(Mt. 6:16-18) Should believers fast?

CLAIM: Jesus mentions fasting in this passage (Mt. 6:16-18). Does this mean that believers should fast today?

RESPONSE: Fasting is never commanded in the NT, although it is described two times in the book of Acts (Acts 13:2-3; 14:23). In this passage, Jesus doesn’t command fasting; instead, he explains how people already are fasting. In fact, elsewhere, Jesus’ disciples were criticized for not fasting (Mt. 9:15). The phrase “and fasting” in Mark 9:29 and Matthew 17:21 is not found in the better manuscripts.

Regarding the OT usages of fasting, we are never told why the believers fasted. There are two possible interpretations for the example of fasting that are acceptable:

1. It is possible that fasting may be effective for promoting concentration in prayer. When we fast, we are more mentally alert to what we’re praying for. It is a way of taking our focus off of everything—even food—so that we can totally focus on God.

2. It is also possible that fasting is simply the result of being too busy praying to eat (Acts 13:3). If we are praying for long amounts of time, we won’t have the time to prepare food.

We reject the notion that fasting makes prayer more effective by impressing on God the urgency of our request. This ascetic perspective on fasting is closer to the priests of Baal in 1 Kings 18, rather than the biblical view. When the Bible refers to “wrestling,” “striving,” or “laboring” in prayer, this should be understood as striving with the enemy or with the flesh, not with God (Rom. 15:30; Col. 4:12).