Summary: #2 of 4 sermons on biblical fasting.
When You Fast…
I. The Wrong Way to Fast
A. Fasting as a hypocrite
1. To gain a sense of God’s approval and self-approval
2. To fulfill a religious act
3. To gain religious recognition
B. Fasting for recognition
1. Danger of feeling “super-spiritual”
2. Danger of over-confidence
3. Danger of changing one’s appearance and actions
C. Reward: Human recognition and esteem
II. The Right Way to Fast
A. As a duty
B. Without notice
C. To God alone
D. Reward: God will reward you
During a Sunday service, a woman experienced a miraculous healing in her body—so she wrote a note to her pastor to tell him of her experience. As she closed her letter, she wrote, “Do you think, Reverend, that God could do something about my WEIGHT problem, too?”
The pastor wrote back: “Dear Sister, this kind does not go out except by fasting.”
Last week I began a series of sermons entitled, A Primer on Fasting. We looked at an OT passage to get an understand-ing of God’s attitude toward fasting and what He desires to be accomplished through this discipline. We discovered that God is primarily concerned that our hearts be turned toward Him when we fast. It is a time to seek His face and be captured by His Spirit. As we do this, we find that He then moves us to a place of demonstrating His love and character in practical ways—we are blessed and we become a blessing to others.
This morning we turn our attention to the NT and take a look at Jesus’ primary teaching on fasting as a Kingdom principle. What we will discover is that what Jesus has to teach us about fasting is very similar to what we learned from the OT last week. In fact, His teaching approach is practically identical to Isaiah’s. He begins by showing us the wrong way to fast and then contrasts this by telling us the right way to fast. And His point is clear and simple: true fasting is not principally concerned about food or the external act of fasting because those things can be easily fabricated and counterfeited. Rather, true fasting is focused on the Object of our fasting and is to be completely unto God. Please turn your Bibles with me to Matthew 6:16-18.
The Wrong Way to Fast
Jesus begins His teaching on fasting by drawing our atten-tion to the wrong way to fast. D.A. Carson writes, “Jesus is interested in condemning the abuses of the practice, and in exposing the dangers” (SOTM, p. 72). In other words, He shows us the negative in order to accentuate the positive.
Fasting as a Hypocrite
The manner in which Jesus helps His audience truly grasp what He is saying is by inviting them to take a look at a contemporary example of fasting that they were all familiar with: the example of the hypocrites. The word hypocrite is used by Jesus in the sense of a “play-actor,” like the actors in the Greek and Roman plays who wore exaggerated masks to present their message to their audience.
Matthew Henry writes in his commentary: “The hypocrites pretended fasting, when there was nothing of that contrition or humiliation of soul in them, which is the life and soul of the duty. Theirs were mock-fasts, the show and shadow without the substance; they took on them to be more humbled than really they were, and so endeavored to put a cheat upon God…” (MHCNT-QV).
There are many reasons why one might choose to participate in a fast. However, if we are not careful, we may find that we are actually fasting for the wrong reasons. We may believe that we are fasting for a noble or godly reason when, in fact, our fasting has very little to do with God. It may “sound” like a right fast, and it may “look” like a right fast, but it turns out to be a wrong fast, a pretend fast. Let’s explore some of the reasons that people fast that really amount to fasting as a hypocrite.
To Gain a Sense of God’s Approval and Self-approval
One reason a person might fast is to gain a sense of God’s approval and for self-approval. These people think, “If I fast, then God is bound to take note and give me ‘two thumbs up.’ He’s going to know that I’m serious. I’m certain this will get His attention and earn me His respect. I’m sure to receive an ‘Attaboy!’”
Unfortunately, there are a number of people who fast for this reason. They believe that by denying themselves of pleasurable, even necessary things, they will ultimately succeed in attaining God’s smile. Acquiring God’s smile, then, leads them to feeling good about themselves. This, in reality, is nothing short of a resurrection of asceticism. Asceticism is defined as “practicing strict self-denial as a measure of personal and especially spiritual discipline” (M-WCD-OL).