Scriptures

Fasting

Introduction

Fasting was an accepted part of everyday life in Old Testament times. Bear in mind that Israel was not a political state, but a theocracy, that is a religious state in which the Law and will of God was preeminent. The first reference to fasting is in the Book of Judges,

Judges 20:26 ‘Then all the Israelites, the whole army, went up to Bethel, and there they sat weeping before the LORD. They fasted that day until evening and presented burnt offerings and fellowship offerings to the LORD.’

The last reference to fasting in the Book of the prophet Zechariah and devout Jews fasted.

Zechariah 8:19 ‘The fasts of the fourth, fifth, seventh and tenth months will become joyful and glad occasions and happy festivals for Judah. Therefore, love truth and peace.’

Most of the fasting was undertaken voluntarily and was not undertaken at the command of God but devout Jews undertook fasting for at least two reasons.

Not for health reasons, but,

1. Because they believed it was a way of attracting the attention of God. If they fasted, they thought that God noticed them.

And, 2. Because they thought that, if they fasted, God would be prepared do something about the situation that had caused them to fast.

If you think about this second reason, you will see that if a man thought his fasting had influenced God to act, it was very easy for him to imagine that he, personally, was someone special!

The reality, although, through the centuries, the Jew, especially after the Babylonian Captivity, introduced fasts for a whole range of reasons, but only one fast was specifically commanded by God, and that was the fast associated with the Day of Atonement, the most important and solemn Day in their religious Year.

Leviticus 16:29 ‘This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: On the tenth day of the seventh month you must deny yourselves’.

In this passage the expression, ‘deny yourselves’ or ‘afflict your souls’ is the expression for fasting, and this was the only fast that the Jews observed faithfully every year.

When we examine the New Testament, it surprises some people to find that the Lord only mentioned fasting twice.

Matthew 6:16-18 ‘When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.’

Mark 2:18-22 ‘Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. Some people came and asked Jesus, “How is it that John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting, but yours are not?” Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them. But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast. “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. Otherwise, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins.’

Notice that both passages above, record Jesus’ response to the practice of that time. But also, notice, although about 16 times He says,

‘it was said by those of old time…. but I say to you’,

Jesus doesn’t use these words because this kind of fasting about which He was speaking wasn’t covered by the Mosaic Law, but because it was something that the people had taken on themselves in the old law.

Acts 13:1-3 ‘Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord, and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” So, after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.’

In the Book of Acts, chapter 13, Luke records that the church in Antioch sent Barnabas and Paul on the First Missionary Journey, with prayer and fasting, and in the next chapter, they fasted in connection with the appointment of Elders, on the congregations that they established during that journey.

Please note that the whole church didn’t fast, it was only those mentioned in Acts 13:1

‘Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen and Saul.’

In 1 Corinthians 7:1-5

‘Now for the matters you wrote about: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband. The husband should fulfil his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.’

Notice Paul mentions sexual fasting but neither here nor anywhere else, does he impose it as a command.

2 Corinthians 6:5 ‘in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger’

2 Corinthians 11:27 ‘I have laboured and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.’

In 2 Corinthians 6:5, and 2 Corinthians 11:27, he refers to what he suffered for the sake of the Gospel, and speaks of times when he went without food. But this wasn’t because he was ‘fasting’, but because he had no food to eat!

The answer to the question, should a Christian Fast? is, therefore,

‘yes! If they want too!’

but remember that fasting, like ‘bodily exercise’ may do a little good, but

‘godliness is profitable for all things!’ 1 Timothy 4:8

 

DAILY BIBLE VERSE

"Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship."

Romans 12:1

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