31 May What is “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God?”
We’ve all heard it quoted before: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction (Js 1:27).” This verse makes a grand claim. James 1:27 defines pure religion through the eyes of God. I don’t know about you, but I want to know what God defines as pure and undefiled religion.
The problem is that this is not the whole verse. The verse continues… “and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” This last portion of the verse is often left out of our modern telling. Nevertheless, this is how God Himself defines undefiled religion! With that in mind we can see two key activities necessary for pure and undefiled religion: 1) visit the fatherless and the widows (other versions will say widows and orphans). 2) remain undefiled from the world.
Part one seems straight forward: visit the fatherless and the widows in their affliction. So we are supposed to care for those who have no fathers (an increasingly large demographic) and those whose husbands have died. Perhaps, however, there is a bit more to this verse than first meets the eye. You see, there is a common theme in the New Testament. What once was done in the physical is now done in the spiritual. This is the general theme that runs through Jesus’ sermon on the mount. While the Old Covenant generally focused on the physical state, the New Covenant adds the spiritual to the physical.
So the physical widows and orphans are those without fathers and husbands, but who then are the spiritual widows and orphans? Well, we know that Christ is the bridegroom and God the Father is a father to those who have come out from the world (2 Cor 6:17-18). With this in mind, we must also care for the spiritual orphans and widows- those who have lost their Bridegroom and Heavenly Father.
Notice that the New Covenant does not eliminate responsibility over the physical; it merely adds a spiritual dimension. Therefore, we are to still care for those who have no earthly father and those who have lost their earthly husband. However, we must also tend to those who have lost their Bridegroom and their Heavenly Father through their spiritual affliction. We must reach the lost!
As for part two, I have already mentioned that I most often hear the verse stated without the final clause. The last clause about keeping “unstained by the world” seems to disappear in most people’s recitation of this verse. I imagine this happens for two reasons 1) We have bought into a social gospel that emphasizes acts of kindness, often at the expense of the actual Gospel and 2) We have succumbed to worldliness and so its easier to operate in denial by shifting focus away from inconvenient verses (or portions of verses as it were). Whatever, the reason may be for its dismissal, there it is. We are supposed to remain unstained from the world.”
WHAT DO YOU THINK? Leave a comment below and share to get your friends in on the conversation.
For more on this, see: Have You Been Afflicted By The Curse Of Balaam?