Thoughts on Matthew 6:16-18
Think back to the posts about giving and prayer and how there were two main points – 1. Jesus assumed those acts would be done and, 2. Jesus cares more about the condition of our hearts than the outward act. These few verses on fasting are not much different in that Jesus says again, “when” to do an action, not “if.” In Matthew 9:15, Jesus states that His disciples “will” fast after He is gone; so again, there’s an assumption fasting is a practice in which Jesus’ followers will participate. Jesus also paints a picture of what fasting should not look like – seeking to let others know how holy we are for depriving ourselves of food or some other thing. Rather, Jesus wants our goal to be to please the Father “who sees in secret” and to not even appear like we’re in need to others.
Let’s be honest here. The orthodoxy of fasting is a whole lot easier than the orthopraxy of it – in other words, it’s easier to talk about fasting than it is to actually do it. I confess I have not made fasting a regular, or even irregular, part of my Christian experience. I have done it a few times over the years, but I’m ashamed of how seldom I’ve attempted it (I say attempted because many of my few attempts were merely that). Of all the spiritual disciplines, this is the one that seems to get pushed way into the back, only to be noticed from time to time; and even then, the idea gets toyed with more often than implemented. I say all this not as a form of self-deprecation, but rather to identify with anyone else who has struggled to embrace and benefit from this discipline.
There are two approaches to fasting I have come to understand (there are probably more). The first is the one alluded to above – a planned and recurring time of depriving oneself of food (or some activity or object) as a spiritual discipline. The other approach is a scenario where we’re so burdened for something that we deliberately or unintentionally forego normal meals so we can continue in prayer and supplication. I’m embarrassed to admit I have skipped more meals while wholly wrapped up in fishing than I have while praying about something.
As I see it, there are three takeaways at this point:
- Fasting is something Jesus said we should do
- Fasting is a profitable spiritual discipline (evidenced by the fact Jesus said we should do it and by the testimonies and examples from Biblical and extra-biblical history)
- I have revealed and confess I am wholly unqualified to teach on this subject
As such, I will conclude my commentary on this passage here and provide a link to an article that does a great job of explaining Biblical fasting and some tips on how to go about turning orthodoxy into orthopraxy. May the Lord give us wisdom and grace to understand this spiritual discipline and how to do it in a way that pleases Him and conforms us more and more into the image of Christ.