James 1:27 “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.”
Why is it that we tend to make Christianity so much more than what God shows us it really is? We focus on programs, on attendance, on worship styles, and all the peripherals of doing “church.” Not that these areas should go ignored, but let us remind ourselves that they do not define what being a true believer is according to the Word.
It is refreshing to read and focus on what God tells us religion is in the book of James. As one digs deeper into the words of this letter, one finds that true Christianity is found in the selfless love and shepherding which flows out of a heart transformed by the gospel.
There are a few key thoughts to James’ definition of pure and undefiled religion. First, James mentions that it requires visiting. When we think of visiting someone, this usually involves little more than small talk over a cup of coffee or a word spoken to one another in passing. But what James means goes far beyond surface-level interaction. The word for “visit” James uses includes the ideas of deep care, loving oversight, and a time of strengthening and encouraging. This is found in the genuine friendships between believers whose common bond is Christ. Jesus praises this kind of compassion in Matthew 25:35-36 where He says, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.”
Second, James tells us these relationships which define biblical religion are built with the “widows and orphans in their affliction.” We know from the entirety of Scripture that James is not prohibiting ministry to other individuals, but he does choose these specific people with purpose. These were the people most in need. They had no government welfare to turn to, no life insurance to fall back on, and no orphanages to take them in. The world they lived in saw no value in caring for them, as they had nothing to give back in return. This is why care and compassion for these people marks pure and undefiled religion. James is showing the actions of sacrificial love, with nothing expected in return, to be what characterizes a heart which has been changed by the gospel. Pure love should motivate us to visit and care for those most in need with no want for personal gain.
Ultimately, pure and undefiled religion is defined this way because it is a picture of the gospel. What James describes is exactly what God has done for us! Despite the truth that we had nothing to offer Him in return, God in His love and goodness cared for us in the greatest way possible and provided eternal life and salvation from sin through the death of His Son. We practice pure and undefiled religion when we reflect the character of God and the gospel to those around us. Let that be the measure of how well you are doing “church,” and be encouraged to know how much our God loves us.