When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
In Jesus’ day, fasting was a popular, common and much valued spiritual discipline, the Pharisees for instance fasted twice per week, usually on Mondays and Thursdays. It was also a part of certain festivals, such as on the Day of Atonement, and people would often fast individually as a sign of their religious devotion; Jesus would seem to have no problem with this practice. With this in mind, let’s also remember that this is now His third example of the principle He put forth in 6:1…
The difficulty that arose here is that not only was fasting used as a spiritual practice, it was also used to impress others with one’s spirituality. In that vein, I can tell you that I know of two kinds of people who regularly fast: The ones who do it to impress others, and the ones who do it the way Jesus taught. The thing is, I can give names of people in the first group, but I have no idea who belongs to the second… and that is precisely how Jesus wanted it.
I’ve been asked many times if we, as Christians should fast, and all I can really say to that is that if the Lord leads you to fast, then you had best do so, but make sure I never hear of it. I have also been asked to attend sessions where a group gets together for “fasting and prayer” to pray for such and such. I attended one of these once, I left early, and I’ve never done it again. You are free to draw your own conclusions…
So what am I really saying about fasting?
If the Lord leads you to fasting, then obey His leading and fast. If the Lord leads a group to fasting and prayer and you are one of those being led in that direction, then do it. If not, then don’t and don’t concern yourself about what the others think of you, because f you do, then you are the hypocrite.