TRUE RELIGION: James 1:26,27; Isaiah 58:1-14
“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” (James 1:27, NKJV)
“External religious worship religion as it is expressed in outward acts that is pure and unblemished in the sight of God the Father is this: to visit and help and care for the orphans and widows in their affliction and need, and to keep oneself unspotted and uncontaminated from the world” (James 1:27, AMP).
Religion, definition: “The belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods…A particular system of faith and worship: A pursuit or interest to which someone ascribes supreme importance. Origin, Middle English: (originally in the sense life under monastic vows): from Old French, or from Latin religion, ‘obligation, bond, reverence,’ perhaps based on Latin relegate ‘to bind.’” (Oxford Dictionary).
The Greek does not have a word for “religion.” The word used is the study of beliefs about god or religious beliefs. The English word “religion” comes from Latin. The Greek equivalent is found in three Greek words: 1) Threskeia, outward worship of God or gods; 2) Deisdamonia, to fear; 3) Theosebeia, true or pure worship of the Living God.
Synopsis: Religion is outward, superstitious, ceremonial service. The key words in our text are “pure and undefiled,” free from contamination, unmixed, from the Greek, “hagios,” ‘holy,” worship with no signs of the contamination of the flesh, or the outward trappings of religion. True religion has nothing to do with ceremonies, temples, buildings, dress or special days. ”Pure religion” is practicing God’s Word, sharing it with others through, speech (James 1:26), service (1:27a), and separation (1:27b).
Believers are not religious, we are Christians. Religion is man reaching for God, Christianity is God reaching for man. “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost’ (Luke 19:10). “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him…”(John 6:44).
In the Old Testament culture God is very specific about widows and orphans.
Exodus 22:22-24, “You shall not afflict any widow or fatherless child. If you afflict them in any way, and they cry at all to Me, I will surely hear their cry.”
Deuteronomy 10:17-19, “For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality nor takes a bribe. He administers justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing. Therefore love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
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 58: Here Isaiah is told to expose the sins of Gods people.
Verses 2,3: “Yet they seek Me daily, and delight to know My ways, as a nation that did righteousness, and did not forsake the ordinance of their God. They ask of Me the ordinances of justice; they take delight in approaching God. But their prayers were not getting through, and their fasting was in vain. ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and You have not seen? Why have we afflicted our souls, and You take no notice?’”
They came to the conclusion that all their sacrificing, all their praying, and all their seeking after God was not paying off. What sin caused God to withdraw His presence? Why was God hiding His face from them?
Isaiah 59:2, “But your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that HE WILL NOT HEAR.”
There was a good reason for God’s anger! His chosen people were going through all the motions. They were faithful to His house; they said all the right words; they dressed according to their tradition; they seemed so obedient, so religious, but their hearts were divided; they loved God with their mouths only.
Titus 1:16, “They profess to know God, but in works they deny Him, being abominable, disobedient, and disqualified for every good work.”
Ezekiel 33:30-32. “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 1:22-25, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.”
When we do not practice what we hear, James says ”we deceive ourselves.” This is why God commanded Isaiah to cry out so loudly against those who appeared to be seeking after Him so diligently, but they were deceiving themselves.
One of the signs of “true religion,” is caring for hurting people. “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith’” (Galatians 6:10).
The world says, “What’s mine is mine, and yours is mine if I can get it.” The believer says, “I have nothing but what I first received from God, therefore I am only a manager (steward) of those possessions, what’s mine is yours if you need it.”
Now to Isaiah 58:
“The prophet, in this chapter, has his commission and charge renewed to reprove the sinners in Zion, particularly the hypocrites, to show them their transgressions. It is intended for admonition and warning to all hypocrites, and is not to be confined to those of any one age.” –Matthew Henry’s Commentary
“Isaiah takes to task those who go through the motions of religious observance while at the same time committing sins and promoting corruption. The kind of worship pleasing to God includes a desire to live an upright life and to help the poor and oppressed. It also means setting aside the Sabbath as a time to worship God and delight in Him rather to pursue worldly pleasures.” –OnceDelivered.net
Outline: 1. PRAYER (Verses 1-4), 2. PRETENSE (Verse 5). 3. PRIORITY (Verses 6,7). 4. PROSPERITY and PRAISE (Verses 8-14).
