Parson to Person
William Andrew Dillard
FASTING: IS IT A RIGHT THING FOR OUR TIME?
In some circles, much is made of modern-day fasting as a New Testament doctrine for Christian disciples. Due to the interest of some, the following is offered. Please think with me!
Certainly, the topic has not escaped its lighthearted comments. Someone said, “I fast every night, and first thing in the morning I break-fast.” Still others allude to it frivolously within a religious context, giving up one or two choice foods for a brief period mainly because their church or group has agreed to do this without even a clear reason why, but every effort is made to give it public notice.
Still, more is made of fasting in the Old Testament than in the New. Religious leaders of the Old Testament loved to engage in a sort of fasting, and they made sure everyone knew it by their grimaced appearance. Jesus did not speak kindly about that. Matt. 6:16-18. Moreover, the Pharisees criticized the disciples of Jesus because they did not fast. Jesus replied that it was not appropriate at that time for them to fast, but their time would come, Matt. 9:14
Following the ascension of Jesus, the topic is seldom mentioned in the scriptures. Perhaps the most notable reference is in I Corinthians 7:5 where it is mentioned as an appropriate reason for couples to abstain from conjugal relationships for a short time. However, it is notable that both here and elsewhere, voluntary fasting is intricately associated with prayer. In prayer, one would simultaneously abstain from the cravings of the flesh to better discipline himself in the things of God.
Foot-washing was a good thing in New Testament times, too. Incidentally, it is recommended today, but not as a religious practice. Its lesson of personal humility is to characterize brethren throughout the age. Similarly, fasting was not done to get the attention of God, but to condition the soul through prayer to walk closer to God. It is infinitely more important how much closet prayer time is spent rather than fasting time. Furthermore, the point is that if one is given to prayer, there will be times when he will fast through meal time to continue his supplications to the Lord. Additionally, like prayer; fasting is a very private, personal thing that other people have no business knowing about. So, proper fasting has its place, but to engage in it as a stand-alone, virtually public, religious practice is vain, if not hypocritical.