Sunday March 6, 2022 | Greg Boyd
“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
In this sermon, Greg teaches on Matthew 6:16-21, where we’re told to fast in secret, unlike the "hypocrites" who put fasting on display for public applause. Our reward for secrecy is the beauty of the character that we develop when we learn how to be singularly motived by God’s will rather than social applause. This leads to two questions: How is this secret relationship with our Father going, and what really motivates us?
When we fast, as in what we do during the current church season of Lent, we are saying “no” to something that we value. And denying ourselves of that causes us to experience a sense of discomfort because we miss what we have given up. In the passage quoted above, Jesus assumes that people will be regularly fasting. But our fast is not to be done like “the hypocrites” for the sake of public display so that they will be noticed for what they have given up. In the ancient world, a person could get some social points by being considered holy if they did certain things. Jesus says that if getting that applause was their motive, then the applause they got was their reward.
Because these hypocrites already have their reward, there is no future reward waiting for them. The only way to fast, or pray or engage in any other spiritual activity that brings about a heavenly reward is to do it “in secret.” Whatever discomfort or pain we are experiencing is to be kept hidden as much as possible. The “reward” that we are storing up when we pray and fast in secret is simply the beauty of the character that we develop when we learn how to be singularly motived by God’s will and thus not motived by social applause.
This leads to two questions. First, how is this secret relationship with our Father going? The second question is, what really motivates us? In response to the second question, we often say something like “Jesus,” but is this a reality? This requires us to delve a bit more into the word “hypocrite.”
Hypocrite is a word with ties to an ancient actor who performed behind a mask, one who played a role to get applause. The fasting hypocrites Jesus was talking about apparently put on a mask of being motivated for God’s sake, when in truth they were motivated by respect and admiration of the crowds. Because hypocrisy can sneak up on the best of us, we need to ask God to search our heart, reveal what is really there, as David prayed in Psalm 139:23, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts.”
When we are honest, we all know that we are hypocritical on some level. In response to this reality, we are invited to allow God to love us in the midst of our hypocrisy. We are “beloved” hypocrites and are invited by God to repent and receive God’s forgiveness. Through this we will receive healing so that we are motivated by God’s love and not by the need for attention.