New Testament Teaching About Fasting

Text: Matthew 9:14-15

There are several passages in the Bible that talk about fasting. Many people have questions about the practice. The main question is, “Are Christians to fast today?” Fasting is a topic that is sometimes ignored or glossed over. But in this lesson, we want to consider what the New Testament teaches about fasting and see how it applies to us.

What is Fasting?

  • Generally, fasting is to abstain from food – though it could also include “washings, anointing, sleeping” (ISBE)
  • Means to “afflict soul or self” (ISBE) – self-denial
  • Fasting could be done for religious reasons (cf. Daniel 9:3) or non-religious reasons (cf. 1 Samuel 31:12-13)

What Does the New Testament Say About Fasting?

  • Practiced by Jesus (Matthew 4:2), teachers in Antioch (Acts 13:2-3), Anna (Luke 2:36-37), John’s disciples, and the Pharisees (Matthew 9:14)
  • Unlike the OT, fasting was not done at specific times (Zechariah 8:19; Luke 18:12)
  • Unlike the OT, fasting was not done at the direction of the rulers (2 Chronicles 20:3; Esther 4:16), but was done on an individual basis (Matthew 6:16-18)
  • Fasting was usually connected with prayer (Matthew 17:21; Luke 2:37; 5:33; Acts 13:3)
  • Fasting was associated with mourning (Matthew 9:14-15) – natural response
  • Fasting was associated with decision-making (Acts 13:2-3; 14:23)
  • Fasting is an individual matter (Matthew 6:16-18) – not done by a congregation or all of God’s people; if one fasts, others should not be able to tell

Must Christians Fast?

  • Not commanded – we must not bind where God has not bound (Matthew 16:19; 15:9)
  • Some will say that while it is not commanded, it is spoken about as if it is assumed that Christians would fast
  • When you fast…” (Matthew 6:17) – common practice at that time, along with sacrifices (Matthew 5:23-24); more about the attitude than the practice; between you and God, not to be noticed by men
  • Days will come when…they will fast” (Matthew 9:15) – but this is not about obedience under the new covenant; this is about mourning (“when the bridegroom is taken away“); mourning the death of Jesus
  • Example in Antioch (Acts 13:2-3) – about what certain men were doing (Acts 13:1); not even the whole church

Why Would We Fast?

  • Fasting is not commanded, but one may voluntarily fast – why would a Christian choose to fast?
  • Fasting can help one learn/practice self-control – necessary trait (Galatians 5:22-23); food is for the stomach, but we must not let it master us (1 Corinthians 6:12-13)
  • Fasting can help one focus on spiritual things – this is why it is often connected with prayer; remember that this life is temporary (1 Corinthians 6:13); focus on what is lasting (John 6:26-27)
  • Fasting can be done when in mourning (Matthew 9:15) – mourning is good and necessary (Ecclesiastes 7:2)
  • Fasting is not commanded, but can help us be reminded of certain spiritual truths

What Warnings are Given Related to Fasting?

  • Do not fast to be noticed by others (Matthew 6:1, 16-18)
  • Do not think that God is obligated to show you approval because you fast (Luke 18:9, 12; cf. Isaiah 58:1-3)
  • Do not think that fasting is a substitute for actual self-control (Colossians 2:23) – one may appear to be righteous, but be spiritually dead (Matthew 23:27-28)
  • If fasting is done, it must be done for the right reasons – not to mask some other sin

Conclusion

  • The NT certainly talks about fasting – but it is not commanded of Christians to practice
  • If you fast, do so for the right reasons and not for the wrong reasons
  • In all things, exercise self-control and focus on spiritual things

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