No illustrations yet.
In Scripture we see several purposes for fasting. It's part of the discipline of self-control; it's a way of sharing that we depend on God alone and draw all our strength and resources from him; it's a way of focusing totally on him when seeking his guidance and help, and of showing that you really are in earnest in your quest; it's also, at times, an expression of sorrow and deep repentance, something that a person or community will do in order to acknowledge failure before God and seek his mercy.
We tend to think of fasting as going without food. But we can fast from anything. If we love music and decide to miss a concert in order to spend time with God, that is fasting. It is helpful to think of the parallel of human friendship. When friends need to be together, they will cancel all other activities in order to make that possible. There's nothing magical about fasting. It's just one way of telling God that your priority at that moment is to be alone with him, sorting out whatever is necessary, and you have cancelled the meal, party, concert, or whatever else you had planned to do in order to fulfill that priority.
James Packer, Your Father Loves You, Harold Shaw Publishers, 1986, p. 14.
In general we must hold that whenever any religious controversy arises, which either a council or ecclesiastical tribunal behooves to decide; whenever a minister is to be chosen; whenever, in short any matter of difficulty and great importance is under consideration: on the other hand, when manifestations of the divine anger appear, as pestilence, war, and famine, the sacred and salutary custom of all ages has been for pastors to exhort the people to public fasting and extraordinary prayer.
Calvin, Institutes, IV, 12, 14.
Fasting In The Old Testament
1. In a culture where the landscape is dotted with shrines to the
"GOLDEN ARCHES" and an assortment of "PIZZA TEMPLES", fasting seems
out of place, out of step with the times - Richard Foster, The
Celebration Of Discipline, p. 47
2. As I begin to deal with subject like fasting, I do so with some
hesitation for several reasons:
a. It is a very EMOTIONAL and VOLATILE subject
1) Views about fasting usually go to extremes
a) "Some have exalted religious fasting beyond all Scripture
and reason, and others have utterly disregarded it."
-- JOHN WESLEY
b) Some consider fasting unnecessary, undesirable, and
therefore to be ignored
c) Others think fasting is to be bound as a matter of faith
2) It touches upon a matter very personal to us: FOOD!
a) Many people are very dependent upon food
1/ Not just for survival
2/ But for dealing with anxiety, depression, boredom, etc.
3/ Rather than eating to live, they live to eat
b) It is like preaching on gluttony or smoking, it often
touches on raw nerves
b. It is an UNTRADITIONAL subject
1) You rarely hear sermons on this subject
2) One person found in his research that not a single book was
published on fasting among some brethren from 1861 to 1954
3. But the Scriptures have so much to say about fasting...
a. The list of Biblical persons who fasted becomes a "Who's Who" of
1) Moses the lawgiver 5) Daniel the seer
2) David the king 6) Anna the prophetess
3) Elijah the prophet 7) Jesus the Son Of God
4) Esther the queen 8) Paul the apostle
-- Richard Foster, p.48, ibid.
b. There is more teaching in the NT on fasting than repentance and
c. Jesus taught more on fasting than on baptism and the Lord's
4. What would account for this almost total disregard for a subject so
frequently mentioned in Scripture?
a. FIRST, fasting has developed a bad reputation as a result of the
excessive ascetic practices of the Middle Ages - Foster, ibid.
b. SECOND, many have simply concluded that fasting was a Jewish
custom, of no value or need in the Christian age
c. THIRD, we have been convinced through constant propaganda that if
we do not have three large meals each day, with several snacks in
between, we are on the verge of starvation (we eat, not because
we NEED to eat. but because it's TIME to eat) - Foster, ibid.
5. Because the Bible has so much to say about fasting, it is only right
that we consider what it says. As we do so, I have several
a. Please withhold judgment until you have heard all the material
- cf. Pr 18:13
1) Let's be "SPELUNKERS" and not "ENGINEERS" with the Bible
2) I.e., explore and follow what is there instead of rearranging
what is there to fit our designs
b. Don't be hasty in drawing conclusions or applying what you hear
- cf. Pr 14:29
c. If you have any additional information, questions or viewpoints,
please feel free to share them with me - cf. Pr 11:14
[In this lesson, then, we shall take a look at "Fasting In The Old
Testament", beginning with... ]
