“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
James does not here make an all-inclusive statement, as if these were the only duties involved in the Christian religion. He rather sets forth two choice adornments of pure and undefiled religion: namely charity and purity. Possessing the system of faith or body of truth is only one aspect of true religion. Paul told Titus to “adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things” (Titus 2:10). “Adorn” carries the thought of ornamenting, garnishing, or perhaps embellishing. While the word does imply decoration, the good works of a Christian are not only decorative, they are eminently practical.
Paul writes to the Philippians, “Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ” (Philippians 1:29). Here the believers’ behavior is to become the Gospel of Christ. “Becometh” in this verse is translated from the Greek word axios, which means appropriately, suitably, or worthily. The word occurs six times in the New Testament where it is translated “becometh” twice; “worthy,” three times; and “a godly sort,” once.
Two of the passages where the word occurs are of particular importance here. The first is found in Paul’s epistle to the Colossians, “That ye might walk worthy [axios] of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:10). The second occurs in his first epistle to the Thessalonians, “That ye would walk worthy [axios] of God, who hath called you unto his kingdom and glory” (1 Thessalonians 2:12). (Greek added by JFS).
From the above cited passages, we learn that there is in fact a way of walking, or living daily, that is in accordance with and worthy of the pure Word of God. It is the way, or manner of life, that is appropriate or suitable to the profession we have made. James gives an example of this in our text. For our purpose in this devotion, let us further consider the adornment of charity as set forth in this passage.
James makes a statement pertaining to charity in our text, “To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction.” The “fatherless and widows” represent a certain class of people. Orphans and widows are sort of weak and helpless. They are also lonely. They are easily oppressed and often neglected. The class is further expanded by adding those that are “in their affliction,” for they may be afflicted temporarily or terminally. “To visit” speaks of a Christian ministering to them in ways that our available to him. Since loneliness is involved, the actual physical act of visiting is certainly included. They often want for fellowship and companionship.
We may consult the ministry of Dorcas to be instructed in the practicality of charity, for “this woman was full of good works and almsdeeds which she did” (Acts 9:36). She did not seem to have an abundance of resources to give alms to the poor. She manifested her charity through “good works and almsdeeds which she did.” Her religion consisted of a lot of doing and her giving was of her time, energy, and humble resources, while her hands ministered to the necessities of the weak. She visited the widows by making “coats and garments” for them (Acts 9:39). Her compassionate work had endeared her to many and there was great weeping at her death.
The works of charity are a test of true religion. Paul the Apostle said, “And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:2). The way a man treats the weak and afflicted says a lot about his true character. Christian, how do you treat the weak, needy, poor, and helpless? Do you only help those that are temporarily in need, who have the power to reciprocate? Do you only help when it will be noticed by those of great influence? In his epistle, James condemned showing preference to whom we would choose to serve based on their social standing (James 2:1-10).
Are you willing to serve and minister to others when it will not be noticed and the ones you help are not able to do anything for you? Do you desire to serve and minister to others when it will not directly benefit you in any way? Remember, John wrote in his first epistle, “In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother” (1 John 3:10). The possessor of true religion will show his faith by his works.