Ever hear someone talk about fasting? Congregations have fasting seasons where they fast together. Well, Jesus talked about fasting as well.
16 “And whenever you are fasting, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they put on a sad and dismal face [like actors, discoloring their faces with ashes or dirt] so that their fasting may be seen by men. I assure you and most solemnly say to you, they [already] have their reward in full. Matthew 6
Notice He said “whenever,” this would imply He expected us to fast. However, in this passage it does not seem to be a directive.
Fasting – the original word is νηστεύω nēsteuō nace-tyoo’-o. Strong’s definition:
From G3523; to abstain from food (religiously): – fast. G3523 = νῆστις nēstis nace’-tis
From the negative particle νη nē and G2068; not eating, that is, abstinent from food (religiously): – fasting. G2068 = esthiō es-thee’-o to eat (usually literally): – devour, eat, live.
So fasting refers to not eating. There is a new movement in churches suggesting fasting is about giving something up, it doesn’t have to be giving up eating. It could be fasting from social media, tv, etc. However, this passage specifically speaks to abstaining from food.
Just as He said prayer is to be done in private, He says fasting should be a private act. By talking about fasting, we receive our reward from man instead of God.
17 But when you fast, put oil on your head [as you normally would to groom your hair] and wash your face 18 so that your fasting will not be noticed by people, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees [what is done] in secret will reward you.
Because fasting is to be done in secret where God will take notice and not man, Jesus basically tells us to continue our normal appearance while fasting. No sake cloth, no ashes, no change in countenance, etc.
It is striking how similar the passages on prayer, good deeds, and fasting are.
“Hypocrites” do it “to be seen by others and thus received their reward in full” from man.
They are to be done in secret so the “Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
Although fasting will be discussed again later, there is only one instance recorded of Jesus fasting, which was right after His baptism.
In New Testament times, Jews fasted often and had four annual fasts. The Pharisees fasted twice a week.
There are several instances of fasting in the Old Testament. Reasons for fasting in OT:
“we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from him a safe journey for ourselves, our children, and all our goods.”
“[ Nehemiah’s Prayer ] As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days”
People of Israel Confess Their Sin
“great mourning among the Jews, with fasting and weeping and lamenting, and many of them lay in sackcloth and ashes.”
“when they were sick”
“wept and humbled my soul”
“declare to my people their transgression”
“seeking him by prayer and pleas for mercy”
“with weeping, and with mourning;”