First, carefully contemplate Isaiah 58:3-8 with Mt 6 and 7. The starvation is not of food but from being so self-absorbed (in self-righteousness) that we can’t habitually even apply Mt 7:12.
Bear in mind proper hermeneutics and keep fasting in the context of Jesus’ teaching in Mt 6. Observe then that Jesus gives us a threefold hint to a personal [secret] intimacy with God when you [we] give (Mt 6:1-4), when you [we] pray (Mt 6:5-6) and when you [we] fast (verse 18).
Note at Mt 6:16-18. The issue of “when” and not “if” (you fast), so popularly used by a dogmatic teaching to “prove” Jesus said fasting is incessantly compulsory, is incorrect. First, observe that “When” does not equal “must”. The revelation to still impart the religionist here (just as with the Law of Moses) is that at the crux of it all is the fact that Jesus is our righteousness and that God [Jesus] here again wants us to discover self-righteousness as the cause of our immature spiritual state (Phil 3:9). Ironically, self-righteousness is blind to itself and thus needs The Word of God (Jn 1:14; Rom 10:17) and other more mature sons of God to direct and admonish us (2 Tim 3:15-17). Even from a linguistic and logic reading, the word “when” (you fast) would rather simply convey “while” (as in the Amplified Bible). The point is that religion makes it appears to be an impressive insight to point out that “when” implies “must” (a pre-requisite), while the very next word “you” is overlooked and that this is in fact a perfect example of self-righteousness!! The contextual meaning is not that we are compelled to fast, but that when [ever] “you” [we] fast, we should not – basically – make a show of it. That’s all. It was supposed to be part of a learning process of a true relationship between us and a non-manipulative God that is Love. Read Mt 6:16-18 again with this in mind and receive the Spirit of God. Be blessed in Christ and be free.
The subject of fasting is thus more likely to be about a principle used as a trainer (such as Law reveals in Gal 3:25, expanded on in the paper “The Covenant and The Law”), than an unrelenting periodic ritual. Fasting hence relates to the principle in tithing and avoiding unclean food (Rom 14). Once the trainer has served its purpose successfully, it can be removed and the subject [re-born believer] can live manifesting authority in Christ in God’s Kingdom on earth. Contemplate Lk 12:31-32; 17:20-21; 18:17. The paper “Mixing Old and New” expand on this. See the trainer-principle in Gal 4:25; Jn 15:1-8; Heb 6:1-6; 2 Cor 10:5? The whole idea of fasting [also], is to get you to what is captured in Col 3:1-17… Once you genuinely have this renewed mind, the trainer [fasting] has served its purpose and the ritual per se has become an obsolete external means in order to reach a higher spiritual state that materializes consistently to those around us (Lk 17:20-21; Col 3:1-17)…
Let’s look beyond symptoms and mechanics to the root (the paper “Church” expand on this idea).
If you really spend real time with the real Person Who is the real Teacher, Guide, Counselor, Savior, Friend, Father, Brother, Creator-God daily as if He is your daily Bread… you will grasp and realize Jn 10:27-28 (1:12,17). We might just understand what fasting means and intends to address – to get those of us not continually in the Spirit to selah and loose our self-righteousness and carnality (Rom 8:1-10; even Ps 40:6-8; Mt 5:23-25); with the knowledge and insight that this “law” is not a set of rules but yet another key [precepts] that Jesus Christ came to give us by which we can/should live, the real fruit of the lips from the Word that became flesh – not those by Moses that Gal 3:19; 5:4 explains. Remember that Jesus is the door (Jn 10:9; 14:6; Rev 3:8; 4:1) and the idea is not for Him to open every door for us, but for us to get the keys and exercise authority on earth (Mt 10:7-8; Jn 17:15-20. Find more on this in the papers “The Covenant and the Law” and “Mixing Old and New” by this author). We must eliminate [illuminate, reveal] the signs of a beast, namely lust and greed [self-righteousness]. A beast has no spirit[i]. And we should reflect God (Mt 5:14; Col 1:10-21).
The Back ground
Fasting is referred to 94 times in scripture. In the Old Testament, Is 58:3-12 gives one of the clearest teachings on fasting. Jesus taught on fasting in Matthew 6:16-18. Most of the scriptures’ teaching on fasting is by precept. There are at least 35 people in the Bible who fasted. Of these, three fasted forty days: Jesus (this verse), Elijah (1 Ki 19:8), and apparently Joshua as a foreshadow of Jesus (Ex 24:13-18). Moses fasted for forty days without food or water and then immediately (Dt 9:9-25 with Ex. 32:30) repeated the fast, bringing his total abstinence to 80 days. However, this is not a prescription to the NT follower that knows, for instance, Jn 4:24; Rom 8:14; Gal 5:4,18.
