Fasting, Having True Treasures, and Whom Will Ye Serve

Fasting, Having True Treasures, and Whom Will Ye Serve

Following His discourse on prayer, Jesus returns His attention to contrasting the self-righteousness of dead religion with the true righteousness of saving faith. We come first to fasting. Notice that in our text, fasting is expected.

16 “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. 17 But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face 18 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.”

“After the digression on prayer, the third example of religious observance is presented with the same structure and the same key words as vv. 2-4, 5-6 (see on vv. 2-4). Fasting was a prominent element in Jewish religious life, both at statutory times (Day of Atonement, and other prescribed fasts with historical significance) and occasionally, either by corporate or individual decision (see ‘Fasting’, NBD, p. 373). Strict Pharisees fasted at least twice a week (Luke 18:12), and made sure that others knew it. Disfigure (aphanizō)is literally ‘make invisible’ (it is translated ‘consume’ in vv. 19-20), a vivid expression for making unrecognizable, either by covering the head or by smearing with ash and dirt. In contrast, the disciple who fasts must look quite normal, clean and happy (anointing with oil was a common cosmetic, not necessarily a sign of special celebration: to put on a show of exceptional gaiety would be as ostentatious as the ‘hypocrites’!). Jesus assumes that fasting will continue to be practised among his disciples, as indeed it was, after his death (see further on 9:14-15; cf. Acts 13:2-3; 14:23).
Tyndale Commentaries – Tyndale New Testament Commentaries – Matthew.”

If Christians are expected to fast, and we are, why do we fast? What is the goal of our fasting?

Isaiah 58:6-8 “Is this not the fast which I choose, To loosen the bonds of wickedness, To undo the bands of the yoke, And to let the oppressed go free
And break every yoke? “Is it not to divide your bread [c]with the hungry And bring the homeless poor into the house; When you see the naked, to cover him; And not to hide yourself from your own flesh? “Then your light will break out like the dawn,
And your recovery will speedily spring forth; And your righteousness will go before you;
The glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.

We are taken back to our earlier thought that Christians are expected to do t’zedakah (acts of righteousness) and that the motivation behind these good works is what the Lord is judging.  I have seen many churches call for a fast and put up a sign-up sheet, in public, for the individual to list his/her name and what they are giving up during this time of fasting. Beyond that scores of “Christians” fast for Lent and make a point of telling others what they are giving up for Lent. What’s the point? At that juncture you have received your reward.

It is expected that we will fast as part of our self denial. The other part of that self denial is that no one knows we are fasting. We are fasting to bring the flesh (in this case our literal body) into subjection to the will of God the Father (1 Corinthians 9:27)

19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; 21 for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Do not store up…but store up may be rephrased as “Do not give priority to this, but give priority to that.” It can also be translated “stop storing up.” This passage does not mean that it is sinful to have such assets as insurance, retirement plans, and savings accounts. After all, parents are to save for their children (see Prov. 13:22; 2 Cor. 12:14).

The point, as illustrated in the NIV Zondervan Study Bible’s notes, is this: “Materialism may be God’s greatest rival competing for the allegiance of human hearts, not the least because constantly striving to secure one’s life via possessions produces anxiety. These verses set up the fundamental contrast; vv. 25-34 tell those committed to God not to worry about the basics of physical life. Far from promising prosperity, the NT calls believers to give generously from any surplus (2 Cor 8:13-15) and assumes fellow believers will come to their aid should they become needy by giving away too much.”

When teaching on this passage, a number of pastors have misquoted another passage to try and illustrate a point that Jesus is not making. They will say, butchering 1 Timothy 6:10, that money is the root of all evil. That is not what Paul said. 1 Timothy 6:10 actually says “ For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”

Money is amoral because it is nothing more than an instrument and can only do what its holder intends. If a righteous man has a $100-dollar bill and uses it to by food and goods for a brother in need, then his money is righteous. If the wicked has a $100-dollar bill and spends it on liquor and loose women then his money is unrighteous. It’s a barometer, really. If your heart is truly converted, you will do righteous things with the finances God has given you and if it is not converted you will not. This does not mean to imply that you are wrong to enjoy your money but you do need to remember that, for the Christian, there is only so much fortune that you need and the rest is a stewardship granted that you, on Christ’s behalf, might minister to others.

22 “The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!”

