“If anyone thinks himself to be religious, yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (James 1:26-27 NASB).
Within our Western society, even among Christians, the term “religion” has gained a negative connotation. Such thinking was foreign to the biblical mind. James outlines what true religion is. Notice, it pertains to how we treat others: bridling our tongues, caring for widows and orphans, and keeping ourselves from being soiled by the world. This is a pure and undefiled religion before God.
We often describe our faith and relationship with God as pertaining primarily with how we relate to God. Yet James focused it on how we relate to others. Our treatment of others is what ultimately demonstrates our relationship with God. So, let’s look at this for a minute.
Our social media world encourages us to communicate, to share our thoughts and opinions, to comment on others’ thoughts and opinions. As such, it has greatly contributed to the division and contempt expressed in our world today. How many use such platforms to “set others straight”?
Is that bridling our tongues? Just because we can say it and have the platform to do so, does that mean we should? James says about those who cannot control their words that their religion is worthless. If we evaluated our relationship with God using James’s criteria, how would we fare?
He then mentions that pure and undefiled religion before God is that which takes care of widows and orphans in their distress. Ancient religions, like Judaism, valued ritual purity in their worship. When one approached the Temple in Jerusalem, you had to ritually immerse; in that way, your worship, your religion, would be pure.
Since we don’t tend to look at worship in that manner today, we don’t feel the full impact of James’s words. James, however, says that true, pure religion is not something you do ritually; rather, it’s how you care for the outsiders of society who are in need.
James, like his brother Jesus, recognized that the evidence of a sound relationship with God is how we relate to others, particularly the less fortunate. He reserved harsh words for those who do not bridle their tongue. He defined what religion truly mattered to God: our treatment of others. We relate to God by how we relate to others.
Father, help me to guard my lips today, and may I keep myself pure and love those around me, especially those in distress. Amen.