Inside: Fasting is a way to remind us that everything we truly need is found in Christ and Him alone. Jesus fasted, and He expected that His followers would fast too.
Fasting is a way to remind us that everything we truly need is found in Christ and Him alone. Jesus fasted, and He expected that His followers would fast too.
The purpose of fasting is too long for the fullness and presence of Jesus in our lives. To hunger more for God than the food He made for us to live on.
The Day of Atonement was the only biblically commanded fast in the bible, but we read many places in scripture where God’s people fasted. In the Old Testament, fasting is associated with seeking God’s protection or deliverance.The purpose of fasting is too long for the fullness and presence of Jesus in our lives.
We see it for guidance when making a decision or determining which course of action to take. We know Queen Esther called for a fast as she prepared to enter King Xerxes’s presence (Esther 4:16-17).
Jesus gives us specific instructions in Matthew 6:16-18 on what to do when we fast and what not to do. He is assuming we are going to fast just as he assumed we are going to pray.
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
We have no issue knowing we need to pray, and it is probably pretty rare for a believer to go a day without prayer, but fasting is another story. We may find ourselves never fasting in our walk with the Lord.
We are told not to be like the hypocrites, and we have discussed in previous episodes that a hypocrite is an actor. They may look like they’re mournful or repentant, but they’re not. They’re putting a mask on – they’re being a hypocrite. They want others to think they are more spiritual and mournful over their sin. They made it obvious they were fasting, but what they were doing was looking more spiritual than they truly were.
They wanted others to see them, so they didn’t wash their faces or comb their hair. They just looked miserable and sad; others would know they were fasting and think of them as extraordinary spiritual people.
Martyn Lloyd Jones stated it:
“Look at him; look at what he is sacrificing and suffering for the sake of his devotion to God. Our Lord condemns that root and branch. Any announcing of the fact of what we are doing, or calling attention to it, is something which is utterly reprehensible to Him, as it was in the case of prayer, and of almsgiving. It is exactly the same principle. You must not sound a trumpet proclaiming the things you are going to do. You must not stand at the street corners or in a prominent place in the synagogue when you pray. And in the same way you must not call attention to the fact that you are fasting.”
And what is the reward they get for this—the praise of men, but that is the only reward they will get. God sees in secret. God sees the heart.
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Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald Whitney
“Fasting, or occasional abstinence from food in order to bring the body into subjection to the spirit, is a practice frequently mentioned in the Bible, generally in connection with prayer. David fasted when his child was sick (2 Samuel 12:16); Daniel fasted when he sought special light from God (Daniel 9:3); Paul and Barnabas fasted when they appointed elders (Acts 14:23); Esther fasted before going into Ahasuerus (Esther 4:16). It is a subject about which we find no direct command in the New Testament. It seems to be left to everyone’s discretion whether he will fast or not. In this absence of direct command, we may see great wisdom. Many a poor man never has enough to eat, and it would be an insult to tell him to fast: many sick people can hardly be kept well with the closest attention to diet, and could not fast without bringing on illness. It is a matter in which each person must be persuaded in their own mind, and not rashly condemn others who do not agree. One thing only must never be forgotten: those who fast should do it quietly, secretly and without ostentation. Let them not “show men they are fasting.” Let them not fast to man, but to God.”
~ J.C. Ryle
Look at him; look at what he is sacrificing and suffering for the sake of his devotion to God.’ Our Lord condemns that root and branch. Any announcing of the fact of what we are doing, or calling attention to it, is something which is utterly reprehensible to Him, as it was in the case of prayer and of almsgiving. It is exactly the same principle. You must not sound a trumpet proclaiming the things you are going to do. You must not stand at the street corners or in a prominent place in the synagogue when you pray. And in the same way, you must not call attention to the fact that you are fasting. And what is the reward they get for this – the praise of men but that is the only reward they will get – God sees in secret. God sees the heart.
