“Pure Religion” (James 1:27)

“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” (James 1:27).

From the Old Testament all the way through the New Testament, God has always wanted His people to help the less fortunate who came into their midst. In the Old Testament, Moses warned, “You shall not afflict any widow or fatherless child” (Exodus 22:22). Many other passages speak to this responsibility to “widows and orphans” (Deuteronomy 10:17-18; 14:28-29; 24:17-21; 26:12-13; 27:19; Job 29:12-16; Psalm 10:12-18; 68:5-6; 146:5-9; Isaiah 1:21-23; 10:1-3; Jeremiah 5:28-29; 22:3; 49:11; Malachi 3:5). Thus, consistent with this repetition, when we come to the pages of the New Testament we find God still expects His people to care for “orphans and widows in their trouble” (James 1:27).

Since this practice “to visit orphans and widows” is tied to “pure and undefiled religion” it is important for us to know what this means. In English, when we think of the word “visit” we often think of a social call. If the neighbor stopped in for a “visit,” he justcame by to talk. If we go to “visit” grandma’s house we are often just stopping in to say hello. Yet, our English connotation does not match the idea behind the original Greek word used in James. There is more to this responsibility.

Strong’s Dictionary defines this word “visit” as “to inspect, that is, (by implication) to select; by extension to go to see, relieve: - look out, visit.” So, when we do the important work of caring for widows and orphans we are “inspecting” and “relieving” their situation. This is far more than stopping in for a chat (cp. Matthew 25:43; Luke 1:68,78; Acts 15:14; Hebrews 2:6). The early church was so involved in relieving the Christian widows they appointed “seven men” to see to the work (Acts 6:1-6). Specific directions are given by Paul about the church’s process in helping those who are “really widows” (1 Timothy 5:3-16). In brief, one’s family relations have the first responsibility in helping widows (5:4, 8, 16). Yet, if there were no family or the family was unwilling to help then the church was obligated to meet the needs of those who were “really widows” (5:5-10, 16).

If an individual refuses to help widows or orphans, it is a failure to practice “pure religion.” If the local church fails to help those who are truly destitute among them it is a failure to practice “pure religion.” Thus, James makes the end goal of our generosity very concrete in this passage. It is not just putting money in a collection plate to be seen only on a church’s budget paperwork. No, church members are to use their funds to help, individually, those who are less fortunate. Churches also helped these individuals as well when there was no family to do so. This is why “neglecting” the widows of Acts 6 was a strong accusation. It was the allegation of a failure to practice “pure religion” in favor of partiality. God loves all, especially the helpless. Consider them in your giving. His people must exhibit the love of God towards the helpless if we practice “pure religion.”