If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. James 1:26-27
James gets straight to the point of what it means to be doers of the Word and not just hearers. He uses the words ‘religious’ and ‘religion.’ Those are words we try to avoid as Christians. We want to emphasize that we are resting in what God has “done” for us via Jesus and the cross, not what we “do” to be acceptable to God. But James dives in, using the words and then telling us three things that true ‘religion’ should include:
- Our tongues must be bridled. In James 3:8 he writes, “no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” But God can tame our tongue, through the power of His Holy Spirit. A Christian, then, is someone who “walks by the Spirit and does not gratify the desires of the flesh,” (Galatians 5:16). If we name the name of Jesus, our speech must be controlled by the Holy Spirit as a pattern. If we aren’t marked by walking in the Spirit, then we are fooling ourselves about our true relationship with Jesus. James calls our faith ‘worthless.’ In fact, so do the people around us. Ouch.
- Our time is spent visiting orphans, widows and those afflicted. Doing those things doesn’t ‘save’ us. But going out of our way to help those who can’t help themselves is a byproduct of our salvation. Because I belong to Jesus, my heart should break with what breaks His heart. Orphans and widows must be at the top of the list for James to specifically mention them. Many other places include the poor and the oppressed on God’s list for us to care about, including Isaiah 58 and Matthew 25:31-46.
- Our lives are marked by being unstained from the world. The Amish use this as their proof text for living in a cloister without lights and machinery. Are we supposed to become Amish? In John 17:15-16 Jesus prayed, “I do not ask that You take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.” The question is how to really be ‘in’ the world but not ‘of’ the world. In James 4:4 James called us adulterous people, saying “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”
Lord, bridle my tongue and control me with Your Holy Spirit. Put Your agenda on my heart so that I go out of my way to bleed for widows, orphans and the afflicted. Show me where I am standing on the wrong side with my affections. I do not want to be an adulterer, nor do I want my faith to be worthless, shallow and self centered. Move me by Your love and Your power today.