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Pure Religion

Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this,
To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction,
and to keep himself unspotted from the world.
James 1:27

What is pure religion? It is definitely more than just going to church faithfully, and singing a few hymns and choruses. It is more than just hearing the Word of God. It is both hearing and doing His Word. It is a religion that we talk about, and walk the talk. It is a practical religion, something tangible and not something airy-fairy in the air. It is touching heaven and changing earth.

Jesus told us that the poor will always be with us, whether we like it or not (Matthew 26:11). We are surrounded by poor people. They are at our door steps. They are the ones, afflicted and in great trouble. Unless we are able to reach them in our villages, towns, cities and country, we do not attempt to reach and help them in the ends of the earth. Charity begins at our homes. We must do it beginning from our "Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth."

There is always this nice and romantic feeling about reaching the unreached. It is called romancing the missions dream. There is nothing wrong about it as long as the missionaries are genuine. Those who are not able to touch lives locally will not be able to do so in a foreign land. Many times these "missionaries" cause more pain to the people they are trying to reach.

A getter will always get, and a giver will always give, anywhere he goes. Many have turned this charity work into a business enterprise, getting funds in pretense of helping the poor. Only a small percentage of the total donations and gifts actually reach the hands of the poor.

The Word of God exhorts us to show kindness and compassion for the poor and helpless among us, especially the fatherless and widows. James 1:27 said that we are to visit them in their affliction. What afflictions do the fatherless and the widows have? How does one visit them in their affliction?

The widows and the fatherless are most vulnerable to be mistreated by others as the heads of their families are no longer alive. A husband will provide for the needs of his wife, and a father will provide for the needs of their children. But a widow has no husband, and the fatherless have no father to take care of them or to protect them.

In Job 24:1-12, Job complained of the violence on the earth about how the wicked mercilessly exploited the poor and the needy:

Since times are not hidden from the Almighty,
Why do those who know Him see not His days?

Some remove landmarks;
They seize flocks violently and feed on them;

They drive away the donkey of the fatherless;
They take the widow's ox as a pledge.

They push the needy off the road;
All the poor of the land are forced to hide.

Indeed, like wild donkeys in the desert,
They go out to their work, searching for food.
The wilderness yields food for them and for their children.

They gather their fodder in the field
And glean in the vineyard of the wicked.

They spend the night naked, without clothing,
And have no covering in the cold.

They are wet with the showers of the mountains,
And huddle around the rock for want of shelter.

Some snatch the fatherless from the breast,
And take a pledge from the poor.

They cause the poor to go naked, without clothing;
And they take away the sheaves from the hungry.

They press out oil within their walls,
And tread winepresses, yet suffer thirst.

The dying groan in the city,
And the souls of the wounded cry out;
Yet God does not charge them with wrong.

Job clearly described how the wicked mercilessly exploited and abused the poor and the needy, especially the fatherless and widows as they did not have a father or husband to protect them, and to provide for them.

But praise be to God, He is a father of the fatherless and a defender of widows (Psalm 68:5).

Scriptures Notes
Exodus 22:22-24

You shall not afflict any widow or fatherless child. If you afflict them in any way, and they cry at all to Me, I will surely hear their cry; and My wrath will become hot, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives shall be widows, and your children fatherless.

Husbands and fathers are to provide for, and protect their wives and children, thereby ensuring that none of their own are taken advantage of.

Without them, the widows and the fatherless become vulnerable, and others can take advantage of them. As they do not have a husband or a father to protect them, they are open to be abused and misused by others.

The punishment of afflicting the widow or the fatherless is very severe. They will incur the wrath of God, and will be killed with the sword. Their wives shall be widows, and their children shall become fatherless.

Deuteronomy 10:17-19

For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, Who shows no partiality nor takes a bribe.

He administers justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing. Therefore love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.

God Himself will administer justice to the fatherless, the widows and the strangers. These people have a special place in God’s heart.

God will provide for them. He will supply their needs, and give them His provisions.

How does God provide for them? Through His people like you and me. That’s what loving our neighbours is all about.

Deuteronomy 14:28-29

At the end of every third year you shall bring out the tithe of your produce of that year and store it up within your gates.

