"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)
Last week, I wrote to you about the first step towards "pure and undefiled religion," which is the humility to admit our own flaws, both known and unknown, and to acknowledge that we can only uncover and overcome our sins with the help of God's Holy Spirit along with continual effort on our part.
That thought applies to every part of God's Law, not only in the "letter of the law," but in the broader spiritual intent of God's law that defines love toward Him and towards others. However, James identifies two particular areas that we must all strive in, and I'll expound the first of those in this installment: "to visit orphans and widows in their trouble."
This is a statement that we should consider at face value as well as in the spirit of what is meant.
A widow is a woman whose husband has died. This leaves them without their lifelong love and dearest friend. A consequence of that is that it dramatically upends their home life, often their source of income, and their sense of stability. For a younger woman with children, it presents other special difficulties in that stage of life as they struggle to guide and provide for their children through their own grief.
Orphans are children whose parents have both died while they are still young and unable to care for themselves, leaving them without their loving protectors and providers. The Greek word can refer to the loss of one or both parents and is sometimes translated "fatherless." The loss of a parent is far reaching and immense at any age, but especially for the young. It's impossible to put into words all that a child experiences in the loss of their parents, the primary guiding influence and source of unconditional love in a child's life.
God's instructions, both in the Old Testament and the New, is to care for people who face hardships such as these. Financial support for widows and orphans today is generally available through government programs in western nations, but far more than financial support is needed for a person struggling to live through such a tragedy and major loss.
In the words of James, they need someone to "visit" them. They need someone to care about them and love them. Someone to be invested in both their emotional and physical wellbeing. Someone to listen. Someone to check whether they are lacking anything they need.
The first responsibility falls to a persons family in such a situation. Families are the training ground where we learn how to show Godly love to others, and it is natural and right that extended family give extra love and care to their own when facing such a loss. That often includes providing for them materially.
In 1 Timothy 5, we find strong instruction from Paul on the matter of family responsibility towards widows as well as a stern warning for those who fail to do so. Verse 4 states that it is "good and acceptable" for grown children and grandchildren to honor a grieving mother who has lost her husband and become a widow in old age. Additionally, verse 8 warns that "if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever."
This tells us that how we treat our flesh-and-blood family is of high importance to God! Because if we are unable to show the proper love towards those of our own household, how can we then be fit to show it anywhere else?
God has called us into a family with many members. After our immediate family, the spiritual family in our congregation is of great importance! In 1 Timothy 5:16, Paul explains that the responsibility for widows and others who have no family to care for them falls to the Church - and that responsibility only functions properly through the members of a congregation looking after one another with loving concern, seeking out how we can help one another.
I'll write more next week about how we can be sure to fulfill this command from James in our pursuit of pure and undefiled religion.
My family and I greet you all as we look forward to seeing the brethren in Richmond tomorrow. May you all have a blessed and refreshing Sabbath of rest!