Hello everybody, and welcome in to episode 88 of the Bible 2021 podcast. We are reading James 1 today and our focus is on Widows, Orphans and Holiness: Where both Liberal and Conservative Churches Can Miss What the Bible Says. We are a daily 10 minute podcast, where we will dig in to the truth of the Word of God by reading one Bible chapter a day and discussing it. Welcome to new listeners in Harare AND Manicaland, Zimbabwe, County Kerry, Ireland, Maharashtra, India, Birmingham, Alabama, Oklahoma City, OK, and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Thanks for listening! Our goal is to encourage DAILY Bible reading, so you can jump in at any time and join with us. We want to invite as many people as possible to join us in daily Bible reading, so help spread the word and share the podcast Don’t forget about our web-page, Bible2021.com – contact page, show notes, transcript and more– Click here for our Bible 2021 reading plan
James is a book that is absolutely chock full of wisdom – the New Testament version of the book of Proverbs. The first chapter reads less like a letter, or a treatise on a few subjects, and more like a series of wisdom statements and commands that are narrowly connected, with each one packing a punch of its own. For a ten minute podcast, I think there could be well over two dozen topics to choose from in this one little chapter. We could talk about controlling our words, or doing the Word of God, and not just hearing it, or how to acquire wisdom, or the blessing of going through trials, or how we shouldn’t be surprised by fiery trials, or the trouble with doubting, the danger of riches, or how God doesn’t tempt anyone. Or, or, or – that’s a very small list of the topics covered in this chapter. For today’s episode, our focus is on the very last topic covered: pure religion, and what it looks like. Let’s read the chapter and then discuss that expression of pure religion.
Many commentators have seen strong conflict between James and Paul. I don’t see conflict, but I certainly do see different emphases. Paul emphasizes salvation by faith, and James emphasizes the doing of good works as an offshoot of faith. Neither contradicts the other, as James also talks a good bit about faith, and Paul also encourages good works. In today’s chapter, we find a very interesting ending, which will serve as our verse of the day:
27 Pure and undefiled religion before God the Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
First of all, what does James mean by religion? The Bible’s use of this word, θρησκεία thrēskeía, doesn’t exactly match up with our modern usage of the word. θρησκεία thrēskeía is probably best translated as God-fearing, and has an element of worship. Most moderns, when they hear the word religion, they think of all the religions of the world, which is not what James has in view here – he is talking about how to fear and worship God.
That said, we see two elements in our verse of the day, and I find that the purest expression of God-fearing must embrace BOTH sides of what James is saying here, or trouble will quickly come. I can think of many liberal denominations and churches who are doing great works of compassion and helping people. They have a heart for widows and orphans and for those suffering, and their focus is on serving and helping them. Wonderful – and a most commended biblical activity. As followers of Jesus, we must be about the business of giving to and serving the least of these, or we will not go to Heaven. If you think that is a heretical statement, or denying salvation by grace alone through faith alone, then I will note that it is the clear teaching of Jesus in Matthew 25:31-46 – a saved follower of Jesus will not be saved by ministering to the least of these (like widows and orphans) but they are NOT saved, says Jesus, if they DON’T minister to the least of these, like widows and orphans. A person saved by Jesus, according to Jesus and Paul and James will do good works like serving and giving to the least of these. But some churches and denominations stop there in terms of James 1:27. The look after the orphans and widows, which is admirable, but they don’t prioritize being unstained from the world – AKA holiness…which is a deadly danger. Consider these passages:
14 Pursue peace with everyone, and holiness—without it no one will see the Lord. Hebrews 12:14
So then, dear friends, since we have these promises, let us cleanse ourselves from every impurity of the flesh and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God. 2nd Corinthians 7:1
2 Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God. Romans 12:2
What is holiness, or being unstained by the world? It is obeying God’s commands, God’s Word. When we deviate from that in any way, we are following the ways of the world, which puts our soul in grave danger. Paul puts this in the starkest possible way in 1 Corinthians 6:
9 Don’t you know that the unrighteous will not inherit God’s kingdom? Do not be deceived: No sexually immoral people, idolaters, adulterers, or males who have sex with males, 10 no thieves, greedy people, drunkards, verbally abusive people, or swindlers will inherit God’s kingdom. 11 And some of you used to be like this. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11
This is the expanded version of Hebrews 12:14- without holiness, no one will see the Lord. Without repenting of these worldly acts and deeds – no one will see the Lord. And some liberal churches and denominations struggle with this essential call to holiness.
On the other hand, we have conservative churches who might pride themselves on keeping the ‘whole Word of God.’ They might think, “we’re not like those liberals who ignore parts of the Bible – we call a sin a sin and don’t try to justify that which the Bible calls sinful – we don’t want to be stained by the world.” It is good to embrace the last part of James 1:27 – it is 1/2 of pure and undefiled religion, and embracing 1/2 of something important, while ignoring the other half will get you an ‘F’ on a test, and gives you or I no license to look down on somebody else. Many conservative churches and denominations strive to emphasize holiness and being unstained, but they do NOT strive to care for the least of these, the poor and the orphan and the widow. They might give lip-service to it, but James is going to show us over the next few chapters how dangerous and ungodly it is to merely give lip-service to God’s commands to take care of those in need. Pure and undefiled God-fearing – the kind of worship and Christianity that God calls us to – will strive to walk in the holiness that the Word of God calls us to AND will genuinely and sacrificially look after widows, orphans and others who have needs. Holiness and compassion go hand in hand and are two sides of the same coin of God-fearing, and what God has joined together, let no one separate.
End of the Show: Bible memory verse for March: Hebrews 7:25 “Therefore, [Jesus] is able to save completely those who come to God through him, since he always lives to intercede for them.”
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