Blog Action Day: Meditation on James 1:27

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (NIV)

The word “meditate” in the Bible has a sense to “chew over”, “to dwell on”, a particular truth in order to not just understand it but to consider its implications for our thinking, lifestyle and actions.  But another way… “If this is true… then…” or “If I really believe this… then…”

So rather than attempt to merely understand this small verse I want to meditate on not only what it would look like if we took this verse seriously but also why our churches or gospel communities so seldom use this as a measuring stick for spiritual maturity.

What does this verse teach us at its most basic level: “The acid test of whether you truly are a Jesus follower is whether (1) you look after orphans and widows (the vulnerable and marginalised) and (2) take seriously the pervasive influence of sin in your life and culture.”

Initial reflections:

1. Most Christians actively agree with (2) but few practice (1).

2. We are too quick to blunt the hard edge of this verse because it sounds too much like salvation by works.  But the context of James is clear this is not what he has in mind.  James is writing to correct the opposite problem namely that many claim to be followers of Jesus by faith but yet their lives show a different story.  Just one example to make the point:

“What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?  Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food.  If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?  In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”  Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.” (James 2:14-18)

3. But what makes James really interesting is that James is not merely saying that faith must be shown in deeds.  But rather the kind of deeds that prove your faith are those that care for the poor, the marginalised, the widows, orphans, the vulnerable etc.  We could no doubt add other more modern categories like refugees, homeless, addicts or single moms without distorting James’ meaning at all.

So why don’t we do it?

1. We have bought into the lie that what we think is more important than what we do.  In other words as long as we can recite the correct doctrine then we have “religion that our Father accepts as pure and faultless”.  But that is not biblical faith!

Biblical faith says if you have the correct thinking/doctrine – the test of it is not that you can articulate it but that you live it.  It is not that doctrine does not matter – it does!  It is simply that the goal of right doctrine is not articulation but right living.

2. It is easier to believe that the goal of Bible study is correct doctrine rather than correct doctrine inspired living.  The goal of Bible study is to walk in the footsteps of Jesus and his followers.  Not to agree with what they said and did only.  But agreement is always far easier than service!

3. Our hearts are hard.  If our gospel is so small as to believe that if you simply pray the prayer or believe this truth or articulate this doctrine and then you are saved, then what else should we expect other than people who are Christians with a head full of individual knowledge but no heart for the lost, hurting and vulnerable for whom the Kingdom of God is good news.

What might it look like if we really lived this Scripture?

1. We might use our time very differently.  Tim Chester and Steve Timmis in their book Total Church have this to say:

The poor need a welcome to replace their marginalization; they need inclusion to replace their exclusion; to replace their powerlessness they need a place where they matter.  They need community. They need the Christian community. They need the church.” (p78)

What this means is that if Christians are to be serious about following Jesus we cannot just throw money at poor people or give them some soup once a week.  Poor people are people who like all people are made for relationship, made for community and yes made for God.

Often we want to simply give them some food and then tell them about Jesus.  Now this may have some merit, but I think the more God-honouring way is to show them the life of Jesus first.

Invite them into your home, your community, get to know them as people, as friends.  Get to know who they are, what they need, what they fear, what they dream about.  Invite them to meet your other friends, treat them as people who have value and significance, as people who Christ died for.

What does grace mean if it does not mean loving those who are perhaps undeserving, ungrateful, who are not like us, who make us feel uncomfortable, who are even a bit scandalous.  When Jesus lived out his Kingdom of grace by having table fellowship with the tax collectors and other sinners – he was called a glutton and a drunkard (Luke 7:34).  And when we talk about Jesus – our words will hopefully make sense of the lives we live?!

2. I think this passage might also affect how we view our possessions. If our primary identity is as those who belong to King Jesus.  Then surely that must determine how we use and distribute our resources.  If we, like Jesus, see that greatness in his kingdom is about serving the least among us (Mark10:43-45). Then greatness cannot be found in the abundance of possessions or the make or model of our car or even in the address where we live.

If we wish to be great in the Kingdom (isn’t it interesting that Jesus does not tell his disciples that they are wrong to desire greatness he simply redefines greatness for them), then we have to live a life of self-sacrificial service, laying down our lives (and our time and possessions) to serve the least, the lost and the lonely.

3. Perhaps some of us need to consider downscaling our address, selling our possessions, giving them away even.

Perhaps some of us need to consider downscaling the corporate ladder so that we can free up time in order to puruse kingdom relationships, including the poor and the marginalized.

4. Perhaps some of us need to give up our selfish ambitions, be content with an older car (or no car?), a smaller house, less books (ouch – yes that one hit home this side of the pc).

5. Perhaps some of home groups need to stop drinking coffee in our comfortable lounges or having suppers together around our neat programmes and Bible studies.

Perhaps we need to go walk the streets and meet the homeless, the drunks, the addicts, that live just around the corner from our comfortable lives.

Perhaps we need to invite them into our lounges, share our suppers, disrupt our neat programmes, and our comfortable lives.  Surely this is not what Jesus meant when he said:

“Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid.  But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” (Luke 14:12-14)

Perhaps our gospel communities need to start looking a little messier if they truely are to reflect the words of Jesus and James measure of what a true gospel follower looks like.

Highly Recommended Reading: “Good News to the Poor” by Tim Chester

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~ by John on October 15, 2008.

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