TEXT: Matthew 6:3‐6, 16‐18, Mark 2:18‐20
By Bro. Ezekiel Oghenekaro
At all times, God always have a message for His people. It is our duty to be ready and willing to hear Him. Our message today seems to be fighting itself, especially as the third part of the topic tends to counter the first two part of the message. The questions why and when should Christians fast seems to be suggestive and tend to limit the topic to certain time and period. In summary, even while I will be discussing the three areas as required by the church, my focus is on Christians and fasting. Negating an idea before discussing it usually devalue the positive angle of such discussion. This explanation is necessary so as to remove any negative thought from our heart so as to focus on the discussion as demanded of us by the scripture.
Fasting, in the biblical sense, is abstaining from food and drink for a spiritual reason. Fasting is also the voluntary abstinence from food for spiritual purposes. Why tends to seek the reasons/benefits for doing a thing while when speaks or indicate or specify the time to carry out such event. The reasons we fast will determine when we should fast.
Christianity makes everything we do to be centred on the free will not by compulsion as in the law. So when you see or hear the term voluntary you are tempted to say, that means “if I like I do it, if I don’t like, I leave it”. That’s true by our definition, but that is a hasty approach to doing things.
As we consider our text, certain truths are revealed – Matthew 6:3‐6, 16‐18, Mark 2;18‐20. 18 Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. Some people came and asked Jesus, “How is it that John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting, but yours are not?” 19 Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them. 20 But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast.
Jesus knew there would come a time when He would not be physically present any longer with His disciples/with the church. Perilous times would come when supernatural strength would be needed.
“Then they will fast IN THOSE DAYS.” We are living in such days today ‐ the Bridegroom (Jesus Christ) is absent physically but not spiritually and our needs for spiritual power are SO very great. Jesus intends for us to seek after God with prayer and fasting – Matthew 17:21.
True worship glorifies God, not the man or woman who proposes to seek Him. Jesus illustrates that point with three examples: giving, praying, and fasting. Notice how he repeatedly exposes the hypocrisy of pretending to worship God while actually seeking the approval of men:
So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honoured by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full – Matthew 6:2.
Do we have a specific time to give? I do not think so. But is giving compulsory, I do not think so. But is it important? Your answer is as good as mine.
When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full – Matthew 6:5.
Do we have specific time to pray? I do not think so. Is prayer important? Your guess is as good as mine.
Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full – Matthew 6:16.
Do we have specific time to fast? I do not think so. Is fasting important? That is the purpose of our discussion.
Jesus repeatedly warns his disciples against calculating outward acts of righteousness so that men will see and praise them. Sinful motives forfeit any reward before God.
Hypocrites have the audacity to use supposed acts of righteousness to get the praise of men to feed their sinful pride. What an abomination!
That is Jesus’ primary message in this section of the Sermon on the Mount. By contrast, he teaches his disciples to do those acts privately, where only God can see, if they are truly seeking God’s reward.
But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face so that your fasting will not be noticed by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you (Matthew 6:18).
Why/When Do We Fast and Pray 1. We Fast in Obedience to Jesus’ Teaching (Matthew 6:16‐18) In Matthew 6, Jesus gives some foundational teaching about some activities that he assumes will be a part of the life of his followers. Matthew 6:2 “So when you give to the needy…”
Jesus then follows this with instructions about how to give in the proper way. Assumption: If you’re a follower of Christ, you will give to the needy. No problem, we know this.
Matthew 6:16‐18 (NIV) “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
Fasting is for everyone who follows Christ. It is a tool God has given us to increase our spiritual power and help us communicate more intimately with God. And if we don’t make use of it, we are not only going to be missing out on much of what God wants to do in and through us, we will be disobeying Jesus clear instructions.
So we fast, at the most basic level, because Jesus said so. But what good does it really do? What’s the point? Let’s go on.
- We fast to demonstrate our dependence upon God
Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. There are many ways we can demonstrate our humility before God, but choosing to go without food for the sake of spiritual things is one of the more practical ways.
