The Sermon on the Mount Part 12

by Mike Ratliff

1 “But be careful of demonstrating your righteousness before men with the aim to be seen by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father in heaven.” 2 “Therefore, whenever you do give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets so that they may be glorified by men. Amen I say to you, they have their reward. 3 But when you do give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand does, 4 so that your alms may be in secret and your Father, the one seeing in secret, will repay you. ” (Matthew 6:1- 4 Possessing the Treasure New Testament v1)

We come now to Matthew 6:16-18, which is like the second slice of bread of a sandwich around the meat of our Lord’s teaching on prayer and forgiveness in Matthew 6:5-15 with the top slice of bread being Matthew 6:1-4 (above). Most “Study Bibles” with outline sections will correctly label Matthew 6:16-18 as “Fasting,” but if you read it in the context of what comes before, it is a continuation of our Lord’s teaching against pietistic efforts by the religious to approach God according to their own efforts and, in their hypocrisy, use their visible piety to elevate themselves in the eyes of others. As we saw in Understanding the Basics of Pietism, “There are no extraordinary Christians; but being an ordinary Christian is an extraordinary thing.

16 “And whenever you fast, do not be as the gloomy hypocrites for they disfigure their faces that they appear to be as ones fasting. Amen I say to you, they have their reward.  17 But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face  18 so that you may not appear to men as ones fasting, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father , the one seeing in secret will repay you.” (Matthew 6:16-18 Possessing the Treasure New Testament v1)

I have fasted many times. With the medications I am on now to control my seizure disorder, it is no longer recommended. A few of those times were very rewarding in that I came away from it more joyful and more in-tune with the fact that I was indeed making progress in my sanctification. However, most of the time, those days of fasting were very frustrating for me. I would get devastating headaches sometimes and it seems that those days at work would be exceptional in elevating my stress level about something. After several weeks of fasting once a week, my wife and I concluded that it was not very productive to do that if I could not also spend that time away from those stresses and, instead, spend it with my Lord in prayer, worship, and meditation on His Word.

The following is from the ESV Study Bible on Matthew 6:16-18:

Various kinds of fasts were commonly practiced in OT times, though the law required only one fast a year, on the Day of Atonement (though fasting is probably implied by the command to “afflict yourselves”; Lev. 16:29–34; 23:26–32). In addition to abstaining from food, people were to humble themselves by praying, mourning, and wearing sackcloth. As with giving (Matt. 6:2–4) and praying (vv. 5–15), fasting is to be a matter of the heart between the Christian and God.

The key to what our Lord is teaching here is exactly what is said above. Fasting is to be a matter of the heart between the Christian and God. Any thing else makes it into another matter. I prayed about discontinuing my fasting because I saw no purpose in “self-afflicting” myself once a week if all that came from it was a day I dreaded and rejoiced mightily when it was over. However, as I look back on it, God was using it and when I discontinued it, in came other things that humbled me or afflicted me such as medical issues and, of course, the natural results of aging.

Fasting is not some mystical or pietistic religious act that opens the doors of heaven to elevate us to another level of Christianity. No, it humbles us and we certainly need that. It causes us to see ourselves in the light of our true nature contrasted with the Holiness and Righteousness of God. When fasting I never struggled with certain fleshy temptations that I would at other times for instance. Why? I was more in-tune with reflecting on my dire lack of holiness in contrast to the perfect Holiness of God. In this life we will never achieve it either.

Perfectionism is not possible. The indicative statements by our Lord Jesus that those in the Kingdom of God are to be perfect as their Heavenly Father is perfect are statements of fact, not commands. Those who belong to Christ have that standing because the righteousness of Christ was imputed to them when the Father justified them when they believed on Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. Along with that, his active obedience to the Law was imputed to them as well thereby making the statement our Lord made on the cross, “It is finished!” (John 19:30)  precious treasure to all those in Christ.

Soli Deo Gloria!

7 thoughts on “The Sermon on the Mount Part 12

  1. Excellent point – fasting is a private matter between the believer and Christ, not to done to be seen by others. Just as with giving and prayer. Well said, and Bob’s article was a good segue to this post.

    John MacA had a really good sermon (article?, I forget) on fasting. I went to GTY but can’t find it. It really was helpful to me at the time, as for some reason fasting seems to be one of the issues that brings with it needless controversy and/or confusion in conversations with other believers. Probably because there’s a great deal of misunderstanding (or foolish thinking), you think?

    (Here’s a MacA sermon, but I don’t think it’s the one I heard. Still good, though, part 1 here:

    http://www.gty.org/resources/sermons/2231/fasting-without-hypocrisy-part-1

    It has a part 2.)

