Tuesday, May 27, 2014
Staying Focused on God
“Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.” (Matthew 6:16-18)
Even as early as Isaiah’s day the Jews had begun to adopt the attitude of the heathen around them about fasting as a way to get God to respond to their prayers. After centuries of chafing against foreign domination, fasting for freedom had become almost a patriotic duty. Both Sadducees and Pharisees made a point of ritual observance of the law as proof of their Jewishness. By Jesus’ day, many of the feasts God had specified had become ritual fasts instead.
In Isaiah 58:4-7, God had forbidden such fasting. “Behold, ye fast for strife and debate, and to smite with the fist of wickedness: ye shall not fast as ye do this day, to make your voice to be heard on high. Is it such a fast that I have chosen? a day for a man to afflict his soul? is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the LORD?
Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?”
Fasting that pleases God is not just giving up food or some personal pleasure to get God’s attention, but giving it up in order to help others, for example by giving the food you were going to eat to someone who was hungry. It was not to be used as leverage to get God to do something for you, almost like a hunger strike. While it got the approval of the people around them, jesus said that would be all the reward they would get. People who were sincerely seeking to please God would not be worrying about what others thought.
“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21)
The Sadducees had chosen to abandon Jewish law and adopt Greek beliefs and practices in order to be more successful in dealing with them. The Pharisees, led by lawyers from Hillel’s school of interpretation, modified the meanings of God’s commands in an effort to allow them to better compete in the Roman and Greek marketplace. It was very similar to what we see in Washington today, with the Democratic Party wanting to do away with certain parts of the constitution because it interferes with their agenda. The Republican Party wants to proclaim their constitutional stance while redefining those provisions to permit their agenda. While they are violently opposed to each other, they are both working to accomplish the same thing.
Jesus pointed out that they would be better engaged in serving God and accumulating treasures in heaven as the things they were working for were only temporary and would eventually rot away if they were not stolen by thieves first. In the same way, it doesn’t really matter which policy is followed in Washington if it causes the country to collapse.
“The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness! No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. ” (Matthew 6:22-24)
The evil eye referred to a condition in which the eyes do not work together, such as being cross-eyed, resulting in double vision. Jesus’ point was that if a person could not focus on a single object he was little better off than a person who couldn’t see at all because he couldn’t decide which was right. As a result, people with such a problem usually end up ignoring what one eye sees in order to function.
Trying to serve God and get rich at the same time creates a similar problem. Sooner or later one is forced to choose which gets the most attention, and eventually coming to resent the demands of the other. Both Sadducees and Pharisees were dealing with that conflict.
“Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?” (Matthew 6:25-26)
They needed to stop worrying about what they would have to eat or what kind of clothes they would wear. After all. There is more to life than wearing the latest fashion or eating the best gourmet food. People who have never had either one survive and even have good happy lives. God provides for the birds, even though they don’t drive themselves crazy planning for the bad days. He values his people much more highly than the birds, and can be expected to provide for them.
“Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? ” (Matthew 6:27-30)
Worrying serves no useful purpose. No amount of planning or thinking can cause a person to get a foot taller than God intended him to be and no amount of effort can take us beyond where God intends us to go. We’d be far better off to simply trust God to give us what is best for us, and many times, like the flowers in the field, his provision is much better than what we would have spent so much effort trying to get. Our efforts to get these things for ourselves only demonstrates our lack of faith in God.
“Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” (Matthew 6:31-34)
God created us and knows what we need to survive and be happy and that they are the sme things everyone needs. If we will concentrate on doing what God wants, he will take care of supplying the things we need. We ought not waste our time worrying about getting the things we think we need, because we have enough to do, just pleasing God each day. Trying for all those other things is just a distraction.