Lenten Disciplines (1): Fasting as a Christian

Date: 3/27/2011
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Type: Sunday Sermon
Topic: Fasting
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Some Lenten Disciplines (02): Fasting as a Christian

Matthew 6:16–18 - “When you fast, do not look sullen like the hypocrites . . . .
Luke 18:9–14  “The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. 18:12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess’ . . . . for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Fasting in Christianity - The practice of going without food or drink for spiritual purposes is referenced throughout Scripture. The Day of Atonement was an annual fast for Israel (Lev. 16:29, 31; 23:27–32; Num. 29:7) and after the Exile, four other annual fasts were observed (Zech. 8:19). These other fasts were related to national disasters (Est. 9:31). Remember the Church Calendar of Israel was not limited to strictly “biblical” events, but Israel properly expanded it to include such events as Purim and Hanukkah. Just about every faithful person in the Bible utilized fasting and prayer as a spiritual discipline (1 Sam. 7:6, 2 Sam. 1:12,  2 Chr. 20:30, Ezra 8:21, Neh. 1:4, 9:1, Ps. 109:24, Jon. 3:5, Joel 2:15, Zech. 7:5, 8:19, Lk. 2:37, Acts 13:2-3). Throughout Church History fasting has been utilized as a regular discipline (often times to excess). Most importantly Jesus, Himself, fasted for period (Matt. 4:2). But unrighteous people fasted too (Jezebel 1Kgs. 21:9, corrupt Israel Is. 58:3-4). A humorous example is found in Acts 23, “the Jews formed a conspiracy and bound themselves under an oath, saying that they would neither eat nor drink until they had killed Paul” (Acts 23:12).

Fasting as a Christian - Various practices of fasting today are widely advocated for health reasons. There are some tremendous bodily benefits. In the normal course of life we should cease from eating for hours and hours and then, “break fast.” But what does it mean to “Fast as a Christian”? Just as in ancient Israel and in paganism, we can fast wrongly (or feast wrongly for that matter). We can do so for self-righteous reasons, for reasons of vanity, for reasons of gaining “spiritual power,” even for idolatrous reasons.  St. Paul writes, “Train [discipline gymnazo] yourself in godliness, for, while physical training [gymnazo] is of some value, godliness is valuable in every way, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. ” (1 Tim. 4:7-8). As a Christian (body/soul) we recognize that physical training (diet/exercise) are of “some value,” but the spiritual harnessing of ourselves through godly discipline is valuable both now and eternally. Fasting as a Christian then, purposes this “whole life/eternal life” goal.

Gregg Strawbridge Gregg Strawbridge, Ph.D., is the pastor of All Saints Church in Lancaster, PA. He became a committed follower of Jesus Christ at age 20, discipled in the context of a University Navigator Ministry. As a result of personal discipleship he went on to study at Columbia Biblical Seminary (M.A., Columbia, SC, 1990), as well as a Ph.D. in education and philosophy... read more