Saturday, June 05, 2021

The Vision (6.5.21): Thoughts on Fasting

Image: Ripening blueberries, North Garden, Virginia, June 2021

Notes: I recently started a twitter account (@Riddle1689). I only have a few dozen followers and have only infrequently tweeted. Last week, however, I tweeted the following thread as a follow up to last Sunday’s sermon and thought I’d share the thread’s bite-sized content (collectively) here:

Preaching through the Sermon on the Mount. Last Sunday on fasting from Matt 6:16-18 (listen here).

Three questions posed:

1.    What is fasting?

2.    Is fasting still a spiritual discipline for disciples today?

3.    If it is expected, how is it to be practiced?


1.    What is fasting?

"Denying oneself of bodily necessities, like food or drink, which are ordinarily good and lawful, for some limited period of time, for spiritual purposes, especially to express one’s hunger and desire for the Lord’s presence and protection."

2.    Is fasting still a spiritual discipline for disciples today?

Christ speaks of it as normative: "Moreover when ye fast...." (Matt 6:16); "But thou, when thou fastest..." (Matt 6:17).

What about Christ's response when John's disciples asked Christ about fasting (Matt 9:14-17; Mark 2:18-22; Luke 5:33-39)? Does Christ speak of fasting in this age when he says, "and then shall they fast" (Matt 9:15)?

Did Christ set an example when he fasted "for forty days and nights" in his temptation (Matt 4:2)? What of when he told the "lunatick's" father, "this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting" (Matt 17:21)?

Did not the church at Antioch fast and pray when setting part Paul and Barnabas for their missionary journey (Acts 13:3)? Did they then not pray with fasting when elders were set apart in the churches (Acts 14:23)?

What of Paul's instruction to husbands and wives to refrain from intimacy only with consent and for a limited season to give themselves "to fasting and prayer" (1 Cor 7:5)? Note: Modern texts omits "fasting" here.

“In this teaching Jesus does not dispute the practice of fasting itself. He is arguing only against an understanding of fasting that places the emphasis on the external, conspicuous form of the practice while ignoring its internal content” (Alfeyev, Sermon, 297).

3.    If fasting is expected, how is it to be practiced?

"Fasting is to be practiced, according to Christ’s instruction in Matt 6:16-18, not hypocritically, not to be seen by men, but to be seen only by the Lord."

Not like the Pharisee who "prayed thus with himself...I fast twice in the week" (Luke 18:11-12).

Spurgeon: “Fasting took a leading place in devotion under the Law, and it might profitably be more practiced even now under the Gospel” (Matthew, 61).

Spurgeon: “Use diligence to conceal what it would be foolish to parade…." (Matthew, 62).

Spurgeon: "Act in seasons of extraordinary devotion as you would at other times, that those with whom you come in contact may not know what special devotion you are practicing” (Matthew, 62).

Note how our Lord's teaching coheres with the spiritual heights of the OT prophets, as in Isaiah 58:6ff: "Is not this the fast that I have chosen?..."

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

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