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What is Fasting?
Fasting the Wrong Way (verse 16)
Fasting the Right Way (verses 17-18)
A Word of Warning

We come this morning to the third illustration that Jesus used to demonstrate the dangers surrounding religious activity. In past weeks we have seen the danger surrounding our giving (in verses 2-4) and our praying (in verses 5-9). This week, we will see the dangers that Jesus attaches to our fasting. Essentially, in many ways, the dangers that Jesus spells out for us are very similar.
He sums the dangers up nicely for us in the very first verse of this chapter: He said, "Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven" (Matt. 6:1).

The danger surrounding our religious activities all comes to our motives. We are in danger of seeking approval from the wrong place. In each of these illustrations (of giving, praying, and fasting), Jesus takes the issue at hand and presses it to the heart. He asks, "Why do you do what you do? Our message this week will (in some ways) be exactly the same as when we dealt with giving and praying, only this time, it is with reference to fasting.

Why do you give?
- do you give to be noticed by other people, so that they think highly of you?
- do you give in such a way that God will be the only one who will be able to reward you?

Why do you pray?
- do you pray so that others would notice you praying, so that they might think better of you?
- do you pray so that God, alone, might be the one to hear you?

Why do you fast?
- do you fast for the recognition of others?
- do you fast for God, alone, to see?

We need to realize that there are eternal consequences to wrongly practicing our righteousness. If you practice your righteousness before men, you have received your reward in full. If you practice your righteousness before God, He alone will reward you. The danger that Jesus warns against is the thinking that you are being really good in your religion. You reason that you are being consistent in your devotions and you are regularly attend church. You look at how many people give you affirmation concerning your righteousness. And you think that God is really impressed with how righteous your are. Yet, such religious practices are futile and useless.

Let's begin by looking at the structure of our three verses this morning (v. 16, 17, and 18). It shouldn't take us long. It's pretty simple and straightforward. Jesus said, "And whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance in order to be seen fasting by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you fast, anoint your head, and wash your face so that you may not be seen fasting by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will repay you" (Matthew 6:16-18).

You can take this text and see that it divides up quite nicely. It is a ready-made two point sermon. The little word, "but" at the beginning of verse 17 denotes a contrast and divides the verses into two parts. The first part is found in verse 16. You might call this "Fasting the wrong way." Notice how Jesus begins, "when you fast, do not [do these things]." The second part is found in verses 17-18. You might call this "Fasting the right way." Notice how Jesus begins this section, "but you, when you fast [do these things]."

Before we get to look at these two sections, let's begin by asking ourselves, ...
What is Fasting?

Fasting is "the act of abstaining from physical food for specific spiritual purposes." These purposes are well defined:

1. Demonstrating humility before God in times of confession.

Here are a few Biblical examples of this:

Nehemiah led many people back from Babylon to rebuild the walls in Jerusalem. As they did, they began to discover what God requires of them according to the law (see chapter 8). They were broken over then sin and Nehemiah called for a national fast. In Nehemiah 9:1-2 we read, "Now on the twenty-fourth day of this month the sons of Israel assembled with fasting, in sackcloth, and with dirt upon them. And the descendants of Israel separated themselves from all foreigners, and stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers."

When Jonah preached to Nineveh, "the people of Nineveh believed in God; and they called a fast and put on sackcloth from the greatest to the least of them" (Jonah 3:5). Even the king humbled himself (Jonah 3:6).

In Psalm 35:13, we find this connection between humility and fasting: "I humbled my soul with fasting."

On the day of atonement, the Jews would humble themselves. Though not commanded, they often fasted during this time (Lev. 16:29-31).

2. Seeking help from God in times of crisis.

The number of Biblical examples we have of this purpose out number those of the previous purpose. Again, I give you a few Biblical examples of this.

In 2 Chron. 20, the story is told of the armies of several nations that were coming up against Jehoshpaphat, king of Judah. The Scripture tells us that "Jehoshaphat was afraid and turned his attention to seek the LORD; and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah. So Judah gathered together to seek help from the LORD; they even came from all the cities of Judah to seek the LORD" ( 2 Chron. 20:3-4). Help came. God confused the enemies and they destroyed each other, rather than Judah (2 Chr. 20:23-24). It took them three days to gather all of the spoil, "because there was so much" (2 Chr. 20:25).

