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James 1:27

26 If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain. 27 Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world. — KJV

26 If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. 27 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. — NIV

26 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worth less. 27 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. — ESV

Greek Transliteration of James 1:27 with [Strong #] and brief definitions:
threskeia [2356] ceremonial observance, worshipping katharos [2513] clean, clear, pure kai [2532] and, also, even, so then, too [0283] para [3844] near ho [3588] the (article or indefinite pronoun) theos [2316] God kai [2532] and, also, even, so then, too pater [3962] father, parent houtos [3778] he, she, it, they, this, these, which, who esti [2076] he/she/it is, them/they are episkeptomai [1980] inspect, select, go see, visit orphanos [3737] orphan kai [2532] and, also, even, so then, too chera [5503] widow en [1722] preposition denoting place: such as in, at, of, through… ho [3588] the (article or indefinite pronoun) thlipsis [2347] pressure, anguish, burden, persecution, tribulation, trouble autos [0846] her, his, it, them (possessive 3rd person pronoun) aspilos [0784] unblemished, unspotted heautou [1438] my-, our-, your-…self or selves (pronoun) tereo [5083] guard, detain, withhold, watch apo [0575] off, away, separation ho [3588] the (article or indefinite pronoun) kosmos [2889] orderly arrangement, the world (any sense)

1.27.0 Introduction to James 1:27

The last verse in Chapter 1 contrasts the worthless religion of verse 26 with an example of religion acceptable to God. Numerous key words and concepts are sources of questions as we explore the pieces of the picture of an acceptable religion.

26 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. 27 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. — ESV

1.27.1 What is pure and undefiled?

In context with James 1:27 the “what” is religion. Religion, as explained in question 1.26.1, is a behavior pattern designed to exhibit one’s beliefs. Pure is an adjective that basically means free of defilement or pollution, unmixed, or faultless. The phrase “religion that is pure” would then seem to imply a consistent behavior pattern based on a clear, concise, and specific belief system.

Undefiled is another adjective that carries a meaning almost identical to pure, but it reinforces the concept of purity with the idea of being untouched by an external pollutant. When one thinks of undefiled religion before God the Father, one would immediately think of a religion devoid of idols and immorality. The balance of James 1:27 bears this out and then some.

26 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. 27 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. — ESV

1.27.2 What does “visit” mean?

The Greek episkeptomai literally means to look in on, look after, or otherwise examine; specifically to check on those who have needs to attend to them and see to their needs.

In context with James 1:27, it seems that the right behavior pattern in God’s eyes includes checking on and caring for the needs of others, especially those who have special needs such as widows and orphans. To me visiting represents a practical implementation of what Jesus meant when he said we are to love our neighbors as ourselves (Mt 19:19 – quoting Lev 19:18; Gal 5:14).

Now it is my opinion and my opinion only, but it seems to me that this passage does not imply that we must all seek a vocation that involves full-time care giving. It does, however, mean to me that all believers, regardless of their Spirit given gifts, talents, and callings, should have a desire in their heart to check in on those they know who have needs, to volunteer, and to give whatever they can whenever they see a specific need. We are to look for opportunities to do these things. We can only give a dim reflection of the gift Jesus gave us by giving basic necessities to those in need around us. It isn’t the responsibility of a nameless institution to take care of the masses, it’s the responsibility of individuals to love other individuals by showing care, consideration, respect, and compassion one on one.

26 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. 27 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. — ESV

1.27.3 What kinds of afflictions do orphans and widows have?

Eph 3:14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, Orphans and widows share a particular affliction. They’ve both lost the support system of their family and especially their main providers. I will not attempt to catalog all the problems orphans and widows could face because they are largely the same problems we all face, but are multiplied because they lack the support of a father and husband in the house. Without help, a child or orphan may loose every physical support, get turned out, starve, face ridicule, and suffer any number of cruelties beyond what self-sustaining adults face. These issues are no different today than when Paul or Moses walked the earth.

Ex 22:22-24 You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child. If you do mistreat them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry, and my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless. YHWH speaks specifically about widows and orphans in the law given to Moses as recorded in this passage. God recognizes man’s capacity for picking on those who cannot fend for themselves and provides a stern warning toward those who would.

26 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. 27 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. — ESV

1.27.4 What do orphans and widows represent?

Lam 5:1-5 Remember, O Lord, what has befallen us; look, and see our disgrace! Our inheritance has been turned over to strangers, our homes to foreigners. We have become orphans, fatherless; our mothers are like widows. We must pay for the water we drink; the wood we get must be bought. Our pursuers are at our necks; we are weary; we are given no rest. Jeremiah wrote the book of Lamentations shortly after the fall of Jerusalem (586 BC). The Jews were defeated, uprooted, displaced, driven from their homes and property, and moved hundreds of miles away to Babylon. Any desperate soul is like a widow or orphan in the big scheme of things.

