Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. 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.
James, the little brother of Jesus, wasn't playing when he penned his message to the churches that were being birthed across the region. He dives right in to the heart of Christian life, giving us all manner of quotable quotes about how we should be living and what we should be doing with this thing called faith. And his writing is so powerful, so frank and specific, it still speaks into today, current, applicable, utterly on the pulse of the church in 2012.
He's kicking my hiney. He always does.
My Bible is colored in techni-hues when I open up the book of James. Over the years, I have studied and read and studied it some more. I've underlined and marked and made notes and looked up the Greek. And here I am again, finding new treasure, old friends and fresh insight.
I love how James addresses the important need to take care of those around us in chapter 1 verse 27. He tells us that religion God accepts as pure is taking care of the needy, those without home or resource, the people in society who get overlooked. And I love that I see a movement in the modern church to address more strongly the need for social justice and that the church should be at the forefront of fighting poverty and oppression.
James adds something to the social justice rallying cry. He doesn't stop his sentence in verse 27 with his call to feed the widows and orphans. He bookends it with something very important. Pure religion is taking care of the poor.
And keeping oneself from being polluted by the world.
Sometimes when we're up to all kinds of good works, when we're fighting human trafficking or providing for hurricane survivors and whatever the cause, we can forget James's call to keep ourselves pure. In our desire to shake off legalism and a doctrine that has been exclusive and judgmental, we can give ourselves a lot of latitude when it comes to the entertainments of the world. Our giving of time and resources can be great...but our control over our thought life or our mouth can be out of control, all in the name of not adopting legalism.
I love how James doesn't let me get away with it.
I love how he mashes social activism and pure living in a puree of faith and righteousness and dares me to take a big bite, where I can't pick through and only eat what I want.
He dares me. Challenges me. Kicks me a little.
And calls me to be proactive and unpolluted.
Just like what he saw his Big Brother doing.