  2. Yes Carolyn, fasting is a private matter between us and God and when it leaves that purview then it begins to accumulate all sorts of needless baggage or controversy in conversations with other believers. I never talked about mine with anyone but my wife and a some very close brethren and still it caused issues there for some of them took offense because they wrongly thought I was lording it over them that I was fasting and they weren’t. Argggg. I never did that and I became very tired of trying to get people to see fasting this way rather than something to do with piety so I just quit talking about it or teaching on it. Now I can’t fast for medical reasons, but God has ways of humbling us doesn’t he?

  3. You’re right, one can barely talk about fasting with others, because… well, it all goes back to the pietism, either as you said, they think you’re lording it over them by the mere mention, or now it gets into a “competition” – you told me you fasted today, now I have to fast today and tomorrow. You told me you prayed 1 hour, now I have to pray 2. You told me you gave $10, now I have to give $50. And worse, I now look down my nose at my brother or sister, because they “only” fasted one day… prayed 1 hour… gave $10, and ***I***, Yes ***I*** fasted 2, prayed 2, and gave $50. Starting to sound like one of those Pharisees vs that “worthless” publican, huh? Argggg is right!!!

    Given your medical condition, the Lord will move your spirit in other ways to glorify Himself. He knows the heart, and He also knows our weak frames – He is mindful that we are but dust. And His strength will be perfected in your weakness, and also in mine.

    I’m with you, I don’t talk about fasting either with others, nor giving, talk about an issue that engenders controversy and offense! All I will say is that I desire to be moved by the Spirit in all counts, not that I have achieved that by any means, I know I’ve been horribly out of step with God on more than one occasion. Hm, Romans 7 comes to mind… the good I desire I do not do, but the evil I hate, yes this I keep doing. Sigh. :)

  4. Carolyn, my pastor, Rick Holland, preached sunday about this. He said he heard a fellow say once that the longer he was a Christian the less he sinned. Rick said he just got real quiet and said nothing because the opposite was true for him. It wasn’t that he was going out and robbing banks or committing worse sins than before, but that as he matured as a believer the depth of his sin became more and more apparent to him as his humility grew and, hence, his wisdom grew, and hence, he realized that he was that man in Romans 7 and that we all are if we are truly in Christ. I am that wretched man and I cannot wait to be rescued from this body of death…

  5. Mike, it’s like you’re reading my mind today! YES!!! I had an older sister in Christ say that to me, too, that the longer you are a Christian and the closer you walk with God, the less you sin. At first (I was a fairly new believer at the time) I thought it was true. But then as I thought about more it, I gulped. I wholeheartedly agree with your pastor (though will honestly say I’m nowhere as mature as he, and thus not as aware of the depth of my own sin). The maturity of course comes as we are sanctified, which is a process, with none of us “arriving” until, as you said, we are rescued from our bodies of death. I wouldn’t expect a young believer to say what your pastor said, just as I would never expect a 3 year old to comprehend algebra. But it is concerning when someone who has been saved for many years isn’t maturing as they ought. Like Paul said, you should be teachers now, but you’re still on milk (Heb 5:12). Or his letter to the church at Corinth.

    This SOTM series, very good, thanks!

  6. Carolyn, this series is very humbling to do and at the same time I have to struggle with some sort of battle in order to put each one of these together. Again, as I examine myself in light of my Lord’s teaching in this sermon, I run to the Cross and rejoice in the Atonement, in justification by grace through faith as a gift from God. Yes, the pietists hate the doctrine of imputation, but I agree with Machen, “No hope without it!”

  7. Yesss, I’ve become more and more aware of sins in my life. Yes I’ve matured with overcoming some sins that used to overcome me. I can look back and see progress.

    At earlier stages I believe a Christian is more concerned about himself, his experiences, what other people think about him and what God’s Word does for him. With spiritual maturing comes an increasing concern for others, and for the honor and glory of God.

    I’ve even noticed that in my prayer life it is different. My prayer life is more concerned about God’s honor and reputation for his name is at stake than it is praying for myself. I do pray for things I would like but not as often.

    anyways,as far as fasting,, I’ve never really fasted. I don’t think I could anyways as I can go all day without really eating. So it wouldn’t affect me very well.

    I go jogging in the morning for at least 30 minutes and pray at the same time. I know jogging is not fasting but for me I believe it has the same kind of effect in that it causes me to get serious with the LORD and I become more aware of praying and pouring out my heart in a more profound way and of a deeper awareness of who God is that sometimes overwhelms me. Sometimes it doesn’t

    thanks mike for all your hard work and may the LORD whose name is a strong tower be your strength. for HE is Wonderful, His name means Salvation and HE is our Rock and Firm foundation and His name is Jealous for he is jealous not of us but FOR us because he wants us to KNOW HIM>

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