In the book of Esther the story is told of how Haman had planned to destroy the Jewish people, but God had sovereignly placed Esther, a Jew, within the harem of the king. When she decided to go in to speak with the king, she told Mordecai, her uncle, "Go, assemble all the Jews who are found in Susa, and fast for me; do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maidens also will fast in the same way. And thus I will go in to the king, which is not according to the law; and if I perish, I perish" (Esther 4:16). As the Proverb says, "The king's heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He wishes," (Prov. 21:1), so was the heart of king Ahasuerus, softened toward the Jews. (You can read about it in chapter 7).

David fasted when the life of his first son with Bathsheba was in the balance (2 Sam. 12:16).

Seeking God in time of crisis is often a natural response of the heart. Think with me of September 11th. Consider the wife, who lived in New York, whose husband worked in the twin towers. In the morning she sent him away to work with a kiss, like every other morning. Then, just before lunch, she heard the news of what happened with the planes and how the towers had collapsed. If she is a Christian woman, she will be praying to God for help in the time of need. The crisis of the moment will place eating lunch quite low on the priority scale, as she begins to contemplate the reality of whether or not her husband is alive.

This is the picture of fasting, as it is described in the Bible. You can see clearly the connection between the fast and the purpose.

I have heard some people describe fasting as a by-product of being so concerned with spiritual things, that you forget to eat. For instance, this week, I had an interesting week. My wife and children are in California, so I was home all by myself this past week. I didn't have my wife around, preparing food for me to eat. I was able to take advantage of my time to work hard this week. As a result, there were several days, where I looked up from my work and it was 2 o'clock in the afternoon. And I had realized that I hadn't eaten anything. There were also days, when I didn't eat lunch at all. In fact, there was one day, that I hardly ate anything until about 10 o'clock at night, I was so busy with work and spending time with several of you.

Some of the issue was that I could devote myself fully to ministering to you all and to prayer and to the study of the word, that food actually took second place for me this week. But, I don't believe that I was fasting this week. I think that I just ate less than normal. See, this week, there wasn't some crisis in my life that caused me to seek God in humility and help. I wasn't fasting out of brokenness for some great sin in my life. In the Bible, fasting is always associated with a sense of sorrow and humility and brokenness and dependence upon God, as you seek His wisdom and His guidance.

Sometimes both of these elements of (1) demonstrating humility and (2) seeking help are combined.

Joel warned before the coming destruction of the LORD, "Consecrate a fast, proclaim a solemn assembly; gather the elders and all the inhabitants of the land to the house of the LORD your God, and cry out to the LORD" (Joel 1:14). This was a warning to humble yourself and cry out to the LORD in the time of your trouble for His help.

Before leaving on a journey, Ezra fasted with his men in humility in order to seek the LORD's protection during their dangerous journey back to Israel with no army to protect them. He wrote, "I proclaimed a fast there at the river of Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God to seek from Him a safe journey for us, our little ones, and all our possessions" (Ezra 8:21).

Fasting is always associated with a sense of sorrow and humility and brokenness and dependence upon God, as you seek His wisdom and His guidance. (This, by the way, is why in verse 16, we see the hypocrites putting on a gloomy face, because fasting is often associated with sorrow).

Notice also, that fasting is always associated with prayer. When we are ...

1. ... demonstrating humility before God in times of confession, this time is quite naturally connected to prayer.
2. ... seeking help from God in times of crisis, this is practically synonymous with prayer.

Everywhere I looked in the scripture, I found this connection of fasting and prayer (with, perhaps the exception of Esther 4, where no mention of fasting is present). I would contend that if you aren't praying, you aren't fasting. Sure, you may be abstaining from food, but you aren't fasting, because prayer is always present when you are fasting.

It ought to become clear, then, that abstaining from food to lose weight isn't fasting at all. It is dieting. It ought also to become clear, then, that strictly speaking, abstaining from food, to bring your body under subjection, isn't fasting either, it is a form of self--discipline. Fasting takes place when you encounter some crisis in your life, for which you feel the need to humble yourself and seek God's guidance and help in prayer.

With this background, Jesus' teaching in Matthew 9 ought to be opened up quite nicely. "Then the disciples of John came to Him, saying, 'Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but Your disciples do not fast?'" (Matt. 9:14).

