Two days ago, in our Lesson about Paul here on the Website, we learned that the Apostle suffered from time to time “hunger.” Not just between means, of course. But elongated hunger. Yet, when so deprived of food, he continued to serve God.
Now we are being told (by Paul himself at that) that “fastings” were a frequent experience as well! Yes, the word is plural in our King James New Testaments.
What’s the difference?
Maybe this. “Hunger” is the state of being “without food” when such a condition is out of one’s control. No choice involved! Nothing available to eat, for example.
Whereas the numerous “fastings” likely imply voluntarily going without nourishment, most probably for a religious reason.
So Paul was … “in fastings often …” 2nd Corinthians 11:27
The Greek noun used here is spelled “nesteia.” It literally means “not” (indicate by the initial letters “ne,” a prefix) “to eat” (spelled “esthio” in Greek).
One Lexicon defines the verb, “nesteuo,” like this … “to abstain as a religious exercise from food and drink: either entirely, if the fast lasted but a single day, or from customary and choice nourishment, if it continued several days.”
No food at all.
Or no solid food, if prolonged.
Maybe just water or juice.
Or, as with Daniel in chapter 1 of the great Prophecy he left us … not eating certain “luxurious, delicate” foods, just something plain, again like beans and water. (Daniel 1:12 … “Prove thy servants, I beseech thee, ten days; and let them give us pulse to eat, and water to drink.” The word “pulse” here means “things sown,” vegetables.)
So Paul too, was a man of many “fasting.”
Our text today, 2nd Corinthians 11:17, words it this way: “In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, IN FASTINGS OFTEN, often, in cold and nakedness.”
“Often,” in Greek “pollakis,” is essentially “many.”
I do not want to imply that “nesteia” is never used for “forced hunger” (or “involuntary” hunger). But that normally it is not so used. And paired with “hunger” (in Greek “limos,” most often meaning “famine”) as it is in our text … the likelihood of it being anything but voluntary decreases, I believe.
But Paul here was “fasting” so often (apparently being that sincerely concerned about any number of spiritual issues) that such seasons of “no eating” had become a significant sacrifice on his behalf. Especially after the “hunger and thirst” episodes of the last two days, as described here on our Bible Study Site.
Why fast, in the Christian sense?
First … because Jesus taught it as a spiritual exercise, discipline. He did not say “if” ye fast, but “when” ye fast! Matthew 16:6 … “Moreover WHEN ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.”
Second … because fasting seems to humble our hearts and better prepare us for prayer. In Psalm 69:10 David used these words: “I chastened my soul with fasting.” Wow! Humility, not letting one’s body “rule” his whole life! Sounds like Paul’s “I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection.” 1st Corinthians 9:27, part of the verse.
Third … we spend a lot of time eating. Probably more than we realize! Not having so many meals might give us more opportunities in the day, the week, time to be used in spiritual ways. Reading, studying Scripture, prayer or fellowship with the Lord. (Granted, the last of my three “reasons” is probably the least supportable Biblically.)
Indeed … Paul fasted.
Yet never complained in doing so.
Oh, one more passage of advice about fasting, from our Lord again. “But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; that thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.” Matthew 6:17-18
— Dr. Mike Bagwell