Widows and Orphans in Their Distress
Lesson 5 Book of James Widows and Orphans has us look at pure and faultless religion. At the end of the first Chapter, James clarifies what it means to be a Doer of the Word rather than just a Hearer and gives us the simple explanation of ‘Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless
James 1:23-27 NIV, “Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.
Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”
Don’t Forget Who You Are
James compares a hearer who does not do what God says to a person who looks in the mirror, walks away, and forgets what he looks like! In other words, we heard but we didn’t really care enough to follow through. We took a glance and what God showed us and then simply forgot it and went on our own way.
James offers us another promise – if we look ‘intently’ into the perfect law of ‘liberty’ and do it, we will be blessed in what we do. This phrase ‘looks intently’ means – to stoop sideways, to stoop to look. In other words, it’s not a passing glance. There is deliberate effort involved and given toward something the person views as being important. You have found the perfect law of Christ which is freedom – freedom from slavery. You not only put effort into looking into it, you then ‘continue in it.’ You remain, abide or persevere. And, you actually do it!
How to Be An Effective Christian
I often wondered what the word ‘effectual’ meant. That is the word used in King James version of the Bible. Here is what it means in the Greek – work, task, employment; a deed, action; that which is wrought or made, a work. A worker who accomplishes something!
There’s really no big mystery to it. Have you ever had a job where you worked with someone who didn’t get much work done? I have. Not only did they not get their work done, but they also tried to pawn it off on others after stating how busy they were! All James is saying is – if you want to be blessed in what you do, then DO something – do what the Word says to do.
Religion or Religious?
Christians are considered to be religious or to follow a religion. Religion means – “the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods” Religion often involves adherence to set of beliefs. In the Old Testament, religion meant obeying the law in its entirety. No one could. So, Jesus came and fulfilled the law on behalf of all who accepted Him as the Son of God and as their Savior. Now, we adhere to standards of grace and freedom. That involves personal freedom, learning to listen to and be led by the Holy Spirit, and conforming ourselves to the image of Christ. Jesus Himself said that the first two commandments summed up everything.
“Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”
Loving People Like Jesus Did
All the law hung from those two principles. The problem for us humans is that we like boxes and rules we can fit into and fit God into. Then we go about trying to make others fit into our boxes. Grace is hard for us. We really like it but we want it to involve “Do’s and Don’ts.” Jesus just gave us 2 “Do’s.” We want some “Don’ts.” Yes, Jesus gave some Don’ts, but they, like the law, hang on those first two principles.
As we go through the words of Jesus, there were things He said not to do. However, the reason you shouldn’t do them is because they violate those first two commandments. If you love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself – you won’t steal from them; you won’t harm them; you won’t commit adultery with them.
So, the Don’t of stealing, harming or committing adultery is really based on the Do of love!
All Your Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength
Think about what it means to love God with all your heart. Then with all your soul. Next all your mind. Last, all your strength. There’s nothing left. It’s all in. If you do that, you will love yourself because you are perfected in His love. What naturally follows is loving your neighbor in that same way, which means that all of your actions and intentions toward your neighbor are based on love.
Jesus was all about the two Do’s. Jesus personally said the word ‘love’ 51 times in the New Testament. In fact, Jesus gave us a new commandment:
The word for ‘love’ used there is agape. Agape is the highest form of love – it is God’s unconditional love.
What if everyone in the world obeyed just that one new commandment? What if all Christians obeyed just that one commandment?
So, we see that not only do we have a hard time with obeying the law of grace and freedom. We also have a hard time obeying the one new commandment Jesus gave us. The one that would change us completely and then the world around us.
A Shortage of Grace
I’m not condemning us for it. I’m just pointing out the truth. Grace is hard and those first two commandments are also. So, what we do instead is create our boxes made up of rules, preferences, and a shortage of grace. We all do it and we do it because we are more comfortable with boundaries.
What does it look like to ‘love one another as Jesus loves me?’ I want a clearer definition so that I know when I’m doing it right and when I’m doing it wrong. There’s the problem. There is a right and wrong but each one is best when it is defined by God and not by us. My idea of ‘right’ might look much different than yours, and I might be willing to fight over my definition!. My flesh likes to be right and in order to be right, I must draw comparisons and lines in the sand. Yes, the Bible is clear about sin and we should be too. However, all of our preferences, disappointments, and fear come into play and turn us into Judges.
Embrace the Holy Spirit
The only solution I know for myself and the entire human dilemma is – love the Lord your God with all your heart soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself and love others as Christ loves you. And, embrace the work of the Holy Spirit – the Holy gift given to us directly by Jesus. He is infinitely patient with us and delighted by our efforts. He will lead, guide, teach, comfort, come alongside, pray through us and much more. The Holy Spirit is powerful! He has all the same power as God the Father and God the Son. He isn’t a ‘ghost.’ He is a living, power-filled, love-driven companion who does not just stay beside – He indwells us!
We have hope!
Back to James. James says that if we are religious, we will keep a tight reign on our tongues! James goes into this in further and scarier detail in Chapter 3 so we will wait to investigate the difficulties of the tongue until then. Obviously, he is saying that if we are following the law of liberty, one of the things we must do is control our own tongue. Another hard one for us.
What Is Pure Religion?
After all the hard things James is outlining, he simplifies one thing for us. What does God view as pure and faultless religion? Three things:
- Take care of orphans
- Take care of widows
- Take care to keep yourself from being polluted by the world.
Does that sound anything like – love one another as I have loved you? Or, love your neighbor as yourself? Yes it does. Once again, the simplicity of it confounds our flesh. We want it to be harder.
The Simplicity of God is Hard to Grasp
What Jesus did when He came to earth was so simple that it was impossible for man to understand. He came, He died, He took all authority, and went back to heaven. I can’t even really grasp that. I can’t wrap my mind around being God and then being willing to give all that up and become a human in order to offer reconciliation to all humans, He didn’t come and kill all the people who had mistreated the Jews. He didn’t establish His headquarters anywhere on earth. He just came and died, rose from the dead, and went back to heaven.
And, in that simple act (simple in our minds) the most profound change that would take place in the universe occurred.
God became man to open the way for man to return to God. It is so incredible. All of our sins forgiven, washed away. The veil separating God and man, torn apart. Forgiveness, grace, mercy, unconditional love and eternity given to us – the ones who don’t deserve it and can’t fully comprehend it.
Yet, here we are doing our best to embrace it and love Him. He doesn’t want our works, He wants our love given wholly to Him because we freely chose to do so. After that, the works are just a natural outflow of loving one another as He loved us. If you really love someone, you want to do good things for them.
That’s what He wants. And so, James sums up the simplicity of what God sees as the best kind of religion – to care for widows and orphans in their distress and to keep yourself from being polluted by the world.
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.”
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