Pure And Undefiled Religion Before God And The Father Is This: Part One

James 1:27 gives one of the most succinct statements of the sort of worship that pleases God: “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.” Even though this is only a single verse, and a short one at that, it is a verse that contains a great deal of meaning. Yet while it is recognized that it is a good thing to help widows and fatherless children, it is not always well understood what makes this religion particularly pure. Likewise, the connection between visiting widows and orphans and keeping unspotted from the world is not always well understood, nor its relationship to the overall purposes of God. These are obviously complicated matters, so what I will do is divide up this discussion into multiple parts, first setting the verse in its immediate context and looking at a relationship between the verse’s parts that is not often examined. Afterward will follow a lengthier discussion of the parts of the verse and its applicability to God’s overall plans in working with humanity.

James 1:27 comes at the end of a long discussion about enduring temptation and living according to the righteousness of God. This context, which helps inform the meaning of James 1:27, begins at least as far back as James 1:12, and may indeed go back to the beginning of James 1 with the discussion on trials and humility. For our purposes here, let us summarize briefly the entire chapter that comes before James 1:27 and allow it to frame a context for the verse of interest. There is, of course, a great deal that the rest of James 1 has to say of interest [1] that time and space concerns do not permit for this present examination. James 1, after a greeting from the author to the diaspora of Israel, discusses the benefits of trials and our need for patience and wisdom and faith to endure them. James then proceeds to contrast how the poor should glory in being poor but the rich lament that wealth will pass away in the pursuit of pleasure. Then James returns to trials again, pointing out that the one who endures temptation will be blessed, and to remember that God gives blessings and does not tempt others nor is tempted by wickedness; rather, we are tempted by our own lusts, which bring forth sin and death if we are unwary. After this, James gives wise (and difficult) advice to be swift to hear but slow to speak or to anger, and then tells us to listen to God’s word with meekness and to follow it rather than merely listen to it, and not to be self-deceived by our unrestrained and ungodly language.

The chapter as a whole is full of very tough language that is difficult to come to terms with. Yet the contents of the chapter carry meaning when examining the questions of visiting the widow and the fatherless child and in keeping unspotted from the world. For one, being bereaved of parents or a spouse is a trial, and also a trial that in this world tends to induce poverty. The statistics of single parent families and their standard of living is grim, and whether one is reflecting on the difficulties that are visited upon people who have lost loved ones or on the socioeconomic losses that occur when the expected male breadwinner of a family is cut off, there is a great deal of suffering that results. On the other hand, the biggest struggles in keeping unspotted from the world and in overcoming temptation relate to the sorts of lusts and desires that greatly harm one’s relationships and one’s family life, whether one is talking about the temptation for sexual sins like adultery and fornication or to the abuse of alcohol or irresponsible behaviors like gambling and brawling that threaten health and standard of living, relationships and reputation. To live a godly life and to encourage others is indeed pure and undefiled religion.

Here we can begin to see how this sort of religion relates to the overall purposes of God in raising a family. Widows and fatherless children are precisely those people who are denied the experience of living as God intended in intact and loving families. To give them comfort and encouragement and to make them a welcomed and appreciated part of our congregations and communities is a way of reducing the loss that comes from not having a life that ideally represents what God is doing on this earth. Just as it is difficult to reflect on the loving (future) marriage between Jesus Christ and the Israel of God when one’s own wishes and plans for a lifelong of loving marriage have been shattered, so too is it hard to know God as a loving father when that role is filled poorly or not filled at all. And yet it is vitally important that we learn how to understand what makes marriage and parenting so important to God, so we might better understand the larger importance of these activities in our own lives, and how we teach others about God through our own behavior in these roles here on earth. Likewise, being unspotted from the world is important in that it helps to keep us from making a mess out of our lives and ruining our relationships with God and with other people. To be sure, God is merciful to give when we genuinely repent, but the spots and errors of our lives harm not only ourselves but bring great pain to others, and make their own lives more difficult and more deeply marred by the darkness of this present world, and so if we care about others we will restrain ourselves from that which brings suffering and torment to others.

It can be difficult to know exactly how to visit the widows and orphans in our lives. Yet it is easier to focus attention on the task if we realize that by doing so we are helping to provide a knowledge through our example of the plans and purposes of God to take the outcasts of this earth and to turn us into His sons and daughters, and collectively into His bride in an eternal family relationship. Even if we know, or at least have some glimpse, of God’s workings for humanity as a whole, it can be a challenge to see those workings in our own lives. It requires patience to endure through the difficult times in our lives, and gratitude to recognize that our gifts do not spring from our own skill, but from the blessings that God has given us in a variety of aspects of our lives. For us to live well, and to worship God in a pleasing way, we must also be aware of the suffering and difficulties of others, and not only our own trials, about which we are seldom ignorant of. There is much yet to say about this verse, but let us save that for another day.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/02/24/no-variation-or-shadow-of-turning-calculus-in-the-bible/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/01/03/the-doers-of-the-word-and-not-the-hearers-will-be-justified/

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Bible, Christianity, Love & Marriage, Musings and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Pure And Undefiled Religion Before God And The Father Is This: Part One

  1. Pingback: To Love What God Loves, And To Hate What God Hates | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: Book Review: The James Code | Edge Induced Cohesion

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