One year, I tried giving up soda for Lent. I wasn’t a fan of how much of it I was drinking (which is still the case), and I thought that using Lent as an excuse to cut back on it would be a good idea. It started out OK, but everything went downhill when I said that I would make Sundays into “cheat days.” After that, there were more and more “cheat days” until I just altogether gave up on “giving up.”
You’ve probably heard of this common practice, “giving something up for Lent.” It’s essentially a version of fasting, which is the ancient practice of forgoing a usual activity, usually in the form of food or drink, for a set amount of time. As long as fasting has been around, there have been two things true of it at the same time:
- Fasting can be beneficial to focus more on worshiping God.
- Fasting can also not do that.
A friend of mine in high school explained why she gave up chocolate for Lent: “Every time I choose not to have chocolate, it reminds me of what God did for me this season.” I really loved that explanation, which is what inspired me to try my own fast. But, apparently, she had a lot more resolve than I did; my quickly broken fast really only served to remind me that I’m not always great at follow-through. Fasting isn’t for everyone—and that’s OK.
Lent is a time of repentance and contrition for sin. As we journey toward the cross of Christ, we are reminded of why he needed to come—our sin—and reminded of what he did to save us—live a perfect life, die an innocent death, and rise from the dead for us. Nothing we do (or do not do) can add to or subtract from Jesus’ perfect work for us and his righteousness given to us. We can, however, try to aid our focus on Christ and his work through giving something up…or, as I want to present today, taking something on.
So instead of giving something up for Lent this year, I want to propose something else. If giving something up hasn’t worked for you in the past, as it hasn’t for me, let’s try Taking Something On for Lent. Call it a “challenge,” call it a “resolution,” or think of it as a type of “reverse-fast”; I want to use the start of this Lenten season to talk about a concept that has been on my mind for the past few months: caring for the weak in faith.
The Apostle Paul’s primary call was to preach to the Gentiles the good news of Jesus Christ. At the same time, a large part of that Gentile-focused ministry was also the preaching to Jews scattered in Gentile lands. That is a large mission field, when you consider that the combination of Jews and Not Jews creates a subset of humanity that includes every single person on earth. Paul had the gargantuan task of going all over the Western world and preaching the gospel to people of wildly different ethnic backgrounds, religious backgrounds, cultural backgrounds, and personal backgrounds.
This would make Paul’s congregations diverse not only in terms of their human makeup, but also in terms of their strength of faith. Some of Paul’s would be converted by the Holy Spirit very quickly, while others would take a while. Some of those people would cling strongly to the Word of Truth, while others would hold on a bit more loosely, looking over their shoulder at the gods and gospels left behind. Some of those people would forsake family and friends to risk their lives for Jesus, while others would feel peer pressure of their previous lives, even as they were beginning to believe in their Savior. In other words, there were strong Christians and there were weak Christians. And on top of that, some Christians appeared weak but were actually strong, while other Christians appeared strong but were actually weak. And on top of that, what makes someone “strong” or “weak” can change from day to day, from hour to hour. The weak are not always the weak, and the strong are not always the strong.
All of that is true of Christianity today. It’s true of us.
How do we handle the challenge of proclaiming the gospel and receiving the gospel as such a disparate group of people? Well, how did Paul handle it? He writes about it in 1 Corinthians 9:
19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.
Especially in America, we like to make a big deal about our personal freedoms and our individual rights. In Western thought, two of the most important concepts are individuality and equality. We have our rights, and we’ll be darned if anyone tries to take them away, right?
What we see here from Paul is something else, though. Paul recognizes his freedoms and his rights, namely the ones that come from the gospel—but he also recognizes that there are times to give up those freedoms and rights to care for the weaker brothers and sisters among him.
Paul could have slammed a McRib in front of his Jewish congregations, but he chose to live kosher until the Jewish Christians were ready to accept that God had made all foods clean. Paul could have eaten a ribeye steak cut from a cow that had been sacrificed to Athena in his Greek congregations, but he chose to avoid meat from the marketplaces until the Greek Christians were ready to see that those idolatrous sacrifices were as useless as the idols themselves. For the weak, Paul became weak. Why? Because by removing barriers of his own behavior, he would be able to more clearly point people to their Savior.
Back to Lent.
This Lenten season, I’m encouraging you to think like Paul. As we repent of our sins and prepare for our somber observance of the Passion, let’s think about how we can care for the weak in faith. Let’s remember that, at many points in our lives, we are the weak in faith. Let’s do a “reverse fast” and take on the task of becoming all things to all people, so that by all possible means we might save some.
The hope here is that if we focus on how we can more clearly point to Jesus for others, we might also renew our own focus on more clearly seeing him ourselves. Lent is a worshipful season, and one of the most effective ways to worship is to share the gospel—not just with words, but with actions (and inactions).
If you’d like to give something up this season, go for it. But this year, perhaps try something new: take on a personal emphasis of caring for your weaker brothers and sisters in the faith. Someday, perhaps now, you may need to be the one taken care of. In both cases, the love of Jesus will shine brightly as his Church lives out its calling, journeying together to his Cross to see salvation won by Jesus.
Featured image artwork purchased from Corissa Nelson Art at https://www.corissanelsonart.com/