Pure religion

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
(Jas 1:27 ESV)

Of all the ideas about what is good religion, James throws this into the mix. But rather than adding to an already large list of things to do, James seems to indicate that this IS the list. Can you imagine that? Just three things to do and you are good with God! In the context of this passage, James is clearly telling his audience (who thinks that they are all fine and dandy with God) that their faith is in need of a reevaluation.

This is not a reevaluation of the Faith. No, that has been, as Jude says, once and for all delivered to the saints (v. 3). It is a reevaluation of  their understanding of what it is and, therefore, their response (actions) to it.  The Faith that is the Gospel, tells us Jesus died, was buried, and rose again and it does not change. The action that people have toward that faith does change. James says ‘hearing only”…will not do. Not bridling the tongue, that will not do. Blaming God for our temptations, that will not do. Etc.

But James once again, in saying  ‘NO” has directed their mind toward what is “Yes” and given them the positive to focus on. Let me tell you what IS pure and undefiled religion (contrasted with vain religion in the preceding verse).

First, we take note of whose standard it is: God, the Father’s. So many, in deciding what they will do to serve God make decisions based on their own think so. They do not wait and listen for what God wants. David illustrates wanting to do something for God (build a house for God) and yet that was not what God wanted from David. God does have a view on what is acceptable and what is not. (Amos 5:21-24) James is going to tell us what it is.

Second, we take note of who we are to help. When we read “orphans and widows”, we understand those who are in need and unable to help themselves. There may be others we can put in this group but, generally speaking, those without parents to tend to them or family to support them are to be taken care of and helped. But, to rephrase the question: “who is my neighbor?”, let me ask “Which orphans and widows?” Times are different  these days. At least, I imagine that they are.

James would not have been writing to people familiar with world-wide hunger relief programs and such which we have today. Sally Struthers didn’t do PSA spots on TV  about the need in Africa. Sending money to these organizations (the good ones) is great. However, there is more included in the word “visit’ than just money. It would have been, to those in James’ audience, more likely that he was referring to those orphans and widows in the church first, and then, those in the community where they lived.

When you KNOW a person in need and can learn of their need and help supply that first and then, perhaps, some of their want, that is truly a visit.

I think that most everything that you do for others will either be a spending of time, money (what we possess) , or both. I don’t know what we can do that affects lives that does not involve one of those two things. I would suggest that we purpose to help those in need. We may set aside money but setting aside time to rake leaves, shovel snow, or repair a leaky faucet can be a ‘visit’ too. Money? small amount for a shovel, rake or faucet washers. Time? depends on how fast you work. Benefit: priceless.

Helping the needy does not extend to those who can help themselves. While I know that many will draw that line of ‘who can help themselves’ at different locations, if a person can work, he should work. That is what God has assigned to us in this life. Work is a gift of God.  A good book to read on this would be Boundaries by Henry Cloud.

hands stainedThird, we take note of our own lives in purity. James also says to be unstained from the world. This could refer to philosophies in the world or pleasures of the world. Being the friend of the world is to be an enemy of God. In this one phrase, he upholds the ideal that Christians who have died to Christ no longer can live in sin. (cf Rom 6) Not that we cannot sin but that we do not live in it. If the blood of Jesus washes us from our sins as we walk in the light, then by walking in the light there will be no stain.

James is going to tell his audience more about how a faith in Jesus will be reflected in life actions. Just stay tuned.


About Steven Sarff

If I were to offer any one piece of advice to one wishing to serve God, it would be to put Hebrews 11:6 and Acts 17:11 into action and let God guide you to grow in the grace and knowledge of His Son Jesus Christ.

Posted on December 5, 2011, in Christianity, Faith, James and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Thanks for your post. I love this verse. Great clarity on the roll of serving the poor. Thanks.


    latest post: Bully God

  2. Thank you Brian. I appreciate you stopping by.

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