Pure And Undefiled Religion

In a passage that has many divided over how we are to fulfill our duties, James said, "Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world." (Jas. 1:27) James was not commanding us to merely "visit" them — as in stopping by to see them on Saturday afternoons — but to take care of them, or to look out for their needs.

But what has been lost in this seemingly simple passage is the requirement that has been laid down for us: taking care of orphans and widows. It has been lost because some want to say it is to be done by establishing "Old Folks' Homes" or "Orphan" Homes (in which few, if any, true orphans abide), and sending our money to support their work. Lost in this method of "visiting" is the fact that no Christian is now doing the "visiting" at all! They have plainly surrendered their duty and handed it over to someone else! Oh, sure, they send some money to that faceless institution that is carrying out the "visiting" they are commanded to do, but they are not lifting a finger in the real duty at all.

I know some of you are, by now, saying, "There's some more of that typical orphan-hating 'anti' rhetoric," but I want you to seriously consider the fact of the matter: If this is the "method" you are using to carry out the command of James 1:27, what are you doing to "visit" those widows and/or orphans? No, now I don't mean what that faceless organization is doing…I want to know what you — personally — are doing to fulfill that command. This passage is often thrown in my face with the subsequent charge that, just because I do not believe going outside the Bible pattern for fulfilling this command, I am some orphan-hating, stingy, heartless and cruel old Pharisee who wants to see kids living in refrigerator boxes in alleys, and old folks scratching through dumpsters to find their next meal. James 1:27 is their "Holy Grail" for the unauthorized "method" of "visiting" the orphans and widows, it seems, and if we don't do it their way, we must be completely devoid of love and compassion for the needy. When one protests that they are going beyond the Bible pattern, they shoot back, "Well, do you have any orphans in your home? Are you taking care of any widows?" I think some sincerely think that I have not ever fulfilled this command, and have no desire to.

As a matter of fact, I am "visiting" a widow on a regular basis. I am just one of several here who look out for an elderly sister in Christ who needs our assistance. As a matter of fact, my wife and I have offered our home to a child who was in need of a home (more than once), and probably will again should the opportunity present itself to us. I could give you a list of numerous Christians I know personally who have done, or are doing, the very same things. And the thing is, none of these Christians I am thinking of are willing to wait for some faceless institution to do it for them. None of them want to surrender their responsibility to some far away institution run by complete strangers just so they can sit back in their easy chair at home and claim to have fulfilled this solemn responsibility. Each one of these Christians has taken it upon themselves to surrender their own comforts and material possessions to do what God said defines "pure and undefiled religion." How about you?

I remember a few years back (about 30 years now), a preacher friend of mine had recently moved to Morrilton, Arkansas, and lived just a few blocks down the street from an institution called Southern Christian Home. A fellow Christian told him that he couldn't adopt a child out of there, no matter how much he wanted to, but he was just stubborn enough not to believe such a thing. He thought, "Surely not!" He went down to the "home" and indicated his desire to adopt one of their children, and was told in several ways by everyone from the bottom person to the head of the board that ran the place that it was just not possible — unless he wanted to adopt one of the 18-year-olds. (Not coincidentally, the age at which they stopped receiving Federal financial support). He wasn't the only one who discovered this about these so-called "Orphans' Homes." (This preacher now says of that institution, "The only thing right about their name is 'Southern.'") Meanwhile, those who condemn these institutions are called "heartless" and "orphan-haters."

Since this is the beginning of a new year, maybe you have been thinking about what changes and/or improvements you need to make in your life. Maybe, as a Christian, you have looked into the word of God and seen that there are some areas in your life that need improvement. Maybe you need to study more, give more, teach more, or just put more effort into being at every assembly and every Bible study that is offered. As you consider each of these things, I am sure you have asked yourself, "What do I need to do?" Can I help you with that examination for a minute?

Especially when it comes to these matters that have divided brethren, we need to ask that very question. When it comes to our responsibility to "visit orphans and widows in their trouble," what are you doing? No, the question is not, "What is my church doing?" or even "What is the institution I send my money to doing?" The question is: What are you doing? When it comes to the desperate need to "preach the gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15), what are you doing about it? Again, this is not about what "your church" is doing or what someone you are paying to do the work of evangelism is doing — it's about what you are doing.

Somewhere down the line, we lost our personal responsibility in these matters when we turned them over to others. Maybe it was because someone convinced us the new ways were "more effective" or "more efficient." Maybe organizations were established because some man thought not enough was being accomplished in the way God had specified in the beginning. Maybe someone just wanted to find an easier way to do the work God has commanded, and when we send money to someone else to do it, we satisfy our consciences that "we have done what was our duty to do." Whatever the reason for starting these organizations, we missed the real purpose behind the commands: a personal involvement to show others that we really care about them.

What are you doing?

By Steven C. Harper

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