Fasting is a way for us to discipline our bodies for the spiritual battles God needs us to fight. In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul mentions this need of physical discipline in the spiritual battle:
1 Corinthians 9:24‐27 (NIV) Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.Even as athletes train their bodies for physical contests, fasting trains our spirits for spiritual battles.
- We fast to Demonstrate Repentance from Sin (and to intercede for others who need to repent
In the book of Jonah, the story is told of the prophet Jonah receiving instructions to take a message to his arch‐enemies the Ninevites. Jonah’s response is an incredible story, but I want to focus on what finally happened when Jonah got there and pronounced God’s coming judgment upon the people of Nineveh – Jonah 3:3‐10.
Jonah obeyed the word of the LORD and went to Nineveh… He proclaimed: “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned.”
The Ninevites believed God. They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth. When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust.
Then he issued a proclamation in Nineveh:
“By the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let any man or beast, herd or flock, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.”
When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened. Incredible! God planned on wiping out these people, but when they turned to him with fervent prayers accompanied with fasting – God changed his mind and saved them.
It is one thing to pray, “Lord I’m sorry for what I’ve done.” It is something else to deprive yourself of food and plead with God for him to have mercy upon you for the sins you’ve committed against him.
Such a fast is called for in situations where you or I face a sin that constantly ensnares us. If we are willing to pay the price of fasting and praying, we can know deliverance from that sin, and the joy that follows! A decision to fast in such a situation demonstrates to God that we are truly serious about our repentance, and that we sincerely long for new life in that area.
But sometimes fasting is necessary on behalf of others who need the mercy of God in their lives. In the books of Daniel and Nehemiah we can read about times when great men of God fasted and prayed for God to relent from his judgment upon the people of Judah – Daniel 9:1‐3.
- We fast to receive God’s wisdom and direction ‐ Acts 13:1‐3,14:21‐23
In the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.
Here the early church was blessed with prophets and teachers gifted with the ability to lead the church – but instead of relying upon their own gifts, we find the leaders of this church fasting and praying to God for wisdom about how to proceed as a church. It was only after they had paid the price of fasting and praying that God revealed to them what the next step was to be – that they should send Barnabas and Saul off as missionaries.
Then, in just the next chapter of the story, we’re told how it is that Saul (now called Paul) and Barnabas went about setting apart leaders in the fledgling churches that had been started.
…[Paul and Barnabas] returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. … Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust.
They appointed elders in each church with prayer and fasting. By this I understand that they would have spent time fasting before making their decisions, seeking God’s wisdom as they fasted. But it also seems clear that they fasted in preparation for the time that they actually “committed them to the Lord”.
By doing this, the Apostles demonstrated to God that they needed the power of the Holy Spirit to guide their decision making. They disciplined their bodies in order to hear more clearly from God and in order to set apart these new leaders with Spiritual power. When we need wisdom we should use the gift of fasting, which will focus our minds upon whatever situation we’re praying about. Every time we desire food, we’re reminded to pray for God to speak. Instead of sitting down to a meal with others, we get away with the Lord and ask him to reveal his will – and then we wait!
- We fast to receive deliverance in times of crisis – 2 Chronicles 20:1‐13
After this, the Moabites and Ammonites with some of the Meunites came to make war on Jehoshaphat. 2 Some men came and told Jehoshaphat, “A vast army is coming against you… 3 Alarmed, Jehoshaphat resolved to inquire of the LORD, and he proclaimed a fast for all Judah. 4 The people of Judah came together to seek help from the LORD; indeed, they came from every town in Judah to seek him…14 Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jahaziel…(and God makes known his plan for delivering the people). “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you.” This expresses the heart of someone who is facing a crisis and endeavour to fast and pray for God to bring deliverance.
When the diagnosis is bad news. When our nation is at a crisis point like we are facing today or because of calamity. When our family is facing a crisis. These are times for fasting. These are times to go beyond our normal routines of prayer, and determine that we need to have God’s intervention in our lives much more than we need food.