We know that the Pharisees fasted. The story of the Pharisee and the publican points this out. The Pharisee stood up and spoke of how righteous he was, because he paid tithes of all that he received and he fasted twice a week (Luke 18:12). From history, we happen to know that they fasted on Mondays and Thursdays. The only information we have about John's disciples fasting is right here from the words of his disciples. Yet, it can be expected that he fasted. He was know as an ascetic, who purposefully buffeted his body for the sake of righteousness. His garment was of camel's hair (not the most comfortable) (Matt. 3:4). His food was locusts and wild honey (not the most tasty) (Matt. 3:4). It can make sense, then that John would fast as well.

Yet, we see here, that the disciples of Jesus, for some reason, didn't fast. We know that Jesus, Himself, fasted. He began His ministry with 40 days of fasting in the wilderness (Matt. 4:1-11). Other than that, we know not of Jesus fasting. (Perhaps we have an allusion to Jesus fasting in Matt. 17:21, yet, there are textual difficulties surrounding this passage). At any rate, Jesus certainly didn't have the reputation of fasting regularly. Jesus said that "John came neither eating nor drinking. ... [while] the Son of Man came eating and drinking" (Matt. 11:18-19).

So, why didn't Jesus (or His disciples) fast? Verse 15 gives the answer. Jesus responded by saying, "The attendants of the bridegroom cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast."

Do you understand Jesus' response? When you go to a wedding and you are at the reception, it is a time of joy and celebration! It is a time of feasting and making merry! It is not a time of sorrow and mourning. Therefore, the reasoning goes, it makes no sense to fast at a wedding feast! Celebration and fasting doesn't mix. It is like oil and water. This is because fasting is an expression of sorrowful humility in time of crisis. But a wedding feast is a time of rejoicing.

Imagine with me a wedding reception. There is often a head table, where all of the bridesmaids and groomsmen are seated. They are often seated so that all at the reception can see the bride and groom and those in the wedding party. Now, imagine with me that rather than joyful laughter among the wedding party is this feeling of humility and gloom. Furthermore, the food on their plates hasn't been touched. How strange would that be? That's how strange it would have been for Jesus' disciples to have fasted. There are several places in scripture, where Jesus is described as the bridegroom, who will come for His bride, the church (Eph. 5:27; Rev. 19:7). Jesus, the bridegroom, was right there will His disciples. It made no sense for them to fast.

Yet, Jesus said, "the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, andthen they will fast" (verse 15). When a husband and wife, who love each other, are separated from each other, (let me tell you, by experience this week), it is not a joyful experience. I have a great longing to be with my wife, who is right now in California. I long to return to her. When the bridegroom is taken away, circumstances will come in the lives of the disciples that will cause them to fast. When difficulties and sorrows and afflictions and troubles come upon the people of God, it is entirely appropriate for us to fast. When decisions need to be made and when council from the LORD is sought, it is appropriate for us to fast. As Jesus said, "then they will fast."

Turn back to Matthew, chapter 6. We see in verse 16, "And when you fast." We see in verse 17, "When you fast." Jesus here is assuming that we will fast. In verse 2, Jesus said, "when you give alms, ..." In verse 5, Jesus said, "when you pray, ..." The child of God will give alms. The child of God will pray. The child of God will fast. Yet, today, you don't hear much about Biblical fasting.

1. Perhaps we don't hear too much about fasting today, because the New Testament is fairly silent on the subject.

Indeed, there are only 5 or 6 New Testament passages that instruct us with respect to fasting:

1. Matt. 6:16-18
2. Matt. 9:14-15; Mark 2:18-20; Luke 5:33-35
3. Acts 13:2
4. Acts 14:23
5. Luke 2:37
6. Matt. 17:21; Mark 9:29 (these passages contain textual uncertainties).

With a lack of teaching, some have understood a lack of importance. Now, I must admit that fasting is a minor issue in the Bible, since it is mentioned only a few times. Perhaps this explains the lack of emphasis on fasting today.

(As a footnote, I do believe, that we ought to give a proper, Biblical balance, with all subjects written about in the Bible. If we weren't walking verse-by-verse through the Bible, it wouldn't be my choice to teach about fasting. Yet, since it has come up, we are dealing with it today. Additionally, as it comes up in the future, we will also deal with it as well. In our verse-by-verse approach, we will naturally present a proper Biblical balance to all subjects it teaches).