Jesus is positively reported to have fasted only once after His baptism in Mt 4:1-11; Mk 1:12-13 and in Lk 4:1-15 to be tested and tried by the devil, and that particular ordeal was a plausible pre-amble to the sufficiency of Jesus Christ (Col 2:8-16; read with Rom 14) for all humans. Note that John, after having received special revelation from Jesus on Patmos had already penned the book Revelation and remarkably makes no mention of this fasting of Jesus in the desert! This John does, however, give us Jn 1:1-4,14,17; 19:30 and so on. This same John mentions, however, that Jesus has shown on a few occasions to be concerned that people eat (Jn 21:12,15) and even baffled His followers with His idea of nurturing and nourishment (Jn 4:31-38; 6:5,31,45-58; 21:5). More on Jesus can be found in the paper “Who is Jesus Christ”.
Fasting accomplishes many things. One of the greatest benefits of fasting is that through denying the lust of the flesh, the spirit man gains ascendancy. Fasting is a powerful weapon to be used in the battle described in Galatians 5:17. Fasting was always used as a means of seeking God to the exclusion of all else – if one is distracted by all else. Fasting does not cast out demons as Matthew 17:21 might suggest at first glance; but rather it casts out unbelief because of the reasons mentioned above (Heb 12:2). Note that Mt 17:21 is in italics because it is not contained in all manuscripts; and furthermore, is Jesus not advocating that a ritual (fasting) is a pre-requisite to “drive out demons” but a spiritual maturity and authority that can only come as a result of a position in Christ that was learned from experience in His presence (Gal 4:25). Therefore, what is learnt through fasting (as a means to grasp a precept and not the ritual per se) is beneficial to every aspect of the Christian life–not only in the casting out of devils. Remember that we are not told to fight the devil, but resist him. The best way to resist him is by rejecting him [bad thoughts] and to talk with/to Jesus Christ instead! It astonishes how people don’t realize that by going to people for [continuous, repetitive] help is actually revealing that Jesus Christ [God, Holy Spirit] is not a real Person to them (Jn 14:26; Rom 8:14)! Yes, this statement might shock, but think about it (Heb12) and consider reading the other papers such as “Counseling and deliverance ministries”; “Who by Fire” and “Christian suffering”.
How fasting works as training
What this training accomplishes is to give you confidence to act counter-intuitive for a good and positive outcome. As an analogy, when you need to travel [frequently] to a place over challenging terrain, would it be helpful to either build a new road or discover one that was undetected all along. Neurologically the brain has to either build such protein paths or develop a new technique. The world calls it “mind over matter”. For God’s guidance on this subject, ponder Scriptures such as Rom 12:1-3; 1 Cor 2:14; 2 Cor 3:13-17; 4:16-17 and 2 Pet 3:1. However, if you want to hear God [Jesus of Jn 1:1-3; Col 1:10-23], you should grasp this purpose for training such as fasting, from Eph 4:23-27! You develop confidence from your own personal experience in successfully controlling – counter-intuitively – even strong urges such as hunger pains that was driven by self-preservation; hence will you now be better equipped [exercised] in reacting counter-intuitively to hurt, temptation, things that anger you or when you feel wronged. You now have a clearer idea how to react spiritually to impulses from a self-conscious soul. Observe that Jesus reiterate this spiritual control over flesh (Rom 8:6-8) in at least Mt 5:38-44 and 6:12, 14-15 when He admonish us to not retaliate but forgive. This is expanded on in the paper “The Covenant and The Law”, and is supplemented by, for example, Rom 12:14,17,20-21 and 13:14. (Refer also to the paper “Body, soul, spirit”). The Bible [God] calls this updated software a renewed mind (Jn 3:3; 2 Cor 5:16-20).
For a little semantics – principal thoughts that become principles can be called principalities. Eph 6:12 will show to be a warfare against thoughts in your head (The devil manifests through thoughts, that’s one of his more prominent ways of communicating to man). We are attacked [entered] by a lying spirit that suggests the idea [thought] of rejection. This denies Heb 13:5. This spirit of rejection, if accepted, brings in his accomplice called a spirit of rebellion. This rebellion can manifest in many different ways, such as a displaced love for animals, bitterness, choice of lifestyles such as homosexuality, etc. See the paper by the author on “Counseling and Deliverance Ministries” for perhaps a better exegesis.
Without supernatural intervention, a person cannot fast without water for more than three days before he begins to die. The average person can only live seven days without water, depending on the prevailing conditions and influencing factors. However, a healthy person can fast from food for forty days before starvation begins to occur. Much of the “hunger pains” experienced at the beginning of a fast is just our appetite starving and will leave after a few days. When hunger returns at around forty days, starvation has begun and the fast should be broken unless it is a supernatural fast, as was the fast of Moses. Remember, though, that Moses was BC and we are AD (see the paper entitled “Mixing Old and New”, by the author).
