“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?” Isaiah 58:6-7 (NIV)

I read a book by a Christian author where he told the story of a co-worker who was known for his willingness to do anything for just about anyone. This person never sought attention or credit for his good deeds. When the author asked why he was so willing to help others, the man replied: “I just remember who I’m doing it for.” He then quoted Matthew 25:40, where Jesus tells us that which we do for the least of His brothers and sisters we do for Him. I’ve come to call these “25:40s.” But God earlier shared His desire for us to live a 25:40 life through the prophet Isaiah.

Fasting, in many cases, had become self-serving, even for show. In the passage above, God, through Isaiah, is telling His people that a true fast requires a true sacrifice in the service of others. In verse 5 we read: “Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for people to humble themselves? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying in sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?”

In other words, the worshiper is merely doing something to himself to show how devoted he is. What does this mean for us? As the NIV Application Commentary puts it:

“God calls for behavior that is self-forgetful and outward-looking. Let acts of self-denial be for the sake of others and not for one’s own sake. Work ‘to set the oppressed free.’ Eat less in order to have food to give to the ‘hungry.’ Wear less-expensive clothes in order to clothe the ‘naked.’”

While this might sound preachy, it’s really intended as a caution and warning. Well-intentioned Christ-followers can turn Bible studies, committee meetings, Sunday service, daily devotions, prayer, and tithing into 21st-century versions of the fasting we read about in Isaiah. There is nothing wrong with any of these things. In fact, we should do them. But Jesus was calling us to a 25:40 life. Just remember: the brother or sister you serve is really just Jesus with skin on.

— Pastor Jerry Bader

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