Summary: In the beginning of James 1:27, James highlights that part of pure religion in the eyes of God is looking after orphans and widows in their distress. Let's take a look at why this would be an indicator of being truly religious.
ARE YOU RELIGIOUS? (part two)
Recap: James 1:26, "If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless." We looked at chapter three and realized why James highlighted the tongue-because it's the hardest to tame. Basically if we can tame the tongue, the rest of us will be in check.
I deceive myself because James said fresh water and salt water cannot come from the same spring; nor does a grapevine produce figs. Therefore, I shouldn't think that I have a pure heart when what's coming out of my mouth is impure. I can't think that I'm truly religious when I'm not guarded in my speech. I don't show myself to be truly religious when I speak one way inside of church but the opposite way outside of it.
This behavior renders my religion as worthless because I'm being hypocritical; I'm discounting the good I say when I turn and speak vulgarities, lies and gossip. I'm showing others that my religion is worthless to me.
And if I'm focused on being quick to listen and slow to speak, along with getting rid of the old speech and replacing with spiritual speech I'll be able to keep a tight rein on my tongue.
James 1:27a, "Religion that God our Father accept as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress."
1) To look after orphans and widows.
James singles out two groups of people who society would deem unworthy. Not worth the time; not worth the effort. Why? Because if I help them they probably won't be able to repay me. So if I go out of my way to minister to the poor, the needy, the homeless, the widow, the orphan, I am helping someone who cannot pay me back. I must be willing to help this person knowing I will not get repaid. If I can do that then I know my motive is to please God and not myself. Thus I entertain true religion in the eyes of God.
In the beginning of the sermon last week I mentioned how James broke through the idea of what something is and explained what it really is. He does it in chapter one regarding religion and he does it in chapter two regarding the subject of faith. In speaking of faith James provides a scenario showing that mere words aren't enough; it needs to be followed up with action if it's authentic.
James 2:14-17, "What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead."
As faith without action is dead, likewise religion without action is dead. In 1:27 James is showing that merely saying the right things is not enough to render someone truly religious; there needs to be action. James mentions taking care of orphans and widows. In chapter two he highlights taking care of a fellow believer who is without the basic necessities of clothes and food. He said if we offer kind words and send him on his way how have we really helped? Not that prayer doesn't help but what the person needs in the moment is provision that would satisfy his material needs.
Likewise, when it comes to being religious, we can offer up prayers for the needy but if that's all we're doing we're not being truly religious. James 1:27 says we are to look after orphans and widows. That involves hands-on service. We're not just praying for them, we're calling them, visiting them, finding out how we can help. It involves getting involved and being there for them in whatever way is needed.
It isn't so hard to come to church, pray and read our bible. What's harder to do? Sacrificing our time, effort and resources to help those who need it most. To help those who can't afford to pay us back is to perform pure religion because it's done in the purest of motives-to honor God. That's why James says helping orphans and widows is indicative of being truly religious. I can help people but it can be with impure motives-either I'm helping someone who I'm counting on to help me in return.
We're glad to help people who we expect to be there to scratch our back when we need it but how eager are we to help when we know there's little chance of that happening? James highlights orphans and widows because helping these types of people shows that I don't have a personal agenda or ulterior motives. And when my motives are pure, my reward is sweet.