Jesus is clear in that He says, “whenever you fast …” It seems like Jesus expected we would.
Scripture does not command the disciples to fast. God does not require or demand it of the followers of Jesus. At the same time, the Bible presents fasting as something that is good, profitable, and beneficial.
The book of Acts records believers fasting before they made important decisions. Fasting and prayer are often linked together. Too often, the focus of fasting is on the lack of food. Instead, the purpose of fasting should be to take your eyes off the things of this world to focus completely on God.
Fasting is a way to demonstrate to God, and to ourselves, that we are serious about our relationship with Him. Fasting helps us gain a new perspective and a renewed reliance upon God.
So whether for penitence or for prayer, for self-discipline or for solidary love, there are good biblical reasons for fasting.
Whatever our reasons, Jesus took it for granted that fasting would have a place in our life. His concern was that, as with our giving and praying so with our fasting, we should not, like the hypocrites, draw attention to ourselves. Their practice was to look dismal and disfigure their faces.
The word translated ‘disfigure’ (aphanizo) means literally to ‘make to disappear’ and so to ‘render invisible or unrecognizable’. They may have neglected personal hygiene, or covered their heads with sackcloth, or perhaps smeared their faces with ashes in order to look pale, wan, melancholy and so outstandingly holy. All so that their fasting might be seen and known by everybody. The admiration of the onlookers would be all the reward they got. ‘But as for you, my disciples,’ Jesus went on, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that is, ‘brush your hair and wash your face’.
- Matthew 6:16–18 (NASB) — “Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting. 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 your fasting will not be noticed by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.”
- Matthew 9:14–15 —Then the disciples of John came to Him, asking, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but Your disciples do not fast?” And Jesus said to them, “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.