I. OCCASIONS OF FASTING IN THE OLD TESTAMENT
A. THE "DAY OF ATONEMENT"...
1. Lev 16:29-31; 23:26-32; Num 29:7
2. This was the only fast commanded by the Law, to be observed on
the tenth day of the seventh month
3. Though not called "fasting", the phrase "afflicting one's
soul" was understood to refer to fasting
a. Cf. Ps 69:10 ("chastened my soul with fasting")
b. Cf. Ac 27:9 (where the term "Fast" refers to the Day of
4. The use of the phrase "afflict one's soul" to refer to fasting
suggests a PURPOSE of fasting:
a. To have an affect on the SOUL (not particularly the body)
b. The goal of such affliction or chastening we shall notice
B. OTHER FASTS IN THE OLD TESTAMENT...
-- People often fasted without specific commandment in time of
distress; some were communal affairs while others were acts of
the private individual
1. THEY FASTED IN WAR, OR AT THE THREAT OF IT
Israelfasted at in the war against the Benjamites Bethel
- Judg 20:26
b. Also at Mizpah in the Philistine war - 1 Sam 7:6
2. THEY FASTED WHEN LOVED ONES WERE SICK
a. David fasted and wept for his son while the boy was ill
- 2 Sam 12:16-23
b. The psalmist also mentions fasting for his enemies - Ps
3. THEY FASTED WHEN LOVED ONES DIED
a. The men of Jabesh-gilead fasted seven days for Saul - 1 Sa
31:13; 1 Chron 10:12
b. David and the people fasted for Saul and Jonathan - 2 Sa
4. THEY FASTED WHEN THEY SOUGHT GOD'S FORGIVENESS
a. Moses fasted forty days because of the sin of
- Deu Israel
b. Ahab fasted to be forgiven - 1 Ki 21:17-29
fasted at the preaching of Jonah - Jonah 3:4-10 Nineveh
d. Daniel fasted as he confessed the sins of
- Da 9:3-5 Israel
e. The general fast at the communal reading of the Law by Ezra
was an act of penitence - Neh 9:1-3
5. THEY FASTED WHEN FACED WITH IMPENDING DANGER
a. Jehoshaphat fasted when threatened by
- 2 Chron 20:3 Edom
b. Ezra led a fast when seeking the favor of God toward his
return from exile (a journey fraught with danger) - Ez 8:21
c. Nehemiah fasted when he heard of the state of
- Neh 1:4
d. The Jews fasted when they heard that Haman had obtained the
king's decree against them - Esth 4:3
e. Esther and Mordecai fasted before she went before the king
- Esth 4:16
6. THEY SET UP FASTS TO COMMEMORATE CERTAIN CALAMITIES
-- During and after the Exile special fasts were observed on
the days the calamities had befallen
a. The tenth of the fifth month was the burning of the
- Jer 52:12,13
b. The second day of the seventh month was the murder of
Gedaliah - 2 Ki 25:23-95; Jer 41:1ff
c. On the tenth day of the tenth month was the beginning of
the siege of
- 2 Ki 25:1 Jerusalem
d. On the ninth day of the fourth was its fall - 2 Ki 25:3,4
II. ADDITIONAL INFORMATION ABOUT FASTING IN THE OLD TESTAMENT
A. THE PURPOSE OF FASTING...
1. Some fasting was a natural reaction to grief over the loss of
a loved one (like the men of Jabesh-gilead and David)
2. But more often, fasting was done to purposely:
a. "afflict the soul" - Lev 23:26-32
b. "chasten the soul" - Ps 69:10
3. The purpose of such affliction or chastening was to "humble"
the soul (Ps 35:13), and not for any affect it might have on
4. Evidently, they felt that by so humbling themselves they would
more likely incur God's favor - cf. Ezra 8:21-23; Is 57:15;
5. So they would fast when they needed:
a. Forgiveness for sin (Moses, Ahab, Daniel)
b. Their loved ones restored to health (David)
c. Protection from danger (Ezra)
d. Deliverance from their enemies (the Israelites)
