Tag Archives: Fasting

No Points, No Point

“No wait! Please don’t sit there!”  The guest was unaware that, since their son, Jim, had been deployed to the Middle East, they set a special place for him at their dinner table.  No one sat there.  They made that rule to honor his service and act out their yearning for his return.  The end slice from the roast was Jimmy’s, too.  “We don’t eat that, not until Jimmy comes home.” 

Which, one day, he did, along with a buddy from his unit.  When that friend unknowingly sat in the special chair, no one said a word. It no longer mattered because their son was home.

Many dietary restrictions and rituals of the Old Testament were established to prepare people for the coming of God’s Son as Messiah.  But the purpose of those practices was fulfilled with the arrival of Jesus.  That is why followers of Jesus no longer practice much of Jewish rituals.  It is not that they were meaningless or wrong but that their purpose has been fulfilled in Christ.  Even the most solemn Day of Atonement has been fulfilled by the atoning sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus.

Jesus said,
  17  “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.   –  (Matthew 5:17)

Speaking of those ritualistic practices and restrictions, Paul wrote:

  16  Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day.   17  These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.   –  (Colossians 2:16-17)

If the fictional family above had continued to insist no one sit in the special chair or eat the end slice, thinking that somehow that would serve as a way they could participate in or pay for Jim’s service, it would resemble the illogical actions of those who turn the old rituals into a kind of discipline or means of penance.  But that, too, misses the point:

…   23  Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.  –  (Colossians 2:23)

There’s no point in doing that stuff and you don’t score any points, either.

Not so Fast

Did you know you can get a reward from God?  Jesus told us how.  Three times, Jesus said “…your Father Who sees in secret will reward you.”. The first time, He was talking about giving to the poor.  The second time, He was teaching how to pray.  Once more, while teaching about fasting, Jesus explains how to be rewarded by “your Father”. 

“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. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 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.  (Matthew 6:16-18 – ESV)

Once again, the point is the same: Do not try to impress people with your devotion to God; keep it private, between you and God.  Generosity, prayer and fasting are all expressions of a deep rrelationship with “your Father”.  When you use them to show others how religious you are, how good you are, they have the opposite effect.  They show people your pride and hypocrisy and they diminish your relationship with God.

Fasting does not earn us any points with God, it simply clears away the clutter and distraction so we can commune with Him more fully.  There are times, when you sit down to talk with someone, that it is natural to do it over a casual lunch.  There are other circumstances when lunch would simply get in the way: you just need to be together and talk.  It’s times like that with your Father that Jesus says are just for the two of you.  Don’t ruin them by using them as an occasion to show off to people. What is the reward? That too is just between you and your Father, but you can be sure that it is primarily the relationship itself.

This is radical stuff!  People almost always picture God as a distant and demanding figure.  Jesus says He is your Father and desires a relationship with you that is intimate and genuine.