Our Life with God, Lesson 12: Fasting

FastingIn part of these lessons, we’ve used Matthew 6 as a template for the Christian life.  In that chapter, Jesus describes (not commands) what the life of being a disciple entails: helping the poor, praying, and fasting.  Jesus did not command them because such a living of the faith was so obvious that it He didn’t need to command them.


Read Matthew 6:16-18


What is Fasting?

Esther 4:16: Go, gather all the Jews who are in Susa and fast for me [Mordecai, Esther’s uncle].  Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day.

Daniel 10:3: I [Daniel] ate no choice food; no meat or wine touched my lips.

Matthew 4:1-2: After this [His baptism], Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil.  After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was famished.

  • What does fasting entail?


  • Discuss what “not drinking” included.


What coincides with fasting, in the Old Testament?

2 Samuel 1:11-12: On hearing this, David grabbed his clothes and tore them, as did all the men who were with him.  They mourned, wept, and fasted until the evening for those who died by the sword—for Saul, his son Jonathan, the Lord’s people, and the house of Israel.

  • Fasting was part of what?


Daniel 9:3: I [Daniel] turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes.  I prayed to the Lord my God and confessed:…  “We have sinned and done wrong.  We have been wicked and have rebelled, turning away from your commands and Laws.”

  • Fasting was part of what?


Joel 1:14, 19: Declare a sacred fast!  Call a solemn assembly!  Gather the elders and everyone living in the land to the house of the Lord your God, and cry out to the Lord….  “I call to You, O Lord, for fire has devoured the open pastures, and flames have burned up all the trees of the field.”

Judith 4:13: The Lord heard their [Israel’s] cry and looked down on their affliction [Israel was under attack by the Assyrians], for the people were fasting many days in all Judea and Jerusalem before the sanctuary of the Lord Almighty.

  • Fasting coincided with what?


Throughout most of the Old Testament, fasting was primarily a collective act as a people or group, which made sense based on the character of the Old Covenant (Israel was publicly rewarded or chastised based on whether they were living as God’s covenant people or not [Exodus 24:3]).

In the Apocrypha, however, we begin to see a switch in focus when it came to fasting.  Fasting became an individual act in one’s spiritual life with God.

Tobit 12:8: [The angel Raphael speaking to Tobias:] Prayer is good with fasting, almsgiving, and righteousness.

This personal piety became part of the life of God’s people, which Jesus assumes will continue in the life of those who are His disciples.  Matthew 6 is Jesus’ development and expansion of Tobit 12:8, where He teaches on prayer, almsgiving, and fasting.


The Wrong Reasons to Fast

Read Isaiah 58:3-5

  • What will fasting not do?


Sirach 34:31: So it is with a man who fasts over his sins and goes and does the same sins all over again, who will hear his prayer?

  • What is fasting not a remedy for (or a way to allow someone to continue to do what)?


Matthew 6:16: [Jesus speaking to the crowd:] “Whenever you fast, don’t be sad-faced like the hypocrites.  They make their faces unattractive to show others they are fasting.  I assure you: They have their reward.”

  • Fasting is not to become a means for what?


The Lutheran Understanding on the Purpose of Fasting

In our dialogue, and response, to Rome in the 16th century, Martin Chemnitz (1522 – 1586) wrote a nearly exhaustive response to Rome’s Counterreformation.  Here is what he wrote on fasting.

Thus fasting per se and on its own account is not worship of God …  But if fasting is joined to repentance and prayer, that is, if fasting is practiced and ordered to this end, that the flesh may be coerced, subjugated, and reduced to servitude, lest it contend against the spirit and hinder and disturb its actions either by its willfulness or its indifference, but that we may have a body obedient and fit for spiritual things and for the performance of its duties, lest satiety and sloth goad us into sinning, but that the mind may be admonished and become more fit for spiritual desires, so that the spirit may be able the more ardently and willingly to give and devote itself to repentance, prayer, and other exercises of piety, as we shall presently show by examples—if, I say, fasting is practiced to this end, then finally it is pleasing to God.  Therefore Jerome says rightly that fasting is not a virtue, but a step toward virtue.  [Chemnitz, Examination of the Council of Trent, vol. 4: pgs. 263-64]

  • According to Chemnitz, what is the purpose of fasting for the Christian?


Understanding Fasting in One’s Battle against Sin

Scripture teaches that we are a dichotomy: body and soul.  Yet, Scripture also speaks of us as a trichotomy.  Both views are scriptural, with the trichotomous (or tripartite) view more fully showing who we are in our total being.

1 Thessalonians 5:23: The God of peace himself make you holy in every way—and may your spirit, soul, and body be kept blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

This trichotomous view of who we are as humans help us better understand the spiritual battle taking place against us and within us, which manifests itself in the physical realm because we are physical beings.  Satan tempts us to go against the Spirit, hoping to quench the breath of faith.

Read Galatians 5:16-25


Lesson 12, A Trichotomous View of the Person


Excursus: When You Fast 

The Appearing of Christ

Before the birth of Jesus, the Pharisees mandated twice-weekly fasting (Lk 18:9-12)….  For the unfaithful, fasting was something done to curry God’s favor—a duty, a work, a law.  But for the faithful, fasting continued as an expression of repentance and reverence for the Lord, who created them and promised to redeem them.

After Jesus’ Baptism, He went into the wilderness and fasted for 40 days and 40 nights (Mt 4:2).  This recalled the devotion of Moses (Ex 24:18), the great prophet Elijah (1Ki 19:8), and the 40 years of wilderness wandering for Israel.  During this fast, Satan repeatedly tempted Jesus, but He used God’s precious Word to defend Himself.


Fasting for You

During the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus spoke against fasting as a means of salvation.  Instead, He commended fasting as a private, voluntary act of humility before God (Mt 6:16-18)….  It is hard [for us] to imagine a daylong fast….  Yet our Lord’s words clearly reveal that fasting should be part of a Christian’s life:  He said, “When you fast” (Mt 6:16), not “If you fast” (cf Mt 9:14-15).  The early Christians fasted (Ac 13:2-3; 14:23).  Why shouldn’t a twenty-first-century Christian do likewise?

As you fast, let the feelings of hunger you experience remind you to pray.  Spend the time you would normally spend eating by reading God’s Word and meditating on the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Through His Word, the Lord will bless and nourish you.  “Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.  Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am’” (Is 58:8-9).


How You Might Fast

Consider fasting for a meal or two before partaking of the Lord’s Supper.  Spend your extra time studying God’s Word and singing Communion hymns.

Fasting during Lent can be a wonderful way to remember the perfect obedience of Christ and His sacrifice for your salvation.  Money not spent on food may be donated for the poor.

You might follow this routine for a daylong fast:

(1) rise before dawn and eat breakfast;

(2) examine yourself as you would prior to partaking of the Lord’s Supper;

(3) offer your life to God in penitent prayer;

(4) go about your day, breaking your fast at evening….

If abstaining from food is not possible, consider abstaining from something else.  For example, turn off your television and spend time in prayer and study of God’s Word.


[Reprinted from The Lutheran Study Bible, pg. 189]


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