James 1:26,27 MSG, “Anyone who sets himself up as ‘religious’ by talking a good game is self-deceived. This kind of religion is hot air and only hot air. Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world.”
We are not a religious people. We are Christians! Religion is man reaching for God, Christianity is God reaching for men! Remember the Pharisee and the Publican (tax collector)?
“Also He (Jesus) spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee (religious) and the other a tax collector (sinner). The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:9-14).
I’ve seen far too many “religious” people! As a pastor I have met some people who say, “I’m very religious,” who were little more than scam artists who join a church and stay until they have bilked the last dollar from trusting members, coercing them into buying their product.
Christianity is not just about knowing truth, it’s about allowing the truth direct our actions. God’s Spirit within changes our desires. Gradually, we are able to set aside our tendency to focus all our attention and effort on ourselves. We become able to reach out to people around us and, because of the way Jesus met our need for salvation and forgiveness, we seek opportunities to meet their needs…That’s true religion.
James 1:27: “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.”
“Pure” in Greek is katharos, from which we get our English word “catharsis” meaning, purifying, cleansing, a term used in psychology and counseling for a cleansing of the mind or emotions. Katharos literally describes that which is free of dirt and thus clean. It is also worth noting that katharos is related to the Latin castus, from which we get chaste. The related word chasten refers to discipline given in order to cleanse from wrong behavior. Katharos is blameless, innocent, unstained with the guilt and is used to describe that which is ceremonially or ritually pure or clean.”
“Katharos has two shades of meaning. Some suggest that it also means unmixed or unalloyed or unadulterated or sifted or cleansed of chaff. In other words, to be pure means you have no added mixture of any foreign element. Thus, what our Lord was really saying here is, ‘I desire a heart that is unmixed in its devotion and motivation. Pure motives from a pure heart.’ Either way, it has to do with attitudes, integrity, and singleness of heart as opposed to duplicity and double mindedness.” –John MacArthur
“Undefiled” in Greek is amiantos, meaning, without contamination, unpolluted, untainted, unstained, unsoiled, without uncleanness or impurity.
“There are two Greek words used to translate, ‘religion’ or ‘religious’ in our English Bibles. Each one is used in a derogatory or a highly qualified sense.
1) Deisidaimonia means literally ‘dread of demons’ and is used to refer to pagan religion. It might be better translated superstition or superstitious and is certainly not intended to be a complimentary word.
2) Threskeia primarily refers to the ceremonial worship of a deity and can be used to identify any externalization of someone’s internal beliefs, whether positive or negative. Threskeia, then, refers to the outward trappings that may or may not be associated with any genuine faith. It is this word that James plays with in James 1:26-27, reframing it in terms of the love ethic of Jesus.” –Adapted and edited from, Bruxy Cavey, bruxy.com
“Christianity is not a religion. Christianity is the proclamation of the end of religion, not of a new religion, or even of the best of all religions. . . .If the cross is the sign of anything, it’s the sign that God has gone out of the religion business and solved all of the world’s problems without requiring a single human being to do a single religious thing. What the cross is actually a sign of is the fact that religion can’t do a thing about the world’s problems—that it never did work and it never will.” –Robert Farrar Capon
The externals of religious worship are not acceptable to God unless accompanied by loving service. Christians are to take a personal interest in and express loving concern for orphans and widows. We are to help supply their material needs, comfort them in their sorrows and give any other assistance they may require.
“The pure and undefiled religion, as described in James, is the overflow of a human heart in right relationship with the one true God and thus obedient to His commands. And this points us to the second half of the cliché: “Christianity is not a religion, it’s a relationship.” The religion we practice is a reflection of our relationship with God. –John MacArthur
“All through history men have tried to make ritual and liturgy a substitute for sacrifice and service. They have made religion splendid within the Church at the expense of neglecting it outside the Church. This is by no means to say that it is wrong to seek to offer the noblest and the most splendid worship within God's house; but it is to say that all such worship is empty and idle unless it sends a man out to love God by loving his fellow-men and to walk more purely in the tempting ways of the world.” –Barclay
Pure religion has nothing to do with, ceremonies, temples, special clothing, special days, or a certain language, pure religion is practicing God’s word and sharing it with others through: speech (verse 26), service (verse 27a), and separation (verse 27b).
God has always been concerned with widows and orphans:
Exodus 22:22,23, “You must not exploit a widow or an orphan. If you exploit them in any way and they cry out to me, then I will certainly hear their cry”
Deuteronomy 10:18, “He administers justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing.”
Deuteronomy 14:28,29, “At the end of every third year you shall bring out the tithe of your produce of that year and store it up within your gates… the fatherless and the widow who are within your gates, may come and eat and be satisfied, that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do.”
Deuteronomy 24:19, “When you reap your harvest in your field, and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be for the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.”
Isaiah 1:17, “Defend the fatherless, plead for the widow.”
Psalm 68:5, “Father to the fatherless, defender of widows—this is God, whose dwelling is holy.”
Psalm 146:9, “The Lord protects the foreigners among us. He cares for the orphans and widows…”
The Jews were very religious. They fasted, prayed, sacrificed and observed all of the religious ceremonies and the ordinances of God, but it was all pretense, God was not responding to them.
