Presentation on theme: "Presentation 27. Introduction To date we have examined two of the three spiritual exercises mentioned by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount – giving and."— Presentation transcript:
Introduction To date we have examined two of the three spiritual exercises mentioned by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount – giving and prayer. We deal now with the third of these spiritual exercises - fasting! Notice that all three spiritual exercises have one thing in common; they were not to be publicly exhibited in order that the general populace might applaud their performer, rather their display can be likened to a gallery that gives private viewings and to which only God is invited.
Presentation 27 Fasting In Scripture And History In order to appreciate the relevance of fasting it will be helpful to see how the subject is dealt with in scripture and to review how the practice has been approached by the church. In the O.T. fasting was commanded on only one day of the year - the day of Atonement. On that day Israel’s attention was focused in two directions; on her own sin and on God’s provision of for that sin. It was a day when Israel humbled herself before God. This idea of humbling oneself under the hand of God is absolutely basic to fasting: the Heb. word for ‘fasting’ carries with it the idea of ‘humbling oneself under God’s hand’.
Presentation 27 Fasting In Scripture And History There are also a number of voluntary fasts in the O.T. and the unifying element in them all is that of humbling oneself before God. We find fasting associated with a national revival under Samuel in 1 Sam. 7v6, in Esther’s plan to prevail with God to prevent the destruction of the Jews, Esther 4v6. and when Ezra sought God’s protection for the Jews making their way home from exile, Ez. 8v21. In each case we find God’s people humbling themselves and seeking God for some spiritual good.
Presentation 27 Fasting In Scripture And History Fasting is also found in the N.T. where it often proceeds a major advance in God’s work. During a period of prayer and fasting Peter was convinced that the gospel message must be proclaimed to the Gentiles [Acts 10]. After prayer and fasting the church set apart Paul and Barnabas for mission [Acts 13]. Paul engaged in fasting 2 Cor. 6v5 and Jesus fasted immediately before he entered public office. It is clear from our passage that Jesus expected his followers to fast for the phrase ‘when you fast’ v16 assumes this to be the case while Jesus expected this practice to begin after his death and resurrection. Matt. 9v15.
Presentation 27 Fasting In Scripture And History Fasting has been practiced by the church for many years. This was the case in the life of the early church, in the monastic movements, the reformation, and during the period of Puritans. When Britain was threatened with a French invasion in 1756 King George III called for a national day of prayer and fasting. And at that time it was said of London: ‘Every church in the city was more than full and a solemn seriousness expression found on every face... Humility was turned to national rejoicing when the threatened invasion by the French was averted’.
Presentation 27 Fasting In Scripture And History Many overseas churches have woven fasting into the discipline of their spiritual lives. But it is a practice that by and large has been neglected by the church in the West. As far as I am aware between the years of 1861 and 1954 not a single book was been printed on the subject. Fasting had gained a bad reputation because of a misleading emphasis made by some or, because it was associated with excessive ascetic practices or, with a mere mechanical performance. Can we recover the biblical doctrine of fasting?
Presentation 27 A Wrong Approach To Fasting First, we need to understand something of the abuse of fasting that existed in Jesus’ day cf. v16. For many of the Jews this was a real attention grabber. They fasted twice a week and ensured the public noticed by employing their version of punk make up. They covered their faces with ash which captured the sickly pallor of the spiritual acetic asa they drew attention to themselves that they were making great personal sacrifices in the service of God. How they loved to hear the folk in streets nudge each other and say, ‘What spiritual giants they must be!’.
Presentation 27 A Wrong Approach To Fasting Instead of treating fasting as a means of humbling themselves before God they saw it as a means of exalting themselves before men. This same spirit has haunted the church down the centuries. Not least in the Middle Ages where one’s spirituality was measured by the number of days one fasted. But of equal concern was the use made of Paul’s words to the Corinthians about buffeting the body. The assumption was made that the body is essentially and inherently evil an idea owes more to Greek philosophy than to Biblical theology. But it caused people to attempt to punish their bodies and fasting as well as flagellation were the means they used.
Presentation 27 A Wrong Approach To Fasting Others have approached fasting in a purely mechanical fashion. It is viewed as a means to an end. If you want some favour from God then you earn that by fasting. This view of God’s dealings with us turns him into a kind of heavenly slot machine; feed in a few days fasting at one end, pull the lever, and out pops the desires of your heart at the other. In effect this whole approach is saying, ‘God can be bought if the price is right’. It is precisely this situation that we find Isaiah addressing in Isa. 58v
Presentation 27 A Wrong Approach To Fasting The people of God were presumptuously knocking at the door of heaven and saying, ‘Pay up God. We have fasted now give us what we want!’ Had they approached fasting correctly they would have humbled themselves under God’s hand and placed themselves in a position where they could see the sin in their lives they needed to repent of before God could restore the blessings of his grace. Fasting must never be treated as a spiritual shortcut to convincing God to give us what we want - though this is precisely the thrust of a number of books currently on the market.
