Church of Christ
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6) Matthew 6 - Fasting
Fasting, like giving or praying, in order to have value before God must actually represent the heart attitude. If
fasting is to represent the affliction of one's soul, it must be done before God, therefore, secretly, so that men do
not see and praise. Consequently, those whose fasting is deliberately aimed at public attention and personal
self-exaltation have made it into an act.
To fast. The Law of Moses never prescribed fasting directly. However, in connection with the Day of Atonement a
command was given "to afflict you souls" (Leviticus 16:29-34, Leviticus 23:26-32, Numbers 29:7). This order to
"humble, or bow, the soul," by restraining the earthly appetites, was meant to be fasting (Acts 27:9), although the
word actually meaning to go without food and drink. It came into use about the time of the Judges.
Jewish tradition had set as fast days also Monday and Thursday of every week (Luke 18:12, Luke 5:33).
The purposes of fasting are wrapped up in the desire to express one's sincerity by a departure from the normal
pattern of living. Devout men of all ages have fasted when they found themselves in trouble or in danger or to
guarantee the sincerity of their penitence and prayers. Other times they fasted to humble the spirit and obtain the
victory over selfishness, pride and desire. Again, fasting is a natural expression of mourning or an attempt to get rid
of some sin or an expression of penitence or even a preparation to receive revelations (Examples: Judges 20:26,
1st Samuel 1:7, 1st Samuel 7:6, 1st Samuel 31:13, 2nd Samuel 1:12, 2nd Samuel 3:35, 2nd Samuel 12:16, 1st
Kings 19:8, 1st Kings 21:4 and 27, 2nd Chronicles 20:3-4, Ezra 8:21, Ezra 9:3 and 5, Nehemiah 1:4, Nehemiah 2:2,
Nehemiah 9:1, Esther 4:16, Daniel 9:3, Daniel 10:2-3, Jonah 3:5-10, Joel 1:13-14, Joel 2:15-16, Zechariah 8:18-19,
Matthew 9:14, Luke 2:37, Acts 13:3, Acts 14:23).
The Pharisees had wrung all of the beneficial content from fasting. It is easy to see how what had been regarded as
a guarantee of the sincerity of one's repentance should become the substitute for it. Thus, they used fasting as a
means of appearing righteous, rather than a means to get right with God.
Jesus spared no words for the hypocrites who assumed expressions of unfelt sorrow or superficial humility,
sometimes these expressions involved putting dust or ashes on the head, wearing an irritating hair, or sack-cloth
shirt next to the skin, allowing the hair or beard to go loose or unkempt, and neglecting the appearance in general
for the duration of the fast.
Perhaps the Lord intended a pun, or a play on words seen only in the Greek. They make their (normal) faces to
disappear so that they might appear to be fasting.
While Jesus condemned the wrong formality and hypocrisy in some who fasted, it is obvious that He never meant
that fasting should be completely eliminated from godly practice altogether. He assumes that His disciples will fast,
in the same way that He assumes that he will help the needy (Matthew 6:2-4) or pray (Matthew 6:5-7). On the other
hand, though fasting as a natural expression of anguish of spirit would continue to have its place in the
spontaneous response of Jesus' disciple.
Why fast then? As notable examples demonstrate, the early Church fasted on certain occasions (Acts 13:3, Acts
14:23), as did Jesus Himself.
1) Because, since fasting is a natural response, one will naturally fast when sufficient occasion demands it. Jesus'
concern with His ministry and His desert situation made Jesus' forty-day fast a natural result.
2) Because fasting is not so much a duty for its own sake as a physical discipline to prepare one for other duties.
In this sense, it may be good for the self-discipline.
Therefore, Jesus' disciple is not bound by specific directions concerning the occasions or length of fasts. Instead in
line with the principles of Christian liberty (Romans 14:1 through 15:7, 1st Corinthians 6:12-20), Jesus allows the
disciple to decide for himself to what extent, in what way, and how often he should bring his body under subjection to
the glory of God.