Making the Love Connection

Matthew 6:16-34

“And whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance in order to be seen fasting by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you fast, anoint your head, and wash your face so that you may not be seen fasting by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will repay you. Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon 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 or steal; for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. The lamp of the body is the eye; if therefore your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will hold to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and Mammon. For this reason I say to you, do not be anxious for your life, as to what you shall eat, or what you shall drink; nor for your body, as to what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single cubit to his life’s span? And why are you anxious about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory did not clothe himself like one of these. But if God so arrays the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more do so for you, O men of little faith? Do not be anxious then, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘With what shall we clothe ourselves?’ For all these things the Gentiles eagerly seek; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious for tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

Matthew 6:16 in the ESV, has a more literal translation, it reads, “And 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.” These two-faced actors portraying ​the part of pious predecessors to the patriarchs and prophets pretend as they play the part of hungry, humiliated, and humble humans–hypocrites! “Look at me, I am fasting, I am ever-so egalitarian.” I should point out however, that compared to the Sadducees, who were elitists, the Pharisees were much more in touch with the common man. In fact, we know of some Pharisees who converted to Christianity. I don’t remember a single Sadducee doing the same. Nevertheless, both groups are included in this faked form of phylactery festooning. It was all for show, for them, all of the land of Judea was a stage and they but the actors.

It’s actually astonishing what the Lord alludes to in this particular passage, if one chooses to accept it. When fasting, act like you are not. It’s hypocritical​ to show one is fasting by acting like a pauper, that is, making one’s appearance match the desolation of one’s stomach. But it is not hypocritical to act like one is not fasting. Now, I am being altogether too literal because my aspiration to my audience is for us to see that the alleged law followers, keep getting it wrong. From fasting to praying, Jesus continually corrects. If I were teaching this text to teenagers, I would create a meme of a Pharisee looking gloomy and grim, the text would read, “Fasting: you’re doing it wrong.”

I have not fasted in a few years, and we will not examine examples of how, when or even if, we should fast, because it is not our subject even though it is in the context. If one doesn’t fast, I don’t think that it is harmful but I do believe one is missing out. Many pastors and preachers, theologians and teachers believe that fasting doesn’t apply today and many others do. I agree with the latter but it is certainly not an essential element to walk with God. The last time I fasted, no one knew it at the time. It was winter, I was working alone and while I am frequently separated from my family, we were actually all together. However, my offspring are oblivious to certain things and we live by; “eat when you are hungry, drink when you are dry, if something doesn’t kill you, you will live until you die.” Meaning, we skip meals if we’re not hungry. Therefore, nobody knew that I was fasting. I was low and the people surrounding me were lower, I felt led to fast. Honestly, it is probably the closest I was to God in a long time, it was exciting to see and hear clearly. I did everything the same except for food and much prayer. But after a couple of days I attended a wedding feast. I had been reminded earlier in the week that Paul writes we are to rejoice with those who rejoice. Should I continue my fast in front of a hundred or more people or should I rejoice with those rejoicing? Yeah, I pigged out, got my grub on and rejoiced. I don’t tell this story to be like the hypocrites but to agree with God. He met me in my fasting and in my feasting with others. I didn’t have to be gloomy because gloomy is the opposite of fasting. Feasting and fasting are actually the same thing, spiritually speaking.

I don’t believe in retirement. Like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, it’s mostly myth. I jest, a little. Without taking the verses to literal extremes, I do question retirement though. For example; show me retirement in the Bible, without including Levitical priests. For that matter, consider the following context, which says: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon 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 or steal; for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” The ones who seem to take the Bible the most literally, seem to have the biggest retirement accounts. Keep this in mind because the context continues.

