“But when you give to someone in need, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Give your gifts in private, and your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.
“And when you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, for they try to look miserable and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting. I tell you the truth, that is the only reward they will ever get.”
(Matthew 6:3-4, 16)
Fasting was mandatory for the Jewish people once a year on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 23:32). The Pharisees voluntarily fasted twice a week to impress the people with their “holiness.” Fasting—going without food in order to spend time in prayer—is noble and difficult. It gives us time to pray, teaches self-discipline, reminds us that we can live with a lot less, and helps us appreciate God’s gifts. Jesus was not condemning fasting, but hypocrisy—fasting for public recognition.
It’s easier to do what’s right when we gain recognition and praise. But Jesus commended acts of self-sacrifice done quietly and sincerely. He wanted people to adopt spiritual disciplines for the right reasons, not from a selfish desire for praise. Jesus says we should check our motives in three areas: generosity (6:4), prayer (6:6), and fasting (6:18).
Spiritual disciplines should not be self-centered but God-centered, done not to make us look good but to make God look good. With your next good deed, ask, Would I still do this if no one would ever know I did it?