Last week I was questioned in two separate instances about the need and purpose for fasting in the Christian life by both my wife and my four-year-old son. I could have given it a simple answer. I could have just said that “It is just something that we do,” but I decided to ask them to wait until I searched the scriptures. I wanted to study to see exactly what was said about fasting with the following questions in mind:
1. Should we fast?
2. What is fasting?
3. When should we fast?
I soon discovered that one could do quite a bit of writing on the subject of fasting. There are many questions and angles that one can take when looking at fasting. One thing I found for sure is that fasting was an important part of the early church’s history.
1. Should we fast?
I did not see a direct command to fast in the New Testament, however this is not to say that we should not fast. In fact I believe we should fast. One of the main reasons for this assumption is because Jesus Christ himself fasted at the beginning of his ministry.
1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4 But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'”
Jesus Christ is not only our savior, but also our example. (Mark 8:34, Matt. 11:29) The very first thing that Jesus did after beginning baptized was to fast. If Jesus failed in the desert, having fallen for the devils lies, having committed sin, then mankind would be lost because there would be no perfect sacrifice (2 Corinthians 5:21). He did not fail however, but instead he relied on GOD’s word. He was fasting, but he had food that Satan knew nothing about. If fasting and prayer is how Jesus Christ chose to arm himself in preparation for the greatest ministry that the world has ever known, why should it be any different for us in our attempts to be holy as he is holy? This is not an attempt to rely on our own strength or works, but a chance to seek and rely fully in him just as he did in his own time of temptation.
Many other scriptures talk about people that fasted after the coming of Christ. Some of these include:
1. Paul at the time of his conversion. (Acts 9:9)
2. The prophets and teacher at Antioch at the beginning and blessing of the ministry of Barnabas and Saul. (Acts 13: 1-4)
3. The Prophetess Anna, the daughter of Phanuel. (Luke 2: 37b)
4. The anointing of church elders. (Acts 14:23)
There are many other examples of both private and corporate fasting, often combined with worship and praying. This seems to me to say that fasting is an act of worship.
Jesus also spoke about fasting. I would also argue that Christ assumed that believers would fast:
16 “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Notice what Christ says here, “And when you fast…,” not if you fast. I think this is significant. Jesus never said an idol word (Matt. 5:37; Isa. 55:11) and he chose to say “when.” Jesus says that true fasting, that which is done to seek GOD rather than fame, is rewarded by GOD.
Based on the above scripture we can see that:
- Christ fasted
- Christ gave instruction on how to fast (and how not to fast) and taught that true fasting would result in GOD’s favor
- The early church fasted, both privately and corporately and incorporated it into their worship.
With that being said, how are we as Christians to believe that fasting is an optional part of our worship?
Next week I’ll post part two.