Moreover when you fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces…
The three expressions of the religious life introduced here - almsgiving, prayer, and fasting - are not treated as duties which we are bound to fulfil, but as things to which we are inwardly impelled by the movements of that religious life. Fasting especially is a personal resolve rather than a prescribed duty - helpful and useful, if a man thus voluntarily brings his body into self-restraint; a snare if, without a man's will, it is done in order to gain merit. Religious fasting had long prevailed among the devout Jews. It had been perverted by ascetics on the one hand, and by Pharisees on the other. Because misused, our Lord dealt with it thus in the way of correction. He assumes that it is quite possible his disciples may desire to fast; he therefore deals with the proper spirit of fasting.
I. FASTING IS AS ACT OF SELF-RESTRAINT. It belongs to the sphere of self-discipline. And that is strictly a personal and private matter. A man may help his brother by his example, showing the results of self-discipline. No man is called to show his brother the process of self-discipline; indeed, he must spoil the process if he attempts to show it. There is a growth of the plant which must go on in the soil and in the dark. You can never safely expose rootings. Our Lord teaches, that all moral discipline and bodily restraint - which may be gathered up and represented by fasting - belong to a man's private life, and should not even be made publicly known by the man's appearance. It is, indeed, a distinct failure of self-restraint to want to show others our self-restraint.
"Else let us keep our fast within,
Till Heaven and we are quite alone'
Then let the grief, the shame, the sin,
Before the mercy-seat be thrown."
II. FASTING AS AN ACT OF HUMILIATION. Distinctly the design of fasting is to enfeeble appetite and to humiliate passions. It is noticed that appetites for self-indulgence are strong when the body is pampered with luxurious food. But it is no humiliation to show our humiliation, and get our restrainings praised. That does but change body-pride for heart-pride, which is more defiling. Note this danger: in fasting to restrain bodily appetite we may come to think that evil is in the body. - R.T.
Parallel VersesKJV: Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
WEB: "Moreover when you fast, don't be like the hypocrites, with sad faces. For they disfigure their faces, that they may be seen by men to be fasting. Most certainly I tell you, they have received their reward.