14 Then came to him the disciples of John, saying, Why do we and the Pharisees fast oft, but thy disciples fast not? 15 And Jesus said unto them, Can the children of the bridechamber mourn, as long as the bridegroom is with them? but the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken from them, and then shall they fast. ~ Matthew 9:14-15
- Fellowship is the Focus
- Fellowship is the Fulcrum
In Jesus’ day, fasting (i.e., abstaining from food for religious reasons) was seen as an important demonstration of piety. Therefore, those who fasted were spiritual and those who didn’t fast were carnal/worldly. With this mindset one can understand why the devout disciples of John the Baptist were puzzled/perplexed when they noticed that Jesus’ disciples didn’t fast. However, as we will discuss below, Jesus makes it clear that their understanding and approach to fasting was wrong. Moreover, by reorienting their concept of spirituality, Jesus explains what it means to live in the Kingdom of God: Living in the Kingdom of God is all about fellowship with Jesus.
Fellowship is the Focus
In Jesus’ day, the guests at a wedding feast would neither eat nor begin any celebrating until the bridegroom arrived. Instead, they would wait patiently until they heard the signal that the bridegroom was on his way; only then would they get the party started. Moreover, when the bridegroom did arrive, the best seats in the house were the ones closest to him. Similar traditions continue in many wedding today, where seats are reserved at the front of a wedding reception for the special guests (usually, family and closest friends).
It was the presence or the absence of the bridegroom that determined the activity: the focus was on the bridegroom, or, more specifically the focus was on interacting (fellowshipping) with the bridegroom. Therefore, when Jesus asked, “Can the children of the bridechamber mourn, as long as the bridegroom is with them?” He was making the point that the ONLY reason for fasting, or any other spiritual exercise, is fellowship with Him (the bridegroom).
Jesus must be the focus of any religious ritual in the Kingdom of God. Sadly, we have often allowed ourselves to lose that focus, instead concentrating (wrongly) on the ritual rather than the Redeemer. Like the disciples of John the Baptist, we engage in rituals regardless of the state of our relationship to Jesus. Therefore, we go to church, sing and pray as the ritual dictates rather than as our relationship with God directs. However, Jesus tells us:
But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth. ~ John 4:23-24
Worship has nothing to do with the external/physical, but has everything to do with the spiritual. It doesn’t matter whether we jump high or sit low, shout or whisper, run around or stand quietly; pick the one that you like. The only thing that does matter is whether we are truly communing with God spiritually, whether the worship is authentic.
If we are not walking closely with Jesus, then clapping hands or not clapping hands won’t make our exercise into true worship. Rituality can’t take the place of the reality of our relationship with God. Consequently, Believers must preoccupy themselves with the Bridegroom: We must keep focused on fellowshipping with Jesus, hour-by-hour, day-by-day.
Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. ~ Matthew 22:37-38
Thus saith the LORD, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches: But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me… ~ Jeremiah 9:23-24
Wherewith shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before the high God? …He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God? ~ Micah 6:6, 8
Fellowship is the Fulcrum
If fellowship with Jesus is our focus, then it also must be the fulcrum, the pivot, on which we make our decisions. Jesus indicated that the spiritual discipline of fasting was necessary, and expected, when He was absent. Just as in the Jewish wedding ceremonies of that day, feasting only takes place when the bridegroom is present, otherwise the guests fast till he comes. Therefore, the decision on whether to fast or not is determined solely by the presence of the bridegroom. In other words, our fellowship with Jesus determines our worship response.
Righteousness gives birth to worship, NOT vice-versa. We don’t accomplish worship by deciding to perform a ritual, whether that is fasting or attending church, or anything else. Rather, it is our relationship with Jesus that gives birth to our worship of Him.
Jesus’ disciples would fast when Jesus returned to heaven and was less accessible to them than when He was with them in the flesh. Therefore, their decision to fast depended on their ability to commune with Him. On the other hand, John’s disciples (also Believers) had no motivation for the ritual, except that it was expected of them. For John’s disciples, the ritual of fasting was an end in itself.
We have lost our way when we do something only because it is “supposed to be done”. If we only go to church “because we are supposed to” , then we might as well not go. When we sing just because, it’s time to sing; and pray just because it’s time to pray, then we are clearly neither worshipping in spirit nor in truth.
To further illustrate this point, let us consider a few verses from Psalm 63
1O God, thou art my God; early will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is;
3Because thy lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise thee.
7Because thou hast been my help, therefore in the shadow of thy wings will I rejoice. ~ Psalm 63:1, 3, 7
In Psalm 63 it is evident that the writer’s worship of God comes out of his experience with God and/or his need for God.
He seeks God because of the thirst in his soul. He praises God because he has experienced God’s lovingkindness. He rejoices in his relationship with God because he has experienced God’s help. Every expression of worship springs from his relationship with God.
Likewise, let our fellowship with The Father be the fulcrum of our worship activity. Let us choose to worship, not because we are supposed to worship, but because we have experienced intimate fellowship with Him.
- Can we worship God, without first fellowshipping with God?
- Does worship produce fellowship (with God), or does fellowship (with God) produce worship?
- If we are not walking with Jesus in our everyday lives, does the music/worship-style (at church) matter?
- If we fail to fellowship with Jesus when we are away from church, can we expect to find fellowship with Jesus when we attend church?
- Does church attendance (alone) make us acceptable to God?