6. Because they were seeking God's favor, FASTING WOULD ALMOST
ALWAYS BE ACCOMPANIED WITH PRAYER
B. THE NATURE OF FASTING...
NORMALmeans of fasting involved ABSTAINING FROM ALL FOOD
BUT NOT WATER
2. Sometimes the fast was but PARTIAL - a restriction of diet but
not total abstention - cf. Da 10:2-3
3. On rare occasions there was the ABSOLUTE fast
a. As in the case of the people of
, who also included Nineveh
the animals in their fast - cf. Jonah 3:5-10
b. As in the case of Queen Esther - Esth 4:16 (cf. Paul, Ac
c. The absolute fasts of Moses and Elijah must have had divine
assistance - Deu 9:9; 1 Ki 19:8
C. THE LENGTH OF FASTS...
1. A fast was often for ONE DAY, from sunrise to sunset, and
after sundown food would be taken - Judg 20:26; 1 Sam 14:24;
2 Sam 1:12; 3:35
2. A fast might be for ONE NIGHT - Dan 6:18
3. The fast of Esther continued for THREE DAYS, day and night,
which seems to have been a special case - Esth 4:16
4. At the burial of Saul, the fast by Jabesh-Gilead was SEVEN
DAYS - 1 Sam 31:13; 1 Chron 10:12
5. David fasted SEVEN DAYS when his child was ill - 2 Sam 12:
6. The longest fasts recorded in Scripture were the FORTY DAY
fasts by Moses, Elijah, and Jesus - Exod 34:28; Deut 9:9;
1 Ki 19:8; Mt 4:2; Lk 4:2
D. WARNINGS CONCERNING FASTING...
1. Fasting CAN EASILY TURN INTO AN EXTERNAL SHOW AND CEREMONIAL
RITUALISM; when it did, the prophets spoke out against it
2. The most vigorous attack against such fasting is made in
a. The people complained that they had fasted and God had not
seen - Isa 58:
b. But they had not been fasting for the right reason (to be
heard by God) - Isa 58:3b-4
c. In contrast to simply an external display of bowing one's
head like a bulrush and spreading sackcloth and ashes, the
Lord would rather they:
1) Loose the bonds of wickedness
2) Let the oppressed go free
3) Share bread with the hungry
4) Bring the poor into one's house
5) Cover the naked
-- Then they should be heard in their prayers - Isa 58:6-9
d. I.e. fasting without true repentance defeats the purpose of
fasting: to have your prayers heard by the Lord!
3. The same point was made about the ceremonial fasts that had
been added by the Israelites to commemorate certain occasions
- Zech 7:1-14
a. The people wanted to know if they should fast on the
special occasions as they had done - Zech 7:1-3
b. The Lord responded that the fasts had not be done for Him
- Zech 7:4-6
c. They should have instead done the will of the Lord - Zech
d. But because they did not, the fasting in the past was of no
value - Zech 7:11-14
1. At this point we have not tried to establish whether fasting is for
2. Rather, we have just considered the practice of fasting as found in
the O.T., to have a better understanding of why people of God fasted
3. What have we learned?
a. Only one fast was specifically commanded in the O.T. (The Day Of
b. But people often fasted when they wanted God to hear their
1) The purpose of the fast was to humble themselves by
"afflicting their souls"
2) Believing such humiliation would be pleasing in God's sight
(and it often was)
c. However, fasting was fruitless...
1) When it was done for the wrong reason
2) When it was done without true repentance
d. We have also seen that there were no set principles concerning
the length or nature of fasting
4. In our next lesson, we shall look at fasting as found in the New
Fasting In The New Testament
1. In our previous lesson, we examined the subject of "Fasting In The
2. Here is what we found:
a. Only one fast was specifically commanded in the 0. T. (on the
Day of Atonement)
b. But people often fasted when they wanted God to hear their
1) In times of war or at the threat of it
2) When loved ones were sick
3) When seeking God's forgiveness
4) When faced with impending danger
5) When seeking God's will
c. The purpose of such fasting:
1) To humble themselves by "afflicting their souls"
2) Believing that such humiliation would be pleasing in God's
sight (and it often was)
d. However, fasting was fruitless when:
1) It was gone ceremonially
2) It was done without true repentance
e. There were also no set principles governing the length or nature
3. We shall now examine "Fasting In The New Testament", as taught and
b. His church
c. The apostle Paul
...in an effort to determine whether Christians can or should fast
[We begin by considering...]
