This post will be short! In a previous post, we looked at when Jesus fasted and why we fast. This post will cover Jesus’ instructions for fasting and when the early church fasted.
Jesus’ Instructions on Fasting
Jesus does not give much instruction on fasting. A summary of His teachings on it would simply be do not use fasting to show off your spirituality. This instruction is found in Matthew 6:16-18. Fasting is not to make us look spiritual to outsiders, nor is it so we can compare ourselves to others. That is why Jesus says that when you fast, it is between you and God. No one else needs to know that you are fasting. The less you show off, the better. If we are truly fasting, we cannot be show offs who want attention drawn to us because fasting is about humility before God and drawing near to him in prayer. If the attention is on us, then our fast is spiritually useless. So, Jesus said wash your face and do not make it physically noticeable to others that you are fasting. In other words, go about your business and keep your fasting between you and God.
Fasting in the Early Church
Jesus’ followers did not fast while he was with them, but after His death and resurrection, His followers began fasting again and we see this in the book of Acts, which is the main record of the expansion and growth of the early church. The fasting recorded in Acts is often fasting done in groups. This seems to contradict Jesus’ instructions to fast in secret, but remember that Jesus’ instructions always have to do with the motives of our hearts. The problem isn’t people knowing that we are fasting, the problem is if we do it draw attention to ourselves. So, we can fast together with godly motives and we clearly see this in Acts.
In Acts 13:1-4, we can see that the Holy Spirit spoke to them while they were worshiping and fasting. He told them to set apart Saul and Barnabas for missionary work. The church continued fasting and then prayed for Saul and Barnabas before they were sent out on their way. Worship, fasting, and prayer are seen here to be important when we are listening to God’s direction and sending workers into His harvest fields.
Another passage that is similar is Acts 14:23. Paul and Barnabas followed a similar practice when appointing elders in the church. They committed these elders to the Lord with prayer and fasting. Once again discerning God’s direction through prayer and fasting appeared to be the practice of the early church in the book of Acts.
There are only a few demonstrations of fasting in the book of Acts and no specific instructions, but here is the summary: fasting is assumed, fasting was done individually and in groups, fasting was done along with worship and prayer because God is the focus of the fast, fasting can help us discern God’s direction and calling as we spend extra time with Him.
In the next post, we will look at the types of fasts we find throughout the Bible and how these can be practically applied in our lives.