James 1:27 – “This is pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father, to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” NASB
I want to express my appreciation to David Barton and Wall Builders for some of the information that I will use in this devotional. As I read what David Barton wrote I was convicted and inspired. I hope it elicits must the same response in your heart. If so, then it is worth my time in writing and yours in reading.
The declaration of James in this passage could not be clearer or simpler. It distills the Christian religion and walk to its very essence and provides a clear target, objective, and goal for each of us. Pure religion includes genuine care about other people, especially those who are unable to take care of themselves. It includes a refusal to be captured and enslaved by the enticements of lesser things due to an uncompromising passion for the One who truly matters – Jesus!
The first part, genuine concern, and care for others is at the heart of the message and ministry of Jesus. His message always contrasted that of the Pharisees. His words to the guests at one of the Sabbath meals hosted by one of the leading Pharisees of that day are powerful.
Luke 14:12-14 – “And He also went on to say to the one who had invited Him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return, and repayment comes to you. 13 “But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” NASB
I love the simplicity Jesus managed to use in addressing issues. Basically, He says, “When you throw a party, invite people who could never reciprocate. Celebrate and honor those who can offer you nothing in return – no quid pro quo.” Imagine that, in a day and world where prestige and status. The Kingdom of God is not about earthly status or quid pro quo, it is about Love, Commitment, and Surrender to God.
When I study American history, I am often amazed as I discover individuals and acts that I did not know. The more I study those of bygone eras especially in the time of our founding I realize that America and Christian leaders understood and taught the simplicity of the message of Christ.
One such figure was the Reverend Frederick Douglas (a leading civil rights leader, before, during, and after the Civil War). The aforementioned characteristic of Christianity was one of the key things that excited him the most. He said, “I love the religion of our blessed Savior! I love that religion that comes from above! I love that religion that sends its votaries to bind up the wounds of him that have fallen among thieves! I love that religion that makes it the duty of its disciples to visit the fatherless and the widow in their affliction! I love that religion that is based upon the glorious principle of love to God and love to man [Matthew 22:38-39] – which makes its followers do unto others as they themselves would be done by [Matthew 7:12]!” That is powerful.
Benjamin Banneker, a black American hired by Thomas Jefferson to help lay out the original city of Washington, D.C., affirmed a similar sentiment regarding true Christianity. He said, “It is the indispensable duty of those who profess the obligation of Christianity to extend their powers and influence to the relief of every part of the human race from whatever burden or oppression they may unjustly labor under.”
I would suggest that we carefully consider the words “duty” and “obligation” in considering the sentiments mentioned. Those words often carry a negative connotation in today’s world as does the idea of religion. That was not the case in the era of our founding. Those were celebrated as noble ideals fueled by a sense of passion and gratitude. The Founders were keenly aware of the remarkable society they were building. They clearly understood where our true liberty and inalienable rights came from. Everything they sought to establish was with that clear understanding and acknowledgment of God and our responsibility to Him.
The Reverend Richard Allen, the founder of America’s first black denomination and a wagon driver during the American revolution emphasized that message in his generation. He said, “Our Savior’s first and great work was that of the salvation of men’s souls; yet we find that of the multitudes who came or were brought to Him laboring under sickness and disorders, He never omitted one opportunity to do good to their bodies, or sent away one that applied to Him. Christian charity is pure and disinterested, remote from all hopes of worldly recompense from the persons we relieve. We are to do good and lend, hoping for nothing again [Luke 6:35]. In its extent, it is unlimited and universal… [it] is confined to no persons, countries, or places but takes in all mankind, strangers as well as relations or acquaintances, enemies as well as friends, the evil and unthankful as well as the good and grateful. It has no other measure than the love of God to us. The absolute necessity of practicing this duty is the very same as that of being Christians. By doing acts of mercy and charity, we acknowledge our dependence upon God, and His absolute right to whatever we possess through His bounty and goodness.”
The emphasis of Richard Allen was the Love of God, first to us, then genuinely through us to a needy and hurting world. America, as seen by our founders and the Christian leaders of history was to be “a city set on a hill.” It was to be a light to the nations. If we want to see that light shining brightly, we need to reconsider the promise of God through Isaiah.
The nation of Israel sought God, humbling themselves in daily fasting and prayer. They wondered why they were not seeing an answer to their prayers. God responded saying, “Is this not the fast which I choose…to divide your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not hide yourself from your own flesh?” [Isaiah 58:6-7]. God promised that if they would do that, He would make their “light break out like the dawn, and their recovery would speedily spring forth. The Glory of Heaven would be their rear guard. They would call upon the LORD and He would answer them. They would cry out to God and He would say, “Here I Am.” [Isaiah 58:8-10]. Hallelujah!
On the Day of Reckoning, God will take note of every act of kindness and every cup of cold water that is given in His name. He waits with an excited longing to repay us in kind. Jesus promised, saying that if we would do that, “You will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
You cannot buy your way to heaven, but your reward is tied to what you do not just what you believe. I am not, nor were those mean suggesting that we reward laziness and feed a sense of entitlement. They were and I am suggesting that we show the Love of God in allowing the Love, Mercy, Care, Concern, and Compassion of Jesus to be demonstrated in us.
God bless you as you muse upon this thought. God bless you as you enjoy this wonderful day in Him!