And the Levite, because he has no portion nor inheritance with you, and the stranger and the fatherless and the widow who are within your gates, may come and eat and be satisfied, that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do.

God provides through the tithes and freewill offerings of His people. Levi is one of the twelve tribes of Israel. As each of the 11 tribes contributes 10% each, the Levi tribe would have 110%. They would then be richer than the other 11 tribes which now have only 90% each.

But adding the fatherless, widows and strangers into the equation, and also adding the freewill offerings to the tithes, God provides adequately for the needs of all the people including the economically disadvantaged in the community.

The rich have not become poor as they still have 90%. The poor have become rich as they too will have 90%, seldom more and often less. Everyone will enjoy no lack as God is their Shepherd.

The Levite, the stranger, the fatherless and the widow are grouped together because they are the economically disadvantaged in the community.

The Levites have no portion or inheritance in the land, and therefore do not have the financial resources by which they can be economically empowered.

The fatherless and the widow do not have a father and husband, and therefore do not have a means of steady income by which they can be economically empowered or adequately provided for.

The stranger does not have friends to help them.

Deuteronomy 16:9-12

You shall count seven weeks for yourself; begin to count the seven weeks from the time you begin to put the sickle to the grain. Then you shall keep the Feast of Weeks to the LORD your God with the tribute of a freewill offering from your hand, which you shall give as the LORD your God blesses you.

You shall rejoice before the LORD your God, you and your son and your daughter, your male servant and your female servant, the Levite who is within your gates, the stranger and the fatherless and the widow who are among you, at the place where the LORD your God chooses to make His name abide.

And you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt, and you shall be careful to observe these statutes.

During the Feast of Pentecost, when the people celebrate their spring harvest, they are to share their blessings with the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless and the widow among them.

They are to remember that they had been slaves in the land of Egypt. They too were poor and wretched. They too had been abused and misused.

God requires His people to show care and concern for those who are poor and needy by sharing their harvests and blessings with them.

In James 2:15-16, we are to walk the talk:

"If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, "Depart in peace, be warmed and filled," but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?"

Sweet words alone will not satisfy the hungry stomachs. These poor are with us. They are our neighbours.

One of the sins that Job’s friend accused Job of committing was this (Job 22:9):

"You have sent widows away empty, and the strength of the fatherless was crushed."

We cannot send the widows and the fatherless empty-handed, without any food and clothing.

Deuteronomy 16:13-15

You shall observe the Feast of Tabernacles seven days, when you have gathered from your threshing floor and from your winepress.

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.

Seven days you shall keep a sacred feast to the LORD your God in the place which the LORD chooses, because the LORD your God will bless you in all your produce and in all the work of your hands, so that you surely rejoice.

During the Feast of Tabernacles, the LORD requires everyone to rejoice in the feast as they just have gathered in their fall harvest.

How do the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless and the widow rejoice in this feast? The LORD has commanded His people to share their blessings with them so that all can rejoice together with great joy!

The Jews are to provide for those poor within their gates or within their own geographic areas.

God specially instructed His people to look after and provide for those who are poor and needy among them. Why? God desires that His people will touch the poor tangibly with their own hands, and not through someone else, a proxy or a representative. He desires that we become His eyes to see their needs, and His hands to supply their needs.

God does not say that His people cannot go out of their territories to look for the needy in other territories, but they have to first attend to the needy within their own territories.

As the Jews first reach out to those within their gates, we too should start sharing God’s love and blessings with those needy living among us.

Deuteronomy 24:17-22

You shall not pervert justice due the stranger or the fatherless, nor take a widow's garment as a pledge.

But you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt, and the LORD your God redeemed you from there; therefore I command you to do this thing.

When you reap your harvest in your field, and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be for the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.

When you beat your olive trees, you shall not go over the boughs again; it shall be for the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow.

When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not glean it afterward; it shall be for the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow.

And you shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I command you to do this thing.

We are to show compassion and mercy to the poor and the needy.

God requires His people not to worsen the economic plight of those who are poor and needy. In extending credit or lending money to the poor, the creditor has a contractual right to take something as a pledge.

We are not to take the basic needs, such as clothes and food, as a pledge. The poor do not have enough warm clothings for the cold nights, or enough food to eat. To take away their clothes and food will render them naked and hungry.

