James 1:26-27 – Pure Religion
I’ve never liked using the term religion or religious, but this is one of the few places this word is used in scripture. I prefer referring to believers as disciples or followers of Christ. True Christianity is about having a relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Religion is typically associated with outward form and is equated with rules and regulations.
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Nonetheless, James uses it here. Probably because he is dealing with those who merely give an outward appearance of religiosity. As we apply it here to believers, what does it mean to be truly religious? What is pure religion in the eyes of our heavenly Father? How can we discern if one is truly religious as God sees it?
James 1:26-27 – “If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain. Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.”
Any Man Among You
This suggests they are a part of the church or fellowship. This is not speaking of those outside the body but those among it’s ranks. It applies to pastors, elders, deacons, worship leaders or those on the worship team, ushers, sound men or women ans anyone who is a member or in regular attendance at church gatherings.
Seem to be Religious
This one gives the appearance of being religious or spiritual. On the surface they appear very religious, but are they really? They behave in such a way so as to make people think they are religious, at least outwardly they seem to be so.
Matthew 6:1 – “Take heed that ye do not your alms (righteous deeds) before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.”
The operative words here are “to be seen of them.” Anytime we do our righteous deeds for the express purpose of being noticed we are forfeiting our heavenly reward and the blessing of God. We don’t necessarily have hide everything we do but we must never flaunt it to receive the praise of men. Jesus goes on to specify ways in which this is often done. I will include worship to the list as well.
- Giving. “Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly” (Matthew 6:2-4).
- Praying. “And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly. Be not ye therefore like unto them” (Matthew 6:5-6, 8).
- Fasting. “Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly” (Matthew 6:16-18).
- Worship. Samuel had anointed Saul king of Israel and sent him to destoy the Amalekites. He was to destroy all they had as well. When Saul returned from battle, as he approached Samuel and said, “Blessed be thou of the Lord: I have performed the commandment of the Lord” (1 Samuel 15:13). But he had spared Agag the king and also kept back the best of their flocks “to sacrifice unto the Lord” (1 Samuel 15:21). Samuel’s response was,
“Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness (insubordination) is as iniquity and idolatry” (1 Samuel 15:22-23).
How often do we cover up our disobedience with superficiality. The appearance of worship but our heart is far from Him. We lift our hands during worship in just the right way so as to seem spiritual. We weep at the altar and do all the right things. We may even dance before the Lord in worship and even minister through the gifts and manifestations of the Spirit. All these things are wonderful expressions of worship in and of themselves but are we doing it in the service and worship of God or to be seen of men?
An Unbridled Tongue
James 1:27 – “If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain.”
James deals a lot with the tongue in James 3:3-12 which we’ll cover more in-depth later. The emphasis is on controlling our tongue or a tongue out of control. It’s sad to even mention of how much destruction has taken place as a result of the unbridled and uncontrolled tongue. It has destroyed good churches and I can’t count how many people have been deeply hurt by the destructive words that have come out of the mouths of “God’s people.”
- Gossip. “He that covereth a transgression seeketh love; but he that repeateth a matter separateth very friends” (Proverbs 17:9).
- Judgment and criticism. “Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? To his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand. But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother (Romans 14:4 and 10)?
- Evil speaking. “Speak not evil one of another, brethren. He that speaketh evil of his brother, and judgeth his brother, speaketh evil of the law, and judgeth the law: but if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer of the law, but a judge” (James 4:11).
- Words spoken in anger. “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God” (James 1:19). “A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger” (Proverbs 15:1).
- Words that don’t edify. “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers” (Ephesians 4:29).
“Deceiveth his own heart.” This is set in the context of and side by side with being doers of the Word. “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves” (James 1:22). Not actually as spiritual and religious as you think, self-deluded, you think and act as if you’re much more spiritual than you really are.