It is important to note, however, that fasting is not a “magic” way to make our prayers get answered, or to somehow force God into answering our prayers a certain way. God cannot be coerced. We may still have to go through the difficult circumstance – but the more we are willing to fast and pray through the process, the more we will be rewarded with the power and the presence of God to strengthen us and give us faith for the journey.
We should also learn in times of fasting not to expect God to always show up and provide an immediate answer to the situation I am fasting about.
- Fasting Reminds Us Of Our Humanity. It’s always good to be reminded of our humanity when we come to God. To come to God feeling a sense of helplessness is NOT a handicap but a head start. It casts us upon God. It makes us dependent ‐ and, oh, how most of us hate to feel dependant! Many a time we want to be in charge, but when we fast, we let God know that we are helpless without him.
- Fasting Is A Sign Of Our Desire. We are saying, when we fast, that seeking God is more important to us than the daily routine of finding food for ourselves. We have a passion for God that supersedes everything else. (NOT trying to twist God’s arm, but a genuine display of the earnestness of our desire.
What Makes Fasting Irrelevant (Warnings about Fasting)
Admittedly, fasting can be abused. The practice must never be employed as a substitute for personal godly living. Isaiah delivered a blistering rebuke to those who fasted, then pursued their own worldly pleasures (Isaiah 58:1‐4). Moreover, fasting must not be an occasion for the flaunting of one’s religion. The Pharisees were guilty of this very thing (Matthew 6:16‐18).
The Pharisees in Jesus’ day turned that principle of concealment on its head. Jesus condemned the smug self‐righteousness of the Pharisee who prayed, “I fast twice a week, I tithe of all that I get” (Luke 18:9‐14). Although the Old Testament required only one fast a year (Leviticus 16:29), history tells us the Pharisees fasted on Monday and Thursday to multiply their religious observances. The Pharisee in Luke 18 was really saying, “God, I’m more righteous than even You require.”
Twice a week! One hundred fasts a year! Wow! How impressive is that? Not impressive at all. They were only adding tasks of their own invention, which they carried out in a way to maximize their attention from men. Looked great on the outside.
Totally rejected by God who looks on the inside. Colossians 2:23 says: These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self‐made religion and self‐abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence.
The Pharisees had missed that point entirely. They fasted so others would think they had deep spiritual desires when they really didn’t. They fasted from food and fed their pride. That’s why Jesus said the praise of men was their only reward. Their fasting had no value before God.
I will not hesitate to say that much of what passes for Christian fasting today is equally worthless. Christians who call attention to the nature and frequency of their fasting are violating the most fundamental statements of Jesus about spiritual devotion. They cannot evade the plain meaning of His words: When you fast, anoint your head and wash your face so that your fasting will not be noticed by men (Matthew 6:16‐17). In other words, don’t call attention to yourself in any way. Don’t exaggerate a gloomy face so people will recognize your fasting. Act and talk like you do when you are not fasting so others won’t notice you.
In today’s terms, someone needs to stand up to these people and say, Stop talking about how great your fasting program is and how much fasting has humbled you! Don’t talk about how much power you have with God! Here’s the hard but obvious truth. If these people were truly humbled in the presence of God, they would obey Jesus instead of calling attention to themselves.
God calls us to a secret approach to righteousness that avoids the praise of men. That’s true not only in fasting, but giving, prayer, and every other area of your spiritual life. Your motive must be His approval, not the approval of men.
How do you cultivate that attitude in your life? Jesus teaches you to conceal your private devotion from men. Consciously order your life so men won’t notice your spiritual disciplines. Refuse those inner impulses to drop subtle words about what you’re doing. Instead, devote your exclusive attention in these matters to your heavenly Father who sees in secret. That cultivates spiritual intimacy with God because you share something with Him alone.
Jesus said that His disciples would not always have the physical presence of the Bridegroom (speaking of Himself). He said, “THEN they will fast”. In this day we have great need of His power in our lives, in our church, in our families, etc. I believe that Jesus means for us to fast and pray. Do you feel dry, spiritually? Powerless against the world and the enemy? In need of renewal? FAST and PRAY.