Presentation 27 A Wrong Approach To Fasting Some adopt a ritualistic approach to fasting and they make the discipline an end in itself and that is always dangerous. M. L. Jones perceptively comments: ‘Discipline in the Christian life is a good and essential thing. But if your main object and intent is to conform to the discipline that you have set yourself it may very well be the greatest danger to your soul. Fasting and prayer are good things; but if you fast twice a week or pray at a particular hour every day merely in order to carry out your discipline then you have missed the whole object of fasting and praying... If during that time my poverty of spirit is not greater, my sense of weakness is not deepened, my hunger and thirst after righteousness is not greatly increased then I might as well not have done it at all.’
Presentation 27 A Wrong Approach To Fasting It’s also a mistake to confuse fasting with other activities. Some for economic or health reasons decide they can go without the odd meal, others show their solidarity with the poor by setting apart the money they might have spent on food for famine relief. None of these activities are under criticism but we should not confuse them with fasting. Nor is the refusal to eat food, as Ghandi did, in order to exert some sort of social or political pressure, to be confused with the fasting that Jesus commends.
Presentation 27 A Right Approach To Fasting. The fact that fasting has been abused and emptied of its biblical significance should not cause us to cast it on the spiritual scrap heap. John Wesley identified two extremes that existed in his day he wrote: ‘Some have exalted religious fasting beyond all scripture and religion; and others have utterly disregarded it.’ It is the strategy of Satan to push us to extremes. One group of Christians over reacts to a particular teaching causing others to over reacts to their over reaction. Jesus expected fasting to have a valid place in the life of his followers. He did not advocate, an attention grabbing, presumptuous, mechanical or ritualistic approach.
Presentation 27 A Right Approach To Fasting. What did Jesus teach? Jesus limits his instruction to the manner in which we fast. We are to guard against drawing attention to ourselves in a way that seeks to win the sympathy or the applause of men. ‘I would dearly love a slice of your chocolate cake but I am fasting today...’ But the question many people are asking is when should we fast and what are the benefits? 1.Fasting strengthens self discipline. 2.It lessens the hold of material things upon us. 3.It demonstrates to God that we mean business as we approach him. 4.It weakens the power of habit in our lives. 5.It enables us to seek God without distraction.
Presentation 27 A Right Approach To Fasting. Secondly, it is important to recognise that biblical examples of fasting take place in the context of crisis, perplexity or, deep spiritual burden. Fasting is a response to such needs. It might be undertaken by the backslider who sets time apart to humble himself before God. Christians beginning a new sphere of service might fast as they seek God for guidance. Situations of danger may also cause us to fast. By fasting and praying the Christian indicates the priority of his burden and concern. He is able to seek God’s face without the distractions of food or other legitimate calls upon his attention.
Presentation 27 A Right Approach To Fasting. Through the centuries the church has recognised that it can easily become enslaved by her appetites. And abstinence for a period of time is a means of keeping those appetites in check. William Secker the Puritan writes: By fasting the body learns to obey the soul; by praying the soul learns to command the body. This was a development of Paul’s instruction in 1 Cor. 9v27 ‘I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified form the prize’. The practice of abstinence during Lent was, in part, intended to ensure that Christians were not mastered by their appetites. This while an issue of great spiritual importance is not the primary focus of fasting.-
Presentation 27 A Right Approach To Fasting. Fasting and prayer are invariably linked in scripture. It involves not simply, doing without food but laying aside many legitimate things for a time in order to give oneself to prayer. O. Hallesby writes: ‘Fasting is not confined to the abstinence from eating and drinking. Fasting really means the voluntary abstinence for a time from the necessities of life such as food, drink, sleep, rest, association with other people and so forth... Fasting in the Christian sense does not involve looking upon the necessities of life, as unclean or unholy... Fasting implies merely that at certain times our souls need to concentrate more strongly on the one thing needful than at other times and for that reason we renounce for the time being those things which in themselves, may be both permissible and profitable’.
Presentation 27 A Right Approach To Fasting. Of course there are practical dangers associated with this practice as with any spiritual discipline. Once we have humbled ourselves in God’s presence and prayed through the issue or burden of concern, there is no value in seeing how long we can continue in our abstinence or of involving others in our fast against their will. Paul had to warn against this danger in 1 Cor. 7v5 where the issue is that of the sexual appetite of a husband and wife, who for a season agree to abstinence that they might give themselves to prayer. He saw how Satan could find a springboard for temptation in a situation like that. We need to be wise by setting limits on any period of fasting.
Presentation 27 Conclusion Many Christians consider fasting an anachronism belonging to a bygone age yet Jesus expected his Disciples, under exceptional circumstances, to fast. Not like the Pharisees in order to gain the approval of men but in order to humble themselves before God as pressing issues were brought before him in prayer. It would be a sad commentary upon us if we never saw any pressing spiritual need that would convince us to fast, and seek God’s face. ‘Jesus has many who love his heavenly kingdom, but few who bear his cross. Many want consolation, but few desire adversity. Many are eager to share Jesus' table, but few will join him in fasting’. THOMAS A KEMPIS