James gives us three important things to remember in this passage: (1) Be mindful of others and your reactions towards them, (2) Obey what scripture tells us, and (3) Love God and love others. These are what define a pure religion created by God. The religion that we are expected to live in worship of God through our actions.
1. Be Mindful of Others and Your Reactions (v. 19)
I don’t know about you, but I can have a quick temper. I can get annoyed when things aren’t working like they’re supposed to. I get irritated with the way other people drive. I hate having to repeat myself multiple times to people that aren’t listening, or being disrespected. I used to work in retail, and you would not believe how some people talked to me. (I felt less of a human half of the time, and my heart goes out to those that work retail or restaurants.) We all have different things that can cause our blood to boil, but people tend to be a common factor most of the time. People are not perfect, and we can be jerks or annoying half of the time.
James tells us to “be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (v. 19). This means we should listen to what is happening or being said more than speaking, especially out of anger. I know if I’m stressed or having a bad day, then I can come off as a jerk when talking to other people. I don’t mean to, but this is how it sounds to them. I feel bad when I do, and, therefore, there’s a good chance that when I’m on the receiving end of this that they may just be having a bad day and not meaning to be a jerk to me. When this happens to us, we are usually quick to getting mad in return. This does not help the situation. We need to listen to people and learn to empathize with them so that we can serve them better.
2. Obey Scripture (v. 22)
How many times do we go to church on a Sunday and then leave without thinking about the sermon again? Most of the time, right? Or we’ll read scripture, and instead of obeying what it and the Holy Spirit are leading us to do, we ignore it and do whatever we want. The most obvious of this is when scripture lays out sin to us, and we continue to do that sin. Yes, we are not perfect and will slip up, but deliberately continuing in sin is deliberately disobeying scripture and God. As James will later tell us, scripture will tell us to serve others, but we’ll ignore it and go sit on our couches to watch T.V. Or instead of donating money to help someone in need, as scripture tells us to be generous and help those in need, we’ll say we “need” that money and go buy the latest Xbox game or subscribe to the latest Pay Per View fight. Obeying scripture calls for drastic changes in our lives.
James likens this to a man that looks in the mirror and forgets his image. We take mirrors for granted because they are everywhere in our world. There are mirrors all over clothing stores so that you can see if you like the cloths on you. We also have very reflective windows and metallic surfaces everywhere. We can catch our reflections windows or sides of cars. We get ready in the mornings in front of a mirror. If we forget our image, then there is something wrong. Mirrors in James’ day were rare, and when there was one around, it was usually a polished metal. Polished metal is not as good of a mirror as today’s mirrors. So, people would often forget what they looked like because they were not constantly staring into mirrors. We are immersed in a mirror world. We are constantly looking at, or at least catching glimpses of our image. We know what we look like, and we’re not quick to forget. (Especially if we know we have a huge pimple on our nose. I don’t miss high school.) Likewise, we need to immerse ourselves in scripture so we can know and obey it in our lives.
3. Love God, Love Others (v. 27)
James says, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” (v. 27). We can sum this up as, “Love God and love others.” He’s telling us to serve and meet the needs of people. Orphans and widows were at a greater disadvantage then than they are now. They were essentially homeless, but we can extrapolate this into helping those in need. Orphans, widows, single moms, homeless, sick, etc…there are people that are in need, and most of us are in positions to help in some way. We love others by serving and meeting their needs.
He then tells us “to keep oneself unstained from the world.” What he means is that we need to not dirty ourselves with sin. The biblical word for this is “holy.” To be holy means to be separate from and clean from sin. To do this means to love God by living a life for him as commanded through scripture. Now, we cannot do this by ourselves. This is why God, the Father, sent Jesus Christ. Christ’s sacrifice cleanses us from our sins so that we can be holy in the sight of the Father. Our love of God through living a life striving for holiness by allowing Christ to be Lord of our lives leads us in loving and serving others.
A pure religion is Loving God and Loving Others. We love God by obeying scripture, and we love people by serving them. Does your life reflect this?