November 7, 1993
Mat 6:16-18, fasting.
In working on the Biblical doctrine of Self-defence, I assumed
there would be quite a bit of material on the subject. But I could
not find any theologian's teaching on the subject. Therefore,
I must confess that it is far more difficult to develop than what
I thought it would be. It is going to require quite a bit of research
and development of passages, chapters and books of Scripture.
I had something on capital punishment for this morning, but
I feel the subject we are going to look at is more needed.
He have been going through the Book of Matthew, and we finished
the "Lord's Prayer." Then we looked at forgiveness,
vv. 14, 15. Now I would like to call your attention
to one of the more overlooked doctrines of Scripture, Fasting,
or self-denial vs. 16-18
Lk 9:23 And he said to [them] all, If any
[man] will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his
cross daily, and follow me.
Notice that the Lord moved right into fasting
with the word, Moreover. With this word, He connects
the doctrine of fasting with the doctrine offorgiveness.
when ye fast... But thou, when
thou fastest..., v. 17.
The religious leaders had totally corrupted the Biblical doctrine
of fasting. Christ now takes Biblical fasting and gives it its
Fasting's misuse causes us to avoid God's teaching on it. But,
as with other Bible doctrines, we must not allow misuse of a doctrine
to influence obedience to that doctrine. We must not overlook
what the Lord speaks of here because it is a necessary ingredient
for obedience to the Redeemer.
Christ gives Biblical fasting at least equal responsibility
and importance as alms, prayer and forgiveness, vs. 14, 15. We
also see here that the Lord takes for granted that His disciples
will fast, both publicly and privately. Fasting is a clearly assumed
Fasting is defined as abstinence from food
for a period of time for a religious purpose. It must be kept
within the bounds of God's word, ie. not endangering one's health,
Col 2:23, Which things have indeed a shew
of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the
body; not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh.
As with alms, prayer and forgiveness, there is nothing meritorious
in fasting; rather, fasting is an outward sign before God of the
inward desire to advance His cause. Fasting is the opposite of
feasting, which expresses joy.
Fasting is always connected with prayer, repentance and afflicting
the soul before God. Its frequency and duration is largely determined
by our ordinary habits, character and vocation.
Fasting, to some degree of temperance, is required of all men,
Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which
walk so as ye have us for an ensample. (For many walk, of whom
I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, [that they
are] the enemies of the cross of Christ: Whose end [is] destruction,
whose God [is their] belly, and [whose] glory
[is] in their shame, who mind earthly things.) For our conversation
is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord
Jesus Christ: Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned
like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby
he is able even to subdue all things unto himself.
Our moderation in all things must be obvious for all to see,
even at meal-time, Phil 4:5 Let your moderation
be known unto all men. The Lord [is] at hand.
Self is regularly denied to keep the mind and body always well conditioned for study and obeying God's word.
Not all fasting is total in the sense that all food is avoided: Daniel only denied himself of the king's dainties.
Fasting can be quietly accomplished simply to keep ones body under subjection so he can better serve the Lord, Rom 13:14; 1 Cor 9:27.
Not all fasting is Biblical: folks may keep a regular fast
for health reasons. Certainly, there is nothing wrong with fasting
for health reasons, but unless a fast results from heart-felt
self-abasement and desire for God's glory, it cannot be viewed
as a Biblical fast.
So now we say, "I don't have that kind of desire for God's
glory, so I don't have to fast." What we must do in such
a case is confess our cold apathy toward God and ask Him to quicken
our cold, lazy and indifferent spirit.
One of the clearest illustrations of fasting is found in the
book of Jonah, so we will follow that outline, Jonah 3:4-10.
Jonah, even though he fought hard against doing so, proclaimed
God's message to Nineveh. Much to Jonah's dismay, Nineveh humbled
itself before God, repented and prayed. The great city
I) Jonah 3:4, The cause for
fasting: Nineveh fasted in a time of exceptional national gravity:
God's judgment was imminent.
We see, then, that fasting is done when there is great need
for God's intervention into situations, either on a national or
Joel 1:14, 15, Sanctify ye a fast, call a
solemn assembly, gather the elders [and] all the inhabitants of
the land [into] the house of the LORD your God, and cry unto the
LORD, Alas for the day! for the day of the LORD [is] at hand,
and as a destruction from the Almighty shall it come.
We are facing just such gravity in our nation today.
II) Jonah 3:5, Who should
fast? In Nineveh's case (& Esther's), the whole population
entered into fasting.
