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True Religion


Jun 12, 2022

by: Jack Lash Series: James | Category: Mercy Ministry | Scripture: James 1:26–27

I. Introduction
A. James 1:26–27 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. 27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
II. Explanation
A. There are many people who think they are religious, but their religion is self-deceptive and worthless/useless.
1. Being religious isn’t our goal. We are not pro-religion. Religion can be – and usually is – more problematic than unreligion.
2. There is also religion which is pure and undefiled before God, of course.
3. But this doesn’t mean that all religion is good or helpful.
4. People who think they are religious, but their religion is worthless are fooling themselves. “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God” implies that their religion is impure and defiled.
5. And even in terms of the Christian religion, there is a Christianity which is impure and defiled – polluted by superstition, by human tradition, by other religions, by worldly-mindedness, by human philosophies, by love of money, by insincerity and hypocrisy – and there is a Christianity which is pure and undefiled.
6. There is a form of Christianity which is all about me, all about my prosperity, all about my success and happiness, all about having God help me find something I think I need to be happy.
7. There are many whose faith is impure and defiled. There always has been, there always will be — until the Lord comes back.
8. The Bible tells us about this false Christianity over and over again.
9. This impure and defiled Christianity is what brings much of the criticism of Christianity. They point to a hypocrite and say, “See, that’s what Christians are like!” Well, that may be what that hypocrite is like, but it’s not what Christians are like.
10. There is also legitimate criticism, of course, which is a result of real sin in real believers. And there is criticism which comes because of Christ – “when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on Christ’s account.” – Matthew 5:11
B. God has given us litmus tests by which we can make sure we are true believers.
1. Because some claim to have faith but don’t, because some think they have faith but don’t, it is important that we are all involved in the process of evaluating our own hearts and lives. Am I truly saved? And this means using the litmus tests God has given in His word for this purpose.
2. This passage is one of those which clearly sets out the characteristics of a true believer in Christ.
3. This passage specifically mentions three litmus tests:
a. Bridled tongue (1:19-21, more in James 3:1-12)
b. Care for widows and orphans
c. Keep oneself unstained by the worl ld (James 4:1-10)
4. Because the other two receive a lot of attention elsewhere in the letter, we’ll focus today on b.
C. God is deeply concerned about our care of orphans and widows.
1. Orphans: parentless
a. It’s hard to grow up – even when you have parents who love you are trying to raise you right.
b. But life is so much harder for an orphan.
c. When you’re young, your parents are your main support. And when that support is removed from you, you are not really equipped to handle it. You whole world is crumbled.
d. John 14:18 (only other use in NT): “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.”
e. “Affliction” “distress” — This world is a sad place for many, many children.
f. Over a quarter of a billion parentless children in the world. And how many more might as well be fatherless, because their father has no involvement in their lives. So many sad stories.
g. But God cares about them. “He upholds the fatherless.”
h. Visit them: show them love, don’t forget about them, do what you can do for them, keep an eye
2. God has a special place in His heart for widows.
a. That’s clear in the Bible.
(1) Ps.68:5 A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling.
(2) Psalm 146:9 The LORD watches over the sojourners; he upholds the widow and the fatherless. (Cf. Deut.10:18; Isaiah 54:4–5)
b. Aspects of a widow’s life
(1) Grief, loss of a loved one (hopefully)
(2) Having to comfort the children while dying inside
(3) Financial need or instability, loss of income
(4) Vulnerability – IJM – protection, advocacy, “a defender of widows” (Ps.68:5)
(5) Loneliness (no relational/emotional, spiritual support), no one who cares about the details of your life, encourages you, challenges you, and provides accountability.
(6) Aloneness – no support (physical assistance) – living is a two-man job
(a) E.g. someone to go to the hospital with you, to back you up
(b) Parenting alone
(7) 1st century widow (Of course, widows then and now (in America) are somewhat different. They still have many of the sufferings of first century widows, but some others not so much.)
(a) Loss of favor and social standing — Scorn, rejection, humiliation
(b) For women, identity was established in their husbands and family. Becoming a widow meant the breaking down of your identity, losing favor in the eyes of others, being seen as a nobody or even as cursed by God.
(c) “Legally the widow was ignored for purposes of inheritance, and if her husband died prematurely, this was considered a judgment for the life he had led, and she became an object of reproach, partly for her inability to prevent his untimely death (Ruth 1:20, 21; Isaiah 54:4 – ‘the reproach of your widowhood’).” – Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible
3. I think it’s pretty clear that these are not definitive of what God cares about but indicative. It is just a sampling, not a complete list.
a. We know this because in other similar places in the Scriptures: Psalm 146:9 The LORD watches over the sojourners; he upholds the widow and the fatherless.
b. And in places other categories are used:
(1) E.g. in Luke 14:12-14 in making a very similar point, instead of using the orphan & widow, Jesus uses the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind.
(2) And in Matt.25, He uses the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the unclothed, the sick, the prisoner.
c. In that passage, Jesus sums up the kind of people He wants us to go out of our way to care for: the least of these my brethren, or the least of these brothers of mine (includes sisters, of course).
d. And that leads us to our next point...
D. There are parts of the body of Christ who need special care.