PRAYER, Verses 1-4: “Cry aloud, spare not; lift up your voice like a trumpet; tell My people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins. Yet they seek Me daily, and delight to know My ways, as a nation that did righteousness, and did not forsake the ordinance of their God. They ask of Me the ordinances of justice; they take delight in approaching God. ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and You have not seen? Why have we afflicted our souls, and You take no notice?’ In fact, in the day of your fast you find pleasure, and exploit all your laborers. Indeed you fast for strife and debate, and to strike with the fist of wickedness. You will not fast as you do this day, to make your voice heard on high.”
They were praying, fasting, obedient to the ordinances of God, offering sacrifices, and in general they appeared to be true examples of the children of God. They approach God in prayer as if they practice justice and righteousness. But clearly they are not such a people. Although they believe they are seeking God through their fasts, they forget that Isaiah had earlier clearly instructed that they were to, “seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, and plead for the widow” (Isaiah 1:17). To truly “seek the LORD” is to seek justice and righteousness for the poor and oppressed. They are willing to entrust their rituals and prayers to God, but not extend their faith commitment to the social and economic spheres of their lives. Because of their social and economic sins they remain in darkness.
PRETENSE, 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? Would you call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the Lord?” But the Lord, who sees the heart, is not impressed with the external trappings of religious rituals. “Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).
He tells His people in Isaiah 1:11-15, “’To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices to Me?’ says the Lord. ‘I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed cattle. I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs or goats. When you come to appear before Me, Who has required this from your hand, to trample My courts? Bring no more futile sacrifices; incense is an abomination to Me. The New Moons, the Sabbaths, and the calling of assemblies—I cannot endure iniquity and the sacred meeting. Your New Moons and your appointed feasts My soul hates; They are a trouble to Me, I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands, I will hide My eyes from you; Even though you make many prayers, I will not hear. Your hands are full of blood.’”
Isaiah 29:13, “Therefore the Lord said: ‘Inasmuch as these people draw near with their mouths and honor Me with their lips, but have removed their hearts far from Me. And their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men,’” Jesus offers a similar rebuke to the religious leaders of His day: “These people honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. They worship Me in vain, teaching as doctrines the commands of men” (Matthew 15:8-9).
PRIORITY, Verse 6,7: “Is this not the fast that I have chosen: To loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke? 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, and not hide yourself from your own flesh?”
Emotional, verse 6: “To loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free…” John 8:32, “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”
Worry, doubt, anxiety, frustration, and depression plague far too many on a daily basis. Most of us have some hang-ups! Many who are reading this are bound by something, slaves to alcohol, tobacco, drugs, pornography, food, work, shopping, gambling, etc.
Who has the responsibility to lift their heavy burden? The church, we do! Most of us are “stress givers.” Many are better at causing problems than in solving them. If we are among the blessed that are mentally strong, and emotionally stable, ours is the job of blessing others in relieving their anxiety and pain. We can only break those yokes with the help of others, and of God’s church.
A letter from the families of hurting people: (As published in Moody Monthly)
“We are the families of those who struggle with great emotional pain. Some of those we love have been abused. Some use alcohol or drugs to deaden their pain. Some get depressed and then withdraw to avoid life itself, often searching for a reason to live.
Who are these hurting people? We feel you view them as weirdo’s and crazies, as weak, inferior, defective human beings, perhaps as people who are getting just what they deserve. When you do this, it not only adds to their pain, but ours as well. Their torment has become ours; their pain, our pain. And when we grieve, it’s usually all alone. We feel you’ve just judged them without really knowing them, and walked in the other side of the road, passing quickly, so as not to become involved.
When you say, ‘Why isn’t Jesus enough?’ It sounds to them (and to us) as if you’re saying, ‘You are not worth my time or effort to try to get to know you or help you.’
If they go for help, we keep it a secret. We are afraid you will think even less of them and that would hurt us even more. Please understand them and respect the battles they are fighting. Cheer their victories, and weep at their defeats. We need to see Jesus’ compassion through you. We long for those we love to be welcomed in our church.”
