Tuesday, May 5, 2009

James 1:26–27, "Pure and Faultless Religion"

Tim Bowden, in his book One Crowded Hour, describes an incident in Borneo in 1964. Nepalese fighters known as Gurkhas were asked to help fight in the war, specifically if they would be willing to jump out of airplanes into combat against the Indonesians. The Gurkhas replied that they would, only asking that the plane fly slowly over a swampy area and no higher than 100 feet. When they were told that they would not have enough time to deploy their parachutes at 100 feet, the Gurkhas replied, "Oh, you didn't mention parachutes before!"
That's devotion.
Elizabeth Elliot told of her first date with her husband Jim, which was a missions meeting at Moody Church in Chicago. One of the speakers was a daughter of the famous missionary to Africa, C. T. Studd. C. T. Studd gave up a pro Cricket career in order to serve the Lord in Africa. The daughter told of her father's final moments. He lay on a cot, gazing around the little hut and at his few possessions. "I wish I had something to leave to each of you," he said to his family. Then he concluded with these words: "But I gave it all to Jesus long ago."[1]
That's devotion.

Devotion, by one definition, means, “ardent, often selfless affection or dedication, to a person or a principle.”
Devotion according to Webster means, “a religious exercise or practice other than the regular corporate worship of a congregation; the act of devoting (devotion of time and energy); the fact or state of being ardently dedicated and loyal." [2] (ardent = “eager, zealous”)
James writes in verses 26–27 about "religion," using a form of the word three times in two verses. What is the topic he's trying to get across? Religion.
When you hear “religion” it means devotion. James says, "If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. 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."

Starting in verse 26, James describes pure and faultless religion or devotion. This is important for every believer. Why? We were created to glorify God, and are left on earth after salvation so that we can reach others and grow in our walk with Christ. Devotion is a large bone in the skeleton of Christian faith.
On that note, James says first, Pure and Faultless religion is devotion with our words (v. 25)
There is a reason James devotes a verse to this type of devotion, and splits the other two in one verse. If anyone believes he is religious and does not bridle his tongue, but deceives his heart, this religion is in vein. The verb for "bridle" means "to bridle something” such as with animals, horses, etc. The word for "deceives" means just that, “to deceive, mislead.”[3] It was used in 1 Tim 2:14, “and it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.”
So religion equals devotion. Some of us are passionate; some of those who have a passion for God are also devoted to Him. There is a difference.

David Brainerd was a missionary to the Native American people during the time of Jonathan Edwards, in the 1700's. He told Edwards, "I do not go to heaven to be advanced but to give honor to God. it is no matter where I shall be stationed in heaven, whether I have a high seat or a low seat there . . . My heaven is to please God and glorify Him, and give all to Him, and to be wholly devoted to His glory."[4]
The first part of pure and faultless religion is this: devotion to God with what we say. In other words, James says to bridle your tongue. Put some reins on it. Have you met someone who controlled what they said, didn't talk badly about others, and would never lose control of their temper? People who are devoted to God have control over what they say.

I remember reading an epitaph, which is on a grave in England somewhere. It says:
"Beneath this stone, a lump of clay,
Lies Arabella Young.
Who on the twenty-fourth of May,
Began to hold her tongue."

If you fit this description, you might need to work on controlling your tongue:
- you frequently or regularly find yourself waiting for someone to leave the room before you speak.
- your kids know your friends' secrets
- your kids' friends know your friends' secrets
- you find yourself suddenly in great animosity around a certain person, and then realize it was for no reason at all . . . wait, maybe that's the guilt of having talked about them when they weren't around.
The main idea is back in v. 22, don’t say it and not do it. Be doers! Faith that works! Later in 2:12 James will tell us to speak and acts as those who will be judged by freedom (grace). An unbridled tongue can mean also that we say things that don't match what we should believe.

We must devote our words to God first of all.
Secondly, not only should our tongues, words, mouths, and all forms of speaking be devoted to God, but we should devote our actions towards others to God (v. 26).
Pure and undefiled religion before God the Father includes taking care of orphans and widows, and keeping oneself pure from the world.
What does it mean? The verb used here meaning “to purify,” means “undefiled.” It is used also in Hebrews 13:4, “Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled, for fornicators and adulterers God will judge.” How do you know if your practice of faith is pure and undefiled? The answer is: How well do you control your tongue, how often do you assist needy orphans or widows, and how stained are you by the world.
In case the inquiring mind wishes to know, "orphan" means “being deprived of parents; being without parents.”[5] The word for widow means here "a woman whose husband has died.”[6]
What does taking care of them in their distress mean? It means a time of need. "Distress” is “trouble that inflicts distress; oppression, affliction, tribulation.”[7]
Defending Orphans and Widows sums up the way God always intended to meet social needs—through the compassion of His people.
Orphans and Widows are near to God’s heart because they are needy. In this culture, income and earnings were possible by two general methods:
1) a man in the family worked,
2) a woman sold herself into slavery or prostitution or both.
You can see then, the reason that it was very important for God's people to help prevent tragedy when a woman's husband died, especially if he was the only capable male in her life. You can also see why a devoted follower of Jesus helps not just widows but orphans, for they too would be left as victims of slavery or worse.