“The lamp of the body is the eye; if therefore your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will hold to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and Mammon.” I am not suggesting, nor do I believe Jesus is saying, that having money is equivalent to darkness. Nevertheless, this is a heart test. Many pastors and preachers, theologians and teachers, teach their followers financial responsibility using the Bible. Problem: they usually teach to store up money. Again, I am not taking these verses to literal extremes but look at the context. How easy is it to be on a financial plan that one obsesses over? It’s a very slippery slope from fiscal responsibility to the love of money. I am the last person on Earth that should be writing about money, therefore I will cease soon. However, I will confess to being bad with money but God always takes care of our needs. Keep considering the context.

“For this reason I say to you, do not be anxious for your life, as to what you shall eat, or what you shall drink; nor for your body, as to what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?” I am not seeing retirement here. Don’t get me wrong, I also don’t see a socialist Utopia either. Nor do I see a lazy christian, writing many missives, expecting pennies from heaven to fall. Paul writes, “For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example, because we did not act in an undisciplined manner among you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with labor and hardship we kept working night and day so that we might not be a burden to any of you; not because we do not have the right to this, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you, that you might follow our example. For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone will not work, neither let him eat.” We must not take these verses to literal extremes nor out of context. Jesus is not saying don’t be fiscally responsible. Nor is he saying to wait around for God to bless you with material goods. Christians starve to death naked in jail cells, that doesn’t mean that the words of God have failed, it means we misunderstand the words of Jesus. Consider the context; “Is not life more than food, and the body than clothing,” Jesus asks rhetorically? Based on the context, we know it’s a rhetorical question because it’s a mountainous monologue. Yet something begins to manifest itself in these words of Jesus.

“Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single cubit to his life’s span? And why are you anxious about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory did not clothe himself like one of these.” God loves his creation and despite of the fall and resulting curse, there is still incredible beauty in the world and God is sovereign over it all. He has organized everything ever-so meticulously. The sun in photosynthesis causes the plants to grow, the bees cross-pollinate the plant and a seed is produced to continue the cycle. It seems that the only beings that fail at their job is mankind. God provides. Nevertheless, we have work to do. Much more valuable than plants and animals are we, that Jesus points to them to give us understanding. God loves and will take care of his people and he knows best. I believe that the largest problem within modern Christianity is the same problem Jesus dealt with during his earthly ministry; we have a very low view and expectation of God.

“But if God so arrays the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more do so for you, O men of little faith?” Context is King! Men of little faith existed then and are personified through the evangelical church today. We run around robbing Peter to pay Paul, trying to make a dollar out of fifteen cents. We invest, store up, use words like portfolio, but the truth is that this is all contrary to the teaching of Jesus. Therefore I will ask again; show me retirement in the Bible because the Bible is antithetical to investment. Were the Israelites allowed to charge interest?

Maybe I am to over-the-top in my missives–perhaps I take things too literally (see my series on Revelation for a contrary opinion). I don’t believe Jesus is attacking retirement or savings accounts. But I do believe that one must see what Jesus says. Don’t store up treasure here, but rather, in heaven. Is one’s fiscal responsibility to provide for oneself in old age heavenly or worldly? I will let you decide. I am not trying to be provocative but proactive. I don’t desire for one to question but to think. I believe this is exactly what Jesus is doing as well.

“Do not be anxious then, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘With what shall we clothe ourselves?’ For all these things the Gentiles eagerly seek; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious for tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

Have you made the love connection yet? Jesus was not alluding to retirement. I merely use retirement as an example for us to see that which Jesus says. God loves his people and knows what is best for them. My point is to not rely on a 401k but to the giver of all things. The point Jesus makes is much more broad. Jesus uses nature to paint the picture of God’s will and benevolence towards his people. What ever one’s circumstance, “we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose…But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Jesus is the true Israel. His mountainous monologue clarifies the Law and demonstrates God’s love for his creation. We will continue to see this unfold as we continue to walk through this mountainous monologue. For now, consider Israel, who whined and complained in the wilderness. Yet they were given manna and water from the rock, and the rock was Christ. God takes care of his people. It’s the Love connection.

 

 

 

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