Love and Lent…?

A few explanations and disclaimers before I get into today’s post: 1) Ash Wednesday is not something I have ever celebrated, but 2) I know Ash Wednesday begins the season of Lent for many and one of the ways in which people observe Lent is to give up something for 40 days – that is, until Easter Sunday. 3) Christians are not obligated to fast like this, but the idea of fasting from something for a certain amount of time as a spiritual discipline has real and positive benefits. So, that aside …

            A couple of weeks ago I realized that Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day were going to fall on the same day and the great potential for irony struck me: the day when many people choose to give up something is the same day that debauchery and all that entails is most celebrated.

            I don’t celebrate Lent, but like I said above, I do recognize that giving up something for a certain amount of time—something relatively neutral like watching TV—is a good spiritual discipline to engage in. Many Christians throughout the world make fasting from meals a regular part of their weekly or monthly routine, as friends of mine from West Africa all the way to Asia will tell you. But what does the idea of fasting have to do with love? Is it just a funny coincidence that Lent (a time of fasting) happens to fall on Valentine’s Day (a day for celebrating love, in various forms)? Well, these two ideas of fasting and love are actually connected in Scripture.

            In his letter to the Philippians, Paul is trying to get two ladies (and possibly factions which had formed in support of each) within the church to get past their differences and start getting along again. In Phil 4:2 Paul calls them out publicly, “I urge Euodia and Syntyche to be of the same mind in Christ.” This is near the end of the letter, so just in case they or anyone else has missed Paul’s point throughout the rest of the letter, these two need to get it together. Earlier in the letter takes a more subtle approach, and doing so gives the Bible one of its most beautiful passages about Jesus. In Phil 2:1-4 Paul tells the church “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind” (2:1-2) Then in 2:5-11 (ESV) he says this,

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

In chapter 2, Paul is saying that the brothers and sisters in Philippi need to love one another and be united with each other. They should look to Jesus’ example, who did not grasp hold of His place with God but was willing to empty Himself of that.

            I remember a time in high school Wellness class when we had a guest speaker come to talk to us about relationships and families. She was making decent points, but during the Q&A session I spoke up and said that people would be benefitted if they better understood that relationships are strongest when they are built on loving, mutual sacrifice. She said “Well, I don’t really like the language of ‘sacrifice’ because it implies that this will be painful.” I didn’t have a quick response then, but I would have to disagree with her: it doesn’t IMPLY that love and relationships can be painful – IT SHOUTS IT OUT LOUD that love and relationships can be painful, that sometimes we must give up something for love’s sake.

            So, in one sense, I guess it is not too far-fetched that love and sacrifice both happen to be on people’s minds today. But they should be on the Christian’s mind every day. Sure, this is easier said than done, but as I’ve said for years now:

God gives us the strength to do the very thing He calls us to do.


– Kevin

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