Text: James 1:26-27 — 26 If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keeps a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. 27 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. [NIV84]
The Big Idea: If our walk does not line up with our talk, then our ‘religion’ is merely mutter words.
Many Christians often border on boasting when they say, “I don’t believe in a religion; I have a personal relationship with God.” And for the most part, I would agree that indeed having a personal relationship with the Living God through the Lord Jesus Christ if vitally important. And, yes, this is vastly differently from the typical religions offered by this world. Religions are man’s attempts to make himself right with the powers that be, but Christianity is rather unique here: It offers God’s way, and His way is making us right with Him in and through the Lord Jesus Christ. For it is in Him and through Him we have peace with God and access to the Throne of Grace in time of need….
All this being said, the passage noted above from James 1:26-27 is rather fascinating to me in light of this religion vs. relationship conundrum. But what clears it up for me is the word that James uses for religion. It is a rare word, with potentially two meanings. One meaning focuses on external religious behavior. The other potentially refers to ‘the muttering of prayers.’ With this word, James appears to be challenging those who say they are doers of the word: “Okay, you say you are a doer of the word (see vv. 22-25). Very well, then. If (and you most definitely do) consider yourself religious, have you reined in your tongue? Oh, and do you really take care of orphans and widows in their distress? Just asking….” If their walk does not line up with their talk, then their ‘religion’ is merely mutter words.
Lifestyle worshipers, I know you can see that it is very important that our walk lines up with our talk. In short, true integrity: we do what we say and we say what we do. And both must spring forth from a sincere faith (see 2:14-26). Otherwise, our ‘relationship’ with the Lord Jesus is merely religion in the human sense—‘muttered words’.
Ah, but when the Lord Jesus Christ is truly our Life, this vital relationship naturally produces the religion that James identifies as pure and faultless: Taking care of orphans and widows. As we lift up our eyes from the din and dust of our self-absorbed ‘religion,’ we will soon see that orphans and widows abound all around, literally and functionally. We know the literal orphans and widows. But the functional orphans? These are they who have absent or disconnected parents, either through divorce or neglect. Likewise, functional widows are they who are neglected or abandoned through neglect or divorce.
How do you see the Life of the Lord Jesus Christ living out this religion that is both pure and undefiled? Your thoughts?
Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts
Give proper recognition to those widows who are really in need. But if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God. — 1 Timothy 5:3-4 (NIV84)
And when the Lord saw [the widow who had lost her only son], He had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then He came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And He said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. — Luke 7:13-16 (ESV)
This is what the LORD says: “Do what is fair and right. Save the one who has been robbed from the power of his attacker. Don’t mistreat or hurt the foreigners, orphans, or widows. Don’t kill innocent people here.” — Jeremiah 22:3 (NCV)
Lord Jesus Christ, clear my vision to see the orphans and widows around me. Burn within me a passion to meet their needs as You have gifted me both spiritually and physically as well as emotionally. Empower me to be truly religious in this manner so that my relationship with You will deepen. In Your Holy Name. Amen.