By Chuck Bartlett
I had a gentleman call me this past week after seeing our TV program. His purpose was to inform me that many religious groups are guilty of neglecting fasting. I was told that we are commanded to fast as God’s people and that fasting is the way we gain spiritual insight. Let’s take a closer look and see what the Bible says.
Let’s begin by defining the word. To “fast” is to go without food. Fasting can be voluntary – a person who chooses to not eat – or forced – a person who lacks food. In II Corinthians 11, the apostle Paul listed over two dozen incidences of hardship he endured. This included fasting (verse 27). The context indicates that Paul was forced to go without food. Conversely, fasting is also mentioned in Acts 14:22. Here, people voluntarily went without food during a time of devotion to God in prayer.
Was fasting a command that the early Christians had to keep? If we focus on the word of God and ignore the opinions of men, then we can see that Christians are not commanded to fast. Allow me to explain. Even though fasting was NEVER commanded, the practice is not wrong. Remember, Christ encouraged it (Matt. 6:16-18), as did Paul (I Cor. 7:5).
Recall that the gentleman who called me was upset with the lack of teaching on fasting and assumed that fasting is not practiced today. The truth is, I know many brethren, including myself, that pray and devote time to think about spiritual things while depriving themselves of food. Because the Bible does not command the practice, nor is a minimum amount of time limit given, people cannot broadly condemn others. These things are left to our discretion.
It is dangerous to think that certain truths can only be found by fasting. This is just not true. The gospel message can be understood (Eph. 3:4). We cannot logically argue that fasting is necessary to understand God’s word. How could we know this without first finding it in God’s word? To argue that fasting reveals unique spiritual insights, we must either accept a circular argument or accept that something aside from God’s word is truth. Both are wrong.
How many of God’s people start praying and lose track of time? How many people thinking spiritual thoughts are surprised when they look at the clock? This happens all the time. So is it fasting when someone is involved in prayer and has gone a period of time without eating? Yes! But when they do finally stop to eat, this is called a “breakfast” – a break from fasting!
We also need to think about our attitudes. Nobody should fast and let people know they are fasting. As noted earlier, Christ made this point in Matthew 6. Jesus warned about revealing to men that you have been fasting. Our Lord even spoke a parable where a man was bragging to God in prayer that he had fasted twice a week (Luke 18:12). Despite his spiritual practices, he was not more righteous than the tax collector Did this make him more righteous than the tax collector (verses 13-14)? No!
There is no room for self-righteousness when talking about fasting. Are a person’s prayers less respected if offered after a meal? There is no indication that the Lord’s followers were less godly when they were not fasting (Luke 5:33-35). If a Christian today prays and goes a long period of time without eating, it’s fine. Let’s make sure we respect what the Bible says on the subject.
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