Luke 4:18 The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed God chooses the poor to exalt. Widows and orphans have no income. Without help they are destitute. The good news is that Jesus came to give them life, eternal and abundant.

Luke 7:6b When he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. In this passage a hearty man, respected and high ranking in Caesar’s guard, demonstrated the kind of humility we all should have. We are all miserable wretches, orphans of the world, widows of the current system of things, if only we will see our rags for what they are. If only we will see our lowly state and know we need a benefactor, we can humble ourselves and receive God’s love, his mercy and forgiveness. Only when we reach our knees can we look up into that face have so much given to us we can’t help but give it to others.

26 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. 27 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. — ESV

1.27.5 What makes visiting orphans and widows a religion pure and undefiled before God?

Gal 5:19-23 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. This passage provides an excellent list of things which are corrupt and things which are good. Looking after and caring for those who need help fall into the latter. To bring them a kind word, a loaf of bread, a warm hug, and some good news is just what the Great Physician ordered.

26 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. 27 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. — ESV

1.27.6 What is the significance of being unstained?

1 Pe 1:14-16 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” We are commanded to be holy. Being holy means that we are not corrupt or in other words unstained. None are righteous (Ro 3:23), but we can be redeemed and deemed righteous (Heb 11:4) and therefore holy by our faith. Only that which is holy can come into the presence of God (Lev 22:3).

26 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. 27 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. — ESV

1.27.7 What stains us?

The study verse speaks for itself in answer to this question. The world stains. The world is fallen and will pass away. A stain is a sin of any kind for sin is what makes us unclean.

26 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. 27 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. — ESV

1.27.8 If we become stained after once being clean, can we become clean again?

Jn 13:10a Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. In Jn 13 we see the event where Jesus washes the disciples’ feet. Peter probably thought Jesus was just talking about humility at first. When Peter protests, Jesus explains an even deeper meaning. The clean body represents the cleansing of sin by Jesus’ atoning blood sacrifice. That cleansing was once and for all. Even so, we must live in the world and we are constantly exposed to sin. The dirt on the feet represents sins committed after we are cleansed. Our feet represent our walk in the world. Dirty feet represent sins we pick up along the walk, but which don’t completely cover or consume us. By coming to Christ and only by coming to Christ we can wash our feet and restore our completely clean status. We don’t get born again and again and again, so we don’t need to be washed all over more than once. We do need clean feet, it seems, to walk in the streets of heaven.

Personally, I find this passage of scripture a great comfort. I am but a man who lives in the world and I “step in it” daily. I could never clean myself. It is only with supernatural living water that I can ever be cleansed.

26 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. 27 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. — ESV

1.27.9 Summary of James 1:26-27

In the many questions asked about these two verses we first learned what religion is, then the effect of an uncontrolled tongue on that person’s religion. Religion is the practice of worship. It is a behavior based on belief. While there’s a danger the tongue can be used to tear down, the other side of the coin is that when you shut up and get to work building the Kingdom, then you’re doing what God approves. When you focus on God and bring up and deal with your sins, He is faithful to forgive and will continue to abide with you.

1.27.10 Summary of James Chapter 1

It is generally accepted that the author of the book was James, a son of Mary and Joseph, half brother of our Lord Jesus. The letter was written more than a decade after the resurrection of Jesus, before the destruction of the temple, to support various believers already scattered or dispersed out from Jerusalem and Israel.

After the greetings, James begins with a word of encouragement about joy in the face of trials and the resulting benefits. He then compares faith and doubt, explaining how these impact our requests of God. Next James contrasts rich and lowly earthly and spiritual positions.

James pauses from conveying proverb like wisdom to talk about God’s nature. God is a constant and the source of everything good. He created us physically and regenerates us spiritually making redeemed souls the firstfruits of creation.

Returning to a series of illustrations using word-pictures and clear contrasts, James compares hearing to speaking and anger, hearing only without doing against true service, and false against acceptable religion. These last several comparisons build like a crescendo, one principle on the next.

James does not leave out salvation in this chapter, rather he inspires us to participate in the salvation process and follow the instructions we will hear from the Holy Spirit. James in no way says salvation is something earned or accomplished by men. He merely explains the nature of works that will necessarily accompany salvation and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit when we become born again and our own spirits are renewed. Salvation is not a one-time event, not a prayer, not merely a gift. It is a complete renewal of our spiritual being and results in a new way of life that includes continual growth, service to others, and above all obedience to our Lord and Master Jesus and God the Father.