I have a collection of what I call “yard-work” or “car-work” shirts and jeans. They have stains from daily use. Likely, I was wearing a shirt or pair of jeans while cooking or moving something greasy or oily and permanently stained those clothes. Those clothes then moved from the “wear in public” drawer to “I can’t mess them up anymore so I might as well wear them when I change the oil” drawer. Maybe you have similarly stained clothes.
The New Testament penman, James, uses the idea of stained clothes to teach us about practicing pure religion. He warns Christians to keep themselves unspotted or unstained from the world. “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” Jas 1:26-27 (ESV)
The inspired writer gives us three ways to have what he calls pure religion as opposed to worthless religion:
- Control your tongue (James discusses this in detail in James 3).
- Visit (care for) the orphans and the widows.
- Keep unstained from the world.
What does unstained look like? James continues:
“My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?” Jas 2:1-7 (ESV)
The world divides people into groups. The world practices prejudice on many levels. The world wants to put people in categories and keep them in their place. Some are in places of dishonor and distress while others are in places of honor and privilege. The world prefers privilege over distress. Sometimes (more than we like to admit) Christians follow the world in this practice. We want to associate with impressive people. We desire to live in impressive houses. We want our children to attend impressive schools. And we want to have impressive social status. If we cannot have this ourselves we want to associate with those who do. We like to name drop. We remind people of the great things we do or the exotic places we visit. We dress to impress. James is saying focusing on such things stains us with worldliness.
James points our focus on the underserved, the forgotten (orphans and widows), those we call oppressed. As the Youth Minister* at Central recently observed, “Be concerned with the oppressed, not the impressive.”
Where is our focus?
Do we have stains from the world?
Let’s turn our focus around.
* Thanks, Thomas Swinea, for this jewel of thought.