There are times for national and public fasting. But in other
instances, such as David's, individuals fasted for special favors
from God. David's fasting over Bathsheba's child apparently did
no good, but in other situations (such as fleeing from his enemies)
fasting was beneficial in David's situation.
III) Jonah 3:9, The purpose
of fasting. Its purpose was to show the Lord that they heard His
message against their sin; it showed the Lord their genuine repentance,
sorrow and concern over sin. Fasting was an outward sign of humility
There are many OT instances of fasting:
A) Psa 35:13, David humbled his soul with
fasting. -- But as for me, when they were sick,
my clothing [was] sackcloth: I humbled my soul with fasting; and
my prayer returned into mine own bosom.
B) Psa 69:9, 10, David chastened his soul
with fasting while he wore sackcloth -- For the
zeal of thine house hath eaten me up; and the reproaches of them
that reproached thee are fallen upon me. When I wept, [and chastened]
my soul with fasting, that was to my reproach.
C) Psa 109:24, David's physical strength was
removed through fasting --My knees are weak through
fasting; and my flesh faileth of fatness.
David's fast was quite lengthy. David was at the very edge
of his endurance as his enemies attempted to destroy him, vv.
2-5. David's answer in the face of his enemies was humble
himself before God and cast himself upon the mercy of God. We
know that the Lord heard his prayer, and intervened for him.
D) In Neh 1:4-6, Nehemiah
sat down, wept, mourned, fasted and prayed before the Lord God
over the fact that Jerusalem was broken down --
And it came to pass, when I heard these words, that I sat down
and wept, and mourned [certain] days, and fasted, and prayed before
the God of heaven, And said, I beseech thee, O LORD God of heaven,
the great and terrible God, that keepeth covenant and mercy for
them that love him and observe his commandments: Let thine ear
now be attentive,and thine eyes open, that thou mayest hear the
prayer of thy servant, which I pray before thee now, day and night,
for the children of Israel thy servants, and confess the sins
of the children of Israel, which we have sinned against thee:
both I and my father's house have sinned.
E) In Isaiah 58, the people
were fasting and praying, not for God's glory, but for their own
personal goals. The ones who were fasting and praying had no intention
of returning to the Lord, vv. 3-7. The Lord tells
them that His fast is self-abasement and obedience to His law-word.
Notice v. 7 defines a genuine fast before
God. How concerned are we over those in need?
F) In Dan 9, Daniel, in sackcloth
& ashes, sought the Lord with prayer, fasting and confession
of sin. He humbled himself, confessed sin and longed for God's
righteousness to prevail.
G) In Zechariah 7:4-14, there
is an account of God's people's distress over the condition of
their nation. They wept, mourned and fasted for God's intervention.
The problem was, though, that they fasted, wept and mourned with
no intention of returning to the word of God, v. 12.
The result was that the Lord scattered them with a whirlwind among
all the nations whom they knew not, v. 14.
We see, then, that Biblical fasting is sincere self-abasement
and humility before God. The inward attitude represented by fasting
is turning from self and turning in complete dependance upon the
mercy and grace of God to intervene in the situation.
It was motivated by a deep longing and desire to see the Spirit
of God prevail and the cause of Christ exalted. The Lord Jesus
gave the basic motivation for fasting in Mat 6:10, Thy
kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
The Pharisees exalted themselves; they bragged that they "Fasted
twice a week," Luke 18:12. Christ told the world
that those Pharisees were hypocrites because their fasting did
not involved self-abasement.
In the NT, we find that Anna served God with fastings and prayers night and day, Luke 2:37.
Cornelius desired more light from God concerning the Messiah, so he fasted and prayed, Acts 10:30.
The church at Antioch, as they sought God's special blessing for success of the gospel, fasted, Acts 13:3.
Paul and Silas established the new churches with prayers and fastings,Acts 14:23.
Paul assumes that ordinary Christians will pray and fast,
1 Cor 7:5. Defraud ye not one the other, except
[it be] with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to
fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt
you not for your incontinency.(Lack of self-control.)
IV) our fourth point from Jonah 3:8,
fasting is always connected with prayer and turning from
sin, and cry mightily unto God... let them turn...
Nineveh's goal in fasting and repentance before God was to
turn him from his fierce anger, v. 9. Notice
that Nineveh turned from sin first. In other words, fasting was
only part (an essential part) of genuine repentance and seeking
Thus we see that Biblical fasting is identified by the necessary
ingredients of prayer, self-abasement, mourning over sin and genuine
repentance, without which it is hypocrisy, Mat 6:16.
