Here was the assignment: “What Religion is Facing; The needs in our world facing the church today/ Where we can make an impact (orphans, widows, poverty, human trafficking, etc.”
OK, one verse:
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
True Religion relieves distress, of those who cannot help themselves, and does it in a way that reflects the Creator, not the fallen creation. We should Do Good, and we should do it for Goodness sake.
The funny thing is that many of us work hard to say that Christianity is not about ‘religion’, it’s about relationship. So what about this verse?
The word here, for religion, is used 4 times in the new testament:
- Paul giving his testimony of being religious before meeting Christ, Acts 26:5
- delusional angel worship, Colossians 1:18
- worthless ‘all talk’ religion, James 1:26
- true religion that actually does good for Goodness sake, James 1:27
My meditation on God’s overall story
brings me back, time and again, to the 5 columns of CrownHeartWorld
. Column 1 is why there is good (the Creator), Column 2 tells why there is bad (creation in rebellion). The redemption of Column 3 shows that good is greater than bad and Column 5 gives us hope that ultimately good will remove all bad. But the life we are called to is Column 4: the transformation process, good overcoming bad in and through us.
Saying we have switched sides, from the rebellion of creation trying to find satisfaction and meaning without humble reliance on the Creator, is only as true as what we do. This does not work from our actions toward our loyalty, rather, it works from our trusting in the good graciousness of the Creator into our thoughts and actions such that our life works. Our faith is not in our works, our works are in our faith.
So what is it that we actually do? We relieve distress. We encounter the intrusion of bad and we step in and create space for good. We take back territory from the enemy of goodness. We bring goodness to the physical, relational and spiritual needs of others.
For whom do we do this? We seek to relieve the distress of those who are unable to do it themselves. Paul told one of his churches not to prop up the lazy. He said that if a man is unwilling to work, then he doesn’t need to be fed. The cause is not ‘guilt relief’ or just feeling good about ourselves doing good. The goal is actual goodness. That is done by bringing goodness in a way that moves intentionally toward systemic change. Widows made vulnerable by the loss of their husbands are to be brought into the care of the community such that not only is their distress met, they are then restored to being able to contribute to the community with their wisdom, prayers, encouragement and any other forms of goodness they can offer. Likewise for orphans.
The distress is that they live “as if” they were disconnected and helpless. True religion steps in and reconnects. We deliver goodness and empower toward goodness. Orphans are cared for, even adopted, such that they grow into people who are blessed in order to bless. The Kingdom of God advances not through rescuing the helpless such that they help to rescue the helpless. True Religion is a counter-revolution turning back to our Creator, by his grace, such that goodness is what we treasure and what we invest in and what we promote.
So what is this odd bit about not being “polluted by the world”? This is about loyalty. If we are advancing the Kingdom, then we do so in a way that honors our King. Our King’s story is not a Rome story, it is a Shalom story! He entered creation with the care of one who rescues, not one who obliterates.
When I was in the Marine Corps we worked to rescue people from hostage takers. The challenge was that the hostage takers knew that we would be limited in our actions due to concerns for the hostages. This same strategy did not work as well when Soviets were taken hostages. They took family members of the hostage takers hostage, did some terrible things to them, and countered terrorism with terrorism. We saw the tactical value of this move, but we did not do the same. Our goal is not just to relieve distress, as in rescue hostages, the goal is to do it in a way that is undermines hostage taking.
Justice can and should be strong, but that is different from trying to have an “our evil is stronger than their evil” idea of “good”. We want to make a difference in the world, and we want to do it in a way that honors our King in word and deed.
So yes, we want to do good. And yes, we want to cite our Source. We want to give a cup of cold water, and we want to give that cup of cold water in Jesus’ name, and we want to give that cup of cold water in Jesus’ name in a manner that resembles how Jesus gave.
Do good (relieve distress of those who can’t help themselves)
for Goodness sake (not in a worldly way, but in Jesus’ name and way).
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