Religion that Pleases God
26 Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. 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.
Chapter one of James has been dominated by the issue of trials. How we manage unwelcome and unexpected circumstances is a very important issue in life. Will we be faithful to follow Jesus when we experience hardship? Especially when hardship comes from people. Often times the very issue is that we are faithfully following Jesus instead of people.
Since people are often the source of our trials and since our desires are the very thing that we need to be most wary of, James tells us to receive the Word implanted in us which can save us! As Jesus said quoting Deuteronomy: “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”
If there is any question as to whether we are living in a God pleasing manner, we can simply ask, “Are we steadily applying what we learn from the Bible to our lives?”
Thinking along those lines of whether or not we are applying the Word of God which will save us to our lives, James moves to some application issues. He transition to the issue by questioning whether or not we are religious in the right way. And as a test of whether or not we are following Christ as the Word of God, He hits three very simple and foundational issues: How we talk and how we care for people who need care and whether we are allowing the world to shape our values or whether we are allowing Jesus to shape our values.
Before we talk about the application issues, let’s think about what it means to be acceptably religious.
- Concerning Acceptable Religious Observances
Why broach this subject?
- If we are not presently actively repenting, then we believe that we are doing ok. We must be ok if we don’t need to change.
(Last week and the unimpeded driving. And the lawn mowing issue.)
The real issue is being patient while driving and serving as a mower by faith, not seeking to control every variable.
- Most people are not presently actively seeking change in their lives.
- Most people would include me? So James picks three issues: Our speech, caring for the needy, and adopting worldly values.
- How do we view ourselves?
People may consider themselves to be religious. The word here for religious relates to demonstrating piety. Most people consider themselves to be demonstrating a life of appropriate piety. (I don’t hurt anyone…) All of your sinful behavior hurts people. If you are not all that you could be, then the world is worse off for it!
But there are folks here that James is addressing, and they do believe that they are demonstrating appropriate piety. Or to put it another way, they are not conscious of a need to repent of anything.
- How God views us
We need to be careful to not make assumptions about God’s patience.
If God does not immediately judge and crush sin, then it is easy for people to assume that He does not care. Secondly, because we are so prone to compare ourselves to others, we think that because we can see others doing poorly in our eyes that we are doing well. It can also be that everyone is doing poorly.
God told Abraham that his family would go down into Egypt for 400 years because the sins of the Amorites had not reached their fulfillment. When their sins had ripened, God judged them thoroughly. This is why God told the Israelites to wipe them all out. They were completely corrupt. Genesis 6 the folks were completely corrupt.
Our world today is in a state of decay. People think that Jesus’ return could be imminent because of the appropriate need for God’s judgement on man’s sin. Well, Jesus may return or He may not, no man knows the hour or the day.
But God will judge sin and nations rise and fall. That is what they always have done. God honors those who honor Him. Ask yourself the question, does the world honor God? Does our nation honor God? Do I honor God? How do I do this?
- Avoid a worldly standard of behavior
Live in the world, don’t be stained by the world. This means don’t act like the world.
Story of the illustration of the Jar and whether or not it is full.
We have got to simplify our lives and we have got to be careful to keep God at the center of our hearts or else we will be enslaved to that which enslaves the world.
2 and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
3 But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people.
What are worldly values?
And how do people act in order to have these things?
Where are the families? How hard has our culture made it on families with young children? There is an incredible need for support!
What happens when people do not have children? What happens when people do not embrace self-discipline? What happens when people do not reflect reality and celebrate competence and instead reward some other quality? We are inviting chaos. Chaos will come.
It is interesting to me the two different types of behaviors that James highlights as true religious observances:
- Controlling Your Tongue
- Our words reflect our values
Matthew 12: 33 “Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. 34 You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. 35 A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. 36 But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. 37 For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”
James 3: 9 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. 11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.
- Words can hurt
Sticks and stones… What a lie!!!
Ephesians 4: 22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 26 “In your anger do not sin”
29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
False words, angry words, unwholesome words, attacking words, jealous words. Any words that do not reflect love should not be spoken!
Proverbs 18: 20 From the fruit of their mouth a person’s stomach is filled; with the harvest of their lips they are satisfied.
21 The tongue has the power of life and death,
and those who love it will eat its fruit.
- Words can give life
Words can heal, words can build up, words can give strength! Words can produce repentance and faith. Words can give life!!!!
Colossians 4: 5 Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. 6 Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.
III. Caring for Widows and Orphans
- God cares for those in need
6 “‘See how each of the princes of Israel who are in you uses his power to shed blood. 7 In you they have treated father and mother with contempt; in you they have oppressed the foreigner and mistreated the fatherless and the widow. 8 You have despised my holy things and desecrated my Sabbaths. 9 In you are slanderers who are bent on shedding blood; in you are those who eat at the mountain shrines and commit lewd acts. 10 In you are those who dishonor their father’s bed; in you are those who violate women during their period, when they are ceremonially unclean. 11 In you one man commits a detestable offense with his neighbor’s wife, another shamefully defiles his daughter-in-law, and another violates his sister, his own father’s daughter. 12 In you are people who accept bribes to shed blood; you take interest and make a profit from the poor. You extort unjust gain from your neighbors. And you have forgotten me, declares the Sovereign Lord.
- Treated father and mother with contempt: One of the ten.
- Oppressed the foreigner, widow and orphan.
- Desecrated Sabbaths: One of the ten
- Slanderers bent on shedding blood: Two of the ten
- Adultery and incest: One of the ten
- accepting bribes to shed innocent blood, making a profit from the poor, extorting your neighbor. Two of the ten.
- Jesus identifies with those in need
Matthew 24: 45 “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? 46 It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. 47 Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions.
Three parables of Matthew 25:
- Ten virgins: Be ready, we looking for Jesus all night long.
- Talents: take what God has given you and use it for His kingdom. God’s kingdom is anti-chaos. Make the world a less chaotic place. Support beauty and order and love.
- Parable of the sheep and goats:
Matthew 25: 34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
- Bear one another’s burdens
Galatians 6: 1Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. 2 Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. 3 If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. 4 Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, 5 for each one should carry their own load.
Each person is responsible to God for what He has given them. And we are responsible to be available to help our brother without removing their personal responsibility.