An International Center for Fellowship and Learning

The Sermon on the Mount Pt. 2 – Lesson 5: Fasting

“But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto they Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.” —Matthew 6:17-18

Scripture Reading: Isaiah 58:1-12; Matthew 6:16-18


Much of the discussion in the Sermon on the Mount is devoted to our heart’s motivation. We see this in giving, prayer, adultery, and so on. It’s no wonder that Christ’s discussion of fasting deals with motivation.

It was common for the Pharisees to fast twice a week, on Monday and Thursday, as a public display of their religiosity. They would appear in the Temple with mourning garb on and faces full of sorrow. More than anything else, it was a way of calling attention to themselves, to show how pious and superior they were to the “average” Jew. For their effort and earthly sacrifice, they received an earthly reward—which they traded for the heavenly reward of eternal life. Our fasting must not be motivated by the same desires.

Fasting, as detailed in Isaiah 58, is for the sole purpose of breaking the bonds which limit the work of God in our life. Whether it’s bondage to an improper attitude or motivation, a difficulty with our words, a habit that we can’t seem to break, fasting provides breakthroughs that will never come any other way.

Even more, our fasting can be directed at others’ bondage. Not only can we deal with our own life through fasting and increased prayer, we can be co-laborers together with God to help someone else break the bonds in their life.

As a foundational means for breaking the chains of sin, it’s easy to see why the proper motivation is absolutely necessary. How could someone deal with their pride through fasting if they’re more concerned with man’s reward than God’s?

Lesson Questions:

  1. Why is it important that our fasting be unto the Father, and not unto men? What reward will we have if we seek the approval of man instead of the approval of God? Matthew 6:16, 24; Luke 14:26; Proverbs 29:25; 1 Samuel 16:7. If we’re fasting unto men, are we guilty of hypocrisy?
  2. Discuss the following statement: “Fasting that requires spectators is mere acting.”
  3. Why is it important to realize that fasting’s primary goal is spiritual freedom? Isaiah 58:6-7; Matthew 17:14-21; 2 Chronicles 7:14.
  4. Can the spiritual freedom found in fasting bring a greater understanding of God’s will? Exodus 34:28; Acts 9:9; 10:30-32; 13:1-3.
  5. In what practical ways can we “anoint our head” and “wash our face” so that we don’t appear to others with a sad countenance?
    Note: Regarding anointing and washing, Adam Clarke records: “These were forbidden in the Jewish canon on days of fasting and humiliation; and hypocrites availed themselves of this ordinance, that they might appear to fast.” —Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible

Life Application:

This week, focus on an area of your life in which you’ve been more concerned about the approval of others than the approval of God. Set aside a specific period of time to fast and pray during your usual mealtimes. As you fast, study relevant Scripture passages which speak to the problem you’re focusing on. Write down your impressions and changed perspective throughout the fast.

Also, rather than a fast from food, try fasting from something else, such as T.V./media, a certain hobby, unnecessary conversation, etc.