Biblical Case for Fasting
Jesus assumed that His followers would fast. When confronted with the fact that His disciples did not fast, He replied that they didn’t fast because He was present with them, but that after He is taken away from them that His disciples will resume fasting (Matthew 9:14-17; Mark 2:18-20; Luke 5:33-35). He even gave His followers instructions on how to fast (Matthew 6:16-18). He led by example and fasted 40 days at the beginning of His ministry (Matthew 4:2). And we as His followers today rarely fast, except perhaps during Lent if we are familiar with Catholic traditions.
Fasting: Commanded or Commended
Jesus left us no biblical command to fast regularly, though there are certain fasting times observed in the Old Testament (Leviticus 23:27). However, by the time of the Prophet Zechariah, several national feasts had been adopted.
Jesus offers two teachings on fasting, but in neither case are His followers commanded to fast. In the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6 Jesus gives instruction about how to fast. Here Jesus tells us that His followers are to fast secretly. We are not to make a show of our act of piety. Jesus does not command His followers to fast, but He does seem to assume that they will fast.
In Matthew 9, Jesus is asked by one of John’s (the Baptist) followers why His followers don’t fast. Jesus responds by saying that they don’t fast because He is with them. Jesus alludes to Himself as a bridegroom saying that when the bridegroom is no longer present, His followers will fast. Again, this is not a command, but an assumption that His followers would fast.
Normally, people are not commanded to engage in behaviors that are customary. For instance, rarely does anyone have to be commanded to drink enough water (though during times of illness, we may need to be reminded). The fact that Jesus did not command His followers to fast does not mean that He did not expect them to fast. It means that fasting is simply a part of the assumed practices of His followers.
The Goal of Fasting
People fast for a variety of reasons these days. You may have heard about intermittent fasting as a means of weight control. This type of fasting can be physically beneficial. But the kind of fasting that Jesus was referring to in the passages above is primarily a spiritual practice, not a physical one. Fasting gives us the opportunity to focus entirely on God and increase our dependence on God.
In my next entries, I will describe several different types of fasts outlined by Elmer Towns in his book Fasting for Spiritual Breakthrough as well as some practical tips for fasting.
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