Is Our Focus on Paul Related to Our Lack of Focus on Fasting?

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I made mention a while back that the word disciple is used nearly 300 times in the New Testament, all in the Gospels in Acts. The word is never used again after Acts. Meanwhile, the word “church” is used only a couple of times in the Gospels while it is used repeatedly in the epistles.

Here are the numbers:

Here is where the word “disciple” occurs in the New Testament (NIV)

Matthew – 78
Mark – 59
Luke – 50
John – 81
Acts – 26

Here is where the word “church” occurs in the New Testament (NIV)

Matthew – 2
Acts – 19
Romans – 5
1 Cor – 22
2 Cor – 9
Gal – 3
Eph – 9
Phil – 2
Col – 3
1 Thess – 2
2 Thess – 2
1 Tim – 4
Philemon – 1
Hebrews – 1
James – 1
3 John – 3
Revelation – 12

If we focus on Paul over the gospels and Acts we will be more focused on the church than we will about being a disciple. I wonder if the same thing is true when it comes to fasting.

The word typically translated fasting is used 20 times in the New Testament in 15 verses:

Matthew 4:2 – Jesus fasts 40 days and nights in the wilderness
Matthew 6:16-18 – Jesus instructs on how to fast.
Matthew 9:14-15/Mark 2:18-20/Luke 5:33-35 – Jesus asked why his disciples don’t fast.
Luke 18:12 – The Pharisee in the parable, boasting of his righteousness.
Acts 13:2-3 – The disciples were fasting and praying when the Holy Spirit sets apart Barnabas and Saul/Paul for mission work.

We don’t get the word after Acts 13. I wonder if our emphasis on Paul has resulted in our missing how fasting is part of the a disciple’s life? If Paul had addressed fasting in the same verbiage Jesus used “When you fast” or “in those days they will fast” would we have a better track record on fasting than is typical today?

My theory is that the American Restoration Movement that we come out of in Churches of Christ came about (and thrived) at a heavily Christian time. In some circles, the discussion wasn’t about reaching non-believers (people were already convinced about Jesus) as much as it was what makes one distinctive from other churches/believers (they had to be convinced on how to do church right, correct doctrine of the church, etc). If you want to engage those discussions you go to Paul rather than to Jesus. You go post-Pentecost rather than pre-Pentecost. Again, discipleship (in my opinion) was lost through the audience at hand and the topics our conversations focused on. In our emphasis on church we missed some important teaching on what it means to live as a disciple of Jesus.

The same may be true about fasting.

Jesus fasted. He is our example (as his disciples) so should we.

Jesus’ disciples fasted (after he left) and they serve as an example. So should we.

The early church fasted (Acts 13) and they serve as an example for us. So should we.

Fasting is an essential component of the life of a disciple/follower of Jesus. Some note we don’t do it because it isn’t directly commanded. But when did that stop us from doing other things that aren’t explicitly commanded?

What is more, if you read the above passages it is very clear that Jesus wants us to fast – “When you fast” (it is expected). In another instance (Matthew 9:14-15/Mark 2:18-20/Luke 5:33-35) Jesus says his disciples will fast after he departs. Jesus said, “In those days they will fast.”

One might conclude Jesus is only talking about when he is arrested or when he ascended. But as you read Acts you notice that “those days” gets us all the way to Acts 13!

The New Testament is clearer on God’s expectations that disciples fast than I ever understood. Obviously, there are some precautions that come along with this like if you have health issues or concerns, you should consult your doctor. But that doesn’t negate the fact that the first Christians fasted. It was part of their Jewish roots. It was part of Jesus’ teaching. It was how disciples lived. Remember the great commission where we are told making disciples entails both baptism and teaching people to obey all Jesus taught.

Fasting will be crucial to the future of the church. It will put us in a better position to determine the will of God. It will spiritually form and shape us.

Don’t start swinging for the fences. Start small and go from there. Watch and see how God shows up!

I have been a Christian since 1991 and a minister since 2002 and I have just recently, for the first time, gotten into a regular rhythm of fasting and it has truly blessed me life and ministry. Let’s do what we can to normalize fasting for disciples of Jesus. Before we can do that, it seems, the first step would be to normalize discipleship because a disciple will do what they see their teacher doing (see Matthew 4:2), not for 40 days but on some level.

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