When ending a fast from food, one should use wisdom. Apparently some people have died from eating “solid” food too soon. A general “rule of thumb” to be used for extended fasts (over 10 days) is to allow an equal number of days after the fast during which you break the fast by progressively eating more “solid” food until you are back to eating normally. Also, some have been said to have possibly developed stomach cancer by excessive fasting whilst taking huge amounts of supplements instead of eating normally. Organs such as kidneys or the liver or the metabolism might be damaged permanently by irresponsible fasting, especially when trying to bluff people around you about your false spirituality (Mt 6:1-5,16-17). The understanding of what you are trying to reach by fasting, the aim of fasting, is more important as how long or to what extend. It is not meant to be a means for external judging or a feeble, futile and ridiculous notion to attempt extortion with God! (Mt 6:16-17; Jn 4:23-24; Rom 3:28; Gal 5:4,18; 8:6-14; Js 4:1-10)
The real virtue of a fast is in the discovery and destruction of self-righteousness. Initially thought to be a humbling of ourselves through self denial (Ps. 35:13; 69:10) – but never in a type of martyrdom to try and do what Jesus had fully accomplished, but a re-focus on God and others around us so that we can radiate God’s Love and usefulness to others as well – and that can be accomplished through ways other than total abstinence. Just be careful to not try and “earn” favour with God! See the paper called “The Gospel”, if you will. Be careful not to try and earn what Jesus Christ has already paid for and provided 2 000 years ago!… (Eph 1:3)
Partial fasts can be beneficial, as well as fasts of our time or pleasures. However, because appetite for food is one of man’s strongest drives, fasting from food seems to get the job done the quickest. Fasting should be a much more important part of our seeking God, in learning to place Him above any desire or urges generated by the self. God does not want an anorexic or disturbed or stressed out child, but a mature son like Jesus Christ that can go and purposefully demonstrate Mt 7:12 and 10:8 (Heb 2:8)…
The real revelation will not come from thinking you are on some sort of [camouflaged] hunger strike; but the revelation will come from the lesson learnt and understood by spiritual enlightening that you have control over the flesh by grasping 2 Cor 10:5; Is 5:18; and so on. Once you realize your control over your flesh [carnality, lust, greed], you don’t need to abstain from eating to hear from God, for you have come to know how to habitually live with Him indwelling you (Jn 14:23-26). In other words, you learn to ignore [reject, 2 Cor 10:5; Gal 2:20-21; Jude 20-21] what you do not want to control you (Rom 8:13, and this can also be your sight – what you want to see first before believing it, which is plain unbelief – Heb 10:38; 11:1); and rather focus on the Author and finisher of our faith (Heb 12:2; Rom 12:1,2).
While you are in dispute with flesh and try to win arguments with Satan [or flesh] you will loose in despair. Rather talk to/with Jesus Christ. This is what you learn through all three aspects mentioned by Jesus in Mt 6 (To give; to pray; to fast). You learn to remove [ignore] the flesh and thoughts driven by self. You learn how to focus and apply Mt 6:33 naturally. Remember that Jesus was talking to OT people in Mt 6 (Heb 9:16-18.)! Do you see it?…
Before trying to extort answers from God with greater numbers of people going on a hunger strike; carefully contemplate Js 5:16 (Mk 11:24; Js 1:5-8) with Phil 3:9. If Jesus is your righteousness then be careful to think your help from God is proportionate to the number of people involved in your concentrated effort at impressing an omniscient God that is Love [not a manipulator] (Jn 14:23-26; Rom 8:17,26; 1 Jn 2:1-4; 1 Tim 2:5).
You must have observed the specific mentioning – by Jesus – of “in secret” in when you give (Mt 6:4), and when you pray (Mt 6:6) and when you fast (Mt 6:16-18) as an indication of His idea of a deep personal intimacy with Him. Also Heb 4:14-16 (refer to the paper “Prayer” for an exegesis). Selah?
As mentioned in the introductory paragraphs, is the concept of fasting related to that of tithing. The thing to know is that God looks at your heart [motives, thoughts]; rather than the ritual, tradition or ceremony [religion] (Mt 7:21-24; 15:6-9). He wants the consistent relationship, and then one without manipulation or hypocritical play-acting … for God is Love (1 Jn 4:4-11)… then we can apply Mt 7:12 as Jesus wants us to (Mt 5:23-24)…
So, you need not “punish” yourself (inflict bodily pain) or starve yourself like a martyr (Eph 1:3; 1 Thess 5:9-10; 1 Jn 3:19-24; Jn 4:23-24; 8:32,36; Heb 10:14-18)! Now again recall the powerful Col 3;1-17…
Peace to you, and a clear experience of Jn 10:27,28; 14:26. (Jn 11:26; 12:43-50; 1 Thess 5:23)…
[i] Spirit is God-conscious; the soul [mind, i.e. intellect, emotion, will] is self-conscious. An animal [“beast”] can not develop a spirit. God created a man to be a spirit with a soul inside a body. Only man can be “re-born” from above [God, eternal higher state] by His Seed [Word] and this submission [trust, faith in His Word, Jesus Christ] is what alters your way of thinking [DNA]. Now your lineage is determined by His Blood on His cross, and His Seed Jesus Christ, and you can truly be His child… again… like He intended when He made man to His image [Father, Spirit, Son]. Remember that He is Love and this Love [Spirit] will never manipulate. You got your will [choice] to hate what He hates (Rom 12:9)… but only after you applied the trust in Him (Rom 12). His name is Jesus Christ.