2. Perhaps we don't hear too much about fasting today, because there are some who take the relative obscurity of New Testament fasting passages, and say that, as Christians, we shouldn't fast today.

Those who believe there is no need for us to fast today point out that the bridegroom has come. Furthermore, they say correctly, that there is no command given to us in the Bible to fast. (The command on the Day of Atonement in Leviticus 16:29-31 didn't technically call the nation of Israel to fast. Rather, it just called them to humility, which they interpreted to include fasting).

However, I don't know how you get past these phrases used in here in chapter 6:16, 17, "when you fast" and in chapter 9, "then, they will fast." Those who say that we shouldn't fast, argue that the Jesus was referring to the time between His death and resurrection as the time when they fasted. Yet, they fail to realize that the early church fasted (Acts 13:2; 14:23).

The fact that no command in the Bible is given for us to fast might just be an indication that God realizes that there are those who cannot fast (for example, those who have diabetes).

It seems clear to me that Christians will fast.

3. Perhaps we don't hear too much about fasting today, because not many people actually fast today.

I must admit, that fasting hasn't been a big part of my life. I can count on my one hand the number of times that I have fasted for a spiritual purpose. There have been a few occasions, when I have encountered crisis situations in life when I have sought the Lord with fasting and prayer, for God's help and guidance. But fasting isn't my first response in a situation, where I desperately need God to help me and guide me. Yet, my study this week has awakened me to realize that I fasting ought to be an appropriate response at times.

Also, I have begun to think about fasting in the life of our church body. In Acts 13 we find one of the two instances in the Biblical history of the early church the church fasted as they sought the Lord for guidance and direction. "Now there were at Antioch, in the church that was [there], prophets and teachers: Barnabas, and Simeon who was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. And while they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, 'Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.' Then, when they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them away" (Acts 13:1-3).

Here we find the leaders of the church "ministering to the Lord and fasting." I have read this many times, but never seen the fact that they fasted. This was a time in the early church in which they sought the Lord's direction concerning their future ministry. God clearly identified that Barnabas and Saul should be sent out as missionaries from this church. They clearly saw the crisis that was facing them and their natural response was to fast for the spiritual purpose of seeking the counsel of God.

Another instance of fasting in the early church is given in Acts 14:23. In this passage we find Paul and Barnabas strengthening and encouraging the churches they had recently established. "And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, having prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed." I have read this verse many times before, but have never noticed that they fasted upon appointing elders. Yet, they did. Again, I think that the fasting came in response to the great need that they were acknowledging to God for His guidance. Notice that they didn't appoint elders with a flippant, five minute prayer. Rather, it was a long enough ordeal to have a time of fasting.

As I have studied these passages this week, and been thinking about it, perhaps there are times in the life of our church, where it would be appropriate for us to call a fast.

For seeking God's guidance in critical ...

- When praying about bringing another pastor on staff at Rock Valley Bible Church.
- When praying about establishing another church.
- When time comes to purchase property for a building some day.

For seeking God's help ...

- When the time comes to discipline a member of this congregation for their stubborn lack of repentance, according to Matt. 18.
- When someone in our congregation is diagnosed with a sudden and serious illness.

Perhaps we have missed opportunities in the past to do this. I remember at Kishwaukee Bible Church when three of our ladies were diagnosed with cancer within a relatively short time frame. I think we gathered for prayer at that time (at least I know we set apart a good portion of Men's Equippers on Saturday morning to pray). Perhaps we should have encouraged the congregation to fast as well. Perhaps we have missed opportunities in light of some of our unemployment difficulties we faced (and continue to face).

There also may be certain crisis situations that come into your life, for which you might want to contemplate fasting. Whether this is a major decision you are facing or an illness in the family.

This is what fasting is. Let's learn what Jesus says about how our fasting ought to be done. There is a wrong way and a right way to fast. First, let's examine ...
Fasting the Wrong Way (verse 16)

Verse 16, "And whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance in order to be seen fasting by men."

The Pharisees liked to fast with the "woe is me" syndrome. "Woe is me! Look at me!" Thy sought to direct attention to themselves during their times of fasting.

1. With their facial expression.

They "put on a gloomy face." They were purposefully unhappy and of sad countenance. They expressed no cheerfulness. They were down in the dumps. They were suffering, and they wanted everybody to know about it.