Let’s go to Isaiah 58, where we find God’s people concerned that their prayers were not getting through to God, and all their fasting was in vain. Their conclusion was that all of their religious activities were not paying off, God was not listening! Listen to verses 1-3:
“Shout! A full-throated shout! Hold nothing back—a trumpet-blast shout! Tell My people what’s wrong with their lives, face My family Jacob with their sins! They’re busy, busy, busy at worship, and love studying all about Me. To all appearances they’re a nation of right-living people—law-abiding, God-honoring. They ask Me, ‘What’s the right thing to do?’ and love having Me on their side. But they also complain, ‘Why do we fast and You don’t look our way? Why do we humble ourselves and You don’t even notice?’” (Isaiah 58:1-3 MSG).
“Well, here’s why: The bottom line on your ‘fast days’ is profit. You drive your employees much too hard. You fast, but at the same time you bicker and fight. You fast, but you swing a mean fist. The kind of fasting you do won’t get your prayers off the ground. Do you think this is the kind of fast day I’m after: a day to show off humility? To put on a pious long face and parade around solemnly in black? Do you call that fasting, a fast day that I, God, would like? (Isaiah 58:4-6) MSG).
There was a good reason for their predicament! They were just going through the motions. They were being religious. They were saying all the right words. And they seemed so obedient, they were sounding so religious, but their hearts were divided.
Ezekiel 33:30-32, “As for you, son of man, the children of your people are talking about you beside the walls and in the doors of the houses; and they speak to one another, everyone saying to his brother, ‘Please come and hear what the word is that comes from the Lord.’ So they come to you as people do, they sit before you as My people, and they hear your words, but they do not do them; for with their mouth they show much love, but their hearts pursue their own gain. Indeed you are to them as a very lovely song of one who has a pleasant voice and can play well on an instrument; for they hear your words, but they do not do them.”
James has already admonished us in 1:22, to, “be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” That’s exactly why God commanded Isaiah to shout out against God’s people who appeared to diligently seeking after Him, but were deceiving themselves. The Jews needed to set some biblical priorities to bring about the favor of God and peace and prosperity.
So God, through the pen of Isaiah, tells them what to do.
“What I’m interested in seeing you do is: sharing your food with the hungry, inviting the homeless poor into your homes, putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad, being available to your own families. Do this and the lights will turn on, and your lives will turn around at once. Your righteousness will pave your way. The God of glory will secure your passage. Then when you pray, God will answer. You’ll call out for help and I’ll say, ‘Here I am.’” (Isaiah 58:6-9 MSG).
God wants His people to care for those who cannot care for themselves. It is not the government’s job to care for hurting people, it is the church’s responsibility! Galatians 6:10, “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.” Ephesians 4:28 MSG, “Get an honest job so that you can help others who can’t work.”
The world says, “What’s mine is mine and yours is mine if I can get it.” The Christian says, “I have nothing but what I have received from God, what’s mine is yours if you need it.” After all we are only stewards (managers) of all that God gives us.
Isaiah 58 gives four areas of concern…spiritual, emotional, physical and relational.
1) Spiritual: Verse 5, “Is it a fast that I have chosen, a day for a man to afflict his soul? Is it to bow down his head like a bulrush, and to spread out sackcloth and ashes?”
“Afflict” in Hebrew is anah, abase, to humble oneself, to bow down. “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up” (James 4:10). And in 1 Peter 5:5,6, “Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’”
2 Peter 1:3 NLT, “By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence.”
To the end-time church, the church at Laodicea, Christ says, “Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked” (Revelation3:17).
2) Emotional: Verse 6, “To undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke?”
John 8:31,32, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”
Free from, anxiety, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6,7).
Free from worries, doubts and fears. “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand’” (Isaiah 41:10). “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” ( 2 Timothy 1:7).
3) Physical: Verse 7, “Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; when you see the naked, that you cover him…”
Matthew 25:35-40, “For I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’”
James 2:14-18, “What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith, and I have works.’ Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.”
Job 31:19-22 NLT, “Whenever I saw the homeless without clothes and the needy with nothing to wear, did they not praise me for providing wool clothing to keep them warm? If I raised my hand against an orphan, knowing the judges would take my side, then let my shoulder be wrenched out of place! Let my arm be torn from its socket!”
4) Relational: verse 7b, “And not hide yourself from your own flesh?”
1 Timothy 5:8 NLT, “But those who won’t care for their relatives, especially those in their own household, have denied the true faith. Such people are worse than unbelievers.”
We owe our families, not just physical sustenance, most parents work very hard to give their children what they desire. Whether it be the newest video game or the latest fashion, they strive to make their children's lives better. But the one thing children need the most is often in the shortest supply - their parents' time. Someone has said, “Love is spelled T.I.M.E.” Since kids spell love time, and not money or things, we are in big trouble in today's culture. They want our attention and that has been given away to a thousand other things. My kids don't want things as much as they want ME. So, I have a choice to make: My kids, or my TV, or my hobby. There's not enough of me for everything so something has to go. By the way, I am what I am today, not from the things I had as a child but by the things I didn’t have!
