We will be talking about another pillar of Islam this week: the fast. Jesus had several things to say about fasting and whether it should be a spiritual practice for those who follow Him. Richard Foster has been a helpful instructor to me as I think about spiritual formation. Here is insightful instruction from his book, The Celebration of Discipline.
One issue that understandably concerns many people is whether or not Scripture makes fasting obligatory upon all Christians… One of the most helpful passages is Jesus’ startling teaching on this in the Sermon on the Mount.
Two factors bear directly on the issue at hand. First, his teaching on fasting is directly in the context of his teaching on giving and praying. It is as if there is an almost unconscious assumption that giving, praying, and fasting are all part of Christian devotion. We have no more reason to exclude fasting from the teaching than we do giving or praying. Second, Jesus states, “When you fast…” (Matt 6:16). He seems to make the assumption that people will fast, and is giving instruction on how to do it properly.
Having said this, however, we must realize that these words of Jesus do not constitute a command. Jesus was giving instruction on the proper exercise of a common practice of his day. He did not speak a work about whether it was a right practice or if it should be continued. So, although Jesus does not say “If you fast,” neither does he say “You must fast.” His word is, very simply, “when you fast.”
The other helpful passage from Jesus about fasting is the one we are talking about on Sunday. Come wrestle through it with us.
Do you fast?
Why not? For what end?