Hello friends and welcome to the weekend! As a heads up, the next few podcasts might be a little on the shorter than normal side, as I am preparing for a small road trip with my daughter, and will have to record a few episodes to upload while gone. So - the plan is - Lord willing! - for there to be an uninterrupted stream of episodes all next week, but to do that, I'll need to record a few in advance. Rejoice ye podcast saints who like the shorter episodes, but mourn all ye who yearn and hearken with joy unto the longer episodes. This should all return back to normal by next Saturday. Today's Bible readings include Numbers 17 and 18, Psalms 55, Isaiah 7 and James chapter 1, which is our focus passage for today, based on the final verse:
26 If anyone thinks he is religious without controlling his tongue, his religion is useless and he deceives himself. 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.
So - is there a religion that God calls pure and faultless? Yes! And it is James 1:27ism. Thanks for listening to today's show - Godspeed!
Okay, I'm kidding. Shorter, but not quite that short...we haven't even read Numbers yet! One thing to address before we get to the big question. The word 'religion' here in James 1:26-27 is the Greek word 'θρησκεία thrēskeía.' In one sense, 'religion' is a pretty good translation of the word, but to a modern reader, I believe that the word 'religion' means something quite a bit different than what James is communicating here. When most here the word 'religion' they think about all of the various different religions of the world - all of the different practices of faith and beliefs about salvation, etc. That doesn't appear to be - at all - what James is talking about here. I think a better translation of the word is 'God-fearing,' for at least two reasons. #1 Threskia is derived from a Greek word 'θρησκός thrēskós' which means fearful or trembling, and is sometimes used in the context of worshipping God. #2 James isn't talking about all of the religions of the world and how to please their various deities; He is telling Christians how to please God - how to walk in a God-fearing, God-pleasing way. That said, I can't find a SINGLE modern translation that agrees with me, so you should trust the translators and not me.
Regardless, I believe that every modern Bible translator would agree that James 1:26-27 is indeed teaching us what God finds pure and faultless, and there are three elements to it:
#1 To please God, we MUST control our tongues - our words, our speech. The good news is that we don't have to speculate what James was talking about in terms of using our words in a God-pleasing way, because he tells us a few paragraphs later:
9 With the tongue we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in God’s likeness. 10 Blessing and cursing come out of the same mouth. My brothers and sisters, these things should not be this way.
#2 To please God, we must look after orphans and widows - those who are fatherless, motherless or parentless and those who have lost their husbands. How big of a deal is this to God? I'm glad you asked:
Wash and make yourselves clean.
Take your evil deeds out of my sight;
stop doing wrong.
17 Learn to do right; seek justice.
Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
plead the case of the widow. 18 “Come now, let us settle the matter,”says the Lord.“Though your sins are like scarlet,they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson,they shall be like wool. Isaiah 1:16-18
#3 - Pure and faultless God-fearing is to keep yourself from being stained/transformed by the world. James goes on to elaborate on this point sharply as well:
4 You adulterous people! Don’t you know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? So whoever wants to be the friend of the world becomes the enemy of God. 5 Or do you think it’s without reason that the Scripture says: The spirit he made to dwell in us envies intensely
As a kid, you sometimes wonder if your parents have favorites. As a youth minister, I definitely saw parents with kids who were their favorites and kids who weren't. As a dad of 5, I haven't really had to struggle with that much, all my kids are very different, but I've not ever had a favorite - they are all my favorite. I wonder sometimes about God, though. Does He have favorites...if He does, I think I know who they are: widows and orphans, and I'm not even kidding.
The Lord is near the brokenhearted;
he saves those crushed in spirit.
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