“The light of the body is associated with the eye. The concept here is based on the ancient idea that the eyes were the windows through which light entered the body. If the eyes were in good condition the body could receive such light. Jesus, using this language metaphorically, affirms that if a man’s spiritual sight is healthy and his affections directed toward heavenly treasure, his whole personality will be without blemish. The phrase if . . . thine eye be single indicates devotion to one purpose. The “single eye” refers to a single, fixed vision or goal. The phrase if thine eye be evil refers to either disease or deception of vision. The “evil eye” is not something mysterious or devilish, but rather a deceptive vision that causes the viewer to mistake the identity of an object. The mistake in this context is the darkening of the mind and thus how great is that darkness!” ~KJV Study Bible

From Rabbi Sturn in the Complete Jewish Study Bible:

6:22–23 “The eye is the lamp of the body.” Yeshua quotes a common proverb and comments on it. “If you are generous” is added by the translator, because in Judaism “having a good eye” (an ‘ayin tovah) means being generous or looking at people positively. “Having a bad eye” (an ‘ayin ra’ah) means being stingy or having a negative outlook toward others. See “The Good Eye and the Evil Eye,”

In reality, what Jesus is saying, here, is quite simple: If you are focused on glorifying God, you will do things that God does, especially tending to those in desperate need and if you are focused on self, you won’t. There really are only two religions on the planet: the one that glorifies Christ and by consequence the Father and the one that glorifies self.

FB Meyer: “What is in our inner life which answers to the eye of the body? Some have said that it is the intellect; others the heart. But it is truer to say that it is the inner purpose and intention of the soul.

When our physical eye is in an unhealthy condition, the image is doubled and blurred. To use a common expression, it has a squint, such as affected the noble face of Edward Irving, the noted English clergyman. We are told that as a babe he was laid in a wooden cradle, in the side of which was a small hole through which he watched what was going on. This distorted his vision through life. So we may look two ways at once.

The endeavor to serve God and mammon, to stand well with both worlds, to lay up treasures on earth and at the same time be rich toward God, is a spiritual squint. John Bunyan tells of Mr. Facing-Both-Ways, who kept one eye on heaven and the other on earth; who sincerely professed one thing and sincerely did another. He tried to cheat God and Devil, but in the end cheated only himself and his neighbors.”

24 “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

Serve (Gk. douleuō) indicates the work of a slave, not an employee. Since a slave is the sole property of one master, he must give the master exclusive service. A disciple’s loyalties cannot be divided because they will make opposing demands.

“This kind of spiritual double vision causes one to believe he can serve two masters. Total loyalty to God cannot be divided between Him and loyalty to one’s material possessions. A master (Gr. kurios) is a lord or an owner. That God claims total lordship over His own is obvious in this passage. Therefore, Jesus rightly proclaimed, Ye cannot serve God and mammon. The term mammon is derived from the Aramaic term for possessions or wealth. Jesus is not condemning money or possessions in and of themselves, but the improper attitude of enslavement toward wealth.” ~KJV Study Bible

So where are we going with this? Tell me if this sounds familiar… Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbor’s.

There was not a Jew alive and listening to Jesus who would have missed His allusion to the 10th Commandment. To covet is to wrongfully, inordinately, or without due regard for the rights of others desire to have their possessions. Covetousness is the ultimate form of self-indulgence; it does not just say, “I want this” but instead says “I want this and I have every right to have it and if you disagree you are wrong.”

The entire point of the Sermon on the Mount, and it is a point we are going to see a few more times, is self denial. Modern religion says “look at me.” In other words, look at all the great stuff I am doing. Can I tell you something? (I am going to use some shocking language here so be warned.) Isaiah 64:6 “For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; And all of us wither like a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.” Now that was the polite way to say it. Here is what that text actually says “We are all like one who is unclean, all our so-called righteous acts are like a menstrual rag in your sight. We all wither like a leaf; our sins carry us away like the wind. ”

That language is shocking to be sure but the fact remains that apart from saving grace, all our good works are disgusting and an affront to God. Self-righteousness stems from pride and I cannot think of one thing in the Scripture that God hates more than pride. Pride was the cause of Lucifer’s fall (Isaiah 7) and it was ultimately the source of man’s fall as well. Pride claims to know more and better than God and its sole aim is to rob Him of the glory that He is due.

Pause for a moment and consider these Word of Faith preachers that tell you that you can name it and claim it, that you are little gods, that you can speak things into the way you desire them to be. THESE PEOPLE HATE GOD AND IN THE ARROGANCE OF THEIR PRIDE DARE TO STAND IN A PULPIT AND PERVERT GOD’S WORD. It would be better on Judgment Day to be the devil himself than to be a word of faith teacher.

“Our hearts are desperately proud. If there is one sin which God hates more than another, and more sets Himself against, it is the sin of pride. Like a weed upon a dung-heap, pride grows more profusely in some soils, especially when well fertilized by rank, riches, praise, flattery, our own ignorance, and the ignorance of others. We all inherit pride from our fallen ancestor Adam, who got it from Satan, that “king over all the children of pride.” Those, perhaps, who think they possess the least pride, and view themselves with wonderful self-admiration as the humblest of mortals, may have more pride than those who feel and confess it. It may only be more deeply hidden in the dark recesses of their carnal mind.”
– J.C. Philpot

Let me put the question to you this way: Whom will ye serve? You are going to serve someone. Will you serve the strange gods in the land or will you bow your knee to YHWH and his Christ (Joshua 24:15)? The wages of your servitude are eternal. Do be sure you have made the right choice.

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