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.
— James 1:27
In Russia, we have a significant outreach to people who are poor, needy, and forgotten. This includes outreaches to orphans, to the developmentally disabled, to the blind, and to large numbers of people who are addicted to drugs or alcohol. Regardless of why people are in this condition, we have a God-given responsibility to do whatever we can to help them spiritually, materially, and socially — and to show them the love of Christ.
I could tell many stories of those we have helped, but one remarkable story comes to mind — a small boy whom we’ll call Sasha for the sake of confidentiality.
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Sasha was deserted as a small boy and raised by dogs. Although it seems almost too bizarre to believe, those dogs accepted that small child and raised him as a member of their pack. He lived with them and was fed and cared for by them for years before he was discovered by social workers, who placed him into the care of an outreach based out of our Moscow church.
In Russia, when a child is discovered who was raised by animals, social workers say that such a child has a “Mowgli” syndrome. It’s a term taken from “The Jungle Book” regarding the small boy who, as the story goes, was lost in the jungle as a baby and raised by animals. So when little Sasha came into the care of our outreach, he came with that “Mowgli syndrome” designation because he had been raised by dogs and had no memory of ever living with a human being.
When the outreach based in our church decided to take him, it was a huge commitment of time, attention, and love to help him transition from a world of dogs into a human environment. But they accepted the challenge. Today that little Sasha is a young man with a fabulous future. Because someone loved him enough to receive him, he is a shining example of God’s restorative powers!
In James 1:27, we are told, “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.” Denise and I have seen so many lives like little Sasha’s transformed because we have always taken seriously the Lord’s command to live according to God’s definition of “pure religion.” Today I want to talk about a certain aspect of that definition: our responsibility to show God’s kindness to the fatherless.
But let’s begin by looking at that phrase “pure religion.” It is a translation of the Greek words threskeia kathara. The word threskeia depicts religious service and includes religious acts. The second word in this phrase is kathara, which in this case simply means clean. Taken as one phrase, the new word literally means clean religion. By using these Greek words, James was describing religious actions that are “undefiled” before God.
The word “undefiled” is the Greek word amiantos, which refers to actions that are free of contamination and therefore acceptable with God. But what was James about to describe that is approved and accepted by God? What are these acceptable actions?
James continued, “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction….” The word “visit” doesn’t mean just to wave hello to them in passing. It is the Greek word episkeptomai, and it means to look upon, to physically visit, or to provide help for those in need, and it was even used to denote the provision of medical care. James then specified the target that we are to care for: “…the fatherless and the widows in their affliction….”
The word “fatherless” is the Greek word orphanos, and it is from this term that we derive the word orphan. However, the English usage of the word “orphan” is more limited today than it was during the First Century AD when James wrote this verse. In New Testament times, the word orphanos described not only children left without a parent, but it also included the idea of abandonment. Perhaps the parents are still living, but the children are abandoned and left to themselves with no parental care or guidance. In Russia, this category is often called social orphans and refers to children with living parents who have abandoned them. For all intents and purposes, they are fatherless and motherless. In fact, this Greek word orphanos could even be used to describe adults who have suffered abandonment.
James used the word “affliction” to describe the living situation of this category of people. This is the Greek word thlipsis, which depicts pressures that make it difficult to cope with life. This hardship may include housing, food, medical needs, or other physical needs that leave a person suffering in life. As you will see in tomorrow’s Sparkling Gem, James included physically needy widows in this category of people.
Of course, every situation isn’t as desperate as little Sasha’s. Yet every need that fits this category is acute, and James wrote that if we are interested in living out a religion that is clean and acceptable before God, we must turn our attention to the fatherless and motherless and to those who have been abandoned in life. God’s commandment to us is not just to wave hello to them and wish them better luck. He actually wants us to focus our attention on them, physically visit them, help them, and provide them with the medical care they need.
If you don’t know how to personally get involved in helping those who have been abandoned, ask your church for advice or look for a ministry that specializes in helping the poor and needy. People often talk about how bad religion is. But according to James, there is a clean, uncontaminated form of religion — and the Lord commands us to do whatever we can to get involved in it!
MY PRAYER FOR TODAY
Father, I want to demonstrate my faith in You with actions that reflect Your character. You are a Father to the fatherless and the Source of hope to the hopeless. You said that those who give to the poor are lending to You. You are watchful over the defenseless, and You take note how they are treated. I thank You for reminding me today that pure, undefiled religion is lived out by loving those who are in need. Through the demonstration of my love, I am directly participating in the expression of Your own heart toward them. And by loving them, I am offering genuine worship to You. Thank You, Father, for allowing me the privilege to be an extension of Your hands so others may know Your goodness practically through experience for themselves.
I pray this in Jesus’ name!
MY CONFESSION FOR TODAY
I confess that I live out a religion that is clean and acceptable before God. I give attention to the fatherless and motherless and to those people who have been abandoned in life. When I encounter the fatherless who have been abandoned, neglected, and left bereft of any support, I do not simply wish them well. I inquire of the Lord how I can personally give aid and provide help for them.
I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!
QUESTIONS FOR YOU TO CONSIDER
- What do you do to help the poor and needy? Have you ever visited people in need?
- Do you regularly give offerings to help support ministries that reach those who are in dire circumstances? Whom are they helping? What are they doing with the offerings you send to them? Do you know?
- Whom do you know who has been abandoned in life? How could you reach out to these individuals with an expression of friendship? Maybe you don’t have finances to give, but you could call them, check on them, visit them, and show genuine compassion to them. Who is that person or group of people?