Have you seen the yellow happy face? It is a perfect yellow circle with two dots for the eyes and a big smile. Turn the smile around and your would picture the Pharisees perfectly in their gloom and doom as they fasted.

When someone would come up to a Pharisee, who was fasting, and say, "Hey, Ebenezer, how's it going?" He would respond with a very sad expression, and say with a slow, deep voice, "Not so well. I'm fasting. Can't you tell?" They would respond with the pessimism of E-ore on Winnie the Pooh.

2. With their whole appearance.

They would "neglect their appearance." Not only were their expressions dismal, but their whole appearance was dismal. It is one thing to be sad. It is quite another thing to be purposefully ugly as well.

Literally, "they would make their faces unrecognizable." As the KJV says, "they disfigure their faces." Yet, I am sure that they were careful not to make themselves too unrecognizable, because they wanted others to know who fasting.

Perhaps you have seen clowns with a big sad face. Their face is unrecognizable, and they have a big, sad countenance upon their face, even when they are smiling.

With fasting, their primary problem was that their motive in their fasting. They wanted the world to know that they were fasting. They did what it took to let the world know. This is exactly the same problem with giving and praying. Only, in those areas, it manifests itself differently.
- When you give, you can tell others that you are giving by sounding forth your trumpet.
- When you pray, you can tell others that you are praying by praying loudly in the street corners.
- When you fast, you can tell others that you are fasting by disfiguring your appearance.

Jesus chose to use only three illustrations, but he could have continued on and used many others. Every religious activity in which we engage ourselves has its own dangers.

Jesus may have chosen to use the illustration of attending service in the synagogue. "When you come to the service in the synagogue, do not come because of the social standing that it will give you, like the hypocrites, who love to be thought of by all men and righteous people. But you, when you come to the service in the synagogue, come because you love God and love to be with His people."

Jesus may have chosen to use the illustration of dress in the synagogue. "When you dress for the synagogue, do not put on your most fancy outfit that you have, like the hypocrites, who love to show others what sort of upright members of society they are. But, you, when you dress for synagogue, choose for yourselves clothes that are modest and natural, which won't draw attention to yourself." This was a particular problem in the early church as women displayed their wealth with braided hair and gold and pearls and costly garments (1 Tim. 4:9).

Jesus may have chosen to use the illustration of Bible reading. "When you read your Bible, do not read your Bible to improve your knowledge, like the hypocrites, who love to show everybody how much they have memorized. But you, when you read your Bible, read it so that you might know and love God in greater ways than every before."

Jesus may have chosen to use the illustration of worship. "When you worship the Lord, do not seek to attract attention to yourself, like the hypocrites, who love to waves their hands high in the air for all to see how religious they are. But you, when you worship the Lord, focus your attention upon worshiping Him in sincerity, from the heart."

There are many other things that Jesus could have used to illustrate his point. Every single one of your religious activities has some sort of dangerous element in it, which seeks to please other men. Jesus teaches us that when we do these things for men to see, we have done them inappropriately.

On the flip side, each of these activities have a correct way, which is found in verses 17-18....
Fasting the Right Way (verses 17-18)

Verses 17-18, "But you, when you fast, anoint your head, and wash your face so that you may not be seen fasting by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will repay you."

The particular danger with fasting, is that you want everybody to know the pain that you are experiencing, because you have deprived your body of food! So, rather than being gloomy, Jesus tells you to be the normal, happy you (like the yellow happy face). Rather than making your appearance unrecognizable, Jesus says, "anoint your head, and wash your face." Present yourself as you always would, so that no one can tell when you are fasting and when you are not fasting. Don't seek to be a man-pleaser, rather, be a God-pleaser.

This is all that Jesus is saying! You want to boil down your religious activity? You want to know what it is that delights God? Seek to please Him in every respect. Don't have your eyes upon men to please them. Don't be a hypocrite. Don't be an actor. Be genuine.

Not only should you seek to please God, but seek your reward from Him also.

I read this week of the man who invented the happy yellow smiley face (to which I have referred on several occasions earlier in this sermon). His name is Harvey Ball. In 1963 he was given the task of coming up with a suitable graphic to ease the tension after a merger of two insurance companies for what upper management called, a "friendship campaign." Harvey said, "I made a circle with a smile for a mouth on yellow paper, because it was sunshiny and bright." This simple symbol has become something of a cultural icon. The first order was for 100 buttons. Within weeks the buttons were being made by the thousands. Within months they were selling by the millions. At the height of its popularity in 1971 alone, over 50 million smiley face buttons were sold. Even the U. S. Postal Service issued a smiley face postage stamp In 1999.

