Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father
James 1:19-2:17 from the daily reading in the One Year Bible
This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God. 21 Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls. 22 But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; 24 for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. 25 But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.
26 If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless. 27 Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
2 My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism. 2 For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, 3 and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, “You sit here in a good place,” and you say to the poor man, “You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,” 4 have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives? 5 Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor man. Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally drag you into court? 7 Do they not blaspheme the fair name by which you have been called?
8 If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. 9 But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. 11 For He who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not commit murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery, but do commit murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. 12 So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. 13 For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.
14 What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? 17 Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.
In today’s text James is writing to believers and is exhorting them and us with what faith should look like. He cites what the outward evidence of faith should be in and to the world. Ephesians 2:8-10 says: For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. It is not our works, the things we do which save us or make us righteous in God’s sight. We are not saved by our works, but as it says we are saved for good works. James says: What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. Jesus Himself says that we will be judged by how we treat others. In Matthew 25:41-46 He says: “Then He (the Son of Man, the King) will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’ Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’ Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” The text says: But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.
I remember a time when I was interceding for situations in the lives of my own family members. This was not a quick prayer being lifted to God for blessings and protection, but rather an intense time of intercession, pleading and weeping before God, that He would move in and on the lives of those I love, that He would reveal Himself, His mercy, His grace and His love demonstrated on the cross, that they might know Him. I remember asking God to send people into their lives that could reach them in ways I could not, people that would be a revelation of Christ to those I love. I clearly remember God’s response to my prayer, my pleading and weeping. He assured me that He would indeed send people into the lives of those I love. He reminded me that He loves them even more than I do. The next part of His response to me cut like a knife to my heart. He said: What about all of my children that you walk past every day? What about those I love who have no one to show them My love and grace? Will you be about My business as I am about yours? James says: Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
It is important to note what James says these acts, these outward evidences of our faith are. They are religion. To do good works without faith is just a religious activity. Jesus says: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:37-39) The outward evidence of our faith is to come from our love for God, not to please people. Our love for others is to be an expression of our love for God. God desires a relationship with us, not just religious activity, no matter how good it may be. It is important also that as we show love to others, as we serve them and meet their needs, we also are careful: to keep oneself (ourselves) unstained by the world. Romans 12:9 says: Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Jesus Himself says: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’” (Matthew 7:21-23) In Matthew 5:17-20 He says: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus says: “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” (John 14:15)
1 John 4:19-20 says: We love, because He first loved us. If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. All that we do should be in response to and an outward evidence of God’s love for us. We cannot though think that we are expressing the love of God to the world if we ourselves are living in sin. We cannot think that we are demonstrating the love of God to others if we teach or encourage them to remain in sin. The love of God is demonstrated in that while we were sinners Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8) 1 Peter 4:8 says: Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins. The love of God, demonstrated in the cross was to cover, not condone sin. Our love for others is to be the outward expression of our love for God, in response to His love for us. Indeed faith without works is dead, but religious works without faith in God’s love, His grace and mercy given to us in Christ is also dead.
Heavenly Father, Lord Jesus Christ; precious Holy Spirit thank You for Your love and grace demonstrated and given to me on the cross. I love because You first loved me. I love You with all of my heart, soul and mind. Help me to love others as an expression of Your love. Help me to love without hypocrisy. May I live today and each day to be the demonstration of Your love. May I be faithful to be about Your business, revealing Your love to others, even as You are faithful to continue to reveal Yourself to those I love. Amen.