Verse 26 showed an aspect of worthless religion. Now verse 27 tells us what God considers pure and faultless or unblemished religion. The word religion comes from the Greek word threskeia which is defined as ritual worship/worship expressed in ritual acts. It’s the external expression of our relationship with God – worship. So, in this verse James is once again talking about the expression of our faith in Christ. He is essentially talking about the fruit that reveals our commitment to Jesus.
What does this outward expression of pure worship look like? First it “means caring for orphans and widows in their distress”. The word translated to care for can also be translated to look upon or visit, look out or select. Distress can also translate as persecution, affliction, tribulation from the root word meaning pressure.
Is James saying that we should look after literal orphans and widows? Or is there more to this? What do orphans and widows have in common? They have no one to take care of them or care about them. No one to look out for them. I believe James is referring to anyone who is even figuratively or effectively orphaned or widowed; anyone who doesn’t have someone looking out for them or caring for them. Anyone alone and in distress. And how would you know if someone was in distress unless you knew them and were looking out for them, unless you have a relationship with them?
Several commentaries pointed out something very significant that I initially missed. The first act mentioned is focused outside oneself to others. Then focusing on oneself is mentioned. Those who focus only on their spiritual, personal health epitomize the phrase, “too heavenly minded to be any earthly good”. Here James is purposefully pointing out that pure worship starts by caring for others first. That’s certainly consistent with Jesus’ example. But it doesn’t neglect oneself completely. We must also keep ourselves unstained and undefiled by the world. Consider this: the world’s way is to “look out for number one”. So, by caring for those whom no one else is caring for, we already begin to keep ourselves from being polluted by the world. Looking outward and not inward is already an anti-world viewpoint.
But if we don’t purposefully check our perspectives and default ways of thinking and compare them with God’s way, the world can still pollute the way we think and ultimately act. I am finding more and more that some of the ways I “naturally” think about things are contrary to God’s ways. I need to constantly ask for His wisdom and perspective to point those areas out and transform my mind to His way not the world’s way.
Who are the widows and orphans that God has put into your life to look out for and care for?