True Christian Fasting

Saturday after Ash Wednesday

Matthew 6:16-18

“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites who change their face to be seen by the people with their fasting. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face so that you are not seen by the people with your fasting but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father, who sees what is secret will reward you publicly.”

As he rebuked their almsgiving and praying, so he also rebukes their fasting. For these are really the three good works that comprehend all others in them: The first, almsgiving, comprehends all kinds of works toward the neighbor. The second, prayer, is about taking on all kinds of needs–both common needs and our own–and presenting them to God. The third, fasting, is about disciplining the body…Christ does not want to reject fasting by itself by these words, or allow it to be despised, just as he does not reject almsgiving and prayer. He rather confirms almsgiving and prayer and teaches to use them properly. So he also wants to reform fasting, so that it would be done correctly and with the correct attitude, as a good work should be done…There are two kinds of fasting that are good and praiseworthy. One may be called a secular or civil fasting, ordained by the authorities, just like any other ordinance and command of the authorities, not required as a good work and service to God. For I would like to see, and am prepared to advise and help toward it, that the emperor or the princes set aside one or two days per week by law where meat would not be eaten or sold…I also would like to see that they command people to abstain from food or drink at night, once a week or what seems good to them…
But this should be a secular observance, subject to the authorities. Beyond this fasting, there would be a spiritual common fasting we Christians should observe. And it would be good if we retained a common fast for some days before Easter, Pentecost, and Christmas…But we should not do this in order to turn this into a service to God in order to merit something thereby or to reconcile God, but as an outward Christian discipline and practice for the young and the simple people so that they might learn to observe and distinguish the seasons throughout the year…For it must be that several seasons are distinguished and highlighted as days of fasting and feasting for the common people for the sake of preaching and remembering the chief events and works of Christ…But this, too, is not yet the true Christian fasting Christ means which is an individual discipline. This is how it is done: If you really want to fast in a Christian manner, it is not enough that you skip your supper. This is only the least part of it. Instead, true Christian fasting consists in keeping
your body in discipline and moderation. This does not only apply to your eating, drinking, and sleeping, but also to
leisure, all kinds of entertainment, and everything what may benefit the body by which the body is cared for and maintained. Now, fasting means to withdraw all this from the body only in order to bridle and humble the flesh, as Scripture imposes the observance of fasting and calls it afflicting the body, Leviticus 16:29, lest the body gets used to enjoyment, good times, and pleasure…Each Christian must here look to himself: Since we are not all the same, we cannot establish detailed rules, but each must act as he feels that his flesh needs to be disciplined. For true fasting is only directed against the lust and desires of the flesh, not against nature…It must always be done whenever it is needed to bridle the body and accustom it to endure misfortune so that the body would be able to bear misfortune when it has to do so…But this is the scope of the common rule for all Christians which everyone is commanded to observe: Live a life of moderation, sobriety, and discipline, not just for one day or year, but daily and at all times. Scripture calls this the sober life, 1 Thessalonians 5:6, 8.

St. Louis ed., 7:518-527.

This entry was posted in Daily Devotions From the Writings of Martin Luther. Bookmark the permalink.