The Gospel of Matthew: Fasting

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.” (Matthew 6:16–18 ESV)

Jesus spoke in His Sermon on the Mount on three indispensable disciplines for His disciples. These include good works, prayer and thirdly, fasting. What exactly is fasting? What does it mean to fast?

To fast (νηστεύω; nesteuo) literally means to go without food (Matt. 4:2; 6:16, 17; 9:14; Mark 2:18; Luke 5:33; 18:12; Acts 10:30; 13:2). “Fasting is eating sparingly or abstaining from food altogether, either from necessity or desire. In medical terms, fasting is the detoxification of the body through the restriction of food,” The Tyndale Bible Dictionary explains.

“Spiritual fasting entails setting aside activities as well as reducing the intake of food and replacing these activities with the exercise of prayer and preoccupation with spiritual concerns. The NT word that is translated “fasting” literally means one who has not eaten, one who is empty.”

There are three different types of fasting. First, there is a normal fast. This is when there is no intake of food for a specific period of time. Second, there is partial fasting. This involves a limited intake of food during the fast. Third, there is an absolute fast. This is a total abstinence from food or liquids. The time frame for this type of fast may not be specified.

Some Bible scholars have indicated that for those who cannot abstain from food, such as a diabetic or hypoglycemic, a spiritual fast may suffice. This is where an individual fasts from a pleasurable activity. It could include an abstinence from entertainment, physical intimacy with one’s spouse (I Cor. 7:1-5), or social media.

Notice that Jesus said, “And when you fast.”  It was never a question of “if” a believer in Christ fasts. It is only a question of when, or how. While Jesus did not specify the “when” of fasting, He did speak about “how” to fast.

Jesus said that His disciples should not hypocritically fast. We should not look gloomy or sad, and disfigure our faces. Fasting should not be done in order to be seen by other people. As with good works and prayer, we should secretly fast. No one, but the Lord and other limited exceptions, should know that we are fasting. Fasting concerns having a greater intimacy with the Lord and not for personal praise from other people.

“How often do you think fasting is mentioned in the Bible? By my count, there are some seventy-seven biblical references to fasting. Does that surprise you? Despite so many references, fasting is not a frequent subject in pulpits, publications, and Christian conversation,” states biblical professor Dr. Donald S. Whitney

“In part, this may be due to the fact that, while fasting may be done cooperatively with fellow believers (Acts 13:1-2; 14:23), typically it is private in nature and shouldn’t be evident to others (Matt. 6:16–18). So it’s possible that Christians around us fast more than we realize or hear mentioned.”

Consider participating in a biblical fast. Involved in this period of time is Bible reading, study, worship and prayer. It is wise to find a secluded place of solitude for your fast. This removes potential, but otherwise appropriate, activities. Have a blessed day, and if applicable to you, a blessed fast.

Soli deo Gloria!   

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