God’s Word for You
James 1:26-27 Orphans and widows
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Friday, July 17, 2020
26 If anyone considers himself to be religious but deceives his own heart because he does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, his religion is worthless.
I would like to think that James the coach is saying this only to encourage his people, and that his words are not about a real, particular sin out among the scattered Jewish Christians, but it’s more likely that he is thinking about something that really has been taking place. The man he describes (or woman) thinks that he is really religious. He does all of the outward things. He goes to church, he gives an offering, he sends his children to Sunday school or to Catechism class. He makes sure his wife has something nice to wear to worship in all seasons of the year. But he is fooling himself. He runs off at the mouth, letting his words and opinions fly all over the place like an unbridled horse. Even if what he says runs contrary to every bit of common sense everyone else has in abundance, he doesn’t care. If he is a single man with no family, he is a nuisance. If he is a husband and a father, he is a burden to his family. If he is a leader with a military or a political position of importance, he is a serious danger to people’s health and to their lives. He only cares about himself. Pray for the people he cares nothing about. His religion is worthless; his pretense of going to church won’t do him any good in the Judgment. The Master will say to him, “I don’t know you or where you come from” (Luke 13:25).
27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to take care of orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
One of the blessings God gives to us is the opportunity and ability to help people who do not have the means to help themselves. Orphans and widows especially come to mind, but there are poor people of all kinds throughout the world: Victims of war and disease, victims of white-collar crime by thieves, grifters, those who commit fraud, internet scammers, those who prey on the elderly and the confused, and other predators who take what is not theirs because they worship a god far removed from the true paradise. The wake of destruction and agony that such sewer rats leave behind is filled with cries for help. God hears their prayers, and he uses us to help them like a ship’s captain sending out his crew in longboats to pick up survivors of a shipwreck.
How hard it is to keep yourself unstained by the world! The filth of sin is everywhere, not just spewing from the unbridled lips of the irreligious and other misguided fools. But this is the world we live in; this is the world Christ entered for our sakes. This is the world after the Fall, and God’s compassion flows through our fingers and words and bank accounts to helpless refugees and victims.
A gift to a widow paying for her lost husband’s chemo or radiation treatments is a favor for which she will always be grateful, and another gift she might welcome would be help or advice about her finances and taxes. I remember my grandmother’s shock after my Grandpa Ott died, shock over their finances; the complicated blizzard of legal red tape left over from property they owned and investments she didn’t know anything about. Another gift to a widow is simply friendship. If she (or he) needs therapy, a professional’s help, then let them seek it out, but a friend’s ear can be a welcome diversion without needing to provide any answers. Just be a Christian friend.
A gift to an orphan is a more difficult path, depending on the age of the child, but a Christian example is always priceless. Our legal system gives placement to orphaned children, but it doesn’t give spiritual ‘placement,’ and so when you or I encounter a child who has lost their parents, we have an opportunity to become a sometime mentor the way that an aunt or uncle would have been. Don’t avoid such an opportunity. Solomon said, “Cast your bread upon the waters, for after many days you will find it again” (Ecclesiastes 11:1). By giving up some of my “bread” today, time, a listening ear, a little concern, a little advice from experience, I may find it again long after in a well-adjusted adult who I gave some time to many years before. The reward isn’t for me, but for the kingdom of God. The best gift we can give is the word of God. What a blessing to be taught how to read the Bible, how to pray, how to use the Catechism—and arranging for Catechism or Sunday school instruction! What a reward all in itself to drive an orphaned child to church every week and see that he or she gets to Sunday school, and then to talk about the lesson on the drive home again. Imagine an elderly pastor or teacher leaning back in an armchair eighty years from now, thinking of your little momentary gift, and saying: “She used to take me to church after my mom and dad died; I would never even have thought of serving the church and my gracious God if it hadn’t been for that gift.”
This is the very kind of service that is given to us by God to give away in turn in order to help us remain unstained, to some degree, by the world. By keeping ourselves focused on God’s will and ways to thank God with our lives, we remain in the light of Christ, washed of our sins by faith and showing it with our lives.
Peace, prosperity, and health,
Private bliss and public wealth,
Knowledge with its gladd’ning streams,
True religion’s holier beams—
Lord, for these our souls shall raise
Grateful vows and solemn praise. (Christian Worship 612:3)
Pastor Timothy Smith