I. FASTING IN THE LIFE OF JESUS
A. JESUS FASTED FORTY DAYS IN THE WILDERNESS - Mt 4:1-9; Lk 4:1-2
1. He was led into the wilderness "to be tempted" (Mt)
2. He was "tempted for forty days by the devil" (Lk)
3. "in those days He ate nothing" (Lk)
-- Throughout this forty day period of temptation, Jesus felt it
appropriate to fast
B. JESUS TAUGHT ON FASTING IN HIS "SERMON ON THE MOUNT" - Mt 6:16-18
1. Jesus said "when", not "if"; assuming his disciples WOULD fast
2. When done properly a person would be rewarded by the Father...
a. Suggesting that fasting was like prayer and giving alms
b. I.e., an act of righteousness done to please the Father
-- Fasting appears to have a place in the righteousness expected
of those who would be citizens of the kingdom of heaven
C. WHEN QUESTIONED BY JOHN'S DISCIPLES - Mt 9:14-17 (Mk 2:18-99;
1. Jesus described a time when his disciples would fast
2. But it is inappropriate to fast when the occasion does not
call for it
-- Fasting would have a place in the disciples' lives, but only
on appropriate occasions (not as a ceremonial rite)
D. THE COMBINED POWER OF PRAYER AND FASTING - Mt 17:14-21 (Mk 9:
1. There are times when faith alone is not enough
2. At these times prayer joined with fasting is necessary
-- Fasting joined with prayer may accomplish things which normal
faith may not
[Now let's take a look at...]
II. FASTING IN THE LORD'S CHURCH
A. THE CHURCH AT
- Ac 13:1-3 ANTIOCH
1. They were fasting as a group while ministering to the Lord
2. They fasted and prayed in preparation to sending out Barnabas
-- Fasting, when accompanied with prayer, can done as a group
when involved in serving the Lord
B. THE CHURCHES IN
- Ac 14:21-23 GALATIA
1. Again, an example of fasting and prayer as a group; this time,
in conjunction with the serious task of appointing elders
2. Notice that this was done "in every church"
a. Not just in one or two churches
b. Not just in what might be consider "Jewish" churches where
fasting might be considered "just a Jewish custom"
-- Again, fasting can be a group activity in the work of a local
[Now let's examine...]
III. FASTING IN THE MINISTRY OF THE APOSTLE PAUL
A. FASTING WAS A MARK OF HIS MINISTRY...
1. We have already noticed where he fasted with several churches
2. But notice also:
a. 2 Co 6:4-10 (cf. verse 5)
b. 2 Co 11:23-28 (cf. verse 27 where fasting is mentioned
separately from normal hunger and thirst)
-- In both of these passages, Paul mentioned fasting as a mark of
his ministry and of his good standing as a minister of Christ!
B. HE ALSO TAUGHT THAT FASTING MIGHT HAVE A PLACE IN THE LIVES OF
1. Cf. 1 Co 7:5
2. The only time husbands and wives may deprive one another is
when by consent they devote themselves to fasting and prayer
for a specific period of time
1. Though not actually Christians at the time, we also have other
examples of those who fasted and were blessed by God...
a. Anna - Lk 2:36-38
b. Saul - Ac 9:9
c. Cornelius - Ac 10:30-31
2. As a summary, then, here is what we have seen in this study:
a. That our Lord fasted in time of temptation
b. That He taught His disciples about fasting on several occasions
c. That He foretold of a time in which His disciples would fast
d. That there are times when the combination of fasting and prayer
might be more efficacious than prayer alone
e. That the early church fasted in their service to the Lord
f. That Paul regarded fasting as a mark of his ministry
g. That prayer and fasting often go hand in hand, utilized whenever
there was a strong desire for God's blessing and guidance
-- In view of such things, I can only conclude that fast does indeed
have a place in the lives of Christians today
In our third and final lesson on this subject, we will consider some
thoughts concerning the WHY, WHEN, and HOW of fasting, as found in the
Fasting By Christians Today
1. Our two previous lessons sought to educate us on the subject of
fasting as found in the Old and New Testaments
2. In this final lesson, we shall directly address the questions that
brought up this subject:
"Should Christians fast today, and if so, why? When would they do
it, and how?"
[Starting with the first of these questions...]