Conclusion, Mat 6:16-18
1) Christ's first words concerning fasting exposed the wrong
kind of fasting. Christ did not condemn public fasting; He condemned
hypocritical fasting to be seen of man, v. 16.
Joel 1:13-15, Gird yourselves, and lament,
ye priests: howl, ye ministers of the altar: come, lie all night
in sackcloth, ye ministers of my God: for the meat offering and
the drink offering is withholden from the house of your God. Sanctify
ye a fast, call a solemn assembly, gather the elders [and] all
the inhabitants of the land [into] the house of the LORD your
God, and cry unto the LORD, Alas for the day! for the day of the
LORD [is] at hand, and as a destruction from the Almighty shall
Matthew 6:16 makes it clear that the Lord did not contradict
Joel's words; rather, Christ contradicted the evil motives for
fasting. The motive which Joel called for was the same as the
Ninevites': repentance, self-abasement and pleading for God's
mercy. The hypocrite's motive was for public praise: they put
on a great show of suffering for the Lord in fasting, and saw
no need for repentance, Luke 18:11, I thank thee
that I am not as other men are...
The scribes and Pharisees preformed their outward act of religion
by faithfully following all expected religious rites and rituals
of their day, but they were filled with dead men's bones.
The problem did not die with the scribes and Pharisees of Christ's
day. There are still many religious professors around who have
reduced Christianity to little more than church attendance, preaching,
reading the Bible, prayer and sacraments.
But they do not want to be confronted with their duty to and
responsibility before the Thrice-Holy God; the do not want to
be confronted with their duty to their fellow man.
Isaiah 58:6, 7, [Is] not this the fast that
I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy
burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every
yoke? [Is it] not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou
bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest
the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself
from thine own flesh?
The religious hypocrites have their reward.
I am inclined to believe that the ones Christ personally addressed
were rewarded in 70 A.D. Later, Christ describes the reward of
the wicked and slothful servant who avoid his duty and responsibility,
2) Christ's rebuke of the hypocrites' fasting for public praise
implies equal rebuke toward those who fast not at all.
Isa 22:12-14 implies increased judgments from
God for His peoplefeasting when they should be fasting
And in that day did the Lord GOD of hosts call to weeping,
and to mourning, and to baldness, and to girding with sackcloth:
And behold joy and gladness, slaying oxen, and killing sheep,
eating flesh, and drinking wine: let us eat and drink; for to
morrow we shall die. And it was revealed in mine ears by the LORD
of hosts, Surely this iniquity shall not be purged from you till
ye die, saith the Lord GOD of hosts.
3) Matt 6:17, 18, obviously fasting (alms
& prayer), both public and private, is between the individual
and the Lord.
4) one can fast until they starve to death, but fasting with
no intention of obeying Christ is hypocrisy, and will only result
in more judgement from the Lord.
5) the Lord require us to always have a cheerful countenance.
The Christian must reflect a Christian attitude of history: confidence
in the Divine providence of God working all things for His glory.
The Truth makes us free from our passions and circumstances.
God's Truth results in joy unspeakable and full of
6) Mat 6:18, reward... There are four rewards offered for proper motive in:
1) alms giving,
3) forgiveness, and
4) fasting. The reward for fasting is 1/4 of the rewards listed
in Mat 6.
A time for fasting
Joel 2:12-14, Therefore also now, saith the
LORD, turn ye [even] to me with all your heart, and with fasting,
and with weeping, and with mourning: And rend your heart, and
not your garments, and turn unto the LORD your God: for he [is]
gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and
repenteth him of the evil. Who knoweth [if] he will return and
repent, and leave a blessing behind him; [even] a meat offering
and a drink offering unto the LORD your God?
The days of feasting Christianity are over.
It is time for fasting, weeping, mourning, rending of
the heart and turning to the Lord; for it may be that,
in His mercy and grace, He will see fit to do as He did in Nineveh,
Jonah 3:9, 10
Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from
his fierce anger, that we perish not? And God saw their works,
that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the
evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did
If there were ever a time in history for prayer and fasting,
now is the time. Are we adding to God's wrath against evil by
not weeping, mourning and fasting over the prevailing hardness
and sin around us and the lack of the Spirit's power?
Isaiah 58:6, 7, [Is] not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? [Is it] not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?
Home Page Topics Messages