We owe our children devotion. Devotion means accessibility. It also means encouragement. “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord…” (Psalm 127:3). “Fathers, don’t exasperate your children by coming down hard on them. Take them by the hand and lead them in the way of the Master” (Ephesians 6:4 MSG). The greatest blessing that can come into a home is a child.
We owe our children direction. “Train up a child in the way he should go, a
nd when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6). “…bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4b).
The only direction I received from my dad was not bad, but not life-altering direction. Having come through the Great Depression, my dad’s goal in life was to, “bring home the bacon.” Nothing in life superseded the goal to make a living, and to provide for the family. There was no challenge to excel, to better yourself, to make the world a better place.
“The mystery of human existence lies not in just staying alive, but in finding something to live for.” –Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov
Consider God's revelation to Jeremiah about the Children of Israel’s future after Babylonian bondage:
“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11).
The Message, paraphrases this verse:
"I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope…” (Jeremiah 29:11 MSG).
God is thinking about our future and the future of our children! He is planning their future. He desires for them and us to have hope, which is a confident expectation of blessing and provision in the days ahead. Hope causes us to walk forward into our future with faith and anticipation, even though we don't know every detail concerning our future.
Now let’s hear the conclusion of this passage:
James 1:27: “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.”
Isaiah 58:6-8 MSG, “What I’m interested in seeing you do is: sharing your food with the hungry, inviting the homeless poor into your homes, putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad, being available to your own families.”
In our communities there are hundreds of hurting, hungry, needy people. Probably in your own congregation there are people who need help, orphans, elderly and widows, homeless, sick, incapacitated and shut-ins. Many are lonely, who have no family or friends nearby. Many are disabled, confined like prisoners in their homes, having no one with whom to talk with or even share their troubles.
In the area where I live (Southern California) people move here from all over the world. And our city’s are very transient, families move frequently within our state so permanent relationships are hard to maintain. For various reasons, about 5 million people have moved away from the state of California.
These hurting, lonely people need to know that, although most of society has abandoned them; God has not forgotten nor abandoned them, It is our job as Christians to tell them that God loves them, and not by word only but by deed that Jesus “…will never leave you nor forsake you’” (Hebrews 13:5).
“Empathy is related to sympathy but is narrower in focus and is generally considered more deeply personal. Compassion, sympathy, and empathy all have to do with having passion (feeling) for another person because of his or her suffering. True empathy is the feeling of actually participating in the suffering of another.” –gotquestions.org
Hurting people need to know that Jesus cares about them! He said, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). And that they can “cast all your cares upon Him, for He cares for them” (1 Peter 5:7-author’s paraphrase).
Psalm 147:3, “He heals the brokenhearted and bandages their wounds.”
What’s in it for me? Light, health, righteousness, glory, answered prater, happiness, protection, blessing, guidance, satisfaction, strength and fulfillment.
“Do this and the lights will turn on, and your lives will turn around at once. Your righteousness will pave your way. The God of glory will secure your passage. Then when you pray, God will answer. You’ll call out for help and I’ll say, ‘Here I am.’” (Isaiah 58:8-10 MSG).
Wally was an awkward and shy child who belonged to the church kids club. It was time to hand out roles for the Christmas play, but what role should the teacher give Wally? She decided on the inn-keeper. It was an important role, but required Wally only to shake his head and say one line “Sorry, we have no room.” Wally grinned from ear to ear when he learned of his important role and he couldn’t wait for the big night.
It arrived soon enough, and the play was proceeding according to plan. Mary and Joseph had traveled to Bethlehem and come to the door of the inn. Joseph knocked on the door and it opened to Wally. “Please sir, do you have a room?” asked Joseph. Wally shook his head and replied. “I’m sorry we have no room”.
Now the boy playing Joseph was a particularly confident child, and while the script called for he and Mary to turn away at this point, Joseph decided to exercise some dramatic license. “But sir” he said to the innkeeper, “My wife is about to have her baby and we need somewhere to stay. Couldn’t you find us a room.” Wally’s face went white – this was not planned for! – and he paused for a moment before repeating his line. “I’m sorry, we have no room.”
“But sir” replied Joseph, “We’ve traveled such a long way and we’ve nowhere else to go and my wife is very tired. Surely you can find us somewhere.” Wally bowed his head, shook it sadly and said, “I’m sorry, we have no room.” Forlornly Joseph and Mary started walking away. Wally, now fully into his role, felt shamed and saddened. A tear trickled down his cheek. Then his voice was heard calling out. “Wait! Please come back. You can have my room.”
It may not have been according to script, but at that moment Wally gave perfect expression to the Christmas story. –Source: Unknown
Unless otherwise noted, the New King James Version of the Bible was used. Also The New Living Translation (NLT); The New American Standard Bible (NASB); The Message (MSG); The New Century Version (NCV); The Amplified Bible (AMP); The King James Version (KJV), The New Life Version (NLV); English Standard Version (ESV); J.B. Phillips New Testament; Easy to Read Version (ERV); Common English bible (CEB); NET Bible (NET) and The Living Bible (TLB). Contemporary English Version (CEV).