Verses 14 and 15 speak about forgiving others the way God forgives us. “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive you” (verses 14-15). God is always extending us grace, and Jesus wants us to extend grace to others by offering them forgiveness. Note that an apology isn’t offered in this scenario; it would seem as though God wants us to forgive others in our hearts regardless of whether an apology is spoken or not.
Verses 16-18 again offer a comparison between a men who do what is right before God and the Pharisees. “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” (verses 16-18). I’ve been guilty of doing this, though not with fasting. Sometimes when I’ve been sick, I’ve made sure others know so that I can benefit from their sympathy. I’ll cough more than I need to or act weaker than I am. Obviously, this isn’t the same as fasting, but the end result is the same: to get attention from other people. And that’s as far as the reward goes. It’s interesting that the Pharisees carry out fasting as a negative action, when the point of fasting is that you’re showing your devotion to God by giving something else up for an allotted time. And Jesus understands and emphasizes the point that fasting is to be between a man and God, not for the attention of others. When Jesus is saying to anoint your head and wash your face, I believe he says that so that our outward appearance remains the same as it always would look, so that people won’t even know the difference. If our outward appearance matches our inward devotion to God, a devotion which is only concerned with pleasing God and not man, then people shouldn’t even be able to tell if we’re fasting, because we aren’t complaining and we are in fact happy to be able to serve God in a way that only He can see it. The Pharisees made fasting all about them, while we are to make fasting all about God. And similar to how we are to pray in private and thus be rewarded in private, so too with fasting will God reward us in private. The theme here is that God wants to cut through all of our pride and concern with that others think of us and just have a relationship with us, a relationship in which He is put first and foremost in our quiet times.
If I could offer some practical ways to carry this out: give something up for a few days and replace that time with some private time with the Lord, but don’t tell anyone that you’re doing this. Give up Facebook or a morning coffee or newspaper read, yet keep this fasting to yourself so that you may purely focus your attention on God. He wants a relationship with you and this is one practical way to spend more quiet time with Him.
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