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.
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.
“Let me say something on fasting because many, for want of knowing its usefulness undervalue it necessity, and some reject it as altogether superfluous. While on the other hand, where the use of it is not well understood, it easily degenerates in superstition,” states John Calvin.
“Upon this matter the passing of the centuries has produces little or no improvement, for the very conditions which confronted this eminent reformer (John Calvin) prevail extensively today. If on the one side Romanists have perverted a means unto an end, and have exalted what is exceptional to a principle part of their religious worship, Protestants have gone to the opposite extreme; allowing what was practiced by primitive Christians to sink into general disuse,” explains commentator A. W. Pink.
Jesus said that His disciples should not hypocritically fast, but they should 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.
Jesus said that when we fast we should do so in manner that other people do not realize that we are fasting. There should be no disfigurement of our faces and we should be freshly groomed. This way our fasting is not for the purpose of others seeing us fast, but only the heavenly Father. It is this type of disciplined fasting that honors God and that He will honor in response.
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!