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. (Matthew 6:16)
Perhaps Jesus’s words about prayer and fasting are more relevant than ever. Not that the human heart has changed. Quite the opposite — the heart has been, and always will be, apart from God, “desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9).
No, the condition of man’s heart hasn’t changed; there are just new ways, with every new app and social medium, for man’s desire for praise to express itself in public. No longer is the reach of our actions simply relegated to the street corner. Instead, in today’s world, the simplest of YouTube videos can make you famous.
Seeking Approval in All the Wrong Places
Seeking approval, and the personal satisfaction that results, is not what Jesus condemns; it is seeking it in the wrong source. John Piper writes,
Even if we do not have a strong sense of merit, we may crave the same result, namely the praise of men. Jesus warns us not to give charity or pray or fast in order to be seen by others. “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them” (Matthew 6:1). “When you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others” (Matthew 6:5). “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others” (Matthew 6:16). Jesus calls them “hypocrites” because in their praying and fasting they want to appear as if they treasure God, but in fact they treasure the praise of men. (What Jesus Demands from the World, 127)
The same misplaced desire for approval is why Jeremiah rebuked Israel: “Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the LORD, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water” (Jeremiah 2:12–13).
Craving human praise is a cistern that cannot hold water. That is why Jesus tells his disciples how to pray and fast. Our hearts are so sinful that we can twist the purest of activities — even prayer and fasting — into something that conjures praise from our fellow man.
Written by Joseph Scheumann
Full story at Desiring God