Jesus also gives us instructions concerning fasting.  It is noteworthy that He says “when you fast,” indicating thereby that fasting is something that all the children of God do.  It seems likely that there are too few of us in the present age who have a clear enough understanding of the necessity and the benefits of fasting.  Surely great spiritual advantages are to be reaped from this practice our God enjoins upon us.

Nevertheless, fasting, like any other virtuous activity, can be abused and perverted to a wrong end.  The Lord Jesus condemns the hypocritical observance of fasting which was prevalent in His age, a perversion which is doubtless worse than not fasting at all.  The hypocrites fasted in order to make themselves appear holy to men.  They did not fast because of concern for the spiritual problems of their day, nor in order to draw nigh to God.  Rather, they wished others to look at them, and exclaim about what holy men they were, because they fasted with such grave, miserable countenances.  Christ intends to impress upon us that spiritual activity must be from a proper hearts towards God, and never done to win the praise and approval of men.  If it is a proper time to fast, we ought to fast whether in the midst of a populous city, or whether alone in the desert.

In order to guard against pride, our Lord gives us directions as to how we ought to fast.  Because even a sincere heart can be puffed up if others notice he is engaged in some spiritual activity, Jesus tells us that we ought to conceal these private duties as much as possible.  Of course if one lives in a household, it would be impossible for a husband not to alert his wife that he is fasting, or a child the parent.  Otherwise they would be rightly concerned as to why we did not show our face at the dinner table.  But that exception aside, we ought to go about our normal business when we are fasting, doing nothing to give men opportunity to praise us for our supposed holiness.  If no men are aware we are fasting, that is well and good.  It will guard us against performing religious duties out of regard to human opinion, and if we are truly fasting out of a pure heart towards God, the Father in heaven will reward us openly for our devotion to Him.