Song: Face to Face
Artist: Hillsong Young & Free
26 If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless. 27 Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.
James 1:26-27 (NLT)
It’s interesting what James doesn’t say here. He doesn’t say, “Following Jesus is not about religion, it’s about relationship.” He says there is an empty form of religion, and there is a form of religion that is pure and genuine in God’s eyes. And that good religion is characterized by two very practical habits.
A Bridled Tongue
James has an awful lot to say about what we say. It’s a major theme throughout his letter. And it shows up again here.
Of all of the things he could have emphasized about the nature of genuine faith in this moment, he lands on speech. When your tongue is out of control, he says, it betrays an empty faith. It’s like hearing/knowing truth, but never doing anything with it (vv 22-25). Pointless. Not real faith at all. Good and true religion, however, brings hearing and doing together; it’s a faith that produces ethical results – in this case, a bridled tongue.
An Unbridled Generosity
But James continues: good religion is also characterized by caring for orphans and widows.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that James appeals to God the Father at the very moment he calls his readers to care for those who are fatherless. Here is James, again, playing up the idea that true faith brings hearing and doing together. It’s not just experiencing God’s character (as Father), it’s about exhibiting that character to others! It’s doing what he does. It’s caring for the marginalized and disenfranchised. It’s giving to those who can’t give us anything in return.
And it stands in stark contrast to the corruption of the world. It’s as though James sees caring for orphans and widows as an antidote to the world’s corrupting influence. The world which marginalizes orphans and widows. The world that lusts for power at all costs. The world that celebrates relentless ambition and self-promotion. The world that shows partiality to the rich (see James 2:1-6!). Pure religion, says James, resists such corruption. Instead, it reflects the character of God by caring for those on the margins.
Religion or Relationship?
How we talk to others and how we care for others…that’s s a sweeping range of human interaction! And genuine religion radically affects both.
So maybe it is about relationship after all. Or better: relationships. For genuine religion, it seems in James, only shows up when our relationship with God begins to affect our relationship with others.
So, it’s time for a heat check. How genuine is your faith? Look back over your last week. Are there signs of life – in the words you’ve spoken (or not!) and the people you’ve helped?