Main point summary
Pure Religion begins from a pure heart and results in 1) discretion in speech , 2) overflows in service to others (even those who have no ability to reciprocate), and 3) is marked by personal purity.
If anyone thinks he is religious
If a person is under the impression that they are religious
q and does not bridle his tongue
yet he has no control over his speech
but deceives his heart,
he is deceived to his core of his being (his heart),
this person’s r religion is worthless.
then his outward religious expressions are useless.
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this:
This is clean and unblemished religion before God the Father:
s t o visit t orphans and widows in their affliction,
1) to take care of those who cannot take care of themselves in the midst of their trials,
and u to keep oneself v unstained from the world.
2) to remain untainted from the evil forces at work in this world.
At the root of James message in these two versus is this statement: "but deceives his heart." James' concern was not that this person had hoodwinked the rest of the congregation, it was that he or she had so engrossed themselves in the ceremonial aspect of the church and had never had their heart of stone replaced, as Ezekiel explained it, with a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 11:19 & 36:26). Jon Bloom in his book Don't Follow Your Heart , says "The truth is, no one lies to us more than our own hearts. No one. If our hearts are compasses, they are Jack Sparrow compasses. They don't tell us the truth; they just tell us what we want. If our hearts are guides they are Gothels. They are not benevolent; they are pathologically selfish. In fact, if we do what our hearts tell us to do, we will pervert and impoverish every desire, every beauty, every person, every wonder, and every joy. Our hearts want to consume these things for our own self-glory and self-indulgence. No , our hearts will not save us. We need to be saved from our hearts." James provides us with three areas to examine our own heart and our own motives. Discretion in Speech "If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless." In Luke 6:45 , Jesus said "The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks." James expounds further on this topic in Chapter 3 and says that "if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body." In Proverbs we read versus like Proverbs 10:20 that says "The tongue of the righteous is choice silver: the heart of the wicked is of little worth" and Proverbs 15:28 that says "The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things." The Proverbs, Jesus, and James are all testifying to the fact that eventually what you think is hidden deep in your heart will eventually roll off your tongue for all the world to hear. Paul tells us in Colossians 4:6 to "Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person." So scripture is clear that our speech should edify and not tear down (Colossians 4:6), it should speak truth and not lies (Ephesians 4:25), and that these qualities will pour forth out of the believer freely (Luke 6:45). Is that what your speech is known for? It is important that we ask ourselves these tough questions so that we don't deceive even our own heart. Service to Others " Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction..." We are told in Philippians 2:3-4 to "Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also the interests of others." Certainly there is a place for, and commands to, assist anyone in the church who has a need but James here puts a specific interest on a specific group of folks, namely "orphans and widows in their affliction." Psalm 68:5 tells us that God is the "Father of the fatherless and protector of widows..." God steps up in the absence of a husband or a parent and redeems that position and fills it himself. Proverbs 15:25 says that "The LORD tears down the house of the proud but maintains the widow's boundaries." God expects his people to be the hands and feet that fulfill his position of "Father of the fatherless and protector of widows." Isaiah shared the Lord's message with Israel and told them to " learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow's cause." Isaiah 1:17 Can someone "visit orphans and widows in their affliction" and still deceive their heart? Yes. Can someone ignore orphans and widows in their affliction and still have a "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God?" Probably not. John asked it this way: "But if anyone has the worlds goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him ?" John 3:17 In fact John goes on to say that we should "not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth" and that "By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him." James said it this way: "For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead." James 1:26 Personal Purity "and to keep oneself unstained from the world." How do we keep ourselves "unstained" from the world? I am a messy eater. If I don't deliberately make an effort, I will always leave the table wearing my meal. This, of course, does not make my wife happy. In much the same way, Christ, we are told has "... loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish." Ephesians 5:25-27 The clue here from Paul is that purity comes first from Christ and by Him washing us "with the word." So is James inferring that even though Christ put us in a pure and "unstained" state, we now keep ourselves there? We have to be careful not to isolate any one verse from what the rest of Scripture has to say. We can find another clue from Jude 20-25 " But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh. Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen." Jude employs some of the same type of language i.e. "building yourselves up in your most holy faith...keep yourselves in the love of God..save others by snatching them out of the fire," however, he clarifies that this ability, that we obviously have to be deliberate and disciplined to do, comes from Christ. It comes from "praying in the Holy Spirit" and "waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life" and that it is "him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy." Jude's admonition like James is that we should be "unstained from the world." Jude, however, fleshes out the command with details on how it works.