrate through time or may be lost and stolen. Today we see this is even more apparent for the ravages of inflation and the financial crises that have arisen from time to time wreak havoc with the value of money. You cannot trust in money to save you or to get you through anything. And as the Lord showed in this section, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” If we make our treasure in the heavenly places and put our value on praise, worship and the seeking of God rather than seeking the temporary riches and pleasures of this life, then our hearts will be with God and we will receive his blessings.
The next section from vs. 22-23 continues and expands this teaching saying, “The eye is the lamp of the body.” It is through our senses and especially our eyes that we perceive the world. If we look for good things then we fill our mind, heart, soul and life with the light of what is good. But if we seek out the things that are evil and bad in this world then in a similar way we will pollute our life and our thinking which guides our life will be unsound. When we seek God and the truth of all matters, we seek what is good, holy, just and true for in God there is no darkness of evil. It is important for us to watch carefully what we seek with our eyes and other senses for we become what we take in through the senses. The surest way to be free from evil is not to accept it in through senses in the first place and thus not allow it into your heart and mind to pollute your thinking.
Jesus continues in the next verse (24) showing again the problems of seeking money saying, “You cannot serve God and mammon,” (mammon being a Semitic word for money). You cannot serve two masters for you will end up being devoted to one and hating the other. At some point in time the two masters will pull in different directions and a choice will need to be made which will cause you to oppose one or the other. If it is money you are serving, seeking to find riches, at some point it will lead you away from God. And as discussed earlier, money will never and cannot ever save you.
Now Jesus understood that we will be anxious about these things, for in the next section from vs. 25-34 he teaches the we should not be anxious. There is a great promise in this section that God will provide for his people. All that we need to sustain our life and live well will be provided when we seek Him. All of the world seeks the things of the world and the Lord knows there are things we need for daily subsistence. He knows we need food, clothing, shelter, water and so on and in this section of scripture he has promised he will provide all those things. But he also makes the point that we must get our priorities right. In vs. 33 it is clear that we must, “…seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.” This is a call to align our lives correctly and put our treasure in the Lord. This is a call to seek out what is good and right and true and not look for the evil things of this world. This is a call to put our trust and hope in a living God and not to trust in the temporal things of this world that have no real power to save us. And if we do these things, then there is no need for us to be anxious for God will sustain us both today, tomorrow and forever.