James 1:27 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.
James 1:27 happens to be one of those verses used by people who believe Christianity should be characterized by love for the unsaved and meeting physical needs. In their opinion our ministries should be about giving to the poor, defending the abused, feeding they hungry, and fighting injustice in the world.
Now to be honest I have no problem with Churches making things like this a priority but our main priority should be preaching the Gospel of Christ, and discipleship of Believers. However James 1:27 makes it seem as if the Gospel should take a back seat to meeting physical needs.
Because of this confusion it’s important to keep a few things in mind
- We are to evaluate the needs of those who are in need of help
- This is to be offered those who cannot help themselves (orphans and widows)
- And it’s only done in time of extreme need (affliction)
It’s interesting to note that the word “visit” in James 1:27 comes from the Greek word ἐπισκέπτομαι which is translated as “1980. ἐπισκέπτομαι middle voice from 1909 and the base of 4649; to inspect, i.e. (by implication) to select; by extension, to go to see, relieve: — look out, visit.” (emphasis added, from Strongs Exhaustive Concordance)
In other words this visiting wasn’t necessarily to meet needs (though this was probably done at the time) but to inspect those who had needs, and select specific ones to help.
Sadly in todays culture it’s necessary to inspect those who say that they have needs. I’m not saying that those needs aren’t legitimate, but the Church and Christians must be wise about WHICH NEEDS they minister to since the needy will always be with us. Therefore we ask questions, examine, and decide which of the needs is greatest, or which one is most deserved.
Notice also that James specifically says this should go towards people who aren’t in many cases able to care for themselves…orphans and widows. Of course it is possible for them to meet their own needs, but it’s much more difficult for children deprived of their parent, or a wife deprived of husband and family to do so. This goes against the idea that we should help every need, and also strengthens he need for evaluation (we learn if they truly are widows or orphans).
Finally this ministry is in their affliction (2347. θλίψις from 2346; pressure (literally or figuratively): — afflicted(-tion), anguish, burdened, persecution, tribulation, trouble). In most cases referring to a crushing pressure (something that is crushing them emotionally). It’s true that these times of immense pressure come into the lives of those around us, but it’s not as often as we may think.
The bottom line is yes we as Christians need to help those in need around us…but also ask ourselves some very important questions.
- What is it about this need that makes it greater than others?
- Is his person someone who cannot care for their own needs easily?
- And are the going through a time of affliction?
James 1:27 has become very special to me during my time on the island because as an American everyone views me as rich. This creates a problem since there are many people here who have needs (food, money) and will come to me for help with them (I wrote an article about yesterday on the blog that explains this issue in more detail.)
The many needs along with my limited income, and the fact that some people on the island have interest in working or helping themselves have led me to evaluating the needs of those who come to me.
Monday evening while walking home a lady from at a nearby shop called me over and asked for help with her baby. Being a single mother I was interested in helping her by giving a bit of money but she said “know I want you to go in and buy the milk.” I kept offering her money but she continued demanding I go in and buy it which was confusing. Finally I asked the woman how much the milk was, and she told me $50. On the island people try to get you to promise that you’ll do something, and then hold you to it, her plan of course was to get me to promise to buy the milk without knowing the cost instead of providing $4 or $5.
The world is filled with people who are looking to be enabled (have their needs met) without doing any work. This is why we must listen closely to the warning of James and make sure we evaluate needs.