Peninsula Community Church
March 3, 2013
James – How’s your Religion? Part 2
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. 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.
We began to look at the subject last week of what is “good” religion. We will continue that discussion this week but will look at the later verse. As we read this text, we find that as a whole James deals with three key issues. First, he addresses the subject of controlling our tongue. Second, he addresses the issue of having a compassionate heart illustrated by caring for widows and orphans. Third, he deals with the issue of a pure life as represented by his call for us to live unstained by the world.
As you will recall from last week, bad religion is defined as rules and regulations being more important than the inward heart of the man.
As we look at this passage today, we must understand the historical position in which James found himself. In those days, as we have noted in past sermons, widows were treated very badly. If a widow’s spouse died and there was no one to take care of her she most likely ended up on the streets. When this occurs she most likely became poor and destitute. It was from this context that James defined good religion as caring for the widow and the orphan. In other words, passionate followers of Christ must exhibit a compassionate view toward those who are incapable of helping themselves.
It is critical to note that compassion cannot be mandated or regulated. Someone has said that compassion is a spontaneous emotion that arises from the individual caregiver’s spiritual reservoirs. Trying to regulate or mandate compassion would be absurd as it is an issue of the heart. To understand this it would be helpful to define a couple of terms. The term passion means to have powerful or compelling emotions. The term compassion means to suffer along side. Notice that passion can be an individual emotion but passion to be effective must be worked out alongside or with someone else, preferably the one in need. We can be moved emotionally by our passion but it is compassion that moves us into action.
Good Religion is illustrated in our compassion to the widow and the orphan. To understand why James would reference these groups we only have to look at the religious leaders of Jesus day. In Luke 20:45-47 we see a scathing report from Jesus on how the religion of the Scribes was outward focused rather than inwardly motivated. “And in the hearing of all the people he said to his disciples, ‘Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love greetings in the marketplaces and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.'”
You see that the Scribes were known for their outward piety and expressions of holy living but their hearts were far from where God could put a stamp of approval on their lifestyle. In Micah 6:8 Micah defines what is required of us as passionate and compassionate followers of Christ. He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? In Matthews 9:26 we see the heart of Christ as well. We see that he manifested a heart of compassion. Matthew stated that When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
A heart of compassion is best illustrated by the Good Samaritan who chose to help the one he found by the roadside. The religious leaders of the day had left him on the side of the road because their appearance was more important than their compassion for one left to die. We see the heart of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:33. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. The fact is that most of those who need our care will in some ways be rejected by society.
While James uses the orphan and the widow as his focus of good religion we could easily put any other group of people in this category. For example, it is very likely if he wrote this text today he could have stated that good religion is caring for the unborn child. He did not do that as abortion was not an issue in his day. Abortion is most likely the closest things for us in that the unborn child is helpless to care for itself. Rather than helping them from conception to the grave we have a decided as a nation that we can abort at will even up the point of birth, in some cases. Not only could this be the widows and orphans but could also be those with aides, those with severe disabilities and handicaps.
The real question is do we have a compassionate heart to help those who are less fortunate and truly need our help? The fact is we cannot help everyone but we can help those within our sphere of influence and those we come across. Those we reach can then be in a place where they reach others and the circle of help is extended beyond what we can do individually, and, if each church were to do their part then so many could be reached for Christ.
We should also mention that compassion does not mean that we leave common sense at the door. In fact, common sense is our best weapon to fully minister to someone. I remember a family that attended our church in New York and came to us to ask for help. As a leadership team, we felt we were to help them financially but as time went along we found that different members of the board would find this family in interesting places. One member of the board was at a business lunch in a very high priced establishment and across the room was this family and all of their five kids. A second member of the board was out with his wife at an upper end restaurant and here was this family. The end of the story was that after some investigation it was found out that they were scamming the church and other churches in the area. We met with them and needless to say they did not take our counsel lightly and were extremely angry. They were upset not that they were hurting others or that they were in the wrong but that they were caught.
It is for this reason that James issues the admonition that we not be stained by the world. The fact is we can be abused and used but that does not mean that we should not respond to those who are truly in need. The term unstained means that we are without moral blemish. This does not mean that we never sin or do anything wrong it is a matter of being positioned to quickly seek forgiveness and allow the sin to be removed.
When I use to wear ties all of the time, when I would arrive home Michelle could tell exactly what I had for lunch by looking at my tie. I was so glad for the Tide pen that came out. When I would spill something I could now easily clean it up so that there would be no stain. Asking for forgiveness is like this. I get soiled by the world but I quickly move to eradicate the sin by way of forgiveness. This is why Jesus gave us the Lord’s prayer the way he did. A part of our daily prayer should be “forgive us of our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
So how is your compassion this morning? Do you honestly care for others? Do you use common sense when dealing with others? How’s your spiritual life today? Is it soiled by the world’s views? Do you immediately ask for forgiveness when you are soiled by the world or fall into a sin? Its your choice…..