I love James' epistle...and not just because he is the brother of Jesus, although this is significant. I have often called James "the Sermon on the Mount expanded," because much of what he shares reflects what Jesus shared in His pivotal sermon. Because there is much practical life and ministry wisdom found in James, it also reads like The Proverbs in certain respects. I want to focus on one verse that never very far from me, and for a number of reasons. "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world" (James 1:27, NIV). In this statement, James captures the root of theology, ministry and the heart of the gospel...it really is about loving God and loving your neighbor.
When we talk about loving others, it often communicates as some nebulous concept -- do we have them over to dinner? Do we take them gifts? We can and should do these things, but James gives us a more refined definition -- spend time loving those who are in particularly dire circumstances. This sounds easy, but is often easy to ignore in the busyness of our world that we live and work in. It is easier for believers to want to spend time with those who love them...and often this is all that people "have time for." In fact, Jesus says in His sermon that if we only spend time loving those who love us, what credit or benefit is it to us? (Matthew 5:46) This is not going beyond the call of duty...it is expected. But, it is challenging to get know people who may not be in the same position in life as us. Yet, this is precisely the point that Jesus and James are trying to make. No human being could be in the same position as Jesus...and James, even being the brother of Jesus, would be elite company...but, they both invested in the lowly, the struggling, and the downtrodden. This WAS Jesus ministry for three years. James picks up the mantle and carries it further throughout the course of his life. James, who once opposed Jesus, comes to know the full extent of his brother's life and ministry. So, what can we do? Involve ourselves in some ministry with children who are orphaned or struggling...and not just monetary involvement -- we need to be personally involved. We can invest time with our widows and widowers, because they often are in distress and need be loved and blessed. We can truly be amazed at how blessed we are by their love and wisdom. This is half of the equation...and this may be the easier half in the time in which we live.
It seems that since the beginning of the church, there has been some worldly presence led by the Satan, the world and the flesh that has tried to impose itself upon the church, whether gnosticism, hedonism, materialism or some other human pursuit. It seems that this spirit of the world has had much more success in recent years in taking believers' focus off of Christ and redirecting it to other places. The same opportunities to do good or to do evil are as they have always been, but many of the avenues have changed. With the advent and growth of the media, in general, and the internet, particularly, we have all such opportunities much more readily available to us. I believe that if James were speaking today, he would say to use the media and internet to change the world, rather than be overtaken by it. I am concerned that too many have fallen prey to the influence of dark forces through said media. We must not fall prey to the world and its influences, because its robs us of our love -- for God, for oursleves...and therefore, for others. We can't love God if we are torn between Him and the world system of immorality, greed, and pride. We will not love ourselves if we are confused or swallowed up in guilt or pride. And with such focus on ourselves, taking care of others...such as the widows and orphans...is going to be the last thing from our minds. We must continue to heed James' admonition to stand firm for that which is pure and holy. Much good can be accomplished for the Lord if we keep Him first in our lives. This is our challenge...and it is one that we must meet.