Cornerstone EPC Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734 August 21, 2022
“Fundamentally Sound: Fasting”
We have focused this summer upon several Christian spiritual disciplines. These disciplines, or exercises, work many good things in our lives. First, these disciplines, used faithfully, over time make us increasingly Godly and Christ-like. Second, they deepen our cognitive and experiential knowledge of Him. Third, they strengthen us: to know Him, to serve Him, and to survive and advance in these times more antipathetic to Christian faith and practice than formerly. We come to another discipline that, for many of us, is tough—namely, fasting. Let’s gain instruction and encouragement as we hear God’s Word read and proclaimed in this place today.
(HERE READ THE TEXT)
Notice that Jesus, according to Matthew’s Spirit-led pen, says, “When you fast…,” (not “If you fast…,”). Fasting, ordinarily, is abstinence from food for a season—and, more broadly considered, from something else needful or beneficial. We do this in order to pursue something (yea, Someone) more ardently. Now that we see that fasting is no mere option, let us see how to do it.
We start learning how to fast by learning how not to fast. When we fast, we are not to do as the hypocrites (i. e., the pretenders), do when fasting—or when pretending to fast. Jesus tells us not to look gloomy (literally be sad: Greek skuthropos [skuqrwpoV]) when fasting. Nor are we to disfigure (I. e., to make unattractive or unsightly: Greek anaphidzo [anafizw]) our faces. We, during our fasts, must not endeavor to look mournful before others. Nor may we attempt in any way to draw attention to fact that we are fasting. Why shall we not do these? We shun these because Jesus warns us that, if we behave thus, then the applause of men will be the only reward we shall receive. There will be no reward from God.
Now that we know, in part, how not to fast, let’s look more closely at how to fast. When we fast, we are to anoint our head and wash our face. These are signs of joy and gladness. We don’t normally associated fasting with joy, but rather with mourning. Hence, such expressions of joy helps us to avoid broadcasting our fasts for the praise of others. God calls us to fast in secret.1 The reason is self-evident from the text: Our Father will see in secret, and He, Who sees in secret, will reward us.
With the need to avoid broadcasting our fasts now established (together with avoidance of same regarding our giving to needy [1-4] and our praying [5-6]), we turn to more practical help concerning fasting. Dr. Don Whitney, in his book Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, provides us certain forms of fasting from food—of which I mention a representative sample here.2 When we think of a normal, or usual, fast, we think of abstinence from food, but not from water—or perhaps not from other liquids. When we engage in a partial fast, we abstain from certain foods only—as Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego did in Babylon, eating only vegetables instead of the king’s fare and faring better for it (Daniel 1:8-21). Many, perhaps most, fasts are private fasts—and we receive great instruction on such from today’s Scripture text. At times a congregation’s leadership may call for a congregational to engage in a church-wide fast—usually for a specific reason, such as repentance for sin, for the will of the Lord to come to pass, and for evangelism and missions, to name but three.
Alas, some of us cannot, or should not, fast from food. These include growing children, pregnant or nursing ladies, those either sick or convalescing from same, and those who bear certain ongoing medical conditions that require stable nourishment (such as diabetes, anemia, and anorexia, et al.). In these cases, as well as others who could abstain from food but sense a leading to fast in some other way, here is some help. We may refrain from certain cherished, beneficial activities for a time (such as athletics, reading, outdoor work, or something else) with a view to draw closer to God during that time. Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, one-time Welsh physician and later pastor for thirty years (1938-68) at Westminster Chapel in London, sums fasting, more broadly considered, well. It is, “… abstinence from anything which is legitimate in and of itself for the sake of some special spiritual purpose.”3 Hence, if we cannot abstain from food, let us not be discouraged. We may fast in another manner, forsaking another needful or beneficial good for a season, in order to draw near unto God in a special way for that time.
Let us, then, by God’s grace, in His power, fast as led by the Holy Spirit. Let us do this for His glory and for all the benefits which He conveys to us in the fast. AMEN.
1 Of course, it is possible that some people must necessarily know that we are fasting—our spouses, for example—in order that meal planning may be discharged to the best. Though this expedient may be necessary, the injunction remains to avoid parading our fasts for the acclaim of others.
2 These I obtained from Donald S. Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life: Revised and Updated (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2014), 193-95.
3 D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1960), I.38, quoted in Whitney, supra, 193.