Activity Acceptable to God
The following text is taken from a sermon preached by Gil Rugh, Senior Pastor at Indian Hills Community Church in Lincoln, NE. The text has been edited and condensed by IHCC staff for use as a Bible Study aid.
Intro - The importance of doing and not just hearing the Word has been stressed by James in 1:22-25. However, we must realize that religious activity is not what God is looking for from us.
A person may be very involved in religious activity and not be pleasing to God. This is a mistake of many people today. God requires a heart that is submissive to His Word and a life that is obedient to His commands.
religious (threskos) The idea revolves around what a person believes is acceptable and desired by God. This person is diligent in such activities as prayer, fasting, and attendance at the worship services. Whatever might be included, this person has all the activity that one would expect of a religious person.
does not bridle his tongue - The word here (chalinagogeo) means "to guide" and "to hold in check with a bridle." This person's tongue is like a wild horse that is uncontrolled. (This analogy will be picked up and developed by James in 3:2 ff.)
This clearly indicates that the tongue can and should be bridled. We are to be in control of what we say. The present participle indicates that this is a pattern for him. This would fit what he has already said in verse 19.
deceives his own heart - This is the third time James has warned his readers about deceiving themselves (cf. 1:16,22,26). This person is fooling himself in thinking he is religious.
worthless (mataios) - This word carries the idea of not achieving its result, its aim, its goal. A religion that does not effect decisive changes in key areas of conduct cannot make a person pleasing to God. This word is used in the Septuagint of idols and idol worship (cf. Jer, 2:5; 10:3).
Israel had often failed to remember that religious activity is not a substitute for a heart of faith (cf. 1 Sam, 15:22,23; Isa, 1:10-17; Jer, 7:21-28).
This is not an exhaustive definition of true religion, but presents that which must be a part of every true religion.
pure and undefiled - These are synonyms, stating the same thing positively and negatively. This is religious activity that is acceptable before God. It is free from sin.
in the sight of our God and Father - It is God's evaluation that matters. If religious activity is rejected by God, it is of no value. Any religious activity that does not meet His standard is indeed worthless.
Some people have the idea that God is obligated to accept whatever a person does in the religious realm. People become very irate when they are told that their religious activity is on no value before God. But God has told us what is acceptable before Him.
visit (episkeptesthai) - The reference is not to a mere social call, but visiting with the purpose of caring for their needs (cf. Matt, 25:36,43).
orphans and widows - These represent two of the most needy groups in ancient society. They were especially vulnerable because they had no one to protect or provide for them.
The Old Testament stressed the responsibility of God's people to reflect His care and compassion by caring for the orphans and widows (cf. Deut, 10:18; 14:28,29; 26:12; 27:19; Ps. 68:5).
This is a strong reminder for us to be looking for the needy among us to whom we can minister and meet their needs. Note the emphasis is on doing this for others. Too often we read this with a selfish intent. Who meets my needs? My concern is to be meeting the needs of others.
and to keep oneself unstained by the world - I have a responsibility before God for personal purity. This balances my responsibility to be meeting the needs of others.
to keep oneself - Ultimately God alone is the keeper of His people, but I am responsible in the exercising of my will to submit to Him and allow the Holy Spirit to keep me pure before Him.
unstained by the world - The believer lives in a polluted environment, but he is to remain unblemished by it. He must be characterized by moral purity (cf. 1 John 5:18,19; 2 Pet. 3:14; 1 Tim. 6:14).
God desires - and commands - people to worship Him (cf. John 4:23,24). But He must be worshiped in accord with His instructions by a people who have experienced His redemption and are now living for Him. When God has cleansed the heart, it is possible for the tongue to be bridled. An unbridled tongue is evidence of an uncleansed heart. This kind of person has a worthless religion. To have a religion that is acceptable to God, we must be involved in the lives of others. He gives a desire to meet the needs of the needy. In the midst of a polluted world, we must maintain our purity. The religion that is acceptable before God transforms a person within and without. Truly this person is a new creation of God (cf. 1 Cor. 5:17).
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Permission was received from Indian Hills Community Church for the posting of this file on Bible Bulletin Board. Our gratitude to the Holy Spirit for leading Pastor Gil Rugh to preach/teach messages that are bold, and doctrinally sound—they are so needful to this generation.