Notes from CPRC Bible Study Tues Jan 28th with Rev Garry Eriks
Background reading click
This is Standard Bearer Vol 81,Issue 17 article by Rev. Ron Hanko.
- Is fasting demanded of a Christian today? (Matt.9:14-17, 6:16-18)?
Fasting is not commanded but it is clear from Christ’s words that he assumed his followers would do it after his ascension. The new wineskins is the thankful knowledge that the Saviour has come and redeemed us and will come again, whereas the old wineskins represent the longing for and looking forward to the suffering saviour to come. Hanko goes as far as to say it is a spiritual duty and a necessity.
2. What is fasting? (is it dieting, giving up beef for a day, not eating or drinking)? Consider the different ways it was practiced in the Bible.
First mention is Exodus 24:18 when Moses was up Mount Sinai for forty days, then arguably Joshua 7:6 when the Israelites had been defeated at Ai. Then The Israelites after the outrage at Gibeah when slaughtered by the Benjamites in Judges 20:26. We have other examples of individuals with David, II Samuel 12:16,21 and Daniel 9:3 and 10:2,3. We have groups after Saul’s death I Sam.31:13,II Sam.1:12, Esther and the Jews in Esther 4:3,15, before the return to Jerusalem with Ezra 8:21, of a whole city Nineveh Jonah 3:5 and of the nation of Judah under Jehoshaphat in II Chron.20:3. There were set times (Zech. 8:19). In the New Testament we have Christ in the wilderness in Matthew 4, Cornelius in Acts 10:30, the church leaders at Antioch Acts 13:2 and in other towns of Asia Minor in Acts 14:23, Paul on numerous occasions as per II Cor.6:5 and 11:27.
From all these instances we gather:
a) It may be personal and secret (as Christ instructed) or it may involve others , church, church leaders, friends or even the nation.
b) It varied in how strict it was. Daniel and his three friends just abstained from rich food but at another time and in the case of Moses and Christ they ate nothing at all but drunk water.
c) It may have lasted a day (Day of atonement, under Samuel I Sam.7:6) most likely evening till next evening, three weeks (Daniel) or 40 days (Christ).
d) How often? It may be regular as is our giving and praying (Matthew 6) or occasional (see point 2)
3. What is the purpose of fasting? What do we learn from it? We must do it for the right reasons.
Everything in the physical world teaches us spiritual lessons. God has made our bodies need food but as he states in Deuteronomy 8:3 we are taught that we need spiritual food even more, and that the spiritual food is the word of God, namely Christ (John 6:53-58) who is represented by the manna Israel were given. It is right and good to be hungry physically and spiritually (Psalm 42). Job esteemed God’s word above even his food. Food can be an idol. The giver must be esteemed more than the gift.
Another fundamental truth taught in Scripture is that we are to fast from sin and selfishness and give to others Isaiah 58:6,7.
The instances leading to fasting in Scripture are:
a) To afflict the soul, show sorrow and repentance Nehemiah 9:1,Psalm 69:10, Joel 2:12.
b) To express ardent desire Psalm 35:13, Neh.1:4, Cornelius.
c) When an important decision was to be made eg choice of disciples, installing elders, commissioning missionaries (Acts 13:2 etc)
d) To spend time in prayer I Cor.7:5
e) When national disaster was a threat in war or pestilence (Jehoshaphat).
4. Wrong reasons for fasting.
Pride , works righteousness, ritual and ostentation as with the Pharisee in Luke 18:12
For selfish reasons, “ pressurize God “ or twist his arm, manipulate him or cause strife as in Isaiah 58:3-6.
The nastiest instance was Jezebel’s call to fast that ended in Naboth’s death (I Kings 21).
To diet or lose weight.
The heart has to be right. We fast with an eye to God and his glory.
5. Why is fasting associated with prayer? What is their relationship?
All prayer is the expression of need and dependence on God. It is also a sacrifice as it takes time, effort and self-denial ie it is a battle with our flesh. Fasting is prayer’s twin because in a similar way it humbles the flesh, shows where our priorities lie, increases our alertness and weans us from the world.
To make the opportunity to pray and fast we may need to be off work (or do it on the Lord’s Day) and abstain from other pleasures including marital sex. Those who are weak and have chronic illness may well have to forego the rigours of this discipline. Fasting does make us weak (Psalm 109:24) and it is a good idea to drink perhaps orange juice, rather than water for a few calories during the fast.
6. Spiritual dangers.
Pride and vainglory-hence the need generally to keep it secret. But it’s good to do it with your spouse.
Thinking that you merit with God or deserve answers. All our merit is in Christ and we are heard for his sake.
7. Are there times in our lives or in the life of the church when it might be good to practice fasting and prayer? (Note that the word fasting was mentioned alongside prayer in the PRCA Church Order Article 66 in bygone days!)
When making major decisions eg appointment of pastor, elders or missionaries.
When great spiritual or physical danger threatens eg persecution, major sin or scandal in the church.
National emergency (government would call this)