Sitting at the Feet of Yeshua
We continue exploring the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew 6. Yeshua has just finished teaching His talmidim how to pray and now continues with instructions on fasting and dealing with material possessions.
Before getting into the subject of material possessions, Yeshua shares His thoughts on fasting. “Now when you fast, don’t go around looking miserable, like the hypocrites. They make sour faces so that people will know they are fasting. Yes! I tell you, they have their reward already! But you, when you fast, wash your face and groom yourself, so that no one will know you are fasting – except your Father, who is with you in secret. Your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Matthew 6:16-18)
The only fast that God actually required of the Jewish people was on Yom Kippur (see Vayikra 23:27). However, the P’rushim fasted every Monday and Thursday (see Luke 18:12) and did so in such a way that people knew they were fasting. Their purpose, of course, was to win the praise of men. Not good – wrong motive!
It is not wrong to fast, if we do it in the right way and with the right motive. Matthew records that Yeshua fasted (see Matthew 4:3); so did the members of the early Messianic community (see Acts 13:2). Fasting helps to discipline the appetites of the body (see Luke 5:34) and keep our spiritual priorities straight. But fasting must never become an opportunity for temptation (see 1 Corinthians 7:7).
Simply to deprive ourselves of a natural benefit (such as food or sleep) is not of itself fasting. We must devote ourselves to God and worship Him. Unless there is the devotion of the heart (see Zechariah 7) there is no lasting spiritual benefit. In other words, while you are fasting you should be using that time to mediate on the Word of God.
As with giving and praying, true fasting must be done in secret; it is between the believer and God. To “go around looking miserable” would be to destroy the very purpose of the fast. Here is a basic principle of spiritual living: Nothing that is truly spiritual will violate that which God has given us in nature. God usually does not tear down one good thing in order to build up another. If we have to look miserable to be considered spiritual, then there is something wrong with our views of spirituality.
In Jewish practice, fasting had three main ideas.
- Fasting was a deliberate attempt to draw the attention of God to the person who fasted.
- Fasting was a deliberate attempt to prove that penitence was real. Fasting was a guarantee of the sincerity of words and prayers.
- A great deal of fasting was vicarious. It was not designed to save a man’s own soul so much as to move God to liberate the nation from its distresses.
Today, I believe that fasting has gone almost completely out of style. Yeshua condemned the wrong kind of fasting, but He never meant that fasting should be completely eliminated from life and living. Remember, He told the talmidim that some spirits were only exorcised after much prayer and fasting. (see Matthew 17:21) We would do well to practice it in our own way and according to our own need.
Yeshua now directs our attention to material possessions. “Do not store up for yourselves wealth here on earth, where moths and rust destroy, and burglars break in and steal. Instead, store up for yourselves wealth in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and burglars do not break in or steal. For where your wealth is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21)
We are accustomed to dividing life into the “spiritual” and the “material or physical”; but Yeshua made no such distinction. In many of His parables, He made it clear that a right attitude toward wealth is a mark of true spirituality (see Luke 12:13ff; 16:1-31). If we have the true righteousness of Messiah in our lives, then we will have a proper attitude toward material wealth.
Nowhere does Yeshua magnify poverty or criticize the legitimate gaining of wealth. God made all things, including food, clothing and precious metals. God has declared that all things He made are good (B’resheet 1:31). God knows that we need certain things in order to live (Matthew 6:32). In fact, He “richly provides us with all things for our enjoyment.” (1 Timothy 6:17) It is not wrong to possess things, but it is wrong for things to possess us. The sin of idolatry is as dangerous as the sin of hypocrisy! There are many warnings in the Bible against covetousness (Sh’mot 20:17; Psalms 119:36; Mark 7:22; Luke 12:15ff; Ephesians 5:5; Colossians 3:5).
Yeshua warned against the sin of living for the things of this life. He pointed out the sad consequences of covetousness and idolatry. Materialism will enslave the heart (Matthew 6:19-21), the mind (Matthew 6:22-23), and the will (Matthew 6:24). The material things of life can shackle us, but we ought to be liberated and controlled by the Spirit of God.
If the heart loves material things, and puts earthly gain above heavenly investments, then the result can only be a tragic loss. The treasures of earth may be used for God. But if we gather material things for ourselves, we will lose them; and we will lose our hearts with them. Instead of spiritual enrichment, we will experience impoverishment.
It’s difficult to know our own hearts (Jeremiah 17:9; Psalm 119:23-24). If we examine our treasures, we’ll find out whether our hearts are in spiritual things or in earthly things.
What does it mean to lay up our wealth in heaven? It means to use all that we have for the glory of God. It means to “simplify” when it comes to the material things of life. It also means measuring life by the true riches of the kingdom and not by the false riches of this world.
How do we lay up our wealth in heaven? In the parable of the unjust steward recorded in Luke 16, Yeshua commended the wisdom of the man who planned for his future by using his position to his advantage (Luke 16:1-12). In the same way, we should use what God has entrusted to us and the places He has put us in for spiritual enrichment rather than for temporal gain. We’re not to put our trust and security in our earthly possessions, for they’re so easily lost. Instead, we’re to trust God to provide for all our needs while we devote ourselves to the things of the world where we’ll spend eternity.
Yeshua gives us three images of wealth in Israel.
- He tells us to avoid the things that the moth can destroy. In the Middle East, part of a person’s wealth often consisted in fine and elaborate fabrics. When Elisha’s servant, wished to make some forbidden profit out of Na’aman, after his master had cured him, he asked him for a talent of silver and two festal garments (2 Kings 5:22). But such things were foolish things to set the heart upon, for the moths might eat them when they were stored away and all their beauty and their value would be destroyed. There was no permanence about possessions like that.
- He tells us to avoid the things that rust can destroy. The word, which is translated ‘rust’, literally means to eat away. In the Middle East, many a man’s wealth consisted in the corn and the grain that he had stored away in his great barns. But into that corn and grain there would come worms, rats and mice, until the store was polluted and destroyed. In all probability, the reference is to the way in which such vermin could get into a granary and eat away the grain. There was no permanence about possessions like that.
- He tells us to avoid the treasure that thieves can break in and steal. In Israel, the walls of many of the houses were made of nothing stronger than baked clay; and burglars could gain entry by literally digging through the wall. The reference here is to the man who has stashed a small pouch of gold, only to find when he comes home one day, that thieves have dug through his flimsy walls and that his gold is gone. There is no permanency about a treasure, which is at the mercy of any enterprising thief.
The Jewish people were very familiar with the phrase ‘wealth in heaven.’ They identified such wealth with two things in particular.
- Deeds of kindness (tzedakah) that a person did upon earth became his wealth in heaven. (Mathew 6:1-4)
- A person’s character. The only thing that a man can take out of this world is himself; and the better the self he takes, the greater his wealth in heaven will be.
Yeshua ends this section by stating, “where your wealth is, there your heart will be also.” If everything that a man values and sets his heart upon is on earth, then he will have no interest in eternity; if all through his life a man’s eyes are on eternity, then he will evaluate lightly the things of this world. If everything which a man counts valuable is on this earth, then he will leave this earth reluctantly and grudgingly; if a man’s thoughts have always been on eternity, he will leave this world with gladness, because he goes at last to the Father.
In my next post, we will pick back up on this topic of wealth.