The purpose of James emerges at the end of this chapter. What is pure and undefiled religion? It is the taking care of widows and orphans, and it is being unstained by the world.
The first part is pretty easy to understand. These are the things of God. And we do them. (More on that tomorrow.) God cares for those who are helpless in the world. God cares for people who are unable to rescue themselves, who are unable to sustain themselves in this world. Widows and orphans were left alone and helpless in the ancient world, and too often today.
God’s people were to do the things of God by caring for those who are helpless. We must be mindful that God’s care for the helpless extended to us when Jesus died on the cross. We were helpless in our sins and sinfulness, facing certain death and eternal separation from God. There was nothing we could do to save ourselves. So God acted to save us.
Again, pure and undefiled religion is when we do the things of God by helping those who are helpless, just like he helped us.
And pure and undefiled religion is when we keep ourselves unstained by the world. I think James was a little concerned that the ways of the world were infiltrating the church. Pride and greed and favoritism and speaking harshly were some of the things James warned against in his letter. When we let these things enter into our lives, we are being stained by the world.
Pure and undefiled religion means we keep ourselves as morally pure as we can. We need to have a clear-eyed view of the values of God and the values of the world, and we need to be able to discern when the ways of the world are creeping into our lives or to our church.
This made me think of the election season we just endured. Most of us have opinions about the concepts and characters that were on the ballot in this election. And I’ve wondered just how politically active a Christian ought to be. How vocal should a believer be about his or her views?
My first instinct is to stay silent. It’s been pounded into me from my very first days of ministry that Christians always should keep the focus on the gospel. Don’t let anything detract from that. Gospel, gospel, gospel. If we start talking red and blue, or about taxes or guns or abortion or gender, then people won’t be able to hear as clearly about the gospel that we are speaking.
I think a lot of this advice is good. The gospel can be drowned out by some of this other stuff.
But at the same time, part of me wonders whether Christians are too silent. I wonder whether Satan wants us to stay quiet so that real change doesn’t come to this violent and immoral world. It may, in fact, be the “world” that’s telling us it’s wise for Christians to be quiet about issues like abortion and gender. When we’re silent, perhaps we’re actually “stained” by the world.
I don’t know. This is what I’m puzzling over today. When should a Christian speak and when should a Christian be silent in our polarized and political world? Maybe you have some thoughts on this. If so, let me know.