Jas 1:26-27 “If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain. 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.”
Proverbs 22:1 tells us that a good name (reputation) is better than great riches. Most of us today want to have a good name in our community, or workplace, our school, and our church. What often gives us a good name is the way others perceive our actions. The adage that actions speak louder than words is often quoted, but that does not mean that words are not important. Thus we have James’ warning concerning those that seem to be religious.
The word translated as “seem” in this verse of scripture carries with it the idea of being reputed as one who exhibits devotion. However, I can go to church every time the doors open, pray every time I am called on, sing to the top of my lungs, and give of my goods and still not be truly devoted to God. If, while doing all these things, I am at the same time busy talking about my brother’s shortcomings (real or imagined) to any who will listen, then I do not deserve the reputation of being religious. If I am pious when gathered with God’s people in a worship service, but my speech is just like everyone else’s the rest of the time, then I am not religious.
Doing good in order to appear (seem) better than other men is not truly doing good, because the focus is on self and not worshipping God. We are then like the Pharisee in Luke 18:11, justifying ourselves before God that we are not like others and reminding God of all the things we excel in. A Pharisaical nature may appear to be religious, but the words of the tongue say otherwise.
If our tongue (manner of speech) does not honor God, then all of our outward appearance of worship is empty and worthless. We are to confess to Him our sins (1Jn 1:9) and our need of Him from an earnest heart. Otherwise, all our religious action is just a show to call attention away from our depravity. Sadly, we are cheating (deceiving) ourselves; we are not loving the brethren or worshipping God. We are only trying to cover our nakedness in the filthy rags of self-righteousness. Our religion (ceremonial observance – see Strong’s) is worthless.
There is a religion that is not simply about keeping ceremony. True, unsoiled religion is about relieving (to visit) the bereaved. According to Strong’s, bereaved is the meaning of the word translated here as fatherless. Webster defines the word bereaved as “deprived; stripped and left destitute.” Again, according to Strong’s, the word translated as widows carries “the idea of deficiency; a widow (as lacking a husband), literally or figuratively.” Webster defines “deficient” as “wanting; defective or not having an adequate supply.”
Pure religion before God is about relieving those who are stripped and left destitute and ministering to those who understand they are defective and are not adequate in themselves to cover the deficiency. Pure religion is about turning our language (bridling the tongue) from one of self-righteous proclamation and instead confessing that we are sinners who are blessed with a Savior. It is about witnessing to those who know they are destitute and deficient that there is one who loves them and cares for them.
We must open ourselves up to others and let them know that we are not different because of our ceremonial observance but because of the faith of Jesus Christ granted to us by God the Father and revealed in us by the work of the Holy Ghost. We need to bear witness to them that if they know they are destitute and lacking it is because He who fills all in all is working a work in them that they can cling to and trust. Keeping ourselves unspotted from the world is not about refusing to minister to the broken.
It is a Biblical truth that we are in the world but not of the world. However, we often look at this in the reverse of what Jesus said. Jesus declared first that those He has called and set apart are not of the world, just as He is not of the world (Joh 17:16). Being “not of the world” is our starting point in serving Him. He then declares that, just as He was sent into the world, in the same fashion He has sent us into the world. He has not called us to avoid the world, but to go bear witness of Him in the world.
We often use our religious ceremony to separate us from the world, thinking that in doing so we are being unspotted. Instead we need to prove our religion by going out into the world (as Jesus has sent us) and guiding our language (bridling our tongue) to tell the world that God is on His throne, His kingdom is here, and there is peace in Jesus Christ. No, we are not “making” children of God; we are instead spreading the joy that we are not fatherless or widows to those who He has prepared to hear His testimony.
May we be taught of the Holy Spirit how to minister in this world in a way that shows we are without blemish in Jesus Christ our Lord!