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Matthew 6:16-18 (KJV)

16 Moreover when ye fast, be not,

as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance:

for they disfigure their faces,

that they may appear unto men to fast.

Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

17 But thou, when thou fastest,

anoint thine head, and wash thy face;

18 That thou appear not unto men to fast,

but unto thy Father which is in secret:

and thy Father, which seeth in secret,

shall reward thee openly.

Normally, in Jesus time, their religion called for a fast on every Monday and on every Thursday. The law commanded only one fast a year.

Leviticus 23:27-32 (KJV)

27 Also on the tenth day of this seventh month there shall be a day of atonement: it shall be an holy convocation unto you; and ye shall afflict your souls, and offer an offering made by fire unto the LORD.

28 And ye shall do no work in that same day: for it is a day of atonement, to make an atonement for you before the LORD your God.

29 For whatsoever soul it be that shall not be afflicted in that same day, he shall be cut off from among his people.

30 And whatsoever soul it be that doeth any work in that same day, the same soul will I destroy from among his people.

31 Ye shall do no manner of work: it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations in all your dwellings.

32 It shall be unto you a sabbath of rest, and ye shall afflict your souls: in the ninth day of the month at even, from even unto even, shall ye celebrate your sabbath.

Notice the ‘fast’ is called a time when one ‘afflicts their soul’. This was the language God used in the Old Testament to refer to the ‘fast’ and it shows the purpose of the fast. A Godly fast is not a diet, it is not a time of just ceasing to eat. There is a far greater and more wonderful purpose to fasting. Fasting is a worship event.  Other things are crowded out for one to worship and pray.   Bible study, doing good to your neighbor, and praising the Lord fill the time, and feed the soul in a fasting worship.

About 1,200 years later, after this initial plan of God for a one day mandatory fast, in Zechariah's time, we find that the Jews had 4 fasts.

Zechariah 8:19 (KJV)

19 Thus saith the LORD of hosts; The fast of the fourth month, and the fast of the fifth, and the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth, shall be to the house of Judah joy and gladness, and cheerful feasts; therefore love the truth and peace.

God speaks here to declare that He wanted to make the fasts that were added to become times of ‘joy and gladness’, having ‘peace and truth’, therefore, not being a time of ‘afflicting’ one’s soul. The one mandatory fast they had been given can have others added voluntarily, but the purpose of God is to bring us to a time when ‘affliction of the soul’ is not necessary.

In Christ's day, 500 years after Zechariah’s four fasts, the Jews had 104 fasts a year. They were fasting twice a week, and doing it with great show, claiming to be notable in holiness due to their often fasting. This fasting was not acceptable to Jesus, for instead of one humbling, afflicting their soul, holding their body under self control in its appetites to have more time to humbly petition God, we find their purpose was narcissistic, seeking attention, seeking praise for their fasting.

Luke 18:11-14 (KJV)

11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.

12 I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.

13 And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.

14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.

Thus, they were growing in pride, in self righteousness, in seeking man’s glory, but not in afflicting their soul, humbling before the holy God.  They were dieting, they were showing off a portrayal of fake holiness, but they were not worshipping.

Jesus addresses that kind of situation in the sermon on the mount. He says that the people should not fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance on the times they choose to fast. The people would disfigure their faces, smearing ashes on their faces, so that all would know by a glance that they were fasting. Jesus said they have their reward, that the praise of men is their full receipt.


In fasting, Jesus teaches in the sermon on the mount, that we should appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret. The secretness of fasting is to bring open reward. It will not be the praise of men, but the reward of God. Too much of what mankind does, is done to get mankind to praise them. Jesus teaches that secret things done to please God are far, far greater than what we do to get man’s applause.


