Have you had a verse jump out at you while studying the Bible? This verse in James, is that kind of verse. It is packed with the kind of stuff that leads to an examination of the heart.
As you read James 1:27, note how the word, ‘religion’ is defined.
James 1:27 “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.” ESV
As we examine James 1:27 we will:
• Consider the word Religion
• Flesh out what it means to live a religion that is pure and undefiled
• Focus on Widows and Orphans
• Ask what it means to guard against corruption
What comes to mind when you hear the word Religion? To be honest, I do not like this word. Why? Because of negative connotations connected to it.
The word Religion has become an umbrella for all kinds of beliefs. Religion, in today’s world, represents a system of do’s and don’ts.
In James 1:27 the word religion has descriptors attached. This religion is not marked by tradition, ceremonies, rules etc. It is a religion that is evidenced by a changed heart. It is pure and undefiled.
PURE AND UNDEFILED
Let’s take a moment to shine God’s spotlight on the hidden places within our hearts.
Allow me to pose three questions to uncover what lies within:
1. Do I desire to help others because my heart holds compassion?
2. Is my act of service blemished by impure motives? Do I serve the needy to ease my conscience? Is my underlying motive pride? Deep down inside (perhaps on a subconscious level) you do it to put a ‘feather in your cap,’ so you can tell others of the ‘good deeds’ you performed.
3. Do I reach out as a duty or to avoid guilt? Perhaps following the letter of the law instead of the Spirit of the Law?
4. Do I help others to gain favor with God, or to tick a checklist of good deeds?
The questions above weigh the motives and intent of the heart and reveal the type of religion we practice.
Now let’s get down and dirty and practical.
WIDOWS AND ORPHANS
I invite you into a couple of scenarios. The first takes place at Church.
Scenario #1 A faithful widower sits down in a pew. Her heart is heavy, she doesn’t know how she will feed her children this week. She tries to push her worries aside and prays for refreshment through the word of God. You and your family are sitting in front of the widow. As you stand to worship you note a very bad smell coming from behind you. It is the smell of uncleanness and perspiration.
What is going on in your head? The first word that comes to mind for most of us is repugnant. Who likes the smell of filth?
When it is time to shake hands with the people around you, do you avoid reaching out to shake the unkempt woman’s hand? Maybe you do reach out but avoid eye contact.
Think about it.
She was created by the same God who created you. Jesus loves this lady as much as he loves you. Is your attitude of self-protection and superiority keeping you from seeing her as God sees her? If you judge this widow based on her appearance and smell, you will never see her needs.
Let’s go deeper. Be honest with yourself and remember God already knows your heart. When you are at Church do you stick close to people who make you look good? Are you class conscious? Do you avoid people less fortunate?
Scenario #2 Your Pastor asks if you would be willing to pick someone up on Sunday mornings. This person has no transportation. As the Pastor gives details about the person in need, you realize it is the widow who sat behind you in Church last week. Will you say yes to this lady in need?
James 1:27 makes it clear that religion, accepted by God reaches out to those in need with heart motives that are pure and undefiled.
Who, in your circle of influence, may have needs like a widow or orphan?
Example: A woman, married 40 years loses her companion, helper, lover, and friend. Do you reach out to befriend and lift her in her time of loss? Do you investigate her financial condition?
Do you know an orphan? What needs might this child have? An orphan can be a child without one parent. How might you step in and be a ‘Father or Mother’ image to this child? Children are so very vulnerable. In fact, God is especially protective of children:
“But if you cause one of these little ones who trusts in me to fall into sin, it would be better for you to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone hung around your neck.” Mark 9:42 NLT
Consider all the blessings God has lavished on you. Who might benefit from your heart, your possessions, or your time?
GUARD AGAINST CORRUPTION
The last part of James 1:29 says to keep ourselves unstained from the world.
How does the world ‘stain or pollute’ us? Cultural contamination subtly absorbed. Most times we aren’t even aware.
This world opposes the ways of God.
How does the world pollute us? As you read the following verses allow the search light of God’s word to examine your heart.
I John 2:15-16 “Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world.” NLT
Titus 2:12 “And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God,” NLT
The enemy is bent on luring you away from the one who loves you most. Be prepared and filled with the living word of God. It will equip you to live godly.
As you meditate on James 1:27 do you spy some impure motivations?
Do you want to see as God see’s it? Do you desire to be Jesus’ hands and feet to a needy generation? Is your desire surface or is it a deep down conviction to reach out and touch lives?
We cannot change our own heart. Jesus tells us in John 15:5 “without me you can do nothing!” Our old nature is bent on sin. We’ve nurtured this sinful nature for years.
The enemy has his plans for the Christian too. A change of heart is not on the enemies agenda for you.
Surrender yourself to Jesus. Pray His will be done. Invest time in His word, realizing it is living and able to conform you to His image. God will change His child’s heart as he hungrily chases after Him.
The Bible says our lives are hidden with Christ. Picture yourself hidden with the one who gave His all to redeem you – Jesus in our Place. Picture yourself sheltered under His protection. You are dearly loved, so loved that He sings over you.
“The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” Zeph. 3:17 ESV
Ask Him to give you a heart like His. God bless you brothers and sisters as you set your eyes on the one who is Holy and gives life both abundant and eternal.