Summary: 3 reasons not to fast and 6 reasons to fast.
To Fast or Not to Fast, That is the Question
Pastor Jim Luthy
Suppose I were to make you some tea. I have hot water and a tea bag. To make the tea, I must dip the bag in the water, right? If I were to just plunge the bag in once or twice, it would not make for very good tea. If, instead, I continuously submerge the tea bag into the water, the flavor of the tea will grow much stronger. The longer the tea leaves are immersed into the water, the more the water gets into the tea and the more the tea is released into the water. This is the way it is with our spiritual life. The more we are dipped into the spiritual, the more the spiritual life is developed in us and the more we are released into the spiritual life. Spiritual disciplines are like the act of dipping the tea into the water. The more we practice the various disciplines, the stronger we grow spiritually. The disciplines make way for Christ to be formed in us.
When the water comes over the tea, the tea is now immersed into the life of the water and has no identity of its own. In the same way, when we are purchased by the forgiveness of Jesus Christ, our life is not our own. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his classic work The Cost of Discipleship, rightly observed, "We have to practice strictest daily discipline; only so can the flesh learn the painful lesson that it has no rights of its own."
Richard Foster, author of the modern classic, Celebration of Discipline, identifies 12 disciplines, which he calls the "door to liberation." There are four inward disciplines: meditation, prayer, fasting, and study; four outward disciplines: simplicity, solitude, submission, and service; and four corporate disciplines: confession, worship, guidance, and celebration.
For the reasons I’ve illustrated with the tea bags and water, I would like for us, when we’re finished with the series on Ephesians, to cover the spiritual disciplines. Tonight, however, since there have been questions since I called for us to do some fasting together, I would like to jump ahead a bit and talk about fasting. Next week I will talk about the corporate fast. This week I would like to explain 3 reasons not to fast and provide 6 reasons to fast.
To fast or not to fast, that is the question. Let me begin by sharing with you three reasons not to fast. Now, be careful not to conclude that I am saying fasting is not a valid practice for today. There are many who would say that is true. But I believe any unbiased look at Scripture would lead us to believe that fasting is not only a valid discipline in the age of grace, but it is a vital one. That being said, we can find reasons not to fast in the Bible.
Matt 6:16-18: "When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. (NIV)
Here Jesus gives us our first and most important reason not to fast: Do not fast if you are doing so to be noticed by men. Jesus said that those who look somber and try to make others feel sorry for them because they’re fasting are just hypocrites. He says they’ll get their reward. John Piper, in A Hunger for God, comments, "if the reward you aim at in fasting is the admiration of others, that is what you will get, and that will be all you get. In other words, the danger of hypocrisy is that it is so successful. It aims at the praise of men, and it succeeds. But that’s all." Our reward should be the knowledge of God, not the praise of men. If you want the praise of men, go ahead and fast and point out to everyone how hungry you are and how greatly you suffer for Jesus. But the reality is, you’re not doing it for Jesus. And Jesus knows it. And he will not honor your appearance of godliness with the knowledge of him. Men will praise you, but you won’t find the Father. Man, if I’m going to give up three squares a day, the last thing I want to do is settle for the applause of men. Give me the Father. If I can’t have him, I’m going to Baja Fresh for a Burrito Ultimo!