The fasting of hypocrites, is condemned by Jesus. We note that in the passage above, Luke 18:11-12, the hypocritical pharisee bragged that he did not pray with sinners, that he was not like other people. He claimed to not be an extortioner, not be unjust, not be an adulterer. He said he was not like this publican that was humbly praying nearby. He said he fasted twice a week, and he had paid all his tithes. This was all prayed loudly and publicly, so that all could hear and know of these good things he did. The Pharisee did not utter one word about his sins, but he did utter many words about his self-righteousness. He had done all this and yet, he was not justified.

Luke 18:14 (KJV)

14 I tell you, this man (the publican) went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.

Jesus does not condemn the good things the pharisee had done. They were good. Yet, the pride and self seeking of acclaim, the narcissism, had ruined all his good deeds. Jesus proclaims that the Father, Who seeth in secret, shall reward openly.   The Pharisees had a hypocrite fast, not a worship fast.


The disciples asked the Lord why they could not heal a boy who was oppressed by an evil spirit. They had cast out demons, had seen the sick healed, but this boy was not helped by their prayers. .

Jesus said:

Matthew 17:18-21 (KJV)

18 And Jesus rebuked the devil; and he departed out of him: and the child was cured from that very hour.

19 Then came the disciples to Jesus apart, and said, Why could not we cast him out?

20 And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.

21 Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.

Their lack of ‘faith’, their unbelief, had kept the boy from getting his freedom from an evil spirit. Fasting needed to add to their faith, develop their faith, remove the hindrances to their faith, so that this more powerful spirit could be expelled.

Afflicting the soul, i.e. fasting, takes control back from the ‘soul’ that is self seeking, to make one able to be used for mightier works, for more difficult battles. There is great reward for true fasting.

Fasting will humble the soul.

Psalm 35:13 (KJV)

13 But as for me, when they were sick, my clothing was sackcloth: I humbled my soul with fasting...

Fasting chastens the soul.

Psalm 69:10 (KJV)

10 When I wept, and chastened my soul with fasting, that was to my reproach.


Fasting allows more time to be in prayer.

2 Samuel 12:16-23 (KJV)

16 David therefore besought God for the child; and David fasted, and went in, and lay all night upon the earth.

17 And the elders of his house arose, and went to him, to raise him up from the earth: but he would not, neither did he eat bread with them.

18 And it came to pass on the seventh day, that the child died. And the servants of David feared to tell him that the child was dead: for they said, Behold, while the child was yet alive, we spake unto him, and he would not hearken unto our voice: how will he then vex himself, if we tell him that the child is dead?

19 But when David saw that his servants whispered, David perceived that the child was dead: therefore David said unto his servants, Is the child dead? And they said, He is dead.

20 Then David arose from the earth, and washed, and anointed himself, and changed his apparel, and came into the house of the LORD, and worshipped: then he came to his own house; and when he required, they set bread before him, and he did eat.

21 Then said his servants unto him, What thing is this that thou hast done? thou didst fast and weep for the child, while it was alive; but when the child was dead, thou didst rise and eat bread.

22 And he said, While the child was yet alive, I fasted and wept: for I said, Who can tell whether GOD will be gracious to me, that the child may live?

23 But now he is dead, wherefore should I fast? can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.


Fasting shows one’s earnestness,

excluding all others things,

so as to speak with God.

1 Corinthians 7:5 (KJV)

5 Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency.

Fasting exercises the fruit of the Spirit called ‘temperance’, i.e. self control. It puts the spirit of man that wants to serve God in control over the soul of man that wants to please the flesh. That is why fasting is called, by God, to be ‘afflicting the soul’. It is taking the control away from the soul of man, and putting it in control of the ‘spirit of man.’ In doing so, the flesh is crucified, faith develops, unbelief departs from the person fasting. Prayer is thereby aided, and even if God chooses not to answer the prayer, as with David fasting and praying for his dying son, the person fasting is strong in faith, and able to hear God’s denial as well as enjoy His affirmative answers.

True fasting is done in private, between God and man, and thus becomes a time  of worship.  

see part 2

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