by Jefferson David Tant
You know the verse: “Pure and undefiled religion … is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress” (James 1:27). Now, consider Ezekiel 16:49, where God mentions Sodom's sins. “Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had arrogance, abundant food, and careless ease, but she did not help the poor and needy.” You may wonder, “What do James and Ezekiel have to do with homosexuality?” The truth is, there was more to Sodom's failings than sexual sin. Note again: “Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had arrogance, abundant food, and careless ease, but she did not help the poor and needy.”
Many passages in the Bible express God's concern for the forgotten ones — the orphans, the widows, the hungry. Christ gave an object lesson to the lawyer who asked about eternal life. Christ asked him what the Law said, and he replied, “Love the Lord … and love your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:25ff). With the question, “Who is my neighbor?” Christ replied with the “Good Samaritan” story.
Consider some lessons from the familiar story of an outcast stopping to help a wounded man. The characters:
- The half-dead traveler;
- the too-busy priest;
- the heartless Levite; and
- the despised Samaritan.
There were valid reasons why the Samaritan might not stop.
- He likely would not have been helped by the Jew if he had been on the receiving end;
- he might have put himself in danger, as the thieves may have been hiding to prey on anyone who stopped;
- it was going to cost him time and money, and
- he was going to get dirty.
What lessons do we glean about my “neighbor”?
- Where do we draw the line as to who my neighbor is? Fellow Christians, next-door people, kinsmen, fellow club members? If so, then we do not “hold the faith of our Glorious Lord,” for we are showing “respect of persons.” James rebukes those who favor only those in fine clothes, but who look down “on the poor man in dirty clothes” (James 2:1-4).
- The story teaches us to transcend race. Jews and Samaritans were of different races, and neither had regard for the other.
- The story teaches us to go beyond the limits of space. These two did not live near one another. Our “neighbor” may live next door, or 500 or 5,000 miles away.
- The story teaches us to look beyond character. We are naturally drawn to those like us, but Christ went beyond. He spent time with sinners — despised tax collectors, prostitutes, and other outcasts. In Jamaica, I was approached by a prostitute just released from prison with no money, and she was hungry. Should I have drawn back and cried “Unclean, unclean” as the Jews did with lepers? Or should I have sat down with her, talked to her about Christ, prayed with her, and bought her supper?
Christ asked the lawyer, "What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?" (Luke 10:26). Well, what does the Law say? “How blessed is he who considers the helpless” (Psalms 41:1). “What is desirable in a man is his kindness” (Proverbs 19:22). “Learn to do well; seek justice, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow” (Isaiah 1:17). “Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into the house; When you see the naked, to cover him; and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?” (Isaiah 58:7).
The New Testament also has similar teaching. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Matthew 5:7). “All things therefore whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, even so do ye also unto them: for this is the law and the prophets” (Matthew 7:12). “And Jesus called His disciples…, and said, 'I feel compassion for the people, because they have remained with Me now three days and have nothing to eat; and I do not want to send them away hungry, for they might faint on the way'” (Matthew 15:32).
Jesus told the rich young ruler “go and sell your possessions and give to the poor” (Matthew 19:21). “Treat others the same way you want them to treat you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same” (Luke 6:31-33). Acts 20:35 contains Paul’s parting words to the Ephesian elders, “In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'" “So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith” (Galatians 6:10).
As multiple scriptures inform us, there is more to being a Christian than just abstaining from sin and enjoying life surrounded by friends and family, and being content in our homes. We are called to serve in showing the love of God.
Then there is the ultimate kindness — sharing the gospel of Christ — but that is for another article. Now, back to the question: “How pure is your religion?”