James 1:26-27 says, “26 If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless. 27 Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.”
The word “religion” means the act of love or service of a person or people group toward their god. There are hundreds of religions on the planet. The word “religious” is interesting because while originally it was intended to describe those who practiced religion systematically, it came to mean anyone who practiced anything frequently. The word is very secularized and now is almost an insult to Christians when used apart from a relationship to Christ. Verse 26 is a conditional statement that warns those of us who are religious not to think too highly of ourselves. This is echoed in Romans 12:3, “3 For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith.”
The condition of verse 26 is to “bridle” one’s tongue. There are many true things that pass through my mind, but I must limit that floodgate of thoughts from being spoken out loud. As we will see later, James 3:5b-6a says, “See how great a forest a little fire kindles! 6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity.” A hurtful word spoken in anger or carelessly can damage a life-long relationship. How many times have you said something that you wish you could take back? Hurtful words are impossible to take back. You may be blessed enough to be forgiven, but those words always leave a mark on the hearer. James says that if you cannot control your tongue, you are deceiving yourself about loving and serving God.
As a point of instruction, James tries to sum up religion in a few words in verse 27. He says that we should, “…visit orphans and widows in their trouble…” This means that we should look out for and love those around us, even when they are unable to return the favor. Loving and looking out for others is an act of worship. Jesus elaborated this point in Matthew 25:40b, “40 … Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.” Kindness is required of “pure religion” when it comes to Christianity.
James closes verse 27 and chapter one with the admonition to “…keep oneself unspotted from the world.” Christians are to love God and obey His teachings, which include multiple directives to love and serve others. In fact, if we are trying to be like Jesus, we need to understand that Jesus perfectly modeled servant leadership as He taught and served His disciples. Jesus reminded us in Matthew 6:33, “33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” “All these things” being food, shelter, and clothing. Many people in the world practice their religions religiously, but when Christians practice their religion religiously it builds a relationship with the living God which helps with all other relationships.
Be blessed and be blessings my brothers and sisters-in-Christ,
Sincerely, Pastor Rob