~ Martyn Lloyd Jones
“Our Lord’s principle is always this: ‘Forget other people altogether.’ In order to avoid looking sad, don’t put a grin on your face. Forget your face, forget yourself, forget other people altogether. It is this interest in the opinions of other people that is so wrong. Don’t worry about the impression you are making; just forget yourself and give yourself entirely to God. Be concerned only about God and about pleasing Him. Be concerned only about His honor and His glory.”
~ Martyn Lloyd Jones
“Few things feel more gratifying to the heart of fallen man than being made much of for our accomplishments, especially our moral and religious accomplishments. All of this we are prone to do because of our seemingly insatiable appetite for the praise of men. We want to be made much of. We want people to like us and admire us and speak well of us. It is a deadly drive. Jesus warned us, “Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted” (Matthew 23:12).
~ John Piper
Doing right “just because it is right” is not the Christian ideal. Doing right to enlarge our delight in God is…So for the sake of your own soul, and in response to Jesus, and for the advancement of God’s supremacy in all things for the joy of all peoples, comb your hair, and wash your face, and let the Father who sees in secret observe how hungry you are for Him with fasting. The Father Who sees in secret is brimming with rewards for your joy and for his glory.
~ John Piper
Thy Father which is in secret,… which seeth in secret by F.B. Meyer – Our Daily Homily
How fondly Jesus repeats these words (Matthew 6:4, 6, 18). Though compelled to live so much in the public gaze of men, his heart was always sighing for the secret place of fellowship with his Father, who waited for Him there.
Of course, the main object of those paragraphs was to withdraw his disciples from the excessive outwardness of the age in which He spoke and which necessarily detracted from the singleness, directness, and simplicity of the religious life. It is impossible to perform our religious duties before men without insensibly considering what impression we are producing and how far their estimation of us is being enhanced. And in so far as we seek these things, the stream is contaminated with mud and silt and becomes turbid. We have just as much religious life as we show to God in secret — just that, no less, no more. Whatever is not wrought between thee and God, with no record but his eye is chaff which the wind driveth away. Here is a test for our alms, our prayers, and our fasting from sin and self-indulgence. If we do any of these to maintain or increase the consideration that men have of us, they count for nothing in the eve of God. But whatever is done for Him alone will secure his inevitable notice and reward. Dwell on that very definite assurance: “Shall recompense thee.” There is no doubt about it. For every petition breathed into his ear; for every sigh and tear; for every abstinence from sin and self, there will be a certain recompense after the Divine measure. Such seeds shall have a prolific harvest. Seek then the secret place where prying eyes cannot follow and curious ears cannot overhear.
There is no doubt that God has often crowned fasting with extraordinary blessings. Biblical, historical, and contemporary testimonies bear witness to God’s delight in providing unusual blessings to those who fast. But we should be careful not to develop what Martyn Lloyd Jones called a mechanical view of fasting; that is, believing that if we will fast, God is obligated to give us what we ask. We cannot manipulate God to do our bidding by fasting any more than we can by any other means. As with prayer, we fast in hope that by His grace, God will bless us as we desire. When our fast is rightly motivated, we can be sure God will bless us and do so in the way infinite wisdom knows is best, even if it is not in the way we wanted.
~ Donald Whitney
- Matthew 6:16-18
- Esther 4:16-17
- 2 Samuel 12:16
- Daniel 9:3
- Acts 14:23
- Esther 4:16
- Matthew 9:14-15
- Matthew 23:12
- Studies in the Sermon on the Mount by Martyn Lloyd Jones
- Sermon on the Mount The: Matthew 5-7 Expositional Commentary by James Montgomery Boice
- Matthew 1-7 MacArthur New Testament Commentary by John MacArthur
- Expository Thoughts on the Gospel of Matthew by J.C. Ryle
- The Sermon on the Mount: The Message of the Kingdom (ESV Edition) by R. Kent Hughes
- Sermon on the Mount by Sinclair Ferguson
- The Beatitudes: An Exposition of Matthew 5:1-12 by Thomas Watson
- The Message of the Sermon on the Mount by John Stott
- Sermon on the Mount Teaching Series by Sinclair Ferguson at Ligonier Connect
- Logos Bible Software
- Bible Memory App
- Study Guide for Sermon on the Mount