Text: Matthew 6:16-18
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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 (vv. 17-18).
What If Nobody Was Watching?
Would your life change if nobody was watching? For example, if nobody was watching, would what you buy change? It’s been said, “We buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like.”
Do You Have a Hunger to Please God?
Sometimes we can have a greater desire to please others than to please God. (When we do something good, there’s something within us that wants others to notice what we’ve done.) How can we know if we really have a hunger to please God?
We can know if we really have a hunger to please God if we would still do what we do if there was nobody to impress.
The gospel should give us a hunger to please God. “We love [which includes pleasing God by our obedience to him] because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). “He did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all” (Rom. 8:32). Our love for God is a response to his love for us.
Fasting in Scripture
Basically, fasting is “abstinence from food for spiritual purposes.”  In Scripture, fasting is both corporate (e.g., Israel on the Day of Atonement, Lev. 23:26-32 ; the church at Antioch, Acts 13:1-3) and personal (e.g., Jesus, Matt. 4:2). It’s usually connected with prayer  and repentance. In the OT, there are warnings about hypocrisy in fasting: “‘Yet even now,’ declares the LORD, ‘return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.’”
What Jesus Said About Fasting
Jesus says, “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others” (v. 16). They are more concerned with impressing others than pleasing God. Jesus adds, “Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward” (v. 16). Their reward is the applause of people.
Then Jesus tells his followers, “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” (vv. 17-18). This doesn’t mean that nobody can know when we’re fasting. Jesus’ main point is about our motivation for doing what we do.
Why Is Fasting Neglected?
Notice that Jesus says “when you fast,” not “if you fast” (vv. 16, 17). He assumed that his followers would fast. Why is fasting neglected by evangelical Christians today?
- A misinterpretation of Matthew 9:14-15. Jesus was asked by the disciples of John the Baptist, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” (v. 14) His answer: “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast” (v. 15). Jesus didn’t say his followers would never fast; he said “they will fast.”
- Not commanded in the NT. Fasting isn’t a regular religious duty like prayer, but we do read in the NT of occasions when Christians fasted.
- A reaction against Catholic teaching. Reactions tend to go too far.
- Health concerns. Obviously, some people (e.g., pregnant women) shouldn’t fast.
God Is Watching
Jesus says that the Father “sees in secret” (vv. 4, 6, 18). Even if nobody notices, God sees everything we do. Sometimes we view this truth as a negative thing (e.g., when we sin). But we really should view this truth as a positive thing. Do you remember when you were a child and you wanted your mother or father to watch you do something (like play sports)?
God desires us to do good. He is cheering for us. May this thought give us a greater hunger to please him.
 D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, 314.
 The Israelites were to “afflict themselves,” which included fasting.
 Fasting is not a hunger strike. We can’t force God to answer our prayers by fasting.