“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.
Understanding And Applying the Text
Christ gives the same rule for fasting as He did for prayer and giving. We are not to seek applause from men. Christ told His disciples to wash their faces and anoint their heads with oil. These activities were part of daily activities, except with fasting. They also represented joy. We should see Christ’s command as hyperbolic. Otherwise, it shifts us from one type of hypocrisy to another.
Christ does not tell us to counterfeit happiness. He does not command us to engage in lavish dress. Rather when we fast, we should not change our day-to-day activities. We are not to draw attention to ourselves.
There is a difference between prayer and fasting. God commands us to pray. There is no commandment to fast. Fasting only pleases God when it aids us in something else. Fasting is a tool. It is useful to teach us restraint. It trains us to subdue our desires. It is like physical exercise. Exercise is not an end in itself. It trains the mind and body. Fasting is a tool to encourage prayer.