Measuring the spirituality of a person can be tricky business given everyone will evaluate people and situations from a particular set of personal values. If I value a specific spiritual discipline or activity, I will tend to measure other people and their spiritual vitality along those same lines. Simply put, I have a lens through which I see every situation and every person (in said situation) from an intrinsically self-informed and self-oriented perspective.
How do I find a healthy balance?
When I read the Bible it shapes what loyalty (a.k.a. “spirituality”) to the Lord REALLY looks like according to what He says in the life of a person or in the lives of a group of people. The interactions contained in the Bible between an individual and the Lord or between prophet(s) speaking for the Lord and the people of God are provided so I can know for certain who the Lord is and what living a Godward life should and will look like. In other words, the truth of the Bible is to bend what I would LIKE TO think is spiritual to what REALLY IS true about honoring the Lord in my life. Without a stream of truth informing my understanding, I can/will warp God into being whatever I would like Him to be. I believe this is exactly why some people major on Jesus being all about love at the expense of the truth or holiness. Who doesn’t want to emphasize Jesus as being all love? The problem is that while Jesus certainly is loving, the love He has never cancels out the command for His disciples to deny themselves and take up their cross in order to follow Him or that whoever is ashamed of Him in front of others He will deny when He comes again in His glory (see Luke 9:23-27). Without a healthy understanding of how both the love and holiness of God work together, a person can make Jesus more like Santa than Savior. When I don’t have the Word of God functioning as this corrective dynamic in my life, I quickly enter into a form of idolatry – making God into a Being that I would like to believe in or what is easiest to believe about God and what He wants from me. Naturally, I then begin to measure those around as being spiritual according to the “God” that I have fashioned. This is exactly what was occurring in Mark 2:13-22 that we considered in the teaching yesterday.
The adherents of John the Baptist and Pharisees would abstain from eating food (“fasting”) because they believed when they did so they were obeying the Lord. John the Baptist’s disciples saw fasting as an act of repenting for their disregard for the Covenantal standards that they (as a people) had agreed to (see Exodus 24:1-8) and would, therefore, hurry God’s Messiah in coming and would result in driving the Roman Empire from their land. Therefore, the followers of John the Baptist’s message would: “fast often and offer prayers… (Luke 5:33).
The Pharisees saw fasting as a discipline that proved their piety toward God, a lifestyle that proved them to be more devout, more holy than the less disciplined, more sinful people around them. In Luke 18:10-12, Jesus summarizes the view of the Pharisees in a parable:
He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’
Therefore, the Pharisees prescribed a weekly fast to occur on Monday and Thursday from sunup to sundown.
While I am sure there was a level of sincerity in the mindset of some of those who initially ascribed to following either fasting standards, there was an eventual poisonous outcome in both groups – they began to view other people as being spiritual or unspiritual depending on how others followed the standard THEY had created. As a matter of fact, both the disciples of John’s message as well as the Pharisees went so far as to question the spiritual temperature of Jesus due to His followers not keeping the fasting standards created by their respective groups:
And people came and said to him, “Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” Mark 2:18
While this might read relatively innocuously, the undertone of the sentiment is: “Your disciples are not acting spiritually.” Make no mistake, they are asking about Jesus’ disciples but they are aiming at the credibility of Jesus own spiritual commitment. In other words, “If Jesus were truly spiritual then He would enforce the standards WE have created within the regular discipline of fasting just like we do.”
Getting Fasting Wrong
In short, they expected Jesus and His followers to get with their program. There was only one MAJOR problem with that… the standards they had created for fasting had been created by them. In the Old Testament, there is only one day was required to fast – The Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). While there are examples of people choosing to fast for various personal reasons (Ex. 34, Deut. 9, I Kings 19, etc.) and according to various personal periods of time (1, 3, 7, 21, 40 days) there is only one time in which the people were commanded to fast – the Day of Atonement.
“And it shall be a statute to you forever that in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict – [commonly used for restraining from eating, fasting, emphasis mine] yourselves and shall do no work, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you. 30 For on this day shall atonement be made for you to cleanse you. You shall be clean before the Lord from all your sins. 31 It is a Sabbath of solemn rest to you, and you shall afflict yourselves; it is a statute forever. Lev. 16:29-31
Do you see what occurred here? The “spiritual” standards of the followers of John the Baptist and the Pharisees allowed their view and value of fasting to mushroom into a standard by which to judge EVERYONE else, including Jesus, without having the Biblical basis for that standard. In other words, they created a way to measure the spiritual loyalty of people apart from God’s approval and then applied it to everyone. The personal value they developed became a view they then enforced. The end result was a warping of God’s character and priority (see Isaiah 58 to know the Lord’s perspective on what He intended for fasting to produce) that then was passed on to the people through the modeling of “spiritual” leadership that formed in the people of God a completely false understanding of the heart of God. By the time of Jesus’ ministry, this warped lens of what it means to be loyal to the Lord becomes a means by which the leadership of Isreal will call for the death of Jesus (see Mark 3:6).
Never Made It Out Of The Garden
The followers of John the Baptist and the Pharisees had a lens through which they measured everyone (in the area of fasting) that was intrinsically self-informed and self-oriented. In effect, these people enter into what I call, “the garden effect” – they try to effectively become God by determining what is good and what is evil. Just like Adam and Eve wanted to be like God, the adherents of John the Baptist and the Pharisees are playing God by determining what is and is not spiritual. Tragically, we all have this flesh-craving inertia inside of us – to camouflage our desires as really being God’s desires. Again, this is one more reason why being committed to what the Bible teaches is so incredibly vital. The value of expositional teaching (truth flowing from the historical and grammatical context of a given passage) finds its full effect by shaping the way we see God so that we can then live for God according to His standard of truth and grace. Pray that we continue to mine what God’s Word says in order to have a God-shaped life that will supernaturally spread the fame of God.