Matt 6:16-18 “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men that they are fasting. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it is not 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 openly.”
Fasting was an essential part of religious life in Eastern countries. For the Jew, there was only one compulsory fast – the Day of Atonement – Lev 16:31. But the religious Jews made great use of private fasting. It was the custom to fast from the death of a relative until the burial, or to show sorrow for sin, or as an appeal to God in times of physical or spiritual need. Occasionally a time of fasting would be declared for the whole nation as a sign of national repentance – Judges 20:26.
While fasting was supposed to represent devotion to God and repentance for sins, it had the potential to be done for improper motives. One might fast as a sign of ‘superior piety’ – Luke 8:11-12. One might fast to show others how ‘devoted’ he was in order to gain their praise and admiration. So Jesus warns His disciples about fasting for the wrong reasons.
While we as Christians are not commanded to fast, there are some practical reasons to do so:
• healthy eating habits – makes us think about what we eat
• self-discipline – we learn to deny ourselves and break habits
• it teaches us to distinguish between needs and wants
• it teaches us appreciation of what we have
• it makes us more sensitive to spiritual things by sharpening senses
Jesus condemned the wrong kind of fasting- when it was done for outward show. But nowhere does the Bible encourage Christians to avoid the practice of fasting. We would do well to consider our own situation, and if fasting would help us get our lives into the proper perspective. However, we must follow the instructions of Christ and do it privately, so that it will not be obvious to others. Fasting is to be between the individual and God. In fact, Jesus condemned any religious practice when it was done for show. If we do things to impress men, we will get no reward from our Father. (He knows our hearts and our motives) What would the Lord say about the way that you ‘practice’ your religion? Is your heart right with God?