Jonathan's Perspective  

Feb 27

Stewardship of our Bodies

"When you fast..." (Matt 6:16) 

Jesus was teaching us something important about the stewardship of our bodies when he spoke about fasting. Jesus doesn't say 'if you fast', or 'have you considered?', or 'it might be a good idea.' Jesus says, 'When you fast...'(Mt 6:16)  How have we gotten fasting so wrong?  It seems like fasting swings back and forth through time and in our Christian communities. As John Wesley wrote, 'Some have exalted religious fasting beyond all Scripture and reason; others have utterly disregarded it.' The scriptures, however, teach fasting as appropriate stewardship of our lives. Let's take a brief look at two extremes, then at Jesus' teaching for us. 

First, there are those who fast too much. This is generally not our problem in modern Methodism. However, in the early church and medieval times, there was a call to asceticism - denying all earthly desires. This idea of mortification of the flesh took many forms from self-flagellation, to laying in freezing cold streams, to prolonged fasts. It stems from the idea that the body is bad and the spirit is good; thus, we need to deny the body to seek the spiritual. While there is a kernel of truth in this, the Bible teaches that our bodies are as important as our spirits because they are knit together to make us human beings. Fasting should not be about diminishing the body in favor of the spirit. In fact, the early church taught that too much fasting produced the sin of pride - that they were better than others, and that it gave them leverage on God to grant their requests. 

Second, there are those who do not fast at all. During the Reformation, many Christian groups reacted against the Roman Catholic Church teachings on many subjects. In many ways they threw out the baby with the bathwater. That is what happened with fasting. Zwingli, a reformer in Switzerland, told his followers to not fast. In fact, he wanted to show how un-Catholic he was by having his followers feast on sausages the first day of Lent! Defining ourselves by who we are not is never a good way to find the truth in life. 

Jesus taught stewardship. This teaching on fasting, Matt 6:16-18, is part of a longer discourse in the Sermon on the Mount.  Jesus teaches us to pursue God only and to be careful of doing anything for show. He teaches to pray in our houses where others don't see, to give without others knowing, and to fast without making it obvious. All these acts - praying, giving, fasting - are part of our most intimate relationship with God in which God speaks to us, convicts us, guides us, and transforms us. Fasting, like praying and giving, is meant to properly order our desires so we will then act according to God's will. God has given us the beautiful gift of life which is only fully realized when we humble both our bodies and spirits before him, and allow him to lead us in the way that leads to life. 

'Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.'(Paul, I Cor 6:19-20) 

'Laying hold of life that is truly life' (I Tim 6:19)


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