Welcome to the second week of Jump Start! This is the 2nd of 5 posts available exclusively to e-mail subscribers. Thanks for giving me a chance to help you connect with God through Scripture this year.
If you missed any of last week’s posts, catch up by clicking on any day below:
- Day 1: James 1:1
- Day 2: James 1:2-4
- Day 3: James 1:5-8
- Day 4: James 1:9-11
- Day 5: James 1:12-18
- Day 6: James 1:19-26
James ended yesterday’s passage in verse 26 by discussing what type of faith is acceptable before God. Now in verse 27, he turns to what type of faith is acceptable.
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. – James 1:27
Orphans and Widows
Henry Blackaby’s book Experiencing God: Knowing and Doing the Will of God has a very simple call to action; “find out where God is at work and join him there.”
While the Bible doesn’t make God’s opinions clear on everything, it is clear about how God feels toward orphans and widows.
“He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing.” – Deuteronomy 10:18
“Learn to do right; seek justice.
Defend the oppressed
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
plead the case of the widow.” – Isaiah 1:17
Orphans and widows also function as representatives for a general class of people who are unable to help themselves. Don’t be mistaken, God certainly cares about orphans and widows today but today’s widows have a much better shot at a sustainable life than they did in the oppressive times of the first century.
One of the questions today’s reader of James should be asking is “Who are the ‘orphans and widows’ of today?” Who are the people in our world today who are unable to help themselves?
- What about kids trying to make it in school but struggling to learn English because their families moved to America to pursue their dreams?
- I never had to wonder if I would be able to live my dreams because I had parents who consistently encouraged and supported me. How can Christian fathers and mothers serve kids who don’t have moms and dads who encourage or support them to be all that God has called them to be?
- When the Church (rightly, in my opinion) cries out against abortion in the name of life, what should the Christian’s response be toward a young woman who bravely keeps an unexpected child?
The Cleanse that Actually Matters
Far too often, people quote the first part of verse 27 but leave out the second. The first part makes a great tagline for an Orphan Sunday service or Widow’s Banquet but we often stop before the back half that charges us with remaining “unstained from the world.”
This is the second aspect of what pure religion (real, active faith).
James does not want Jesus followers to abandon the world or look down upon it. This posture against the culture of the day might be the number one thing that drives non-believers away from churches.
Think about it: someone who is far from God and far from church decides to give your church a chance one Sunday. Think about how many obstacles they have to get over in their head and heart to even get inside the door, and the longer they’ve been away the harder it is to come back. Imagine now, if once they’re there all they hear about is how wicked the world is and how awful the culture of the day is (the culture they’re currently in).
In James, we clearly see that God wants his followers to remain supremely focused on him which will naturally mean staying away from things the world can offer but the Bible never calls followers of Jesus to be antagonistic toward that culture or run off and leave it. If we did that, who would be left to tell them about Jesus?
In nutrition circles, cleanses have become more and more popular. There is a juice shop in my town that offers a 7-day cleanse to help your body detox and reset.
That sounds awful to me.
Then I heard about a taco cleanse. Yes, it’s real.
From the book’s description, “A group of vegan taco scientists in Austin, Texas [the most “Austin” job in the world], know just how you feel, and now reveal their one-of-a-kind cleansing journey that anybody can follow and stick to—the Taco Cleanse. While the typical cleanse works by depriving you of your favorite foods, the plant-based Taco Cleanse rewards your body with what it naturally craves: tortillas, refried beans, guacamole!”
James is not concerned with juice and taco cleanses but he is concerned with the hearts of the people Jesus has set free from sin. Remember: obedience isn’t legalistic. Obedience is our “I love you” back to God. Part of obedience is staying away from some aspects of the world we know can damage our relationship with Jesus.
Questions for Prayer and Application
1. Where do you see God at work in your world today? Are you joining him there? What does that look like?
2. Who are the orphans and widows of today? Who should the Church being helping who can’t help themselves? It’s easy to think about who the Church should be helping but what about you? You are the Church. Who are the orphans in your life? God’s heart is toward them.
3. Sit still for a few minutes in silence. Ask God to bring to mind things from the world that might be pulling you off track in your relationship with Jesus. What actions do you need to take today to remain unstained from the world?