Click here for the reading: Matthew 6:16-21.
In the sixth chapter of Matthew, Jesus begins by explaining the three basic forms of Christian living: charity, prayer, and fasting. These three are part and parcel of the Christian life and serve as a perfect text for Ash Wednesday and the entrance to Lent.
“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.” Matthew 6:1-2
The Christian is expected to give alms (vv. 3-4), to pray (vv. 5-15), and to fast (vv. 16-18). Yet these must never be done in a way so as to boast or draw attention to oneself. Those who do so are described by our Lord as hypocrites. They are like play-actors who seek only the applause of men.
You are to perform these spiritual acts in secret, making no provision for man’s acclaim. God sees these acts and will reward you, according to the words of Christ. However, we do not do these things for earthly rewards. The crown gained by a life of faith is found in heaven, not in temporal things. “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
To be after heavenly things is to be after God. It is to follow Him in a life of faith. Your desire is for Him alone. What do almsgiving, prayer, and fasting have in common? Nothing less than self-denial. We give away some of what we have to those who need it, demonstrating that all we have is God’s. We demonstrate the mercy we have received from God in the mercy we show to others. We pray, a sacrifice of time meant to bring us closer to God. We fast because man does not live by bread alone.
We need the season of Lent and its texts, because we need discipline. We must consider our ways. We consider our ways and amend them according to the Word of God and with great humility. Beware those who would diminish or demean these disciplines. Beware those who boast in themselves, be it for their righteousness or unrighteousness, from their rooftops, pulpits, or digital street corners.
Let the Word of God have its way with you this Lent. Do not be afraid to give, to pray, to fast. Let these disciplines continue with and in you throughout all seasons. Consecrate a fast that will lead to feasting.