Do you notice the words “religious” and “religion” in verses 26 and 27? Those words are actually very rare in the New Testament and for the same reason that many Christians today try to avoid them. I’m sure you’ve heard this one. “CHRISTIANITY: IT’S NOT A RELIGION BUT A RELATIONSHIP WITH JESUS,” which is true but tends to confuse many people who think that’s kind of weird getting into a relationship with Jesus. But we try so hard because these words “religious” and “religion” are used in context of outward practices of ceremonies in honor of a god. Among Jewish writers, the words often referred to the cultic worship of the temple. I believe James deliberately chose these words to sharpen his point. ANYONE who claims to such genuine religious experiences must submit those claims to these tests.
1. What we do with our mouth (more on that later in this book)
2. Visit Orphans & Widows in their affliction.
27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: 1. to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, (Justice) and 2. to keep oneself unstained from the world. (Righteousness) -James 1:27
The OT Prophets cried this out many, many times. In this ancient world, with an absence of money making possibilities for women and any kind of social welfare, widows and orphans were helpless to provide for themselves. A mark of Israel’s obedience then, was to be a special concern for those helpless people. In these actions the people of God were to imitate God Himself. Remember that Psalm 68:5 says He’s, “A Father to the fatherless and defender of widows.” It is probably for this reason that James describes God here as the FATHER.
This only echoes Isaiah in which he says “16 Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, 17 learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.” Isaiah 1:16- 17 to visit orphans and widows in their affliction isn’t really just visiting orphans and widows. As NT Scholar at Trinity Evangelical School, Douglas James Moo, who in my humble yet accurate opinion, in the year 2000 happens to have written one of the best commentaries on the book of JAMES said this about this passage: “One test of pure religion, therefore, is the degree to which we extend aid to the “helpless” in our world – whether they be widows and orphans, immigrants trying to adjust to a new life, impoverished third-world dwellers, the handicapped, or the homeless.” It’s entering their unfair circumstances and defending them, protecting them, loving on them, serving them, bring out an awareness of their unfair situations to the world… Otherwise JUSTICE.
These feelings that you feel seeing that stuff points back to the Holy Spirit’s conviction upon us to protect, defend, and fight for the innocent. Justice in relations to others demands equal rights for everyone. Every person born in the image of God should have the same opportunity to live, to not have to die of starvation, to not have to be born of AIDs and suffer for their parent’s choices, to be killed for stupid purposes, to be raised by a mother and a father, to minister to and love on refugees. I’m not talking about or arguing about border control and immigration legalities. We can argue over opinions outside of Scripture and what’s the best decision for government. But as long as we have a church that will let God’s Word speak for itself we have to recognize that the majority of refugees are orphans and widows and now our neighbors. And if that’s hard for you to get on board with, remember that, in Romans 9:2 the apostle Paul said he would switch places with those bound for hell. Think about that in light of the church’s approach to refugees. And as Christians, it is the church’s responsibility to do what we can in these things. We step into these atrocities place and say “NO MORE” and defend the innocent by protecting their lives and looking at them as imago dei.
He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. – Deuteronomy 10:18
Thus says the Lord: Do Justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place. -Jeremiah 22:3
Biblical justice attempts to bring the kingdom of God here on Earth. To join together with other people who want to defend the innocent. And this is God’s timing that we get to talk about this the same week as many Christians march for life in DC every year and the wonderful announcement by the President that there’s steps of defunding Planned Parenthood. Defending the innocent is pro-life but pro-life is always going to be more then just sticking up for the babies in the womb but the ones who are deserted, abandoned or parentless outside of the womb. The Bible has a lot more to say about adoption & it represents the Gospel. In fact all of these justice issues are ultimately Gospel issues as they help save the bodies of the souls Jesus wants to save and the two are not separated in the resurrection.
So as a church lets recognize that a relationship with Jesus is more then just accepting Jesus into our hearts but a whole hearted life change along with that salvation experience that includes backing up our talk with our walk by protecting the innocent, fighting for justice and sharing the Gospel with those around us. Because as much as you may not like the word “religion” it’s probably because it’s been associated with hypocrisy which is exactly what we are when we don’t do those things as Christians.
– What did you notice out of this passage?
By: Erik Koliser — West Campus Pastor