Summary: A series of sermons from Richard Foster’s book "Celebration of Discipline. A top 10 book for any Christian’s bookshelf.
CELEBRATION OF DISCIPLINE: FASTING
Moses the lawgiver, King David, Elijah the prophet, Queen Esther, the prophet Daniel, Anna the prophetess, the Apostle Paul, and Jesus Christ. All of these people in Scripture have one thing in common. Now I realize that perhaps they have more than one thing, but for our purposes this morning, I am interested in one particular common factor among them. They practiced a spiritual discipline that we have largely come away from in modern times. I am not sure why. Perhaps because it has a bad reputation since it seems like such a New Age thing. Perhaps because we’re told we’ve got to eat three square meals a day with snacks in between. I am not sure. What am I talking about? I am talking about fasting. They are all individuals who fasted. Fasting was an important part of their lives.
READ MATTHEW 6:16-18
I. WHAT IS FASTING?
Throughout Scripture, fasting is referred to as the abstaining of food for spiritual purposes. It is not a hunger strike or a diet plan… these have with them a purpose that is not holy or spiritual. Fasting, if done the way Scripture describes, is a very spiritual practice to aid one’s spiritual life. Biblical fasting always centers on spiritual purposes.
In Scripture, the normal means of fasting involves abstaining from all food, solid or liquid, but not from water. Luke 4:2 describes for us Jesus’ fast of forty days. We are told “He ate nothing” and at the end of the fast “He was hungry.” From a physical standpoint, this is the manner in which Scripture describes fasting. There are other fasts described in Scripture, such as the partial fast in Daniel 10 and the absolute fast in Esther 4, however, the normal means is not eating for a period of time.
II. WHAT DOES SCRIPTURE / JESUS SAY ABOUT FASTING?
There has been quite a big debate over the years about whether or not Scripture commands fasting from the Christian. Is it a requirement? Is it as much a part of the fabric of Christianity as the Lord’s Supper or baptism or confession?
Although many passages deal with the subject of fasting, two stand out as important. Especially since they are teachings of our Lord. First, Matthew 6:16-18 seems to indicate that fasting is as much a part of the Christian life as giving and praying (the context of these verses). Jesus says, “when you fast.” Not “if.” Is He then commanding us to fast? I really don’t think so. I think Jesus was teaching a group of people who commonly practiced fasting. The Pharisees and many Jews had as part of their week, a fast. So, although Jesus said, “when you fast,” He does not say “you must.” Second, Matthew 9:14-17 directly states that the disciples would not fast while Jesus was with them, but that they would after He was gone. In this passage, we see that Jesus upheld the practice of fasting and expected His followers to do this discipline after He had left them.
Perhaps it is the word “command” that is messing us up. Jesus never commanded fasting. He did not say, “you shall fast.” But He did expect that members of the Kingdom of God would practice fasting. Should we as Christians fast? Yes.
III. THE PURPOSES OF FASTING
A. Fasting must forever center on God- Zechariah 7:5 God asks the question, “Did you fast unto me?” Our fasting must be done under God’s direction and we must have our eyes fixed to Him. Our one intention should be to glorify our Father in Heaven.
B. Reminds us who sustains us- Food does not sustain us. Colossians 1:17 states that “in Christ” all things hold together. By abstaining from food, one feasts on the Word of God and is nourished by it.
C. Helps bring balance to our lives- How often do the nonessentials of life take control? How often do we want things we don’t need? How often do things other than God do we allow to control us? Fasting helps keep the natural desires of our human selves in check and balanced our spiritual selves. 1 Corinthians 9:27 and Psalm 35:13 describe this very thing.