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Fasting: Is this something we are to do today?

Gary Googe Jun 16

What does it mean to fast? In this case, we are talking about abstaining from food for “religious” reasons.  We know that fasting is something God’s people have done in the past, but are Christians to do this today?

If you rightly understand the Bible, you know that all the Bible is for us, but it is not all to us.  Hopefully, you also understand that the apostle Paul is the one who gives us Christ’s instructions that are specifically addressed to us today.  This fact alone can be helpful in understanding what God wants us to know about the place of fasting today.

I Corinthians 14:37

37 If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I [Paul] write unto you are the commandments of the Lord. [Emphasis added]

In times past, God’s people did all kinds of things that are not a part of the Christian way of life for us today.  That includes everything from abstaining from certain foods to observing certain Holy Days.  Nearly all believers today would not even know where to begin in observing the Passover and other Holy Days that were prescribed to God’s people, Israel.  But what are we to think of fasting?  What do the Scriptures say?

Of the over sixty fasting references in the Bible, only eight are found in the apostle Paul’s ministry.  Five of those are in the Book of Acts [Acts 13:2; 13:3; 14:23; 27:9,33] one is in I Corinthians [7:5], and two are in II Corinthians [6:5 & 11:27].  Seven of the eight of these speak of the Apostle Paul’s personal fasting.  Let’s take a look at them.

Acts 13:2-3

2 As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them

3 And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away. [Emphasis added]

Acts 27:9, 33

9 Now when much time was spent, and when sailing was now dangerous, because the fast was now already past, Paul admonished them,

33 And while the day was coming on, Paul besought them all to take meat, saying,  This day is the fourteenth day that ye have tarried and continued fasting, having taken nothing.” [Emphasis added]

I Corinthians 7:5

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. [Emphasis added]

II Corinthians 6:5

5 In stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labours, in watchings, in fastings; [Emphasis added]

II Corinthians 11:27

27 In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. [Emphasis added]

Only one of Paul’s references speaks of fasting by other members of the Body of Christ, and that one speaks of fasting by couples in their marital relationship.  So, let’s look at that one again.

I Corinthians 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. [Emphasis added]

So, what does all this tell us about fasting in this present Dispensation of Grace? If you live within certain circles, you will hear a lot about fasting.  This is particularly true during a time called Lent, a 40-day period between what is called Mardi Gras and EasterMardi Gras is French for “Fat Tuesday” — meaning it is the last opportunity to eat rich food before the fast of Lent begins.  It is related to celebrations elsewhere, called “carnivals,” from the Latin words, carne and vale, “meat” and “farewell,” meaning a farewell to meat before the abstinence of Lent.  But is there a Biblical basis for any of this anywhere in the Bible? Answer:  None whatsoever! During His earthly ministry Christ warned about ignoring the word of God and following vain traditions.

Mark 7:8-9

For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do.

And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition. [Emphasis added]

There is no divinely authorized command for many of the traditions that are held today in various religious circles.  So far as fasting is concerned, we are not under any commands to fast.  But, as noted in the above passages, we don’t need to overlook the fact that Paul and his ministry coworkers did fast from time to time.  That fasting, along with prayer, was involved with major ministry undertakings.  It was a time of intense preparation and focus.  The fasting was not commanded, but something they personally chose to do.

Perhaps the first thing we should note about fasting is that it is not simply doing without food for a time.  It would be much more appropriate to call that dieting, rather than fasting.  In fasting there is such intense devotion to certain activities in service to God that it causes one, for a time, to set aside certain legitimate activities, such as eating, but it is not limited to eating.  It could involve restraining oneself from other perfectly legitimate activities.

God’s people of Israel certainly did fast from time to time.  Even the Lord Jesus Christ fasted for forty days and forty nights before He began His earthly ministry.

Matthew 4:1-2

1 Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil.

And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungred. [Emphasis added]

Luke 4:2 is another account of this same incident.

However, we don’t have even one directive or command that fasting is something we are to do today.  Furthermore, Israel’s program is not our pattern.  Just because the Jews did something does not mean we are to do it.  We don’t offer animal sacrifices or observe certain holy days.  Some people say worship on Sunday replaced the Saturday Sabbath worship.  But where is the scripture that tells us that? There is none! Therefore, we must conclude that it is simply a man-made tradition without biblical authorization.  The reality is that the Scriptures are to be our guide in all things.  Furthermore, the apostle Paul is our apostle.  It is his teaching that is to have priority in directing us.

Romans 11:13

13 For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office: [Emphasis added]

As we noted earlier, it is Paul who is our Lord’s mouthpiece through which His instructions are given for us today in this present Dispensation of The Grace of God.

I Corinthians 14:37-38

37 If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord.

38 But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant. [Emphasis added]

It is Paul’s gospel for salvation and his teaching for the Christian life that we are to follow.  This includes all thirteen of his epistles running from Romans to Philemon.

Romans 16:25

25 Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began, [Emphasis added]

The Apostle Paul never tells us that we must fast.  However, Paul does instruct us that husbands and wives who they themselves have decided and agreed not to be intimate for a time, may enter a time of fasting and prayer.

I Corinthians 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. [Emphasis added]

How could this kind of fasting create some problems? There is a simple and obvious answer.  If sexual intercourse is lacking in the marital relationship, Satan can use this to his advantage.  Those desires for sexual activity, if not satisfied by one’s spouse, can lead to extramarital affairs.  Self-control can go lacking.  A marriage without intimacy is vulnerable to Satan’s attacks, and people physically separated from their spouses are [or at least should be] missing them.  Prayer and fasting are an important part of the means whereby God strengthens Christians who cannot be or have agreed not to be intimate with their spouses for a specific period.  In this time of sexual abstinence, the word of God can sustain a person.  Let us first note the words of King David on this.

Psalm 119:10-12

10 With my whole heart have I sought thee: O let me not wander from thy commandments.

11 Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.

12 Blessed art thou, O Lord: teach me thy statutes. [Emphasis added]

The apostle Paul tells us much the same.

I Thessalonians 2:13

13 For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe. [Emphasis added]

It becomes apparent that fasting is a personal choice that God will not make for us.  Again, there is no direct command in Paul’s epistles to fast or not to fast.  The apostle Paul doesn’t even bring the matter up except concerning marital relations.  The Bible simply does not tell us what to do on this.  We are, therefore, free to decide for ourselves.  If you choose to fast, fast! If you don’t want to fast, that’s okay too.  The decision is yours.  However, if you choose to fast, it is important that we heed a warning about it.

Matthew 6:16-18

16 Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

17 But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face;

18 That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly. [Emphasis added]

I’m afraid there are those in every generation who like to talk about, even boast about what they’ve given up in service to our Lord.  This should never be our practice.  Fasting is not to be bragged about or used to display our faithfulness to serve our Lord.  If it is done at all, it should be done discreetly.  I am afraid that for many, fasting is a worthless “religious” practice designed to impress people, and even God.  We must avoid such activity.

Fasting in Judaism eventually became a meaningless religious practice. The Lord Jesus Christ lamented that some people no longer fasted in faithThey did it just to feel religious, to stroke their egos, to show off, and to brag to others.  With them it was an expression of their self-righteousness.  That is not to be our way.  Notice the record of how a Pharisee abused the practice of fasting.  Apparently, there was a lot of this at that time.

Luke 18:11-12

11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.

12 I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. [Emphasis added]

The fasting, in this case, was not done in faith.  It was just some mindless religious ritual performed so one could then boast of their “faithfulness” and their “holiness.”  We are to avoid this kind of thinking if we choose to fast in our time.

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