1 Corinthians 2:14 – “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”
“This man’s religion is vain.” Vain here is the Greek “mataios” and means void of results, useless, empty. What he has is not doing himself any good nor anyone else. They are not dealing with their unbridled tongue and become truly spiritual before God. Nothing they do is doing themselves any good, nor anyone in the body, and even useless to the kingdom. No fruit is coming from their life.
James 1:27 – “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.”
- Pure is the Greek “katharos” and literally means “as being cleansed.” Behaving as one who has been truly cleansed of their sins and made the righteousness of God in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21). When we have truly been made clean by the blood of Jesus we will have hearts of love and compassion for our brothers and sisters and seek nothing but that which will build them up.
- Undefiled is the Greek “aniantos” and means free from contamination. Both clean and uncontaminated. Serving God with singleness of heart. “The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light” (Matthew 6:22). Hearts and spirits set on the building up of the body of Christ and the kngdom of God.
- Before God and the Father. What a stark contrast to the previous verse. Those whose religion is vain seek to do their righteous deeds before man. The one who has experienced “pure religion” do what they do before God. Their sights are set on pleasing God, not man. They seek only the praise and approval of God and not man. They are not trying to prove how spiritual they are. They are only interested in how God sees them. Their only desire is to please God, not man.
Galatians 1:10 – “For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ.”
Matthew 5:16 – “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”
Visiting the Afflicted
Psalm 68:5 – “A father of the fatherless, and a judge of the widows, is God in his holy habitation.”
Welfare was originally the job of the church and not the government. The church should today be reaching out to all who are suffering affliction of any sort. If we’re not reaching out to those going through difficulties and hardship our so called religion or spirituality is vain, empty, useless, fruitless and void of results.
The Fatherless and widows can be broadly applied to all who are afflicted. Pastors, you and your church should be in the visitatation business. If you’re not everything else you’re doing is vain, empty, useless, fruitless and will be void of results. You should be personally involved in visiting the afflicted and you should be training your people in visitation ministry.
Matthew 25:34-36, 40 – “The King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave Me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave Me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took Me in: Naked, and ye clothed Me: I was sick, and ye visited Me: I was in prison, and ye came unto Me.”
Matthew 25:41-43, 45-46 – “Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: For I was an hungred, and ye gave Me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave Me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took Me not in: naked, and ye clothed Me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited Me not. Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to Me. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.”
Micah 6:8 – “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?”
Those to visit:
- Orphans (Includes children who have only one parent at home.)
- The Lost
- Nursing Homes
- Homeless Shelters
- Local News (Keeping an eye out for those who may be in need.)
Unspotted by the World
We are to keep ourselves unspotted by the world. Jesus said of his disciples, “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world” (John 17:16). We are in the world but not of it. We use the things of this world and even must partake of much of it, but we must have a different mind set and philosphy than that of the world.
Sadly, much of the church has brought the world in. Every new fad that comes down the pike the church latches onto. It began with departing from the Bible’s precepts and bringing phychology into the church, the recovery movement and the 12 Steps, the self-help movement, and now creating the specific ambiance the world and church world says we must have.
It used to be when you entered church and it was well lit. People were gathered around the altar praying and seeking the face of God. Now we arrive at church to find the lights dimmed, with black or blue lights, and eating doughnuts and drinking coffee. Much of the worship is what you hear on Christian radio. Everything is designed to make people comfortable.
Most of our messages are not a lot different than what you’d hear at a motivational seminar, with some Bible stories added in to make it spiritual. We’ve stripped away anything that might offend. We want people to be comfortable and encouraged but that cannot be our primary focus. Our major focus must be the worship of the one true God and teaching and preaching the Word of God.
Titus 2:1 – “But speak thou the things which become sound doctrine.”
1 Timothy 4:13 – “Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine.”
2 Timothy 4:2-4 – “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long suffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.”
2 Corinthians 6:14 – “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?”
James 4:4 – “Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.”
1 John 2:15 – ” Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”
Colossians 3:1-2 – “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.”