In Psalm 137, God’s people are in captivity. Sadness, anxiety, loneliness and weeping plagued them, even to the point where their song was gone. Listen to them:
“By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept when we remembered Zion. We hung our harps upon the willows in the midst of it. For there those who carried us away captive asked of us a song, and those who plundered us requested mirth, saying, ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion!’ How shall we sing the Lord’s song In a foreign land?” (Psalm 137:1-4).
Permit me to sermonize a bit: It’s very difficult, maybe impossible to sing the songs of God in the foreign land of depression, anxiety, grief, frustration, worries, doubts and fears. When I was a baby Christian, some wise person said to me. “If you have a song in your heart and a smile on your lips you’ll have victory I your life.” Never forget, peace and joy are a choice. If you choose to be happy, you will be happy. Roger Miller wrote a song entitled, “You can’t roller skate in a buffalo heard.” The emphasis was on the line, “But you can be happy if you’ve a mind to.”
Physical, verse 7a: “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.”
“If I have seen anyone perish for lack of clothing, or any poor man without covering; if his heart has not blessed me, and if he was not warmed with the fleece of my sheep; if I have raised my hand against the fatherless, when I saw I had help in the gate; then let my arm fall from my shoulder, let my arm be torn from the socket’ (Job 31:19-22).
“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” (James 2:14-18).
“But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?”(1 John 3:17).
“’I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’ Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matthew 25:42-46).
Family, verse 7B: “Do not hide yourself from your own flesh…”
“But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8).
So what does the Bible say about family? The physical family is the most important building block to human society, and as such, it should be nurtured and protected. Family members were to look after and care for one another. When God asks Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” Cain's response is the flippant, “Am I my brother's keeper?” The implication is that, yes, Cain was expected to be Abel's keeper and vice versa.
To fail to take care of your own as we have opportunity, is denying Christianity. It is denying the Christian faith, then we are worse off than the unconverted. This is a strong statement. A person who meets the criterion of this verse has disavowed Christianity; he is walking away from his responsibility to take care of his own first.
“But if any provide not for his own.” The apostle was speaking particularly of the duty of children toward a widowed mother. This is the way God provides for their needs. The words “his own,” refer to those who are dependent on him, whether his own immediate family or not. There may be many distant relatives naturally dependent on our aid, besides those who live in our own house.
“And specially for those of his own house.” The word “house,” or “household,” those who live in his own family. They would naturally have higher claims on him than those who did not. He who neglected his own immediate family would be more guilty than he who neglected a more remote relative.
Only as we deal with the needs of others will God recognize our fasting and prayer. There are literally thousands of hungry, hurting, homeless people in your community, elderly, shut-ins, widowed, sick and incapacitated, people who have no one to talk with. Many are heartbroken, and lonely, they painfully live in the past, unable to handle the present, and have little for which to look forward in the future. Some are confined like prisoners in their homes.
They need to know, that although most of society may have forgotten them, our Heavenly Father has not forgotten them. And many are not believers. They need more than just bread for the belly, they need the “Bread of Life.” They need hope for the future, and we have that hope. “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” (Matthew 11:28, 29).
They need to be told, not just by word but by deed, that Jesus loves them and that He will never forget them. Deuteronomy 31:6-8, “Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the Lord your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you.” And again in Hebrews 13:5, “Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’”
What can I do? God wants His people to care for others.
•Provide food and clothing for a homeless shelter. One Christmas our church took carloads of toys, clothing and food to homeless shelters in our community. We asked church children to give up one Christmas present to share with another child. It was a great learning experience for them.
•Take food to shut-ins in your community. One man in our church went by restaurants every evening, get their leftovers and took them to needy people.
•Mow someone’s lawn; fix something for one who cannot do it for himself; rake leaves; repair a car; clean someone’s house; give a shut-in a ride to church, doctor, market, etc.
•Be creative! Each need must be met in the best way for your particular situation.
CONCLUSION: “What’s in it for me?”
Isaiah 58:8-11: “Then your light shall break forth like the morning, your healing shall spring forth speedily, and your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.’ If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, if you extend your soul to the hungry and satisfy the afflicted soul, then your light shall dawn in the darkness, and your darkness shall be as the noonday. The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your soul in drought, and strengthen your bones; you shall be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.”
Light, health, righteousness, glory in the Lord, answered prater, happiness, testimony, protection, blessing, guidance, satisfaction, strength, and fulfillment. Could I possibly ask for more?
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