Summary: Ongoing series concerning questions
Sermon Series: ¡§Questioning the Faith¡¨
Sermon #12 ¡§Fasting and its Purpose¡¨
Text: Matthew 6:16-18
OPENING JOKE: ¡§FASTING Conference¡¨ In a Church bulletin the following words were printed: "The cost for attending the Fasting and Prayer conference includes meals."
QUESTION: There are many references to ¡¥fasting¡¦ in both the OT and NT. Why isn¡¦t there more emphasis on our fasting? Very little is said about fasting in our church, or on religious stations including the Catholic channel, except during the season of Lent. Is fasting important to a Christian¡¦s life?
Illustration: ¡§History of Fasting¡¨ Some have said that fasting is a type of ¡¥Phariseeism¡¦ or ¡¥self righteousness¡¦. But it is not true that only the Pharisees fasted.
Right through the Bible - in the Old and New Testament - fasting plays an important role in serving God. It also has been prominent in the church throughout its history.
John Wesley (Who is started the Methodist Church) even refused to ordain a minister who did not fast regularly.
Illustration: ¡§Protestant Fasting¡¨ In Protestantism, the continental Reformers criticized fasting as a purely external observance that can never gain a person salvation (which is true). The Swiss Reformation of the "Third Reformer" Huldrych Zwingli began with an ostentatious public sausage-eating during Lent.
On the other hand, churches of the Anglican Communion and some American Protestant denominations, such as the United Methodist Church, affected by liturgical renewal movements encourage fasting as part of both Lent and Advent, two penitential seasons of the Liturgical Year.
Most Protestants, however, consider fasting (usually accompanied by prayer) to be an important part of their personal spiritual experience, apart from any liturgical tradition. (wikipedia.com)
***Tonight my goal is to answer a few common questions about fasting and then take you to the Scripture where Jesus specifically refers to it and its purpose.
ƒæ What fasting is:
Strong¡¦s Concordance: The Greek word for fasting is ¡§Nesteuo¡¨ which means to abstain as a religious exercise from food and drink: either entirely, if the fast lasted but a single day, or from customary and choice nourishment, if it continued several days.
Biblical fasting is "denying ourselves food" with spiritual communication in mind.
How do we know this? Because fasting is always together with prayer in the Bible. You can find instances of prayer without fasting, but you cannot find someone who is properly fasting without prayer in the Scripture.
ƒæ What fasting is not:
- Physical Discipline
Basically this means that ¡¥fasting¡¦ is not ¡¥dieting¡¦. When we go on diets, we do so for physical reasons (i.e. lose weight, shape up, etc.). Dieting may be something many of us need (including me!), but this is not the proper purpose of fasting according to the Scripture.
However, many people are teaching this as a goal in fasting. ¡§Fasting for Health¡¨ has become very fashionable in many Christian circles today. Losing weight may be a pleasant side effect of regular fasting, but it is not the Bible¡¦s intended purpose for it.
Fasting is about spiritual health, not physical health. It¡¦s about learning to deny ourselves of something physical to strengthen our relationship with God, not reducing our waistline.
- A Coercion Tool
Fasting is not a way to win God¡¦s approval, or twist His arm. Twice in Scripture we see people trying to use fasting as a way to win God¡¦s approval when they were doing wrong, and God did not honor their fasts.
Acts 23:12 ¡§And when it was day, some of the Jews banded together and bound themselves under an oath, saying that they would neither eat nor drink till they had killed Paul.¡¨
And we know God did not honor their fast, because it conflicted with His will. We see this in the Old Testament also.
Jeremiah 14:12 ¡§When they fast, I will not hear their cry; and when they offer burnt offering and grain offering, I will not accept them. But I will consume them by the sword, by the famine, and by the pestilence.¡¨
Fasting doesn¡¦t move God one iota, if we are trying to go against His perfect will.
- A Hypocritical Religious Exercise
In Jesus¡¦ day fasting was very important; in fact it had become overly important. The Pharisees were fasting twice a week. According to the Talmud (considered an authoritative record of rabbinic discussions on Jewish law, Jewish ethics, customs, legends and stories), they fasted on the 2nd and 5th days because Moses went onto Mount Sinai on the 5th day and returned on the 2nd day. At least this is what was written.
But another possible reason could be that the 2nd and 5th days of the week were both the ¡¥Market Days¡¦, where everyone from the countryside would come to town for trading. The Pharisees would allow their hair to be disheveled and their faces to look pitiful and cover themselves with old, dirty clothes. They would even put ashes on their head as a sign of humility.