I. SHOULD CHRISTIANS FAST TODAY?
A. YES! BECAUSE OF THE TEACHINGS OF JESUS...
1. He assumed his disciples would fast ("when," not "if") - Mt
2. He said they would fast when He was gone - Mt 9:14-15
3. He taught His disciples...
a. How to fast so as to incur God's favor - Mt 6:16-18
b. That when done properly, fasting WOULD incur God's good
favor - Mt 6:18b
c. That fasting should be done only when the occasion properly
calls for it - Mt 9:14-17
d. That there would be occasions when prayer joined with
fasting might be needed - Mt 17:20-21
B. YES! BECAUSE WE HAVE EXAMPLES OF THE CHURCH FASTING...
1. The brethren at
- Ac 13:1-3 Antioch
a. Fasting in their service to Lord
b. Fasting and praying when they send out Paul and Barnabas on
their missionary journey
2. The churches in
- Ac 14:21-23 Galatia
a. There was fasting in every church
b. When appointing elders to watch over the flock
C. YES! BECAUSE PAUL FASTED AS A MINISTER OF CHRIST...
1. He listed fasting among those things which proved him as a
minister of Jesus Christ - 2 Co 11:23-28
2. Are we not commanded to imitate him, even as he imitated
Christ? - 1 Co 11:1 (and they both fasted in their service to
[At the very least, we can say that it would not be inappropriate for
Christians to fast today. Unless there are medical reasons not to
fast, we have very good examples to motivate us to utilize fasting in
our service to the Lord!
But to ensure that we fast for the right reason, consider our next
II. WHY SHOULD CHRISTIANS FAST?
A. PEOPLE FAST TODAY FOR VARIOUS REASONS...
1. Some purposefully, for health reasons
2. Some without thinking, in times of grief and sorrow
3. Others, in an effort to gain some kind of self-control
-- But these are not the reasons Christian should fast in their
service to God - cf. Co 2:20-23
B. CHRISTIANS SHOULD FAST, FOR THERE ARE TIMES WHEN WE ARE NEED OF
1. This is consistent with the majority of fasting in the O.T.;
a. In times of war or at the threat of it (
b. When loved ones were sick (David)
c. When seeking God's forgiveness (Ahab, Daniel)
d. When seeking God's protection (Ezra)
2. This is consistent with the examples of fasting in the N.T.;
a. When dealing with temptations (Jesus)
b. When serving the Lord (
c. When beginning a work for the Lord (
d. When selecting and appointing elders (
3. Such fasting is should be done in conjunction with prayer
a. For fasting, when done properly...
1) Humbles the soul - Ps 35:13
2) Chastens the soul - Ps 69:10
b. And the prayers of a humble person are more likely to be
heard! - cf. Ezra 8:21-23
[If fasting does have a part in the Christian life, then let's look
more closely at...]
III. WHEN SHOULD CHRISTIANS FAST?
A. WHENEVER OCCASIONS REQUIRING DIVINE HELP SHOULD ARISE...
1. These may be occasions on an individual level
a. When faced with difficult temptations
b. When faced with the serious illness of a loved one
2. These occasions might be on a congregational level
a. As when appointing elders
b. As when sending out missionaries
B. WHATEVER OCCASIONS CALL FOR PERSISTENT PRAYERS MIGHT CALL FOR
FASTING JOINED WITH PRAYER...
1. Are we not taught that God is more likely to answer our
prayers if we are persistent? - cf. Lk 18:1-8
2. And also if we fast in the proper manner? - Mt 6:17-18
[So whenever there is a matter requiring much prayer, fasting in
conjunction with prayer would seem appropriate.
Finally, let's take a look at...]
IV. HOW SHOULD CHRISTIANS FAST?
A. NOT TO BE SEEN OF MEN...
1. Cf. Mt 6:16-18
2. Whether fasting as individuals or with others, it is important
that we not do it for "show"
B. NOT AS SOME REGULAR RITUAL...
1. Cf. Mt 9:14-17
2. It should be done only when the occasion calls for it
3. Such as situations where you would be spending much time in
C. NOT WITHOUT TRUE REPENTANCE...
1. Cf. Isa 58:3-9
2. All the praying, all the fasting, is of no avail if not
accompanied with penitent obedience
D. SOME PRACTICAL SUGGESTIONS...
1. Don't go out and fast just because it sounds like a neat thing
a. Take the subject seriously
b. Fast only when the occasion is a serious one
c. One in which you desperately desire God's help
2. If you have never fasted before...
a. Start slow, fasting only for brief periods of time
b. End slow, gradually breaking your fast with fresh fruits
and vegetables in small amounts
3. Fast when you have time to spend in prayerful meditation
a. Remember the purpose for fasting
b. To humble oneself in God's sight
c. To seek favorable answer to prayer for some important plea
1. There is probably much more that could be said on the subject of
2. But I hope that this is enough to stimulate our thinking on a
subject which has often been neglected in both study and practice
3. As with any subject, the Word of God is the last word, and I hope
that this study has shed some light on what His Word says on the
subject of fasting