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James 1.26-27 – If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. 27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
I am using the acronym, HOW, to explore the riches of these two verses.
H – Honesty
O – Openness
W – Work
James encourages his readers to take an honest look at their behavior to make sure they are not being deceived. What we may see as a minor character defect, James claims will make our religion worthless.
For example, nobody likes to be a hypocrite. Did you know that the word, hypocrite, comes from the mask that was worn in ancient Greek drama. The mask helped project the voice, but it also allowed the same person to play several characters in a drama, simply by changing masks. Our speech often reveals our hypocrisy. With one crowd, we wear one mask and with another crowd a different mask is put on.
James challenges us to take an honest look at what comes out of our mouths. Paul helps us think of some of the ways we can be terribly wrong with our speech. He writes, “They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless” (Romans 1.30-31).
If we take an honest look at ourselves, we know that gossip, hatred, boasting, foolish talk and the like often are a part of our speech. James has very strong words for people who habitually fail to bridle their tongues in these and other areas. He says, such “religion is worthless.”
I have been drawn to Matthew 15, while praying about the corona virus.
Jesus said, “It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person” (Matthew 15.11). Don’t get me wrong. I am still wearing a mask in public, social distancing, and definitely not looking to inhale COVID-19 droplets. I am convicted by his words, “what comes out of the mouth defiles the person.”
Jesus explained his words to his followers and said, “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone” (Matthew 15.18-20).
I pray daily about the corona virus. I often use these verses to ask God to eliminate the evil that comes from the heart of people – including all evil that proceeds from my own inner being. In my opinion, we were sick, before we got sick from the corona virus. We were soul-sick with all that defiled our inside condition.
Notice again, how much of what Jesus identified as a sickness involves what comes from our lips. What is needed is an honest look inward. Please join me in asking the Lord to help us see ourselves as we really are that goes beyond the mask we wear for others to see.
The next letter in “HOW” is O for openness.
After we take an honest appraisal of ourselves, we are ready to know what true religion consists of. James says, “religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress” (James 1.27).
When Jesus described those who were blessed by the Father to inherit his kingdom, he didn’t include things such as church attendance, tithing, and being familiar with the Bible. He did include an openness and a willingness to join him in his redemptive work.
Jesus pictured the welcome certain people will have at God’s judgment. Some will hear, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me” (Matthew 25.34-36).
As the brother of Jesus, James knew what was dear to his older brother’s heart. Both James and Jesus want us to be open and willing to care for the vulnerable, including orphans, widows, the destitute, the stranger and the prisoner.
One of my favorite verses is a promise from Jesus, “Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you” (Luke 6.38). Keep this verse in mind, as you read the next two stories.
A woman, who lived in a small town, battled depression for much of her life. When she felt a bout of depression coming on, she found people whom she could serve. She baked cookies, walked to a lonely neighbor lady, and spent time with her. She got into her car and drove across town and volunteered to serve in a church’s food pantry. After a while, she noticed that her depression had lifted.
Charles Finney tells of an old woman, who was confined to her bed in a rooming house. This was pre-nursing home days. She occupied her days by writing letters to women who were incarcerated. Every day, a steady stream of letters came in and went out from this dear, wise lady. Near the time of her death, the steady stream of letters was replaced by a stream of young women coming to visit. They were there to let the woman know how her correspondence had helped transform their lives.
Coach Jake Taylor produces short videos that can be seen on the Maywood Baptist Facebook page. He encourages people to engage in creative ministry. During this season, please ask God what he wants you to do and be open to the work he leads you to do. You may find, like the two ladies above, that truly the givers become receivers.
HOW – Work
The concluding thought of the first chapter of James is, “to keep oneself unstained by the world” (verse 27).
Everyone who attempts to serve Jesus, knows that we have to work to remain unstained by the world. The old saying is true, “If you didn’t meet the devil today, it was because you were walking in the same direction with him.”
Walking through the world is like walking through a muddy field. The more you walk, the more the mud gets stuck to your boots. Triggers are some of the best tricks the world’s system has to muck up our lives.
— A cute girl can get a guy’s mind in the wrong place too quickly.
— An advertisement for a product can get a person planning to spend money they don’t have for something they don’t need.
— A friend wants to share a little bit of gossip with you and you are tempted to listen.
— A simple zip-lock bag can set in motion impulses that need to be immediately curtailed.
— And the list goes on and on.
There are three things that help me, as I work at being “unstained by the world.” I hope they are helpful to you.
(1) It is essential for me to begin my day with Bible reading and prayer. If I don’t do this, the day will probably not end well.
(2) Throughout the day, the “mud” of the world begins to stick to my inside condition. If I focus on the temptations of the world, they get bigger and more tempting. If I focus on my relationship with Jesus, that seems to give me relief from the incessant demand of the temptation.
(3) I end the day with another time of prayer, including confession of my sins and Bible reading. This is like scraping the mud of the off of my boots. I don’t want to try to sleep with all of that stuff stuck to my inner self.
Did you ever think that two short Bible verses could generate so much to do? Please take seriously the “HOW” acronym to get the most benefit from this article.
— Honesty – What does my speech say about me? What needs to change about my inside condition, so I can better respond to this message from James?
— Openness – Am I willing to join God in what he has revealed as his priorities? Am I open to the voice of his guiding Spirit?
— Work – Am I willing to work with the power of the Holy Spirit to resist the influences of the world’s system and to align my life with the message of James?
Dear God, you never ask us to do anything that you don’t help us to do. We need your help. Please give us new hearts that are reflected in our speech and care for vulnerable people.