United Church of God

Letter From Steven Britt - July 17, 2020

Letter From Steven Britt

July 17, 2020

In-Person Services Tomorrow

Richmond, Northern Virginia and Columbia will all be having in-person services tomorrow:

Columbia: 10:30 am @ Owen Brown Interfaith Center

Northern Virginia: 1:30 pm @ Hampton Inn-Manassas

Richmond: 1:00 pm @ Hampton Inn-Richmond/Virginia Center

Anyone with further questions about COVID restrictions or other policies for indoor services, please refer to the previous emails or contact me directly.

My family and I look forward to joining the brethren in Northern Virginia tomorrow, and anyone tuning in to the new webcast will see me there! We will be back in Richmond next Sabbath, 7/25, and in Columbia the following week, 8/1.

Pure and Undefiled Religion (Part 4)

"Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world" (James 1:27)

In parts 2 and 3 of these weekly musings, I wrote about the special plight of widows and orphans and the responsibility of a family to care for its own, as Paul explained in 1 Timothy 5:4-8. Moreover, that responsibility falls to the Church after immediate family - which is appropriate because we are called to be a spiritual family, which is evident from 1 Timothy 5:16.

Leading into those practical instructions about caring for widows, Paul impressed the importance of regarding the Church as family, admonishing Timothy, "Do not rebuke an older man, but exhort him as a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers younger women as sisters, with all purity" (1 Timothy 5:1-2). He was telling Timothy not to treat them harshly or as enemies when they did wrong, but to afford them the same standard of love, care and respect due to a family member that one loves and desires to be reconciled with.

James was a literal younger brother of Jesus, being his half-brother through Mary, and scripture indicates that James most likely did not believe Jesus was the Messiah until sometime after His resurrection (see John 7:3-5 and Mark 6:4, for example). In Luke 8:19-21, Jesus was told that His mother and brothers had come to see Him, and He answered: "My mother and My brothers are these who hear the word of God and do it!" At the time, one can easily see how James might have taken those words as a personal offense.

James might have been recalling that moment as he wrote his letter. Just before his statement on "pure and undefiled religion," he warns us to "be doers of the word, not hearers only, deceiving yourselves." We must make sure to both hear and do the Word of God!

Just as we cannot really care for the widows, orphans or others in need unless we first know them, we cannot fulfill and obey the law of God if we do not know it. It is imperative then that we continue reading, studying and learning God's law as an ongoing part of our walk with God. Without that continual input, we begin to see ourselves in a self-righteous distortion of reality rather than the true reflection seen by evaluating ourselves against the "the perfect law of liberty" (James 1:25).

Regarding widows and orphans in particular, God's law contains a number of commands we should take note of.

First, notice how God Himself takes special charge of underprivileged and vulnerable groups: "He administers justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing" (Deuteronomy 10:18). If this is a focus of personal concern for God, it must also be for us!

God specifically commands that we provide for such people in observance of His Holy Days, allowing them to share in our own physical rejoicing during those special times:

"And you shall rejoice in your feast, you and your son and your daughter, your male servant and your female servant and the Levite, the stranger and the fatherless and the widow, who are within your gates." (Deuteronomy 16:14)

God commands that we not neglect to give to the poor. This was done every year at harvest by leaving the gleanings in the field for them to eat (Deuteronomy 24:19-21) as well as by setting aside a special tithe every third year to provide them with food (see Deuteronomy 14:28-29, which we have historically referred to as "third tithe," understanding it to be separate from the tithe given to the Levites and the tithe consumed at the festivals). Today, the public assistance funded by our taxes goes to this purpose also, usually at an even higher rate than the third tithe would require, and so we do not teach that a person is required to pay third tithe on top of that. Nevertheless, that does not absolve us from the command of God to help those in physical need as we have opportunity and ability!

God also commanded that the entire society, and especially those in positions of political authority and legal judgment, to uphold the cause of widows, orphans and strangers (Deuteronomy 24:17), making sure that they received justice when wrong was done against them. In addition to these things, God warned Israel and Judah through the prophets for not just neglecting the poor but outright taking advantage of them for their own gain.

Christ admonished us to show special kindness and hospitality to the poor and underprivileged in Luke 14:12-14, saying, "When you give a dinner or a supper, do not ask your friends, your brothers, your relatives, nor rich neighbors, lest they also invite you back, and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you; for you shall be repaid at the resurrection of the just."

In James 2, his discussion shifts to not showing partiality or favoritism to the rich, which is precisely in tune with the law of God as well as the teachings and example of Jesus Christ on these matters.

There's much more that could be said on this point, but next week I'd like to move on to the matter of "keeping oneself unspotted from the world," which is the other major element of James' short summation of "pure and undefiled religion," and we'll see that these two elements are not disjoint from one another!

Until then, may our gracious God and our Lord Jesus Christ keep you all in peace, and may you all have comfort in their presence as we enter the Sabbath rest.