1. This whole chapter has been about trials. But the fact is, there are some people whose lives are constant trial. We ought to care for one another in times of trial. But we have a special responsibility to care for those whose lives are constant trial.
2. And the Bible tells us not only to care for them, but to realize that we need them (1Cor.12:21-25).
a. God has made it so that we need the needy.
3. Why? This doesn’t make sense according to popular business strategies.
a. But God’s ways are not like human ways.
4. It’s not just because Christians ought to be filled with love, it’s because Christians ought to be able to see what a treasure the needy are.
a. Joni’s friend who pulled back from caring for Joni: p.75. A future world-class treasure!
E. But maybe there’s a special reason why caring for orphans/widows is a litmus test.
1. You see, everyone can love the rich. Everyone can love the one who gives you something.
a. But Jesus said, “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that? For even sinners do the same.” – Luke 6:32–33
b. But by commanding us to love the least of these – the ones who can’t repay us – Jesus has given us a litmus test of whether our love is genuine or whether we’re just loving ourselves.
2. God is a God of grace. He wants His grace displayed. He is not willing for it to appear that He loves in a selfish, human way:
a. 1Corinthians 1:26–19, 31 Consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God... 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
3. True Christians know what’s it’s like to be alone in the world. They know the emptiness and homelessness outside of Christ.
a. True Christians remember that they were once separated from Christ, remember when they had no hope and were without God in the world, and yet they know that now in Christ Jesus they who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. (Eph.2:12–13)
4. And Christians also know what it means to be welcomed and loved and accepted and adopted and embraced and received and eternally cherished by the heavenly Father.
a. Christians know they were once orphans, but they’re orphans no longer – adopted in Christ.
5. I think this helps explain why caring for orphans and widows is a litmus test of true Christianity.
a. If you really grasp the grace of Christ, you will also extend the grace of Christ.
b. If you have received the love of Christ for you in your great need, then that love will drive you to love others in need. Though you are far from perfect, you are a person of compassion. You care about people who are hurting. You care about people who are needy. You try to help. You don’t look down on others. You know that but for the grace of God, you could be there.
c. However, if one’s faith is just a way to be liked or get ahead or feel good about oneself, then the reality of Christ hasn’t yet gripped your heart, & there’s no drive to help others. It’s all about you.
6. James wants us not only to believe the gospel, but also live the gospel.
a. He knows that God wants to fill His children with His heart, with His compassion.
b. Or, to put it another way, when the gospel really takes root in our hearts, it also takes root in our lives: the way we feel, the way we think, the way we treat others.
c. If we don’t show mercy to others, it looks like we think we deserve God’s mercy.
III. Application
A. We want the Bible to comfort and encourage us, but sometimes the Bible confronts us and rebukes us. This passage doesn’t make me feel better about myself.
1. It helps me question my love. Am I really motivated by love for Christ or am I motivated by a desire to have people like me?
2. Who are the kind of people who get my attention?
a. The easy person? The one who gives back?
b. The movie star, the great athlete, the politician, the media personality, the rock singer?
c. Or is it the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the one who needs clothes, the prisoner?
3. In my flesh I want to live at ease in my comfort zone. I’d like to be able to live in a comfortable house, sit on a comfortable couch, watch my TV shows, eat good food, hang out with nice people.
4. But Jesus doesn’t live in the comfort zone. If I want to meet Jesus, I need to go to the poor, to the sick, to the prisoner. That’s where I’ll find Him.
5. On the cross, Jesus was all of these. He was hungry and thirsty. He was the stranger. He was naked. He was sick. He was a prisoner. And yet the disciples walked away, just as we have a tendency to walk away when we’re confronted by painful or ugly things.
6. We live in a pain-filled world, don’t we? We live in a need-filled world.
7. Maybe a part of us wants to run away from it, in fear and in self-interest.
8. But Jesus in us moves us to extend ourselves to help and bless the needy. And to the extent that we resist this, we’re resisting Jesus.
B. This passage is encouraging to one category of people, though. It is good news for orphans/widows!
1. Everybody else may ignore you and forget you. The whole world might laugh at you and take you lightly. But not the Lord. Even when no one else notices you, your savior Jesus does.
2. Often the life of Jesus looked like a series of redemptive encounters with the least of these.
a. E.g. the story of the widow of Nain (Luke 7:11-17)
3. Christ identifies with the least among His people.
4. Jesus was a man of compassion – the most frequently mentioned emotion of Him.
a. His heart goes out to the needy.
5. Maybe you feel weak and helpless. What comfort and assurance there is here for you!
6. God’s compassion on orphans & widows shows us He is compassionate toward us when WE are:
a. Vulnerable
b. Alone, forgotten, rejected
c. Lacking support
d. In pain
7. When no one cares about the details of your life, God cares. God shows mercy to us in our need.
a. The story of Jesus and blind Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46-52). He hears our cries!
8. The amazing compassion and mercy of Jesus! And when we grasp His love for us, we’ll also have it for others.
C. Unembarrassed concern for BOTH caring for the needy and the danger of worldliness.
1. We live in a moment where we are expected to be alert to one and dismissive of the other.
2. Liberal Christianity said that caring for the needy was the important thing, and in reaction, conservative Christians have come to identify caring for the needy as a telltale sign of liberalism.
3. Most Christian groups are much better at one of these than the other.
4. But this is a lie! We are called to both. There is more than one danger.
5. When someone quotes a passage and your first answer is always BUT.