Thursday, 27 June 2019
Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world. James 1:27
James spoke of the useless religion of a person in the previous verse. It belongs to someone who “does not bridle his tongue.” Now, he uses the same word to describe religion which is “[p]ure and undefiled.” The Greek word translated as pure signifies that which is without admixture. There is no contamination in it. The word translated as undefiled signifies that which is unstained. There are no blotches upon it.
Understanding this, he goes on to show how one can identify such pure and undefiled religion “before God and the Father.” The Greek actually reads with the article before “God.” And so it says either “our God and Father,” or “the God and Father.” The article unites the two together. Separating them as is done in the NKJV translation is an unfortunate error which could lead to faulty theology.
With this correction, what James will next describe is that which is deemed as acceptable religion to the God and Father. Before stating it, he says that what is acceptable “is this.” The words do not mean that this is all that is acceptable, but that he is giving an example of what is acceptable, just as he gave what was unacceptable in the previous verse.
Understanding that, he says that it is first “to visit orphans and widows in their trouble.” James uses this example because it is something that God has always found acceptable, regardless of the dispensation of time in which the act occurs. And the reason for this is that this conduct is a reflection of His own character. Time and time again, Scripture calls out this particular aspect of God. This is seen, for example, in Deuteronomy 10:17, 18 –
“For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality nor takes a bribe. 18 He administers justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing.”
Because God is this way, our conduct before God in a like-fashion is considered pure and undefiled before Him. And, James continues by saying, “and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.” The word translated as “unspotted” signifies unstained, and thus fully acceptable. It speaks of that which is morally pure and unblemished.
Therefore, there is an active working out of one’s care of others which is united with a moral purity within the person. A person may visit orphans and widows in their trouble and yet not be acceptable to God because he is morally impure at the same time. Without the moral purity, the act is – like all other such things – exposed as a fraud before the God who searches both the hearts and minds of man.
Life application: The words of this verse are referring to a person who has called on Jesus; not everyone in general. Bill Gates, for example, has donated billions of dollars to the AIDS funds as well as other notable causes. However, one cannot buy their way into heaven and no deed is, in itself, good enough to please the Lord. This verse cannot be taken out of the Christian context and applied to non-believers.
Further, faithful Christians will be known for what they do, not for what they claim to have done. This goes all the way back to Acts 5 where a couple named Ananias and Sapphira claimed to have accomplished a righteous deed, but hid the fact that what they claimed didn’t actually match what had happened. As an example for later Christians, they were both “called home” for their wicked act. There is no reason to believe they weren’t part of the faithful believers, but their action was unacceptable.
When we care for orphans and widows, or when we do any other righteous deeds, we need to give the Lord the credit and not try to overstate what we accomplished on His behalf. In addition to this, we need to keep ourselves from being polluted by the world.
There are great disputes over what this means, and many congregations set rules based on their perception of it. This leads to legalism and a stuffy church. Instead, we need to maintain our Christian morals wherever we are and concerning whatever we are engaged in.
We have freedom in Christ to live properly in this world, just not freedom to sin while being here. When we do, we bring dishonor on the One who freed us from the power of sin. In essence, we are acting in a manner contradictory to the very message of freedom He has given to us.
Lord Jesus, it is hard to do good deeds in secret. You know our desires to be noticed, so give us a supernatural ability to overcome these feelings and to work to Your glory alone. Help our religion to be undefiled and free from the stain of sin. Give us the desire to help those who are truly in need while providing You with the credit. Amen.