What sort of reward did Harvey Ball receive for doing this? $45. That's all. He never applied for a trademark or copyright, but said he never had any regrets. Shortly after his death in April 2001, His son, Charles, said, "He was not a money-driven guy. ... He'd get letters from all over the world thanking him for Smiley. How do you put a price on that? He died with no apologies and no regrets." Harvey Ball is a great illustration for us of one who didn't seek to please himself by seeking great rewards. He didn't seek earthly rewards for his well-doing. We can learn from Harvey Ball. When you fast the right way, you will seek your rewards from God, not from men.

If you think about the purposes of fasting, which I mentioned earlier (1. Demonstrating humility before God in times of confession; and 2. Seeking help from God in times of crisis), you will notice that they are tremendously God centered! The focus our direction upon your tremendous need for God. It demonstrates the wickedness of our human hearts that we can distort such God-centered purposes into opportunities to please other people instead!

A Word of Warning
At this point in our message, there is the danger of some of you saying, "That's it! That's what I have been missing in my spiritual life! I need to fast and everything will be great!" Before you go out and start fasting, I would like to give you a few warnings. (Much of this comes from the very first page of John Piper's book on fasting, "A Hunger for God.")

The burden of my message this morning has simply been for us to acknowledge a rightful place in our lives for fasting. I don't believe that fasting ought to be a regular occurrence of our lives, as if we ought to fast twice a week, like the Pharisees did (Luke 18:12). Yet, on the other hand, I don't think that we should neglect it either. There are certain crisis points in your own personal lives or in the corporate life of our church, that should call us to abstain from food for the purpose of seeking God.

Let me give you some guidance with this matter. Because the last thing that I would like to see is for the people of Rock Valley Bible Church to go out from this place and all fast tomorrow, in an effort to be really spiritual. There are dangers in fasting.

1. The danger of self-discipline.

Fasting is a form of self-discipline, which is good, if used properly. Yet, it can be bad, also, if it is used improperly. With this sermon this morning on fasting, I don't want you to get the perception that food is evil and that you need to punish your body by denying it food. In 1 Timothy 4, Paul warned us of those who would look upon food as a bad thing, which ought to be avoided. He said that there are men who "who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods." But marriage is a good thing and food is a good thing. We are told to not to reject it, but to share in it gratefully (1 Tim. 4:3-5).

Yet, the tendency of people, who have begun to experiment with bodily discipline is that they begin to focus on how important it is for us to deny our bodies. This was the Colossian heresy. There were those in Colossae who said, "do not handle, do not taste, do not touch" (Col. 2:21), thinking that their righteousness was coming from their religious practices. This was the danger of the Pharisees. They thought that their righteousness came from their self-discipline.

I believe that 1 Cor. 8:8 gives us a good guideline here: "food will not commend us to God; we are neither the worse if we do not eat, nor the better if we do eat." Though Paul wasn't talking about fasting in this context, the principle still holds. "We are neither the worse if we fast, nor the better if we do not fast."

The danger of rigorous self-discipline is the tendency towards legalism, which creates standards of righteousness. But, there is another danger as well....

2. The danger of self-indulgence.

There is a danger of satisfying every bodily urge that you have. The Bible says that "everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, if it is received with gratitude" (1 Tim. 4:4). These are those who say, "Hey, everything created by God is good right? That means that I ought to enjoy every food that is in the buffet. Furthermore, I ought to enjoy them to the max! Bring on the cheeseburgers!"

But, there are some in this world "whose god is their appetite" (Phil. 3:19). Food has so controlled these people that there is no way they would ever consider fasting, because of the denying their belly what makes it feel good.

With these two dangers, I encourage you to strike a Biblical balance. Don't think that self-discipline is the utmost prize of Christianity. Don't think that self-indulgence is the Biblical warrant either. Rather, ride the path down the middle. Enjoy the things that God has given. Enjoy the food at the potluck this afternoon. Yet, when the situation demands it, turn the food away for a greater spiritual purpose. Paul said it well, "All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything" (1 Cor. 6:12).


This sermon was delivered to Rock Valley Bible Church on August 4, 2002 by Steve Brandon.
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