Matthew 6:17-18 – 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.
Fasting is a practice found in many religions. When I was in Pakistan some years ago, I experienced Muslims fasting during Ramadan, one of the most important religious times among Muslims. Fasting would take place from sunrise to sundown. Christians could not eat in front of Muslims during their fasting time. At night, those practicing fasting during the day would gorge themselves at night. This went on for a whole month.
The fasting that Jesus was speaking about was not for the purpose of trying to impress God or man, but to humble oneself before God. In the discipline of fasting, one is helped to focus on areas that can be easily neglected. For example, sexual appetites are being brought under control. Eating and sexual activity are both connected to needs of the flesh. They are not sinful practices in the context of God’s Laws, but are appetites of the flesh. Paul connects prayer and abstinence when he says to the married, “Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again lest Satan tempt you because of your lack of self-control” (1 Corinthians 7:5).
Fasting is good, sexual relations within marriage are good, and both are related to self-discipline. The sexual relationship is the most intimate relationship and is confined to the marriage covenant. Fasting is part of an intimate relationship with God our Father. It is never to be flaunted before men, but done secretly before God. Fasting is an act of humility and carries the purpose of humbling oneself before God. The biblical exhortation is to discipline the flesh and learn self-control.
The practice of fasting is a discipline of kingdom-minded people. Jesus said, “When you fast,” not if you fast. Act as if you’re not fasting by preparing yourself to eat so men do not know that you are fasting. Your Father in heaven will notice and He promises His reward for your humility before Him.
If people do notice your fast, it is neither a sin nor a cancellation of God’s promise of reward. The issue belongs to the heart. In other words, your motivation for fasting is the crucial factor. Ask the Holy Spirit to strengthen you in a fasting lifestyle. All we do before God should be the work of the Spirit in us, and not our own religious drive.