Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on James 1:26-27.
Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world (James 1:27).
James 1:27 describes two marks of true or authentic religion (faith in Christ). The first of those two marks is care for the fatherless and widows, while the second is keeping oneself distinct from the world.
By calling for care for the fatherless and widows, James is making contact with some deep themes from the Old Testament Scriptures. Read through the Old Testament, and you will find again and again an emphasis on God’s special love and concern for the fatherless (the orphan) and the widow (cf. Exod 22:22-24; Deut 14:28-29; 24:17-19; 1 Kings 17:8-24). Psalm 68:5 declares, “A father of the fatherless, and a judge of the widows, is God in his holy habitation.”
Why is this theme found in the Old Testament? It shows the heart of God in salvation for those who are weak and helpless and defenseless. As the Lord will tell the apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 11:9: ‘My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.”
This theme appears in the New Testament Gospels. It is there when a godly widow named Anna welcomes the birth of Christ (Luke 2:36-38), when Christ raised from the dead the only son of the widow of Nain (Luke 7:11-16), and it is there when Christ praises the generous widow who drops here mites into the temple offering (cf. Mark 12:43-44).
And it continues in the ministry of the apostles. In Acts 6, we read of how the apostles set apart seven men to care for the Greek speaking widows who were “neglected in the daily ministration” (v. 1). And in 1 Timothy 5:3 Paul wrote, “Honour widows that are widows indeed.”
What is pure and undefiled religion? It is to take care for the weakest in your midst, remembering how God reached down to help you in your weakness. Thomas Manton points out that here orphans and widows are specified “but others are not excluded” (175). Brethren are to care for one another in times of need (Matt 25:40). Of course, this duty extended beyond the circle of believers, as Paul exhorted the Galatians to do good to all men (Gal 6:10).
The thing that stood out among the pagans was the way in which the Christians cared not only for the best and strongest, but also for the weakest and the most vulnerable. And this is still the way it so often works. Who leads the way in caring for the aged, in fighting for the lives of the unborn, in constructing orphanages, and in adopting the forsaken? It is so often those who are believers in the Lord Jesus Christ.
How can we be doers of the word and not hearers only (James 1:22)? How can we practice religion (faith in Christ) that is pure and undefiled? We can visit the fatherless and the widows in their affliction.
Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle