Why Anoint Your Head and Wash Your Face When You Fast?

A Little Lesson

Read the transcript of this video below.

Why should you, as Jesus commanded, anoint your head and wash your face when you fast?

Picture of man washing his face

Hi, welcome to today’s little lesson. Regular viewers know that we’ve been working our way through Jesus’s most famous sermon, “The Sermon on the Mount.” And we come across this section in Matthew Chapter Six where Jesus tells us that certain things that we do, we need to check our motives by doing them secretly to make sure that we’re not doing it to be seen by other people.

And we’ve already covered giving alms, and then we also covered praying. And when Jesus talks about praying in secret, it kind of follows this … I hate to call it a rabbit trail, because Jesus didn’t follow any rabbit trails. He was always led by the Holy Spirit, but he elaborates a little more in prayer.

We talked about the Lord’s Prayer, the importance of forgiveness, and he circles back around to this “check your motives” theme in Matthew chapter Six and verse number 16 whenever you fast.

Now notice he didn’t say, “If you fast,” to his disciples. He said, “Whenever you fast.” So let me point the finger of question at you. Are you a Christian who fasts?

Okay, well, you aren’t? Well, you should be. And he doesn’t lay down any rules of how often, how long. But when you fast, not if you fast.

“Do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting. Truly, I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you when you fast anoint your head and wash your face, so that your fasting will not be noticed by men, but by your father, who is in secret. And your father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.”

So why did Jesus tell his disciples to anoint their heads and wash their faces when they fast? Well, the whole point is to disguise the fact that they are fasting. Now washing your face. Well, you’re just looking like you cleaned yourself up that day. Everybody ought to wash their face everyday, right?

But apparently, there were some folks back in Jesus day who wanted everyone to know that they’re fasting, and they’re suffering, and they’re depriving themselves of food. And so, they’d make themselves kind of look as disheveled as they could and put on a gloomy face to let people know, “Oh, you are so spiritual, because, look, you’re depriving yourself of food.”

We find these people today, in the body of Christ, they’re often more subtle. But still they have subtle ways of letting you know what day of their fast that they’re currently on.

Lord help us. Lord help us. And why do you anoint your head? Well, I don’t know that for a fact, but I’m suspecting that it’s kind of the oil or the perfume that you would use to anoint your head would then create a certain aroma that people would smell when they’re around you. Like a cologne if you’re a guy, perfume if you’re a woman, or for guys, aftershave that has some kind of aroma to it.

When you fast, anyone who’s fasted knows that your breath, it really can get bad. And back in Jesus’s day, they didn’t have the benefit of toothpaste. I don’t know if they used toothbrushes or sticks or how they cleansed their mouths after eating. But a toothbrush and toothpaste, we’ve got a good substitute for anointing our head with oil, putting on some kind of a perfume or some smelling oil, that would kind of overpower the smell of the bad breath of the faster.

Okay? So I’m going to just say you don’t have to necessarily do this, literally anoint your head. Wash your face. That’s a good idea. But the whole idea here is try to keep it secret that you’re fasting, so you’re doing it as unto the Lord.

I heard …. And this applies to many things, not just praying and giving, and fasting. I heard a preacher one time tell a little story about a woman who had a beautiful voice, and she just wanted to sing in front of church and got to show off her talent and so forth. But doors just weren’t opening for her, and so she prayed passionately, “Lord, I just want to sing for you.”

And as the story goes, the Lord spoke to her very plainly and clearly, and said, “Wonderful. Go ahead.”

And you can see what is implied by all that. She’s saying, “Oh, Lord I just want to serve you.” But what she’s really saying is, “Oh Lord, I just want people to see me serving you, and I want people to know how talented and gifted I am, and how lovely my voice is.”

And so, she disguised that as, “Oh Lord, I just want to sing for you.” Trying to kind of pull the wool over God’s. Even though this is a really selfish prayer, maybe God won’t know if I phrase it in such a way. “Oh Lord, I just want to sing for you.”

And the Lord says, “Well go ahead.” Other words, “I’m ready. I’m waiting to listen. Sing for me right now. Not in front of an audience. There’s going to be no applause. This is an audience of one.”

So I think it’s good to think about in all that we do, because anything that you do in ministry … I’ve listed four things now. But anything you do, you can do it for the wrong motives, and you can fool yourself. Oh my goodness, can you fool yourself. Here’s a guy that I know this experiencially. The only way, that I know, to really test your motives is do it secretly.

And don’t do it semi-secretly in the hope that somebody will discover and they’ll even think higher of you because you were, allegedly, trying. You fooled them into thinking you were trying to do it secretly or anonymously. Well that would be like adding to the evil wouldn’t it?

Not only are you doing it for selfish motives, but you’re pretending, you’re trying to deceive people, to think you’re doing it for unselfish motives by appearing like you’re doing it for unselfish motives. I mean, the layers of deceit that we sometimes pile up. Yikes.

So do it secretly. And those of us who are preachers and teachers, what can we do? How can we … Can you teach secretly?

That’s a tough one there. I’m not sure the Lord wants to listen to our teaching. Here’s a way to test your motives. Is there anyone that you’re too good to preach or teach to?

Your preacher or teacher? You too good to teach children? You just want the big crowds? To good to just minister to one person who maybe isn’t all that appreciative, or do you got to have the crowds? See, that’s a way to test what’s really motivating you.

Okay. All right. So this pretty much completes that section of the certain amount, the motives section. So we’re going to go on next time into the whole laying up of treasures section. That’s really interesting. All right?

Thanks for joining me. See you next time.