What Is the Significance of Fasting?

Question from a Site Viewer
What is the significance of fasting? Also, the significance of fasting on Good Friday, and the significance of the Lord’s supper? I don’t understand why we have to fast and why we have to do communion, so I’ve always looked at it like it was just some kind of ceremony. But like always, I’m sure there’s a meaning behind it that I’m unaware of.

Tim’s Answer
You ask about the significance of fasting. Fasting signifies that we are wholeheartedly seeking God. It is always associated with petition to God. It is the concept of giving oneself over to seeking our Father. Jesus fasted for 40 days during the temptation by Satan (Matthew 4:2). Moses fasted and prayed for Israel’s sin at Mt. Sinai when God sought to destroy Israel (Deuteronomy 9:18-19) and God listened. Samuel and Israel fasted and prayed before facing the Philistines (1 Samuel 7:5-6). David fasted and prayed for his child (2 Samuel 12:16). Ezra fasted and prayed because of the people’s sins (Ezra 9:3-15). Nehemiah fasted and prayed because of the condition of Jerusalem (Nehemiah 1:4). Daniel mourned and fasted for three weeks (Daniel 10:2-3) praying to God (Daniel 10:12). The church at Antioch fasted and prayed when sending out Paul and Barnabas on their fist missionary journey (Acts 13:2-3). There is always a link to seeking God. Even in Isaiah 58, the concept is not different. The clear implication of verse 9 of that chapter is that right fasting will bring about answers to prayer.

But fasting should not be done simply to demonstrate self-control. Colossians 2:20-23 teaches us that having died with Christ we should not be subject to such ordinances as established fastings. Fasting may show that we have control over our body, but there is no honor to such demonstration. Because of Colossians 2:20-23, I do not practice a regular fast, whether it is a Good Friday fast, or any other regularly set fast. My reading of these verses is that we should not subject ourselves to such ordinances. In fact, the New Testament says very little about fasting.

Nevertheless, I think there is a place for fasting. I think Isaiah 58 and Zechariah 7:4-12 give us the bad and the good of fasting. Fasting can give us a sense of super-spirituality and harden our edge against others. In both Isaiah 58 and Zechariah 7, the children of Israel were taken to task for their fastings. Even in Christ’s time, the Pharisees fasted (Matthew 9:14-17; Luke 18:12). As the Matthew passage points out, the Pharisees were troubled because they fasted and Christ’s disciples did not fast. God points out in Isaiah 58 and Zechariah 7 that fasting that does not soften the heart towards others and lead to action on their behalf is not acceptable to God. When we fast, it should be for a purpose, to loose the bonds of sin, to undo heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free. I have found that when others are entangled in sin, such is sometimes a reason for me to fast and seek God on their behalf. And when we do fast, Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:16-18 that we should take care that we fast before God, and not to be seen by men.

Finally, with respect to fasting, as the Orthodox Church will tell you, fasting is not always the total abstinence from food. In Daniel 10:2-3, Daniel fasted three weeks, eating no pleasant bread, meat, or wine. For some who are hypoglycemic, a total abstinence from food may not work. But if they feel called to fast, they may abstain from certain pleasant foods while they seek God.

There was a period of a few years in my life when I practiced fasting once a week, totally abstaining from food for that day. I was motivated in part by the life of John Wesley, who throughout his life fasted one day a week. At the end of the time, I came to the conclusion that such fasting was not benefiting God or me. It often made me feel like life was more endurance than living. And more importantly to me, during such days of fasting, I tended not to want to engage with people as much as when I did not fast. Eating with people is a great opportunity for fellowship and sharing Christ.

I do not want to denigrate in any way those who practice regular fasts. I note that others may read the Colossians passage different than the way I read it. For me, whether one fasts regularly or never fasts is a Romans 14 matter, where each one should follow their own persuasion. But for me, fasting is most effective when it is done for a specific purpose, usually in relationship for the needs of others, to seek God to remove some burden or supply some need.

You asked about the significance of the Lord’s supper. The Lord’s Supper is a time of remembering the personal meaning of Christ’s death. It comes out of the Passover meal, which in Exodus 12 was to be celebrated to remember the great work of God’s deliverance of Israel from Egypt (Exodus 12:25-27). But the Passover was only a type of the great work Christ would do in delivering us from the bondage of sin. Christ became our Passover (1 Corinthians 5:7). Just as the Passover celebration reminds us of the deliverance from Egypt, so the Lord’s supper reminds us of Christ’s deliverance from our sins. In 1 Corinthians 11:26, the celebration of the Lord’s Supper is celebrated to show the Lord’s death until He comes. It is a time to express our deepest gratitude to God for the sacrifice of Christ, and to reaffirm anew our dependency on Him for our very life. That which sustains us, His very body and blood, is what we remember and celebrate at the Lord’s Supper.

I think, somewhat unfortunately, the Lord’s Supper has taken on a somber and sometimes deadening feeling. For many, it seems to be an attempt to re-enact the meal Jesus ate with His disciples, which was far from a joyous time as both Jesus and his disciples were facing imminent trouble. It seems that some intentionally or otherwise try to duplicate that first Lord’s supper in its solemnity and sorrow. Others may take the warning passage in 1 Corinthians 11:27-30 and use this as a reason to make this an intensely personal examination time to ensure worthiness to join in the ceremony.

But although the first Lord’s Supper was a time tinged with sadness, it was a feast that Jesus longed to eat with His disciples before His death. He said to them at the feast that He would give them His joy. Again, I look to the Passover as a model. The first Passover was a trying time for Israel, an unsettling time, and a time of death throughout the land of Egypt. But thereafter, the Passover celebration was a time of great joy and delight in the deliverance of God. So, I see attempts to recreate the sadness of the first Lord’s Supper to be mistaken. I think we should celebrate the Lord’s Supper. It is a time for His people to worship Him in awe and holiness, and to let their hearts expand in praise and adoration to Jesus who endured so much to bring about our great salvation. It is not a time of death for us, but of life. I think we should examine our hearts before we ever come to the communion service, so that at the service we may have hearts prepared to adore Jesus.

I hope these thoughts are helpful to you in making the service meaningful in your life and well-pleasing to the Father.

May the Lord Jesus bless you as you seek to follow Him,

a fellow servant,


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