In fact, God instructs His people to leave food for the stranger, the fatherless and the widow, when they do their harvesting. They are to leave some for the poor to pick and bring home. Remember the story of Ruth and Boaz:

Boaz went over to Ruth and said, "I think it would be best for you not to pick up grain in anyone else's field. Stay here with the women and follow along behind them, as they gather up what the men have cut. I have warned the men not to bother you, and whenever you are thirsty, you can drink from the water jars they have filled." (Ruth 2:8-9)

Deuteronomy 26:11-15

So you shall rejoice in every good thing which the LORD your God has given to you and your house, you and the Levite and the stranger who is among you.

When you have finished laying aside all the tithe of your increase in the third year--the year of tithing--and have given it to the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, so that they may eat within your gates and be filled, then you shall say before the LORD your God:

"I have removed the holy tithe from my house, and also have given them to the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, according to all Your commandments which You have commanded me; I have not transgressed Your commandments, nor have I forgotten them. I have not eaten any of it when in mourning, nor have I removed any of it for an unclean use, nor given any of it for the dead. I have obeyed the voice of the LORD my God, and have done according to all that You have commanded me. Look down from Your holy habitation, from heaven, and bless Your people Israel and the land which You have given us, just as You swore to our fathers, "a land flowing with milk and honey.""

God will bless those who provide for the poor and the needy. The holy tithe is meant for the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless and the widow. In Israel today, there is no temple in place, and therefore the Levites hold professional jobs. All the tithes and offerings of the people are given to the synagogues, the poor and the needy.

But the Church has not done the same. She has not fulfilled her responsibility. She has relinquished her role in being the light of the world. She has handed over all the poor and the needy to the government to take care of. She has kept all the tithes and offerings to herself to build bigger buildings and monuments, and to spend on her own expensive programs and agendas.

God repeatedly reiterates His command to His people to provide for those who are poor and needy, providing for their needs such as food and clothing.

We are to be considerate and loving in ensuring that those poor within our gates have something to eat and are filled. As God blesses us with plenty, we need to bless others with plenty.

Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 8:13-15:

For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened; but by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may supply their lack, that their abundance also may supply your lack--that there may be equality. As it is written, "He who gathered much had nothing left over, and he who gathered little had no lack."

The early Church had observed this (Acts 2:44-45):

"Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need."

Christ has shown us His excellent example in 2 Corinthians 8:9:

"For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich."

Deuteronomy 27:19

Cursed is the one who perverts the justice due the stranger, the fatherless, and widow. And all the people shall say, "Amen!"

Those who oppress the poor and the needy are cursed. By exploiting the poor and the needy, these wicked ones will incur the wrath of God. God is watching in His Holy habitation. He is a father of the fatherless, and a defender of widows (Psalm 68:5).

It is imperative that God’s people manifest His love for the stranger, the fatherless and the widow by ensuring that justice prevails. They should not pervert the laws by using their financial status to gain an advantage against the poor.

If the rich has done wrong, they cannot use money to bribe the judges so that injustice is being done to the poor, and the poor is being punished for the wrongs of the rich. The rich should not exploit the poor for their evil gains.

In Psalm 94:6-7, the deeds of the wicked are exposed:

They slay the widow and the stranger, and murder the fatherless.
Yet they say, "The LORD does not see, nor does the God of Jacob understand."

In Isaiah 1:17, we must:

  • Learn to do good;
  • Seek justice,
  • Rebuke the oppressor;
  • Defend the fatherless,
  • Plead for the widow.

In Malachi 3:5, God is coming to judge the earth with mercy and justice:

And I will come near you for judgment;
I will be a swift witness
Against sorcerers,
Against adulterers,
Against perjurers,
Against those who exploit wage earners and widows and orphans,
And against those who turn away an alien--
Because they do not fear Me,"
Says the LORD of hosts.

Let’s have this holy fear of the LORD in our hearts. Let’s reach out and touch those poor and needy within our territories. If we have loved our neighbours within our gates, we may then proceed to help those in the regions beyond. This is pure religion in the sight of God! Undefiled and without spot.

Written on:
25 November 2004