Even though I don’t talk to God as much as I probably should and can always be better, He certainly spoke to me today when I opened up the Bible app on my phone this morning. Usually there’s a daily reflection centered around a particular verse, passage or theme. Today’s verse was James 1:27, which says:
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.
Anyone who knows me knows that I absolutely do not like organized religion. So you can imagine my intrigue and surprise when James, the brother of Jesus, said this. I will admit that whenever I hear the word “religion,” I bristle at it. I grit my teeth ever so slightly. And I instantly imagine a man-made institution far from God that is responsible for much of humanity’s misery.
But this verse from James pulled me out of that mindset. Like a gentle yet firm tug from God on my shoulder as if to say, “Look, Luke. I have something to show you if you’ll open your mind and heart.” And through that verse, He showed me EXACTLY how a Christian should act and treat others. Forget surface things like being able to quote the Bible from front to back or making Sunday services/Mass for the umpteenth time in a row. While those are important and each have their place, they are not the core of what truly living out the Christian faith is. James hit the nail on the head as to what it means to be a true follower of Jesus. I haven’t seen or heard a Bible verse that straightforward in a long time.
But in spite of the refreshing simplicity of that verse, there’s still a need for some context here so we can best apply it to today’s time. Widows and orphans in the context of this verse surely can still mean just that, widows and orphans. And they were the neediest people in Jesus’ day. But in our time, “widows and orphans” could also mean people who are homeless, down on their luck, and who cannot help themselves. Look for ways in your life that you can do that. I know within my limited ways of trying to share Jesus with others, I often write articles here. But I also like to donate regularly to the City Mission here in Findlay, Ohio whether it’s with my time or money.
This article taught me to look at James 1:27 in a less literal and more full way as well. I especially liked how it reminded me that we are all in Christ’s family if we so choose to be. We would do anything for our immediate family members because we love them. God shows us through James 1:27 that we should do the same for the world as a whole.
Avoiding becoming polluted by the world?
I struggle with avoiding this one. I fail here often, as I’m sure many people do. For all who notice they fail here too, I am with you. I support you. But I get sidetracked with social media. I get sucked into the fear and hate spewed there, and on the big media networks like FOX, CNN, MSNBC and others. It is often hard to see the truth too. Society as a collective whole hates the truth. It hates goodness. And it hates Jesus because while He loves us all more than we could ever imagine, He also calls all of humanity out for those times we haven’t reflected Him. And nobody likes being called out on their junk.
But we are called to separate ourselves from worldly things such as wealth, power, status, reputation based on what others think and to focus on God more. It is indeed all too easy to get drawn into the clever lie that these things matter at the end of the day. When I heard the warning from James, I was also reminded of this passage from the Gospel of John, Chapter 17, verses 14-17. Jesus is about to be betrayed by Judas and arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane on Holy Thursday. He is speaking of His Apostles here, but I have always identified all true Christians with this passage:
I have given them your word, and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world, but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.
When we focus on helping the less fortunate, and when we rise above worldly things that do not bring us closer to Jesus, in James’ words, we practice true religion that pleases God. He is not pleased when we legalistically keep our faith, yet ignore the true meaning of it. Just ask Caiaphas and the Pharisees about that. God is pleased with us when we focus on Him, and allow Him to work through us so our words and actions can show the rest of the world His goodness and bring more people to His all-encompassing love and mercy.