Reflection on 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.

We have often asked to ourselves and others what is the right religion? What should we be doing to please God? Does this verse give us warrant to become active in social work? I hope shedding some light on this portion of the Scripture may help you to evaluate your religion.

We must understand that James is writing to the Jewish Churches who are scattered in all different places. He is also trying to help them to see the difference between unproductive religion and productive religion. He is giving them picture of false religion and pure religion which is accepted by God. They must have brought with them in their Church their old religion and practices.

Pure religion – On the word here rendered “religion” (θρησκεία thrēskeia). BDAG says, “it is the expression of devotion to transcendent beings.” Here James is emphasizing external actions and patterns of behavior of follower of Christ. Most commentators will agree that this word refers to the outward, to the external expression of belief. It is outworking of one’s Faith. Faith without works is dead..” We must understand even though we are talking about outer behavior, practice or work, but we are not called to do these outward things out of impure and selfish reasons. This should be the inevitable result of the one’s internal pure religion. The phrase “pure religion” means that which is genuine and sincere, or which is free from any improper mixture.

Undefiled (ἀμίαντος) carries the further idea of a religion free from selfish do-good motives.Andtherefore undefiled religion is what is not selfish and a religion which does not promote one’s own interest. And this is not what one feels about his or her own religion but what is pure and undefiled before God and the Father.

This genuine religion has two elements.

1. First it is not selfish but benevolent. (External Element)

First, the verb to look after or oversee ἐπισκέπτεσθαι (episkeptomai) is a compound verb in which the prepositional prefix epi- places an emphasis on the act of looking. Here, then, it is proper to translate this verb not merely as “visit” (KJV, RSV, NASB) but as “look after” (NIV). It is the same verb used by Matthew in Mt 25:36, 43. it is just not feeling but it is moving with compassion in a tangible way. A Christian is moved with compassion and gives out all what he can liberally, sacrificially and cheerfully. One is not merely giving money but also is actively involved in taking care of the fatherless and widows with his own hands. You are also called to do not for you own glory and praise. We can be tempted to do it and want our name or our loved one’s name on a plaque. How often our giving and our service is merely for applause.

2. Secondly it is not stained but blameless. (Internal Element)

The second thing, we must give our attention to is to this Greek word Unspotted (ἄσπιλον).(“unspotted,” literally, “without spot or stain”) refers to what is morally (spiritually) untainted, i.e. morally unblemished (pure) – “free from censure, irreproachable, free from vice, unsullied” (K. Wuest). The pure religion also demands purity. It is a call to live holy. We should keep ourselves “without reproach”. That is, religion will keep us from the maxims, vices, and corruptions which prevail in the world, and make us holy. James has used word “world” five times in his epistle but on all occasion it is used in negative sense. This means he was exhorting us that there are things in the world that can defile us.What are some of things that can taint or stain us?

a. By world: culture, community, and company (II Corinthians 6:12,Proverbs 12:26 ,Psalm 1:1)
b. By Flesh: Our tongue (v 26), our heart ( Jeremiah 17:9) and our corrupt mind ( I Timothy 6:5) and our lust and greed (Colossians 3:5)This is by no means a exhaustive list.

• Evaluate the motives behind the social work. John 12:6

• New Testament tells us who these widows are, see I Timothy 5:5-10

• Acts 6 is another example of taking care of poor and needy within the church.

• James does not open up a social organization for widows and for orphans. He is speaking to these Christians in their churches, and he is reminding them of their duties. It is Churches’ responsibilities.

• This passage does not give us any basis for social agenda, which has become increasingly popular among evangelicals.

• Many social religious organizations and the leaders of such organization using religion as a “cloak of covetousness” (I Thessalonians 2:5), “whose god is their belly, and who set their mind on earthly things”( Philippians 3:18) and those who suppose that godliness (Religion) is a means of gain. ( I Timothy 6:5)

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