Providing gospel-centered resources to mobilize the church for global orphan care.


The Gospel-visiting orphans-and bridling the tongue

Most of us orphan care advocates often only refer to James 1:27 when we talk about true religion. “True religion,” we rightly argue, “is visiting orphans and widows in their affliction.”

But what is often overlooked is that James presents three aspects of true religion—not one, not two, but three. James 1:27 was never meant to be isolated from verse 26. The repetition of “religious” and “religion” in James 1:26-27 won’t allow us to isolate them from each other when we discuss true religion.

“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.”

True religion has three essential aspects: bridling the tongue (v. 26), visiting orphans and widows in their affliction (v. 27), and keeping oneself unstained from the world (v. 27).

I’ve often lamented the fact that, relatively speaking, there are few churches that are actively engaged in orphan ministry. I’m not the only one who laments this. Just poke around in the blogosphere for 30 minutes and you’ll find plenty of bloggers lamenting the relatively small numbers of churches that actually visit orphans.

But how many of us lament the fact that even fewer of us really care about bridling our tongues? I don’t know about you, but I find visiting orphans easier to do than bridling my own tongue. James is clear, though. If we visit orphans in their affliction but do not bridle our tongues, our religion is worthless.

I’ve come to see that practicing true religion is much more difficult than we think it is. If only it were as “easy” as visiting orphans in their affliction. Why does it also have to necessarily involve what we do with our words?

If you take some time to reflect on the practice of true religion in your own life as outlined in James 1:26-27, it won’t be difficult to convince you of the fact that only the gospel can produce and nurture it.

According to James 1:18, it is the gospel (“the word of truth”) that brought us forth so that we should be a kind of firstfruits of God’s creatures. If we take James 1:18 and 1:26 together, we learn that the good words of the gospel not only give us life, they also transform the way we use our tongues. The good and healing words of the gospel put good and healing words on our lips.

The good news of the gospel is that Jesus has visited us in our affliction (see Isaiah 53) that he might deliver us from it. When we’re gripped by the reality of what Jesus has done for us, we’ll find ourselves wanting to reflect Jesus’ kindness on the horizontal level by visiting orphans in their affliction.

Only by the gospel can we keep ourselves unstained from the world. It is the blood of Jesus alone that keeps on cleansing us (1 John 1:7-9).

When the gospel is not central, we’ll find ourselves focusing on one aspect of true religion to the neglect of the others. What good is it if a million more Christians are mobilized for orphan care over the next year if those same Christians don’t bridle their tongues? According to James, the shocking answer is that their religion is worthless (v. 26).

Only when the gospel is central does the practice of true religion happen. Only the gospel produces and nurtures it.

So, what do you think our world’s 143 million orphaned and vulnerable children need most? They need churches that are filled with people who are freshly gripped by the good news of the gospel each day.

If you are a pastor and desire to see your people mobilized for orphan care while at the same time learning to bridle their tongues and keep unstained from the world, preach the good news of the gospel. The gospel doesn’t specialize in one aspect of true religion to the neglect of the other two. It specializes in all three aspects of true religion.

The gospel creates people who speak good words, healing words, who visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and who keep unstained from the world. What orphans ultimately need, then, is for the gospel to be at the center of church life.

For a fuller treatment on how the three aspects of true religion relate to each other, listen to my Conference 2009 sermon. You can download it here.

You can also read an article that addresses the third aspect of true religion (“keeping oneself unstained from the world”) here.

  • Chris Marlow

    Good word and reminder!


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