Pure Religion

Andy Robison

"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)

Early Christians had their bouts with defiled religion. Pharisees polluted Judaism with hypocrisy. They appeared righteous by their displays of ritual but had corrupt hearts (Matthew 23). New Christians who had been Jews started legislating unauthorized requirements of Gentile Christians (Acts 15). Many brethren were not too concerned with the purity of the heart that Jesus had demanded during His time on earth (Matthew 5:20ff.; 15:16-20). Even James' audience had their problems with superficiality. They doted all over the rich in their assemblies but tried to hide the poor (James 2:1-13). They were apparently given to much gossip (James 3) and even greed (James 4:13-17).

Thus it is that, toward the front of James' inspired letter, the topic of real obedience is addressed. "But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves" (James 1:22). Religion is simply not pure without a humble spirit of obedience. In the concluding verse of that section, James shows the ultimate in such a spirit. Visiting orphans and widows is not a popular pastime in most societies. People like to think about themselves and advancing their own positions. They do not like to be reminded of the plights of the unfortunate. If one wants to measure his humility in obeying the word of God, attention to the downcast is a good standard.

It has oft been correctly proclaimed that the idea of the word visiting carries more than a pop-in, twenty-minute call. It involves a real sense of help; an assumed responsibility of meeting needs. God's writer wisely leaves open the interpretation of what types of needs might be involved. Orphans especially need financial provisions. Widows will, as well, although our society's cases are not often as drastic as that society'swithout welfare, pension, and Social Security. Once the burdened are assured food, clothing, and shelter, other needs arise. Under a financial heading, one may group various requirements: An education for orphans to enable a healthy competition for jobs in an advanced culture; medical care, prescriptions, and transportation to and from health care facilities. There are, indeed, guidelines for what widows the church can help as a church (1 Timothy 5), but the principle here is that commitment to such help is a core Christian ideal.

All mankind shares needs beyond the monetary. Families that offer emotional support are, by definition, vacant from orphans' lives, and often so from widows'. Close contact with persons of care and concern is a basic human necessity often taken for granted by the blessed of the world. It is in this respect that many of usthis author not only included, but at the forecould improve. People need to talk, listen, laugh, and cry with each other. Even those in close proximity are often deprived these blessings on a daily basis. In this respect, the implication of a visit in the James 1:27 sense comes full circle to what we generally expect. It is not only profitable, but also expected, that truly religious folk will make a practice of such time-consuming concern.

Time-consuming it is. In our wealthy society, people would often rather give a few dollars than a few minutes. What attention-starved, downtrodden people need, though, is often the undivided attention that demands an hour out of an already packed day. It is hard to do, granted. The proverbial rat race is no longer confined to big cities; all America feels the pressures of getting all things done. Still, the word of God that transcends all cultures and endures through all time reminds us of the purity God demands in religion. It includes stewardship of the valued commodity of time to make a difference in the lives of ones who might otherwise live in lonely discouragement. This is pure and undefiled religion. May we ever remind ourselves of it and strive toward its fuller practice. 327 Suzanne St., Washington, WV 26181. andyrobison@juno.com


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