Caring for the Poor: Pure and Faultless Religion

An orphanage in Haiti

Of all the things that you do as part of your spiritual life, what do you think matters most to God?

For weeks now we’ve been studying what the Bible has to say about caring for the poor and needy. God has always intended for His people to take care of the poor: It’s a principle that first appears in the Old Testament, and then was reinforced by a mandate from Christ. And charity is an important part of our role in the world. It’s evidence that our faith is alive, and that the love of God lives in us.

But the Bible has even more to say about this subject. The passage that we’re going to look at today suggests that caring for the poor might be the most important thing that we do as Christians.

The Christian life entails a whole lot of activities. There are things that we do on our own, such as praying and studying the scriptures, and things that we do as a community, such as coming together for worship and teaching. Collectively we collaborate on evangelism, cultural outreach, missions projects and numerous other ministries that make up the kingdom of God. We do all of these things because we believe they are important. But which are the most important to God?

For some insight, we turn to James 1:27, a challenging message written to the people of the early church:

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.

This admonition comes on the heels of a discourse about what James calls “worthless” religion. He seems to be saying that we can do and say all sorts of nice-sounding religious things, but if we don’t live pure lives and control our tongues, all of our religious acts are worthless. And then he gets to this key passage: Religion that God accepts as pure and faultless is to care for the poor.

I have to admit that I am challenged by this message. You see, I’m busy with a bunch of Christian activities. I’m involved in numerous ministries, both inside and outside of my church. I can fill up a week’s calendar with church stuff pretty easily, and then pat myself on the back for working so hard in the kingdom of God. But James reminds me that no amount of good religious activity can make up for the area where the modern American church so often falls short: God wants us to take care of the poor.

I’m not saying that our prayer meetings, Bible studies, worship teams and mission trips aren’t important — they are important, and they all have their place in our lives as Christians. But the way I read this passage, those activities are only complements to the main work that God intends for us to do: To care for the widow, the orphan and the other needy people in our communities.

So, let’s ask ourselves this honest question: Are we so busy in our church activities that we have lost sight of “pure and faultless” religion? Are we so insulated by our church walls that we have forgotten God’s call to care for those on the outside? When we get to heaven, is God going to look at all of the things we busied ourselves with on earth and tell us that they were “worthless”?

I don’t want to condemn anyone; instead, I’m here to inspire you. If you really want to serve God, serve the poor. If you really want to worship God, love on the poor. If you really want to give to God, give to the poor. There’s nothing else you can be doing that will matter more to Him.


Photo by International Disaster Volunteers. Used under Creative Commons License.

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