Cornerstone EPC Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734 July 21, 2019
We continue, in this punctuated sermon series through James entitled The Wise Life, to learn what it is and means to live wisely in Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. We also continue, in this section (1:19-27) to contrast mere hearing of God’s Word with hearing and doing His Word. Today, as part of that hearing and doing, we learn what is—and what isn’t—pure religion according to God in His Word. Let us hear Him today as He speaks to us by His Spirit from His holy, inspired, inerrant Word.
(HERE READ THE TEXT)
God, the Holy Spirit, through James, the half-brother of our Lord Jesus and inspired penman of today’s text, gives us excellent answers to the question, “What is pure religion?” First, pure religion is exercising close self-control over the tongue. The English Standard Version’s translation of the Greek verb, to wit, bridle, is quite apt—the sense of the verse is that we must control our tongues as a rider controls a horse by bit and bridle. We will see more of this when we arrive at the third chapter of James. For now, let’s exercise control of our tongues in the following ways. Let us speak clean words, not foul ones. Let us speak true words, not false ones. Let our words build others, rather than tear them down. Let us speak words that soothe anger, rather than inflame it. Moreover, let us speak words fit for the providential occasion at which we find ourselves. Let us not utter silly words at a sober, solemn, serious occasion—nor let us utter inappropriate words in polite company. After all, according to Scripture here, failure to exercise self-control over the tongue reveals an empty, worthless so-called faith—and it undoes everything else that others see us doing to display God’s glory. Indeed, may God help us in this. Know that we’ll not be perfect, but let us be faithful, ever striving to that end—and let us be increasingly faithful over time.
Second, pure religion is visiting, or taking care of, the afflicted. James lists here orphans and widows. We who are in Christ shall care for the young without parents—or for those whose parents, though living, do not serve their children as parents. We shall care furthermore, by extension, for the friendless of any age. Also, we who are in Christ shall care for ladies bereaved of their husbands (and, as appropriate, for widowers: for men bereaved of their wives). This is true for widows of any age, but—according to the New Testament—especially for those beyond a given age (e.g., 60, cf. 1 Timothy 5:9).
We who are in Christ shall spend time with these and take care of them in their troubles. Some of us know these troubles all too well; they include grief after loss, loneliness, and dealing with those who would prey upon them—materially or otherwise. By extension, we are to care for any afflicted folks—especially those of the household of Christian faith. Rufus Smith, senior minister of Hope Presbyterian Church (EPC) in greater Memphis, Tennessee, often speaks of our call to minister unto the weak, the wounded, and the without. Let us, then, visit and care for the weak in their physical or other distresses. Let us do the same for the wounded—no matter whether the wound exists in their inner or outer man. Let us do similarly for the ones without, whether they be without this world’s goods or without beneficial friendship. Too often we forsake the afflicted. Rather, let us draw them close to ourselves.
Third, pure religion is keeping oneself unstained from the world. Well did our friends in the Anglican/Episcopalian tradition when they asked at baptism, “Do you… renounce the devil and all his works, the pomps and vanity of this wicked world, and all the sinful lusts of the flesh, so that ye will not follow nor be led by them?” Truly we must resist those three ancient enemies of our souls: the world (estranged from God and hostile to Him), the flesh (that sinful nature yet warring within us), and the devil (the father of lies and accuser of the brethren). In place of these, let us pursue holiness. Indeed, we must pursue it, for without it no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14).
The pursuit of holiness is not a popular theme in today’s American evangelicalism. Some of this is reaction to (at least in the Deep South) a legalistic form of Christian practice, and some of this is our lingering carnality rearing its ugly head. Yet our Lord, and His ways, do not change (cf. Hebrews 13:8). Therefore, let us pursue holiness. Let us, by His grace, be increasingly unstained by the world.
This, then, according to God through James, is pure religion. Life lived consistently according to what we hear today accomplishes two things. First, it blesses the Church. Christ’s covenant people, considered as a whole and individually, receive great good from the ministries we each and all discharge as we walk this way. Christ’s people also receive blessing as they see, once again, examples of winsome, authentic life in Christ. Second, life lived in accord with what we heard today displays Christ in a compelling way to the world. It declares our holiness—our separation—unto God. It also avails the opportunity for them to see our good works and glorify God Who is in Heaven (Matthew 5:16). Therefore, beloved ones, let us, by God’s powerful grace, so live before Him, the Church, and the world. May He bless us, and others through us, as He brings our lives increasingly into conformity with this text from His Word.
 Book of Common Prayer (1928). See also Savitri Hensman, “Renouncing the World, the Flesh, and the Devil,” Church of England Newspaper, June 6, 2009, https//www.churchnewspaper.com/71513/archives, accessed July 19, 2019.