*The Biblical Doctrine Of FASTING*
”TO FAST” in Hebrew (Old Testament) is ”tsum/tsom”=”to cover over (the mouth)”, used 47 times; 21 times as action: Jud20:26, 1Sam7:6; 1Sam31:13; 2Sam1:12; 12:16,21to27; 1Ch10:12; Ezr8:23; Neh1:4; Est4:16; Is58:3to4; Jer14:12; Zec7:5 ….and 26 times as noun: 2Sam12:16; 1Ki21:9to12; 2Ch20:3, Ezr8:21,9:1; Est4:3,9:31; Ps35:13;69:10;109:24 ; Is58:3to6; Jer36:6,9; Dan9:3; Joel1:14; 2:12,15; Jonah3:5; Zec8:19
”TO FAST” in Greek (New Testament is ”nesteia/nestis”=”religious abstinence from food”; used 30 times; 8 times as noun ”the fast/fasting”: Mat17:21, Mar9:29, Luk2:37, Act14.23, Acts27:9, 1Cor7:5, 2Cor6:5, 2Cor11:27 …and 22 times as verb (action): Mark4:2, Mat6:16,18; Mat9:14,15;15:32; Mark 2:18,20 and 8:3; Luke5:33,35; Luke18:12, Acts10:30;13:2,3
Probably very few of us seldom if ever fast; many today practice fasting (diet) for health purposes, which is not a religious fast. Fasting has become a very emotional issue for a lot of people and often carried to extremes. Some demand that we should fast. Others don’t want anyone telling them how/what/when to eat.
*I. FASTING IN THE OLD TESTAMENT*
A. The “Day of Atonement” was the only fast that was commanded by the Law (Lev16:29to31; 23:26to32; Num29:7). Fasting was generally a deliberate act of worshipping God.
1. Though not called “fasting,” the phrase “afflicting one’s soul” was used which included fasting.
2. Thus, fasting was more than a physical exercise, but had a spiritual purpose.
*B. Other times when fasting occurred in the Old Testament*
1. Fasted in times of war or threat of war Jud20:26; 1Sam7:6
2. Fasted when loved ones were sick 2Sam12:16to23
3. Fasted for their enemies Ps35:11,13
4. Fasted when loved ones died 1Sam31:13; 1Chron10:12
5. Fasted when seeking God’s pardon Deut9:15to18; 1Kings21:17to29; Jonah3:4to10
6. Fasted when facing danger Ezra8:21; Est4:3;4:16
7. Fasted to commemorate certain calamities Jer52:12,13; 2Kings25:23to25; Jer41; 2Kings25:1to4
*II. FASTING IN THE NEW TESTAMENT*
*A. FASTING AND JESUS*
1. Jesus fasted from food forty days (Matt4:1to9; Luke4:1,2). The Bible does not say that He didn’t drink. Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit into the fasting and into temptation in the desert. Ask God’s leading about if and when and how you would fast. Also make sure your motivation is right: a deeper fellowship with God.
2. Jesus taught about fasting (it should be secret, before God) in his sermon on the mount (Mat6:16to18).
3. Jesus was questioned about it by John’s disciples Matt9:14to17
4. Jesus taught of a combined power of prayer and fasting Mt17:14to21
*B. FASTING AND THE CHURCH*
1. The church at Antioch fasted Acts13:1to3
2. The churches of Galatia fasted Acts14:21to23
3. The apostles fasted 1Cor6:1to10
4. Paul often fasted 2Cor11:23to27
5. Married couples may decide for fasting from food associated with a sexual fast, an agreed temporary abstinence 1Cor7:5
*III. THE PURPOSE OF FASTING*
–Some fasting was the natural reaction to grief.
–The purpose of affliction through fast was to “humble” the soul Ps35:13. We don’t fast to impress God or to twist His hand to do what we request (blackmail God), but in fasting we desire total concentration on God; we can fast not only from food, but also from certain activities that might not be evil in themselves (tv, games or other pleasures) but we concentrate our time and attention on God (Ezra8:21to23; Is57:15; 66:1,2).
*IV. THE NATURE OF FASTING*
A. The usual form of fasting was to abstain from ALL FOOD, but NOT WATER.
B. Sometimes a fast was PARTIAL, restricting the diet, but not total abstention (Dan10:2,3). Daniel mourned and fasted three weeks by abstaining from “pleasant bread,” meat, and wine (Dan10:3), he avoided pastries, doughnuts, and other delicacies available for a king’s court, but it implies he did eat some food but not delicacies.
C. Sometimes a fast was TOTAL, included water Jonah3:5to10; Est4:16; Acts9:9
*V. THE LENGTH OF FASTING*
A. One day [Sunrise to sunset] Jud20:26; 1Sam14:24; 2Sam1:12;3:35
B. Three days Est4:16
C. Seven days 1Sam31:13; 1Chron10:12
D. Forty days Ex34:28; Deut9:9; 1Kings19:8; Matt4:2
E. Continual – Samson was never allowed to eat grapes or drink grape juice, wine, or alcohol, just as the Nazarites for the period they would be Nazarites (Num6:3; ‘nazarite’ means ‘separated one’ for a determined time); however, this was an Old Testament teaching that does not apply in a literal form under the New Covenant in Christ, in its spiritual application a Christian is to separate himself unto God, set apart from anything that can twist his mind from thinking rightly with God.
*VI. WARNINGS CONCERNING FASTING*
A. It can turn into an empty ritual Is58:3to9
B. It can be turned into a show Matt6:16to18
*VII. FINAL THOUGHTS ON FASTING*
A. Should Christians fast today?
-Yes, but fasting is not an obligation.
-Jesus assumed that his disciples would fast Matt9:14,15 and the N.T. church practiced it.
B. WHY Should Christians fast?
-There are times when we need divine help (temptation, illness, beginning a new work, appointing elders, in times of war, seeking forgiveness, a deeper walk with God).
C. HOW Should Christians fast?
1. Not to be seen of men Matt6:16to18
2. Not as some regular ritual Matt9:14to17
3. Not without true repentance Is58:3to9
4. Fasting should be accompanied by prayer, meditating on the Word and reading/studying the Word.
*CONCLUSION*: Fasting is not a church ordinance (there are only 2 church ordinances: water baptism and the Holy Communion), but rather it is a private matter. The church can be called to fast together, but the choice is yours. Destroying your body through excessive fast, avoiding always certain foods (Col2:20to23, 1Tim4:1to3) cutting yourself like Baal’s followers (1Kings18) or whipping yourself like Mexican Catholics is worthless, for it was never prescribed nor practiced by the true followers of God or by Jesus Christ and it denies the cross of Jesus.
Christian fasting is the effect of what Christ has already done for us and in us. It is not an effort of the flesh, but the Spirit’s fruit: remember that the last-mentioned fruit of the Spirit is “self control” (Gal5:23). You can eat to the glory of God (1Cor10:31) or you can fast to the glory of God, just as you can eat and fast in the flesh.