Look at what God says in his Word about the need to defend orphans. He cares about children without parents (could also apply today to children from broken home or with absentee parents).
1. Exodus 22:22–23, “You shall not afflict any widow or orphan. If you afflict him at all and he does cry out to Me, I will surely hear His cry.”
2. Proverbs 29:14, “If a king judges the poor with truth, his throne will be established forever.”
3. Proverbs 31:9, “Open your mouth, judge righteously, and defend the rights of the afflicted and the needy.”
Look in the same way at widows. This could also apply to elderly who have no one, whether shut in or forgotten. The command is to “plead the case of the widow,” or to see that she gets what she needs.
1. Deuteronomy 10:18, "He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing.”
2. Isaiah 10:1–2, “Woe to those who enact evil statutes, and to those who constantly record unjust decisions; so as to deprive the needy of justice, and rob the poor of My people of their rights, so that widows may be their spoil, and that they may plunder the orphans.”
I love this third verse. Take comfort, all who lack parents or who are elderly and alone!
3. Jeremiah 49:11, (the Lord speaking) “Leave your orphans behind, I will keep them alive; and let your widows trust in Me.”
4. Psalm 68:5, “A father to the fatherless, and a judge for the widows, is God in His holy mountain.”
5. Psalm 146:9, “The Lord protects the strangers; He supports the fatherless and the widows, but He thwarts and way of the wicked.”
See how God has a heart for those in need! If you are a part of the Church, we need to show the world the heart of God.
James reminds us of this: How does God measure our devotion to Him? Our devotion to others, namely those who cannot help themselves, and who can never repay us for helping them. Later on, James will apply this same principle to how we treat the wealthy or powerful and mistreat the poor.
The third item of pure and faultless religion is devotion in my actions towards myself (v. 27)
People who are devoted to God keep themselves undefiled from the world
I read a book by Sam Harris entitled Letter to a Christian Nation, in which part of his argument is against Christianity because we care about sexual purity and a standard of personal morality; as opposed to caring solely for world hunger, the environment, world peace, or AIDS. Christians care about all of those things as much, but what Harris missed was how God has always demanded purity of His people. It's not that God is mean or a drill instructor, but God is the definition of holiness and righteousness. Sin, unholiness, unrighteousness--these all are wrong because they are against the character and commands of God. If God were any of those things, they would not be wrong (does that make sense?). He can't have those things in His presence because of Who He is, not because of arbitrary commands and laws. So since the best thing we can do is to be like Him, then the best thing we can do is to change our lives to reflect god-likeness (Godliness), and Christ-likeness.
The third and final way to practice pure and faultless religion is to keep oneself unstained from the world.
Hey ya'll, this is tough! Easy to say, tough to do! Do you know anyone who lives a sinless life? Me either. George Sweeting said, "We can never be sinless, but we must always sin less." That is sanctification in a nutshell.

James says we are to keep ourselves from being polluted by the world. The word means, “being of highest quality and without defect; spotless.”[7]
The principle is described in Ephesians 5:25–27, as we're given a peek into what Jesus desires in His bride, the Church, "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless."
Piece of cake! Yesterday! Are there stains on you? Wrinkles? Will Jesus need to pull you aside and iron you a bit? Is the wedding dress white? It's a life long goal, one day at a time. The key question is "Are you more pure than you were yesterday?"
Dear reader, please stop now. Especially if you're skimming really fast and need to hurry. Five minutes never hurt anyone. Ask yourself and God a question in light of verse 27 and the previous verse 21, "Is there a stain on me from the world? Music I shouldn't have listened to? Pictures or videos I shouldn't have watched? Words I shouldn't have said, and need to make right? Money or things that I have that aren't mine?" Verse 21 said, "Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you" (we covered this is situational not eternal salvation. If you missed that, see the same word for salvation used in Matthew's Gospel for healing the sick).

What do I do if there is a stain in my life? 1 John 1:9, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from most of our unrighteousness?" NO. "ALL unrighteousness." Confess it to Him.
On that note, how are you doing altogether? I get the privilege to mull this over for at least a week before preaching it. I found some stuff I'm working on, and still find stuff. Confess to God, and if someone else was offended, own that stuff. Confess it.
If you discover you were the one offended, and the opposite party is either gone or refuses to make it right, forgive them. Forgiveness is God's bolt cutter that releases us from our ball and chains in life. Think of how Jesus said on the cross, "Father, forgive them; they know not what they do." He was innocent, still is, and yet cruelly abused and killed for our sin. But He rose on the third day and has remained alive since, so that all who believe in what He did can have eternal life. The Bible says, "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved." Do you believe? Why not. Make that decision now and enter a life of pure and faultless devotion to God.
There's no close second to a life lived for God.

[1] Taken from http://bible.org/illus.php?topic_id=375, 12:40pm, 4/18/09. Originally from Our Daily Bread, January 30, 1994 and Elizabeth Elliot, Passion and Purity, p. 43.
[2] Taken from http://www.answers.com/devotion, at 8:50am, 4/17/09. Second definition from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/devotion, 8:54am, 4/17/09, Merriam-Webster Dictionary Online, s.v.
[3] BDAG, s.v. All Greek definitions taken from Frederick W. Danker and Walter Bauer, eds., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3d ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000). This reference is the most popular and is commonly abbreviated BDAG for the initials of the four editors (Bauer, Danker, Arndt, and Gingrich). S.v. is an abbreviation meaning the cited definition appears under the word if you were to look it up.
[4] Taken from http://bible.org/illus.php?topic_id=375, 12:30pm, 4/18/09. Originally from Our Daily Bread, November 19, 1997.
[5] BDAG, s.v.
[6] BDAG, s.v.
[7] BDAG, s.v.
[8] BDAG, s.v.

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