A friend has asked: "Are we, as Christians, missing many of God's blessings by not fasting? I understand that fasting is not a command, but would not our prayer life be better and pleasing to God if we were to fast?"
In answer, we would say, first, that we are not at all convinced that fasting is not a command in the NT. Fasting is mentioned about 30 times in the NT and there is not one passage that even suggests that fasting is no longer commanded or required by God, or even that it is something so unimportant that it may be neglected by Christians.
There are quite a number of passages which in one way or another make it clear that fasting is required in the NT as well as in the OT, the only difference being that there are not in the NT set fast-days. Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, takes it for granted that His people fast (Matt. 6:16-18), when He sets forth rules for fasting. And, by setting fasting alongside of prayer in that same passage, He emphasizes its importance.
In Matthew 17:21, He as much as commands fasting when He assures us that it is a necessary weapon in the battle against Satan (cf. also Mk. 9:29). Likewise, in I Corinthians 7:5, the Apostle Paul assumes that husbands and wives do fast, something so important that it is the only thing besides prayer that may interfere with sexual relations.
In support of these commands, we have in the NT the examples of Jesus Himself (Matt. 4:2), the apostles (Acts 14:23; II Cor. 6:5; 11:27), the church (Acts 13:2,3), and individual believers (Lk. 2:37). Moreover, it is clear from the NT that fasting is important not only as an exercise in individual piety (Matt. 6:16-18; Lk. 2:37; I Cor. 7:5), but also in the work of the church (Acts 13:2-3, 14:23). The book of Acts indicates that it has an important role in the ordination of elders and deacons and pastors in the church.
In this connection, we might note that there is even some ground in the NT for declared fasts or fast-days by the church. This is certainly the position of the Westminster Confession of Faith (XXI, 5). There fasting is counted as a necessary part of religious worship, and "fastings and thanksgivings upon special occasions" are recommended.
There are different kinds of fasts mentioned in Scripture. There are public and private fasts, as we have seen. There are full and partial fasts (Ezra 10:6; Dan. 102,3), bread and water fasts as well as fasts in which one abstains from food altogether. But it is clear that Scripture promotes fasting.
That Scripture lays down certain rules for fasting (as in Matt. 6:16-18) is not to be misunderstood, therefore, as though Scripture discourages fasting. There can be no doubt that it is not only necessary, but profitable, and stands on a par with prayer, among the spiritual exercises to which we as Christians are called.
We must understand, however, that the profit of fasting is not in going without food for a period of time, but in the self-denial that is part of fasting. We fast by way of denying the flesh, and to give ourselves wholly to spiritual things. An empty belly in itself is not blessing, but becomes a blessing and a help, when our hunger pangs remind us that we must hunger and thirst after righteousness above all (Matt. 5:6) - that we cannot live by bread alone, but must live by every word that comes from the mouth of God (Matt. 4:4).
May God give us grace not to neglect this important spiritual exercise. Let us heed the command to turn to the Lord "with fasting" (Joel 2:12).
- Volume: 7
- Issue: 19
Rev. Ronald Hanko (Wife: Nancy)
Ordained: November 1979
Pastorates: Wyckoff, NJ - 1979; Trinity, Houston, TX - 1986; Missionary to N.Ireland - 1993; Lynden, WA - 2002Website: www.lyndenprc.org/sermons/
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