May 23, 2008

Mat 9:14-15 Then John’s disciples came and asked him, “How is it that we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?”
Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast.

Fasting is supposed to be a part of Christian life. Jesus said in the above passage that after he would be taken away, his disciples would fast. There is no indication that the purpose, nor the manner, nor the frequency of fasting would change from what Jews had practiced for centuries. Yet fasting seems to be largely a forgotten practice in today’s church.

We read of the Christians fasting in Acts 13:2-3 and Acts 14:23. Beyond that, there is little or no mention in the scriptures of fasting after Jesus departed (depending in part on which Greek texts you prefer). But it is still evident from Jesus’ statement that he expected the practice of fasting to continue into the Christian era. And it is doubtful that the two instances we read about in Acts are all he was talking about.

The Hebrew word translated “fast” in the Old Testament literally meant “cover the mouth” and was used to refer to abstaining from food (and sometimes also water). The Greek word used in the New Testament, according to Thayer’s lexicon, meant

1) to abstain as a religious exercise from food and drink: either entirely, if the fast lasted but a single day, or from customary and choice nourishment, if it continued several days.

Sometimes, people today speak of fasting from television, or from some other recreational activity. But it appears that fasting in the scriptures was always abstaining from food. If for a single day, it seems to also have included abstaining from drink.

Much more could be said about the examples of fasting we have from the scriptures. We could talk about the kind of fasting that God desires and the kind that he does not. We could talk about the situations in which people fasted in scriptures, or about how God responded to their various fasts. But the larger question is, will we fast? Are we too addicted to comfort to do such a thing? Do we have enough faith to fast?

Fasting makes absolutely no sense unless one has faith in God — that is, that he believes that God exists and that he rewards those who diligently seek him. Fasting is an act of faith. In fasting, we diligently seek God’s blessing and favor.

Maybe we should turn to God in prayer and fasting in order to obtain his guidance. Maybe that is the answer to many problems in the church, and in our lives.

One comment

  1. thanks for the article. in the past I’ve seen fasting used as gimmick of sorts. Like there were no visitors this week, so everyone has to “fast for fruit”. Or people fasting cake or soda in order to get something they wanted from God. It just doesn’t seem to be a topic that gets taught about with any serious depth.

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